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11 April 2016 Edition

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Another Europe is possible – Treo eile don Eoraip

Funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

European Parliament mission dominated by jihadist attacks in Brussels

ON TUESDAY 23 MARCH, as more than a hundred Irish people from all corners of the island were en route to the European Parliament to join the four Sinn Féin MEPs in a celebration of the Easter Rising, the jihadist Daesh (also calling itself the Islamic State) launched a number of attacks on Brussels Zaventum Airport and Malbeek metro station. 

Consequently, the city of Brussels, including the European Parliament and Commission went into lockdown for the second time in four months (the first time being after the Paris attacks in November 2015). Heightened security measures in the EU institutions were put into operation immediately, the majority of public transport networks were cancelled and the terror alert level was raised to the highest level in the European capital.

The attacks claimed the lives of 32 victims, critically injured 62 and wounded an estimated 316.

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• Flowers for the victims – Chalk drawings read 'Brussels is beautiful', 'Stop violence', 'Stop war', 'Unity', and 'Humanity' at a memorial in Place de la Bourse in Brussels following the ISIS attacks

The Sinn Féin team in the European Parliament had spent months organising what would have been the first-ever celebration of the Easter Rising in Europe and had a series of events arranged.

Although all involved were disappointed at the cancellation of these events, the main worry was for the delegation of over 100 people, which included relatives of the 1916 Volunteers, relatives of Volunteers who lost their lives during the conflict, musicians, artists and other interested individuals and groups. 

Their flight, however, was diverted safely to Amsterdam Airport and a flight back to Dublin was arranged immediately. Alternative arrangements for those travelling via Paris from Belfast were also made. 

Matt Carthy MEP was in the European Parliament (along with Liadh Ni Riada MEP, Lynn Boylan MEP and several staff members on the day of the attacks). 

The Midlands North West MEP said:

“The explosions in Brussels Airport and the subsequent explosions in the Schuman and Malbeek metro stations are shocking and must be condemned.”

Sinn Féin MLA Martin McGuinness added:

“The attacks on people at the airport and metro stations in Brussels are deplorable and I condemn them unreservedly. My thoughts, as with everyone in Ireland at this time, will be with those killed or injured.”

The Sunday following the Brussels attacks, 65 people were killed in suicide bombings in Lahore, Pakistan, less publicised in the Western media. 

The reporting has been limited in the mainstream media, the Pakistan flag will not be emblazed on landmarks across the world, and it will not be trending on social media. Nonetheless, these lives are just as important as the lives lost in Paris, the lives lost in Brussels, and the lives lost every day in the Middle East and Asia, and particularly Palestine, Iraq and Syria. 

Human Rights Act legal opinion commissioned by GUE/NGL and Sinn Féin 

LAW FIRMS KRW LAW LLP of Belfast and Doughty Street Chambers of London were commissioned by the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament and Sinn Féin to provide expert advice on the potential effects of repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) by the British Government.

In the report, published recently, it is concluded that the current proposals for repeal of the HRA could breach the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

In line with Brexit, the second initiative of the British Government that would have a potentially devastating effect on the North of Ireland is the planned repeal of the 1998 Human Rights Act. 

The 1998 Human Rights Act gives effect to the European Convention on Human Rights and gives citizens access to the enforcing court, the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Convention on Human Rights ensures that citizens have right to life protections, are protected from torture, slavery and forced labour, have the right to a fair trial, are not punished without due process of law, and their family and private life are protected as is freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Human Rights Act is also interwoven completely in the fabric of the Good Friday Agreement. The accountability mechanisms secured during those negotiations are underpinned by the Human Rights Act.

The current British Conservative Party Government led by David Cameron has repeatedly called for the repeal of the Human Rights Act to prevent the Convention on Human Rights and its implementing court (the European Court of Human Rights) from having an effect on British law. This forms part of an ideological drive from this hawkish Tory government to dilute human rights provision for its citizens and the citizens of the North of Ireland.

Sinn Féin believes the Human Rights Act, the convention and the Court of Human Rights are valuable and essential for the North of Ireland. The European Convention on Human Rights should be a base through which the provision of rights cannot fall. The Tories want to chip away at that base.

