This week in the Dáil on Tuesday I asked the Taoiseach about his attendance last week at the European Union – African Union summit and the need to implementing sustainable goals and our moral obligations to tackle humanitarian concerns.
On Wednesday I spoke about the value of a Citizens’ Assembly and their role in a modern society.
I then asked the Taoiseach about the Shared Island Initiative and made a statement in the Dáil regarding Legacy Issues in Northern Ireland. Then in the presence of the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland I made a statement in relation to the Security Situation in Europe and I was able to express the solidarity of the Fianna Fáil party with her and her people at this time.
Full transcripts below
European Union/ African Summit
Deputy Seán Haughey: I want to ask the Taoiseach about his attendance last week at the European Union-African Union summit and the need to develop a strategic partnership between Europe and Africa. As the Taoiseach knows, Africa faces many challenges including Covid-19. Only 11% of Africans are fully vaccinated at this time. There are also issues with hunger, undernourishment, conflict, political violence, climate change and poor governance. There are associated issues that need to be addressed, such as the education of women, healthcare, family planning and food production. No doubt all of these were discussed at the summit. In this regard it is important that we recommit ourselves to implementing the UN sustainable goals. There are, of course, moral obligations to tackle these humanitarian concerns. It is also in the interests of the EU and the African Union to promote sustainable investment and economic growth in Africa, as well as stable societies. The sustainable development of agriculture and food is of particular interest to Ireland. As the Taoiseach is aware, we have established the Ireland-Africa rural development committee. Was the request by the African Union for more legal routes to the EU from Africa considered, and the need to implement the EU’s pact on migration and asylum?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Haughey raised the European Union African Union two-day summit, which was a very worthwhile summit. There were a number of breakout sessions. I was at the security and peace session. I also chaired the session on agricultural sustainable development and food systems. What was striking from the presentation on the security and peace was that the overwhelming concern was terrorism and imported terrorism into Africa, which is really destabilising. Boko Haram and various mercenaries coming into Africa are causing disputes and conflicts over natural resources. It is a huge threat. If there was one takeaway from the summit, it was the concern among African leaders about the growth in the Sahel and other areas, of terrorism including the murdering of innocent school children and communities for all sorts of false narratives around succession, and groups claiming autonomy for part of a country, or acting purely as a puppet for somebody else to take power. There have been attempted coups d’état and so forth.
I took the opportunity when I chaired the session with the Greek Prime Minister and the President of Kenya about the importance of agriculture and food, and we discussed how Ireland developed and evolved from being just commodities-based exports to a much more integrated and sophisticated supply chain food system. There is a lot that Ireland can do for Africa in sharing knowledge, expertise and ideas around agriculture and food production.
On asylum, the issue of legal pathways was, of course, an active issue that was discussed.
It was an ongoing discussion in my meeting with the Chancellor yesterday. It is an issue that is gaining ground in terms of how Europe deals with migration. There is a strong move towards developing more legal channels, along with other initiatives.
On vaccines, good progress was made at the conclusions. The leader of South Africa and the President of the Commission agreed to instruct both teams at the WTO to get a resolution to this as quickly as we can. Without question, the European Union is the biggest donor of vaccines across the world, and certainly to Africa, but the levels are too low. What was heartening is the degree to which capacity building in terms of manufacturing within Africa is now growing thanks to the European Union initiative. We will be providing well over €1.5 billion to give capacity to South Africa, Senegal and others to have their own plants. That means technology transfers. It is generally acknowledged that a TRIPS waiver alone will not produce jabs for arms. What is needed is know-how, capacity and technology transfers in terms of personnel who can produce the drugs in situ locally. That is ultimately the way to go. In addition, Europe has committed enormous numbers of vaccines to the middle of this year to dramatically increase the take-up, which is an issue in itself, and to assist in the logistics of the roll-out of the vaccine.
