Wednesday, 1 June 1988
Seanad Eireann Debate
(1) That it is expedient in order to provide formal structures within the parliamentary framework for the discussion of foreign policy matters that a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas (which shall be called the Joint Committee on Foreign Policy) consisting of seven Members of Seanad Éireann and eight Members of Dáil  Éireann be appointed to review, examine and report to each House with its recommendations on all aspects of foreign policy of the State including—
(5) That all questions in the Joint Committee and in each sub-committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes the question shall be decided in the negative.
(6) That the Joint Committee and  each sub-committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records and, subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance, to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist it for the purpose of particular inquiries.
(7) That any Member of either House may attend and be heard in the proceedings of the Joint Committee or in each sub-committee without having a right to vote, subject to the prior consent of the Joint Committee or the sub-committee as the case may be.
(9) That every report of the Joint Committee shall on adoption by the Joint Committee, be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith whereupon the Joint Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report together with such related documents as it thinks fit.
(10) That no document relating to matters comprehended by paragraph (1) of this resolution received by the Clerk to the Joint Committee or to each sub-committee shall be withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of the Joint Committee or the sub-committee as the case may be.
(11) That the quorum of the Joint Committee shall be four of whom at least one shall be a Member of Seanad Éireann and one a shall be a Member of Dáil Éireann and that the quorum of each sub-committee shall be three at least one of whom shall be a Member of Seanad Éireann and one a Member of Dáil Éireann.
First of all, I would like to welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad and to send, through him, if I may, my best wishes and, I am sure, the best wishes of all Members of this House, to the  Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lenihan, and say how gald we are to hear the news that he is well on the way to recovery. We look forward to welcoming him back, in person, to this House.
I would like to address myself to certain technical matters and particularly to the nature of the framing of this motion as an expediency motion because some reference was made on the Order of Business to the question of whether or not this motion was properly framed. My belief and understanding, which I have confirmed this afternoon, is that it is so properly framed and that there is a specific reason, which I deliberately intended, behind the use of an expediency motion. The reason is that if this motion is passed by this House a message is then sent to the Dáil containing its wording. This is then discussed in the Dáil and if there is a Dáil decision to agree with the terms of the motion a message of agreement is sent back to the Upper House and a committee is then set up by way of another resolution in the same terms. If the Dáil declines to agree with the substance of this motion it still lies within the remit of Seanad Éireann to establish its own House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This, I am sure the Cathaoirleach and the Minister will agree, is a far stronger and more incisive instrument than merely the loose wording that “we propose to consider the establishment”. We should, at this stage, many years after the institution of a framework under which committees of both Houses of the Oireachtas can be established, be far further along the road than merely “considering”.
I would refer the Minister to recent exchanges in the Dáil when Deputy Higgins questioned the Taoiseach on this very matter, and was told again that it was being given consideration. Upon being pressed on it, the Taoiseach replied that it was being given considered consideration. Well, the proliferation of these terms is potentially endless, but I  believe that there is an all-party concensus that such a committee would be a useful instrument.
I do not intend to go into too great depth with regard to the technicalities of the clauses of this motion, but I would like to draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 6 in particular. This empowers a joint committee to send for persons and papers and could, perhaps, be a source of contention between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the senior civil servants there who might perhaps feel, as indeed might some Ministers, that part of their territory was being poached on. As a matter of personal choice I would have preferred, if I regarded it as possible, a stronger paragraph 6, which included the power, as exists in the Parliament at Westminister, to subpoena. However, because I am a practical man and politics is the art of the possible, I realise that this would raise hackles. I had it watered down to allow only the power “to send for persons and papers”, but of course Ministers and civil servants have the capacity, politely, to decline and to disengage themselves. So, although it is a fairly weak section this very weakness, as I would perceive it, should recommend it to the Minister and to the senior personnel of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
I think we all believe that foreign policy is an extremely important area of our political life. It is, so to speak, the graduate school of politics. Many people start in local politics and graduate then to parliamentary politics. There is, of course, a rung now above that — the rung of international institutions and of our international affairs. I would point out to the Minister the irony of the fact that there is a committee on foreign policy within the European Parliament, upon which some of our MEPs actually sit, and make a very important contribution. I have here with me the European Political Cooperation Documentation Bulletin, which is crammed with matters on foreign policy which have taken the active interest of members of the European Parliament and in which, I am very glad  to see, many of our own Irish MEPs participate very vigorously.