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The repeal of the Human Rights Act would have massive ramifications for society in the North of Ireland. The Act provides protections for every sector of society including; persons with disabilities, journalists, victims of state violence, linguistic and cultural minorities, as well as providing avenues for recourse to conflict-related human rights violations.

The Good Friday Agreement states that the British Government “will complete incorporation into the North’s law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention”. Therefore, removing access for citizens to the European Court of Human Rights amounts to a breach in the Good Friday Agreement.

Not only does the Human Rights Act underpin the Good Friday Agreement, it also provides an avenue to hold the British Government to account under its Article 2 obligations (the right to life) under the Convention via the European Court. 

In 2015, applications for over 1,500 cases concerning Britain were brought to the European Court of Human Rights, mostly by individuals. This is a vital institution for state accountability. The fact that British Prime Minister David Cameron and Justice Minister Michael Gove, have both recently made public statements in opposition to the operation of European justice institutions in Britain shows the contempt with which they hold the Human Rights Act.

Sinn Féin totally opposes the repealing or dilution of the Human Rights Act and in order to inform our debate, Sinn Féin – via our colleagues in our European Parliamentary group, GUE/NGL – have commissioned legal advice on the repeal of the 1998 Act for Ireland, the devolved institutions and Europe in general.

The authors, Doughty Street Chambers and Kevin Winters Law, have produced a comprehensive document that outlines in clear and concise terms the potential effect the repeal would have for the North of Ireland.

Touching on the Good Friday Agreement, the report states:

“Repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with some limited form of protection for human rights risks not only breaching the Good Friday Agreement in a technical sense but infringing its spirit and leading to a loss of faith in the British Government’s commitment to the Peace Process, of which human rights were a core feature.” 

Gavin Booth from Kevin Winters Law LLP adds:

“The introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 has impacted every area of law, and places obligations on all institutions of the state. The courts here, as public authorities, must protect the rights outlined in the Convention across all areas of law.

“We believe that all attempts to dilute human rights provision should be resisted and we hope the publication of this legal advice will go some way to inform and enhance that resistance.”

First delegation of Irish-language students to European Parliament

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ENGLISH SCHOLAR Nora K. Chadwick has written that Ireland possesses in the Irish language “a greater wealth of carefully preserved oral tradition from the earliest period of our era than any other people in Europe north of the Alps”.

Embracing this, at the beginning of March, Liadh Ní Riada MEP hosted the first delegation of Gaelscoil students to the European Parliament. Even though learning Irish is required in all schools across the nation, only 1.8% speak Irish daily and only 40.6% say they have the ability to speak the language.

In the Irish Constitution, the Irish language is given the status of the first and official language of the nation. In 2007 it was made the 23rd official language of the European Union, yet the 16 randomly-selected students from Gaelscoileanna in Kilkenny, Kerry, Cork and Limerick were the first to use the Irish-language facilities in the European Parliamentarium.   

The students got the opportunity to step into the shoes of a Member of the European Parliament and were randomly placed into each of the eight political groupings in the Parliament. Issues such as water solidarity and microchipping were debated; the students took part in press conferences and negotiated with each other to build the future they envisage for Europe – all as Gaeilge.

It is vitally important that the ability to speak Irish is encouraged, supported and rewarded. 

In 2003, the Irish Government passed the Official Languages Act, which promotes the use of Irish for official matters of the state. In 2010, the Government produced the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language. Yet they fail to introduce an Irish Language Act, which is one of the outstanding clauses of the Good Friday Agreement and they fail to support the Gaeltacht areas. 

They are paying lip service to one of our most prized cultural components.

Liadh Ní Riada MEP, a member of the Education and Culture Committee in the European Parliament, said:

“Seachtain na Gaeilge is the opportunity to celebrate our language and the contribution it has towards our culture and identity. Therefore it was a perfect opportunity to invite the students and their teachers over.

“It is vital that our young people are supported and encouraged throughout their education but in particular with their command of languages.

“An Ireland without the Irish language wouldn’t be the same place. Since my election to the European Parliament in May 2014, I have made every effort to promote, protect and end the derogation faced by the Irish language.” 

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• Liadh Ní Riada, Martina Anderson, Matt Carthy and Lynn Boylan are MEPs and members of the GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament

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