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20 February 2003 Edition

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Let the people decide

Sinn Féin's first Bill in Leinster House is an important staging post in the development of the party. Such was the importance of the neutrality issue that the party used rare private members' time to present the 27th Amendment to the Constitution Bill that would enshrine neutrality in the 26-County constitution.

For Sinn Féin, it makes the very clear link between the party's republican politics and the need to let the people decide on this crucial question.

Every Sinn Féin TD spoke and An Phoblacht carries edited versions of their contributions on these pages.

The subject matter ranged from the positive aspects of neutrality to exposing Fianna Fáil double speak and hypocrisy on the issue. There will, it is hoped, be more Sinn Féin contributions to 26-County legislation but on this issue the party has, unlike any other in Leinster House, stood up and established clearly the democratic rights of the Irish people, in this case to a referendum on neutrality.

Seán Crowe



Politicians have stolen Irish neutrality from the people




"The concept of establishing a free, independent militarily neutral state is deeply ingrained in Irish history, particularly, I am proud to say, in the republican socialist tradition.

Wolfe Tone called for neutrality in the face of an impending war between Britain and Spain in the 1790s. The commitment to Irish neutrality and independence was maintained in the 19th century by the Young Irelanders and was built on by the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Arthur Griffith co-founded the Irish Neutrality Association to make the case that the war between Britain and the Boers should not involve the use of Irish soldiers as cannon fodder.

James Connolly argued consistently against involvement in the First World War. The maxim of the Irish Citizen Army, 'We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland' summed up the feeling at the time.

In 1916, Roger Casement spoke of 'these artificial and unnatural wars, prompted by greed of power, are the source of all misery now destroying mankind'.

It is only by looking back over the years that we can see how clearly our neutrality has deteriorated, until we reached the stage where we are told by politicians and so-called intellectuals that our neutrality no longer makes sense.

Politicians have stolen Irish neutrality from the people. Successive governments have sold Irish neutrality piece by piece against the wishes of the people.

More than 100,000 men and women marched past Leinster House last Saturday and I congratulate everyone who took an active part in that demonstration and the organisers for making the day such a success.

Was the Taoiseach listening? Were those others, who have long claimed our neutrality was an anachronism, watching the television reports that night? Men and women who have never taken part in a protest in their lives flocked to Dublin in the hope that the government would finally listen to the people on neutrality.

They know we are assisting in a war that can have nothing but disastrous consequences for the Iraqi people and others living in the region.

The World Health Organisation has estimated there may be as many as 500,000 casualties. The government tells us that playing our part in the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people does not, and will not, affect Irish neutrality. The government is, not for the first time, lying to the Irish people.

Oil is fuelling the drive to war on Iraq. It is a war of aggression and domination. It is in the purest sense what Jacques Delors referred to in 1991 as a 'resource war'. I ask Members on all sides of the House who are concerned about this matter to speak out on it. I know there are Members who would have gone on the march on Saturday if they were allowed. They have a responsibility to speak out and they will have an opportunity to do and to vote to accept this Bill."

 

Martin Ferris



A war on poverty




"We in Sinn Féin want to articulate the positive aspects of neutrality. At its core, this must mean being a positive force in arguing for not just nuclear disarmament but a massive scaling down of the international weapons industry.

We believe that neutrality can be a tool to resolve conflict in the modern world.

For a practical example of this in action you need look no further than the unparalleled record of Irish personnel on UN peace keeping and humanitarian missions.

We are uniquely placed on the international stage. While counted as one of the industrialised so called "first world" states, we also have an experience of colonial occupation and exploitation that makes us all too aware of the situation facing the less developed states in central and south America, Africa and Asia.

We can be a bridge between the global haves and have nots, between the exploiters and the exploited. We should have used our membership of the UN Security Council as a campaigning member in favour of debt cancellation, and renewed investment and aid for less developed states. We should have been lobbying for making cheaper medicines available to combat AIDs, TB, Hepatitis and other treatable ailments.

As a neutral state we are not advocating pacifism. We are advocating global justice and when necessary will support a just war. For example we will support a war on poverty. We will support stopping the arms trade and replace it with fair trade.

Why for example has this government each of the past five years refused to meet its own meagre commitments on Overseas External Aid. The simple act of sharing our wealth internationally could be a powerful signal to other wealthier states to show that we are willing to fight global poverty.

Ironically, many Irish aid workers and millions of euros of Irish households' money will end up running refugee camps and feeding stations on the borders of Iraq as this war is waged.

During the last decade of number of people living on less than $1 daily barely fell, and the UN estimates that at current rates it will take more 130 years to rid the world of hunger.

That is the world we have created today. All the countries of the European Union (EU) collectively spend about $150 billion on defence each year. The United States alone will spend upwards of $380 billion in 2003. We are giving Saddam a month to disarm the weapons and technologies sold to him by EU and US companies. At the same time we are condemning hundreds of millions more to a century of hunger.

We urge the deputies here tonight to vote with their conscience tonight for a war on hunger, for an end to the arms trade and a campaign for fair trade for one small step on towards the Emmet ideal of Ireland taking its place among the nations of the earth and not being in his words "the pliant minion of power". That is the choice we face today."

 

Arthur Morgan



NATO troops are in Ireland




"Some of the contributions to this debate both inside and outside the Dáil are worthy of walk-on parts in comedy shows like David Brent's The Office. 'What would Ireland's position be,' we were asked, 'if one the EU states were occupied by a foreign invader'.

Well firstly, one is currently occupied. It's called Ireland and it is NATO troops who are occupying it. For the less informed deputies, of which there are many on this issue, that's British troops.

