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7 October 1999 Edition

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Ahern sets course for NATO camp

BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government are to force the 26-County State into the NATO camp next week when they push a motion through the Dáil seeking approval for membership of the so-called Partnership for Peace.

The Cabinet formally approved the State's `presentation document' to PfP on Tuesday. No referendum will be held on the proposal, despite Bertie Ahern's promise to hold one, and despite Fianna Fáil's previously stated opposition to membership.

Several Fianna Fáil TDs have expressed disquiet and called for a referendum, as has Independent TD Mildred Fox. However Fine Gael fully backs membership of PfP and any possible defection from Fianna Fáil ranks in next week's vote will not affect the outcome.

The so-called Partnership for Peace is effectively associate membership of NATO. Leading NATO officials have described the process whereby PfP leads to full membership. 26-County troops will train with NATO troops and the State will be required to upgrade military hardware to NATO standard. This will involve greatly increased military spending.

On the Order of Business in the Dáil on Wednesday, 6 October, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin slammed Fianna Fáil's u-turn and challenged the Taoiseach to say if a proper debate will be held next week, giving proper time to opponents of PfP.

Caoimhghín O Caoláin described as ``disgraceful'' the government's decision to go ahead with membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace. He said: ``The government is to ask the Dáil to approve membership of the `Partnership for Peace' in flagrant violation of the pre-election manifesto promise of Fianna Fáil in 1997. They pledged opposition to membership of PfP during that election and secured a mandate on that basis. Bertie Ahern in opposition also stated that to join the PfP without a referendum would be `fundamentally undemocratic'.

``This government decision undermines democracy. The people are being denied a voice on a change to a core principle of Irish foreign policy. The largest party which they elected to the Dáil has done a complete u-turn on a key pre-election commitment. And the main so-called Opposition party, Fine Gael, will fully back the government, thus negating any possible dissent from the few in the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party with a conscience on this issue.

``With the moving of the writ in the Dublin South-Central by-election this week, we in Sinn Féin will be making the duplicity of Fianna Fáil on Irish neutrality a central issue in the campaign.''
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