Deputy Seán Haughey: Before we consider the two issues to be examined by the two new citizens’ assemblies we should take a minute or two to consider the role of citizens’ assemblies and the justification for them. It has been put to me by some constituents that citizens’ assemblies are not required and that they are of no value, pointing out that the Houses of the Oireachtas, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, are the real citizens’ assemblies. That may be so, but in my view citizens’ assemblies have an important role to play in a modern democracy. Deputies and Senators have a huge workload and may not always have the time and resources to consider in depth a particular complex issue, to consider expert pinion, to determine the views of the public, to engage with representative groups, to consult advocacy groups and to hear the views of other policy makers. The same applies to Ministers and their civil servants. They too can get caught up in the day-to-day pressures of policy formulation, decision-making and policy implementation and do not always have the time to think outside the box. Ireland’s practice of using citizens’ assemblies has been commented on favourably internationally. The concept is evolving, however, and the Irish model needs to be updated regularly to ensure that it is innovative and follows European best practice. Yes, citizens’ assemblies have an important role to play, provided that the subject is an important one, that the terms of reference are clearly focused, that they report back in a timely manner and that their recommendations are implemented.
More citizens’ assemblies are planned on drug use, on rural youth and on the future of education. We need to be careful not to commit too many issues to this process and to be selective in this regard. Implementation is the key. The deliberations of the citizens’ assemblies cannot be a wasted exercise. We as Deputies must continue to take an active interest to ensure the implementation of their recommendations.
I am delighted that we are now establishing a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity loss. Various international reports, including the Global Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services, have highlighted the critical position around biodiversity loss. There has been an unprecedented loss of species, habitats and ecosystems. Many animals and plants are on the verge of extinction. This is being caused by over exploitation and by climate change, which in turn is caused by human activity. Urgent action is needed. Ireland declared a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019. That was a start. Our climate action plan was published last year but the biodiversity crisis now needs our particular attention. There is huge public support for action to be taken on this issue. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people discovered the joys of nature. I believe there is a new awareness and a desire to protect our fragile biodiversity before it is too late.
I also welcome the establishment of a citizens’ assembly on a directly elected mayor for Dublin and on the local government structures for Dublin. I am a supporter in principle of a directly elected mayor. I believe, however, that the office must not turn out to be just another layer of bureaucracy actually delaying decision-making. The cost of the office must be reasonable and kept under control. A directly elected mayor would provide direct responsibility, give leadership on key issues and would be accountable. If we are to achieve this then a worthwhile reform of local government will have been brought about.
Shared Island Initiative
Deputy Seán Haughey: As the Taoiseach knows, the shared island initiative was launched in October 2020. The objective of the initiative is the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in order to develop enhanced links, co-operation and mutual understanding on the island of Ireland. In this regard, I welcome in particular the shared island dialogue. This has given a voice to many individuals, groups and organisations which can find it difficult to be heard amidst the ongoing arguments between the nationalist and unionist politicians debating the major constitutional issues of the day. I hope that this dialogue can continue in the coming months, in the run-up to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May, so that the voice of civic society can be heard above all the noise associated with party political electioneering. The shared island initiative also involves working with the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government to address the strategic challenges faced on the island. It seems to me that the British Government is preoccupied with other issues at this time and, of course, the Northern Ireland Executive has collapsed. Would the Taoiseach agree with me that the two Governments and all parties in Northern Ireland will have to make an enormous effort to get the Executive up and running after the May elections and that this challenge cannot be underestimated? The Northern Ireland protocol will have to be off the agenda by then.
The Taoiseach: I join with Deputies in expressing my deepest sympathies to the wife and family of Christopher Stalford who passed away at the weekend. On the Government’s behalf, I conveyed our sympathies personally to Jeffrey Donaldson and the wish that they be conveyed to his family. All of us in public life know that politicians experience enormous pressures. Words will not console his family on this occasion, but our thoughts and prayers are with them.
Regarding the third strategy on domestic violence, there has already been shared dialogue involving women on the island. That led to the creation of an all-island women’s forum. The shared island unit stands ready. We have said to various groups that if there are cross-Border projects that can be developed, we will allocate funding to those, provided they meet their basic objectives and thresholds. I would like to think that the all-island women’s forum will be in a position to develop important initiatives in this area of domestic violence on a cross-Border, all-island basis. We and the unit are available to support that.
