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27 August 1998 Edition

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The dissenters' view

SF TD speaks at Humbert Bicentenary School

Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin spoke at the Humbert Bicentenary School in Ballina, County Mayo last weekend. The School is an annual event but this year marked the 200th anniversary of the landing of the forces of the French Republic under General Humbert, leading to the establishment of the Republic of Connacht and the military campaign which ended with the defeat of the French and United Irish forces at Ballinamuck.

The Sinn Féin TD joined a panel of speakers on Irish and European affairs which included Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, newly appointed British minister in the North John McFall MP, Pat the Cope Gallagher MEP, and former Defence Minister Sean Barrett.

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and SDLP leader John Hume also participated in the School during the course of the weekend.

Referring to the Omagh atrocity Deputy O Caoláin said:

``Those who carried out this bombing are acting against the will of the overwhelming majority of people on this island and, I stress, against the will of the broad mass of Irish republican opinion which is united and strong in its determination to press on with the peace process and build a lasting peace settlement. That unity and determination, and the will of the Irish people, must prevail upon this miniscule group to desist.''

Turning to the main theme of the seminar `EU Expansion, Reform and Local Development' the TD said that in European matters Sinn Féin are ``both catholics and dissenters - with a small c and a small d, that is''. He explained: ``We are catholic in the sense of having a broad, universal outlook because we embrace the idea of internationalism both in Europe and beyond. Ireland always has been and always will be a European nation. We have co-existed peacefully with the nations of Europe, with one exception, for a millennium.

``We are, hopefully, living in a time when the legacy of conflict with our nearest European neighbour, can be left behind. Sinn Féin supports a foreign policy based on peaceful co-existence, positive neutrality, disarmament, economic co-operation and development. We believe this can best be achieved by sovereign, democratic states working together. Our structures and relationships ought to be European but not Eurocentric. We believe that the Irish people, with our unique traditions, also wish to look beyond Europe to the disadvantaged nations of the world. We do not want to be part of any political or economic entity that actually compounds that disadvantage.

``We are dissenters because we dissent from the so-called mainstream party political and media consensus on the current project for European Union integration. We reject the notion that to be against EU integration is to be anti-Europe. We are pro-Europe. We believe that for the people of Ireland, as for the people of all the other EU states, the creation of One Big State in Europe is a bad idea. It is fundamentally undemocratic. This is so because it removes political sovereignty from states with democratically elected governments to a centralised bureaucracy with only a fig-leaf of democratic accountability. The fig-leaf is called the EU Parliament.

``Even if this parliament had full powers to elect a government, raise taxes and decide on spending it would still be undemocratic. It is impossible for any single parliament of 626 members to represent 370 million people in 15 states, and more to come with EU expansion. Put very simply, the further political and economic power is removed from the local community the less democratic accountability there is.''

O Caoláin also slammed recent comments from Dessie O'Malley and others urging the abandonment of Irish neutrality.

Highlighting the economic plight of the border counties, the West and the Midlands he said:

``Despite our years of being designated Objective 1 Status for EU Structural Funds we find that now, as that status for the whole island comes to an end, there are glaring inequalities which persist despite all the EU funding. The gap between the disadvantaged areas of the country and the economically prosperous regions has widened. Those falling furthest behind are in the West, the Border region and the Midlands.

``Objective 1 Status must be designated regionally and the funds for the region must be enhanced in the next round. To do this the government must commit itself to seek EU Commission acceptance of the regionalisation of this State in order to secure these areas' unquestionable needs and right to fair access to EU supports for infrastructural and human resources development funds.''

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