So what would we do, we were asked, if we had neutrality in our Constitution? What could we do, I ask, throw stones at them? Besides, it's a bogus scenario. It is much more likely that European troops will be active outside the borders of the EU rather than defending them if the EU warmongers get their way.

We have really managed to call the government's bluff on this occasion.

All through Nice 1 and 2 debates, the government told the Irish people that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in favour of neutrality.

Well, the cat is well and truly out of the bag now and we all know just how pro-NATO you are.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers have one last chance to preserve that last ounce of integrity and vote with us on this bill."

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin



International justice and morality




"Irish neutrality is in flitters after the government's mishandling of international affairs and this Bill is designed to re-establish our neutrality on a solid foundation. This Bill will write neutrality into the Constitution for the first time. It is straightforward as constitutional provisions should be. It is also in line with what the government claims is its policy - that is, non-membership of military alliances.

This Bill could not be more timely. Last weekend witnessed the largest political demonstrations in Ireland and around the world in our lifetimes. None of us will ever forget the sight of 100,000 people transforming the streets of our capital city and demanding that the Irish Government oppose the threatened US-British war on Iraq. These were not people marching for material gain or sectoral interests.

This was a demonstration of selflessness and idealism and a declaration that the policy and actions of the Irish government should be, in the words of Article 29.1 of the Constitution, 'founded on international justice and morality'.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has stated: 'Irish military neutrality is a policy to which this government is deeply attached... It is a policy espoused by successive Irish Governments and its core defining characteristic is non-membership of military alliances.'

Very well, then. If that is the case let the government support this Bill.

Article 28 of the Constitution currently reads: 'War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann.' We seek to amend Article 28 to read:

'War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict, or conduct of war or other armed conflict, save with the assent of Dáil Éireann.'

It has been argued that the government is already in breach of Article 28 as it stands by facilitating US troops and military material at Shannon. The Hague Convention, Chapter 1 on the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers, Article 5, states that a neutral power must not allow belligerents to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across its territory. I would argue that the government is in breach of the Hague Convention. It may say that war has not commenced. But the US and Britain are already carrying out bombing raids on Iraq. If a full-scale attack commences and the government here continues to allow the use of Shannon, it will definitely be in breach of the Hague Convention.

Our proposed amendment seeks to put the responsibility of government beyond doubt. It would prevent a government acting as this one has done, without a vote of the Dáil. The kind of underhanded and dishonest approach we have seen would be precluded because the government would be accountable to this assembly. Taken together with our proposed amendment to Article 29, the new Article 28.1 would ensure that governments in future adhere to neutrality in policy and in practice.

Article 29.1 and 29.2 of the Constitution read:

'1. Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality.

'2. Ireland affirms its adherence to the principles of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.'

"We seek to insert a new Article 29.3 as follows:

'Ireland affirms that it is a neutral state. To this end the state shall, in particular, maintain a policy of non-membership of military alliances.'

This is the key provision of the Bill and would write neutrality into the Constitution for the first time. It is straightforward as constitutional provisions should be. It is also in line with what the government claims is its policy - that is, non-membership of military alliances."

 

Aengus Ó Snodaigh



Ireland needs this bill




"The government oppose this Bill, but what are they afraid of? As Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Brian Lenihan stated that 'Ireland's policy of military neutrality is premised on our intention not to become involved in hostilities between other states. In peacetime this calls for non-membership of military alliances'.

In 1992, Albert Reynolds said, 'The policy and tradition of neutrality in the military sense has served Ireland well. It has served as a symbol of sovereignty and independence...(and) helped us play a constructive role in UN peacekeeping.'

In 2001, Minister of Defence, Michael Smith stated that, 'in line with government policy of military neutrality, the government has made clear that Ireland would ONLY participate in operations authorised by the United Nations in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Dáil approval.'

That same year, PD Minister of State Liz O'Donnell indicated the government's 'firm attachment' to military neutrality and claimed that 'we are not interested in joining military alliances'.

The strongest statement on neutrality comes from the now EU Affairs Minister Dick Roche, who said in 1999 that, 'it is bizarre that Ireland is willing to talk endlessly about our neutrality but have never sat down and determined in clear terms what we mean by neutrality... We should possess within our law a clear and unambiguous statement of how we determine our neutrality as a nation... to bind this and every future government on the issue of neutrality... We should give the people the opportunity to express their views on neutrality at the earliest possible date... They should be given the opportunity to write into their Constitution their commitment to neutrality in clear and unambiguous terms.'

On the words of some of their leading figures, this government should welcome this Bill with open arms. But they don't, because they fear exposure. The Fianna Fáil-led government has systematically pursued a policy of abandoning neutrality by stealth.

The government joined NATO's Partnership for Peace despite promises to the contrary. It refused to seek a legally binding neutrality Protocol to the Nice Treaty despite public outcry. It set the precedent of Ministerial authorisation for war complicity without the assent of the Dáil in the case of the US-led war on Afghanistan.

In the current crisis, it has not used its position on the Security Council and in the EU to join with other countries to strongly oppose war with Iraq. Instead, it has allowed US forces to use Shannon Airport as a pit-stop on the way to the war build-up, and has refused to unequivocally reject participation in war on Iraq.

If the Sinn Féin Neutrality Bill was passed, ALL these acts would be out of the question, as they would be very clearly unconstitutional. The Sinn Féin amendments would disallow participation in standing military alliances and restrict Irish overseas military involvement to UN Peacekeeping missions.

So it's clear to me that Ireland needs this Bill.

Sinn Féin wants neutrality to be explicitly enshrined in the constitution, and in law.

Contrary to what our opponents claim, the time could not be more ripe for a public debate and referendum on neutrality.

We in Sinn Féin are proud that our first Bill debated in Leinster House has made a contribution to this crucial public policy debate at this volatile time in world history."

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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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