Deputy Richmond raised the continuation of the dialogue series. He referred to increasing the ambition and in-person events. No one has put blockages up in the political sphere. To address Deputy Ó Murchú’s point, too, the whole shared island endeavour is without prejudice to one’s constitutional position. That is why it has gained cross-community, cross-tradition participation in civic society. That has been quite significant. We have significant ambition. There are now opportunities for in-person engagement. There is a dialogue on sport tomorrow. There will be an online launch event in early March for the next ESRI shared island report, which examines primary healthcare systems on the island. We are also planning for an in-person launch event for the comprehensive report to Government by the National Economic and Social Council on shared island opportunities, following its consideration by Government. The shared island unit of my Department is also preparing further events as part of the shared island dialogue series, which will run throughout the year.
As everyone said, there is a welcome opportunity for greater in-person engagement in the dialogue series. We envisage that happening regionally too. The dialogue series issue is engaging with sectoral issues and how we deepen mutually beneficial co-operation on the island. There were two examples, with tourism and sport being addressed tomorrow. Wider societal concerns for the future of the island include culture and identity issues, and how we can better understand each other across diverse communities and traditions. In response to very welcome interest, members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the relevant committee chairs and party spokespersons in both the Oireachtas and Northern Ireland Assembly are being invited to shared island dialogue events this year. I think that might deal with what Deputy Durkan said about the politics of it. I had this debate with Deputy Ó Murchú in respect of citizens’ assemblies. It is my view that the dialogue series is the important way to go. The Good Friday Agreement has provisions regarding the constitutional position.
Legacy Issues in Northern Ireland and Reports of Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland: Statement
Deputy Seán Haughey: As well all know, on 14 July 2021 the British Government published a command paper outlining plans for legislation providing for a statute of limitations ending criminal investigations and prosecutions in respect of Troubles-related incidents, as well as inquests and civil litigation. One obvious intention of these proposals is to prohibit future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles-related incidents. This announcement has been rightly condemned, in the first instance by victims groups and their families, and also by the Irish Government, the political parties in Northern Ireland on both sides of the divide, by the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland, by several international human rights organisations, as the Minister has said, as well as UN Special Rapporteurs, Council of Europe commissioners for human rights and by Michael Posner, former US Assistant Secretary of State.
In recent months we have been reminded of some of the appalling violence and tragedies which have taken place in Northern Ireland since 1969. As we have heard, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Marie Anderson, published a 344-page report earlier this month in relation to a number of loyalist paramilitary murders in the 1990s, including the massacre at the Sean Graham bookmakers in February 1992. As I have said in this House before, the report makes for shocking reading. The ombudsman found that there was collusive behaviour between the RUC and the UDA-UFF in these cases. The report also showed that the police gave weapons to these paramilitary organisations. It outlined how records about loyalist informants were destroyed, and it highlighted how warnings were not passed on to those known to be under threat. In January the Police Ombudsman issued another report into the RUC’s handling of paramilitary attacks by the UDA-UFF between 1989 and 1993, which led to 19 murders and many attempted murders. Yet again, the ombudsman identified collusive behaviour and brought forward major concerns about the conduct of the police. The report examined the murder of Councillor Eddie Fullerton in County Donegal in May 1991, as well as the killing of four people in Castlerock in March 1993, and the gun attack which killed eight people in Greysteel in October 1993. I recall meeting Councillor Eddie Fullerton in the late 1980s during my Seanad campaign. I must say that he was very hospitable to me when I called to him. His murder was quite shocking to me, as it was, no doubt, to his family and all those who knew him. The January report makes for disturbing reading. The ombudsman is to be commended on her work.
On 1 February, we had a debate to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. On 30 January 1972, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment soldiers opened fire on innocent civilians, killing 13 people. As we know, the families of those who were murdered have campaigned for justice ever since and wanted the soldiers involved to be prosecuted. This has not happened and the prosecution of soldier F has run into problems.
The Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 resulted in the greatest loss of life in a single day during the Troubles. It seems beyond doubt that in their efforts to defeat the Provisional IRA and to influence the political process, there was collusion between loyalist paramilitaries, the RUC and British military intelligence, or certainly between elements of those organisations in the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This is totally unacceptable in a so-called democracy. The surviving victims and the families of those who were killed on that day are entitled to get justice. The Irish Government must continue to raise this issue with the British Government to get it to release the relevant files and documents in this regard, and to seek the truth about these events.
