21 October 1999 Edition

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FF/FG Grand Coalition attacks neutrality

BY Mícheál MacDonncha

The neutrality of the 26-County State is being significantly undermined this week as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael unite to vote through membership of NATO's so-called `Partnershp for Peace'.

Both the government and Fine Gael rejected an amendment in the name of five deputies, including Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin, which sought a referendum.

Most Fianna Fáil TDs kept a low profile during the debate on PfP in the Dáil last week and this week as their party vainly tried to play down the massive U-turn perpetrated by the Taoiseach in breaking his promise to oppose PfP and to hold a referendum. Despite the rumblings from some Fianna Fáil backbenchers none of them had the courage to break the party whip and vote in support of a referendum. The amendment seeking a referendum was in the names of Caoimhghín O Caoláin, Tony Gregory, John Gormley, Trevor Sargent and Joe Higgins. As An Phoblacht goes to press, it is expected that the vote will be taken on Wednesday night and the government motion will succeed with the support of Fine Gael.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin spoke in the debate on Thursday, 14 October. He said:

``No government in recent Irish history has made such a brazen U-turn as that perpetrated by An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the Partnership for Peace or the `Partnership for NATO' as it should properly be called. Last week in this chamber, An Taoiseach, in an astonishing remark which went largely unreported in the media, described what was set down clearly in the 1997 Fianna Fáil general election manifesto as a ``so-called commitment''. This remark showed outright contempt for the electorate which returned Fianna Fáil to this Dáil as the largest party and the main party in government.

``In March 1996, the then leader of the Opposition Bertie Ahern stated that any attempt to join the so-called Partnership for Peace without a referendum would be a `serious breach of faith and fundamentally undemocratic'.

``That faith has now been broken and what is taking place here this week is indeed fundamentally undemocratic. A government elected on the basis of opposition to PfP and a promise to hold a referendum if membership was proposed is denying the people their right to vote. Who now will represent the tens of thousands of Fianna FÝil voters and the many members of that party who supported, and, I contend, still support, the position articulated at the 1997 general election?

``Where are the Fianna Fáil backbenchers now? Is there a single one of them with the conscience to keep the promise they made to the people? Is there a single one of them with the courage to stop acting like sheep and to stand up like the elected representatives and legislators they are supposed to be?

``I want to challenge the very false and insidious notion which I know has been peddled around the corners and backstairs of Leinster House in recent days. It has been whispered to journalists by some Fianna Fáil members that we must go into this Partnership for NATO in order to keep in favour with the United States Administration for the sake of the peace process. I can only describe this as a cynical spin, used as a last resort now by Fianna Fáil members. It is a sordid attempt to manipulate the universal good will for the Irish peace process in order to excuse the duplicity of the Fianna Fáil leadership.

``There was some protest from the Fine Gael benches here yesterday when Deputy O'Kennedy criticised the calls by former senior army officers of this State for membership of PfP. But no-one mentioned the much more serious statement from the current serving Chief of Staff of this State's military forces David Stapleton in Clonmel on 7 October. He quite openly urged membership of PfP and thus intervened directly in the political field only days before the issue was due to be debated by this House.

``The government claims that its priority in joining PfP is peacekeeping. This State has won respect for its involvement in peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the United Nations. The expansion of NATO through PfP can only serve to weaken the United Nations. A fundamental principle of the UN is to work against the division of the world's nations into armed power blocs. The end of the Cold War should also have spelt the end of such power blocs but instead we have seen NATO expanding and seeking world domination.

``There are NATO-aligned troops currently on Irish soil. They still occupy barracks and other military installations in the Six Counties. As a TD for a party which represents communities who have endured that occupation for decades I also reject membership of PfP on those grounds. It is totally unacceptable for an Irish government to align itself militarily with NATO, when a branch of the NATO army still occupies part of our country.

``Of course, Deputy Gay Mitchell thinks this is a good reason for us to join PfP, and, in due course, NATO itself. He wants an Ireland united under NATO. No-one should be surprised at that. At least it can be said of Deputies Mitchell, O'Malley and others that they openly advocate the end of our neutrality, unlike those who claim to uphold it and then undermine it as Fianna Fáil is doing now.

``We see yet again across those benches the Grand Coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who on this, as on so many other issues, are found to be hand in hand once the smoke of mock battle has lifted.

``I am proud to stand with the real Opposition in this House today, the genuine opponents of this sell-out of our neutrality, small in number though we may be. We will be returning to the defence of our neutrality again in this House and eventually, in future referenda and elections. I believe that on those occasions, the duplicity we have witnessed this week will come back to haunt those who have tried once too often to hoodwink the Irish people.''

An Phoblacht
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