The debate today should be all about their victims and their families. I can only but imagine the daily upset and distress that these families experience as long as these issues remain unresolved. Legacy issues and dealing with legacy matters continue to be major concerns for all those caught up in the violence that has plagued Northern Ireland since 1969. Therefore, the provisions of the Stormont House framework on legacy that were agreed in 2014 must be fully implemented. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government must continue to press the British Government on this issue. There are some signs that the British Government is reconsidering its stance on this matter, certainly in the short term anyway, as we head towards the Assembly elections. I hope it will go all the way and abandon this ill-considered proposal.
Security Situation in Europe: Statement
Deputy Seán Haughey: I wish to acknowledge the presence of the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland and to express the solidarity of the Fianna Fáil party with her and her people at this time, as I am sure the Minister of State has done already. It has come to pass, after months of speculation, that Russia has moved on Ukraine. As we were warned all along, a pretext was engineered to give cover to Russia to recognise two breakaway regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, as independent states and to send in troops to be so-called peacekeepers. There was increased shelling in the area and a plea for intervention by the pro-Russian leaders of both regions. That was the pretext. We must assume that this is just the start of it and that a full-scale invasion and annexation of Ukraine is still a real possibility. This is a serious violation of international law. It is an attack on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and it casts aside the Minsk agreements.
We need to examine what Russia has been up to immediately prior to the events of this week and also in recent years. They say that the first casualty of war is the truth. The Russians are certainly masters of propaganda. In the past few weeks, Russia has been rubbishing claims that it was about to invade Ukraine. It even accused western countries of being warmongers and of being the aggressor in respect of these tensions. What are we to make of these statements now? What has Russia been doing in recent years? It annexed Crimea in 2014. It gave its backing to the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, which has engaged in all sorts of hostile acts against the EU, and tramples on fundamental rights. In 2018, there was the novichok nerve attack in Salisbury. We must also look at how the Opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been treated. Russia is closely linked to cyberattacks on several EU countries.
In a debate in the Dáil on 26 June 2019, the then leader of the Opposition and current Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, stated:
Yet again there have been attempts by one country to promote division, undermine the European Union and support extremists, primarily on the right but also on the left in some countries.
He was, of course, referring to Russia, which utilised social networking platforms to peddle misinformation and engage in election interference, or information manipulation, as it were.
Russia considers the spread of liberal democratic values to be its biggest threat and has a major policy objective of undermining the EU. We all need to be aware of this. The stark reality is that just 6% of the world’s population live in fully fledged democracies and that democracy is stagnant or in decline in many countries. This is something of which we need to be conscious, as well as the role Russia is playing in this regard.
Ireland has clearly stated that we fully support Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and its right to choose its own foreign and security policy, and rightly so. It certainly seems negotiation and diplomacy in this case have failed, at least so far. I think in particular of the interventions by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, through the Normandy process. Ireland should continue to press for a de-escalation and a diplomatic solution through our participation on the UN Security Council and at European Council meetings. This is our role in international affairs.
Of course, there must be sanctions too. I welcome the sanctions proposed by the EU to date. They are proportionate, but an increased package of sanctions on the Russian economy and individuals should also be imposed in the event of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. These sanctions will impact on the Irish economy and the EU economy as a whole; let us make no mistake about that. It is significant that Germany has just cancelled the Nord Stream 2 gas project in response. I know work is continuing on assessing the exposure of the Irish economy in the context of these sanctions. They will hurt certain sectors and energy prices are sure to rise, but we have no choice. We have to do the right thing. We have to show solidarity and ask the question, “What price democracy?”. I welcome the fact the EU has given a financial package to Ukraine of €1.2 billion. Again, that is a show of solidarity by Europe and the EU in respect of our European neighbour.
At the end of the day, as other speakers have stated, what we are looking at here is the potential for massive loss of life in the event of a full-scale invasion. As the Minister stated earlier, there has been loss of life already. That must be our primary concern. Loss of life on the scale that would come about in the event of a full-scale invasion must be avoided. War is not nice – far from it. I reiterate the need to show solidarity with our Ukrainian neighbours at this time.