It is very true, I think, that as the poet, John Donne, said, no man is an island entire of itself. No nation is an island entire of itself either, particularly in this century when we are confronted with threats of global famine and of nuclear disaster, no State can operate alone.
Also this State since its very inception has by its own nature accepted the importance of foreign affairs in the very creation of the State. When the State was struggling to be born our political leaders recognised the importance of international contact and established contacts in Washington, Paris, Rome and at the Vatican. The then leader of what is now the Government party, Éamon de Valera, who was unquestionably a world figure himself, noted this aspect of affairs and was instrumental in the establishment of the League of Nations in the late twenties. There is in the world today a growing understanding of the interrelationship of nations. We are also, I am very glad to say — and I am sure the Minister, as a Member of the Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, will agree with me — a Republic. It is refreshing that the area of foreign policy is no longer as it was in the 19th century the prerogative of princes and prelates. We have gone beyond the days of Metternich, Peel and Melbourne and these sort of people.
There is an importance attached to foreign policy by Members of this House. If you look at the Order Paper for today, for example, there are on every page of quite a lengthy Order Paper at least two or three items relating to foreign policy issues. It is also of importance to the public. I believe very strongly that there should be some degree of public accountability in this very important aspect of the nation's life. One has only got to look, for example, at The Irish Times today where there is on the letters' page a very cogently reasoned letter teasing out the implications of the Single European Act with regard to issues of our neutrality. My first day in this House was the day on which, having been reconvened after the general election, we set  about discussing the Single European Act and its implications and the repercussions of the Crotty judgement in the Supreme Court. At that time my distinguished colleague, Senator Mary Robinson, pointed out the important consequences of this judgement and in particular the words of Mr. Justice Walsh in his decision where, in a consideration of the Single European Act, he said:
(2) To undertake to inform or consult the other Member States on any foreign policy matters of general interest (not just of common interest) to ensure that the combined influence of the States is exercised as effectively as possible through co-ordination, the convergence of their positions and the implementation of joint action.
It was pointed out by a number of people during that debate that it was very necessary in the light of this debate to establish a committee to investigate and report on the implications of this judgment. In the first speech that I had the privilege of making in this House I myself said that I would like very strongly to support the suggestion of my colleague, Senator Mary Robinson, who made the recommendation that a committee of experts should be established to investigate the foreign policy consequences of this judgment. We still have not had that committee established, nor do we have the more wide-ranging joint committee of foreign policy issues. I believe that it is vitally important that we do so and that we start the process here this evening.
Although I have the greatest respect for this House — and it is a respect that increases with every day I spend in it — I would have to say that within the provisions of the Standing Orders of this House the machinery for the discussion of foreign policy it totally inadequate. I  say this without any disrespect to those Members who participate in discussions. One gets, for example, occasionally adjournment debates on foreign policy matters. I myself raised the question of Irish diplomatic representation at the time of the Waldheim visit to Rome. However, the drawback, even when you manage to get an adjournment debate on an issue like this, is that the Member who raises such an issue comes in, speaks for 20 minutes and the Minister then replies, normally by reading a prepared script which has been written in advance of any notification or any knowledge of the principal and substantive points which may be raised by the Senator. In a sense it is the very reverse of dialogue. There is no real exchange of opinions, although I am glad to say that certain Ministers do sometimes step aside from the prepared script and courteously answer some of the points that were raised. It is an ineffective machinery through which to pursue foreign policy.
There are also contacts between Members of both Houses and other parliamentary institutions, notably through the Inter-parliamentary Union. I believe that this is fairly useful. I use the qualification advisedly because although sometimes valuable work is done, this is by no means always the case; and, as somebody who has always decried junkets when they occur in county councils, I would have to say that there can be and certainly exists in the public mind a suspicion that one aspect of these trips abroad is the aspect of junketing.
Some few years ago a delegation from the Houses of the Oireachtas went to Nicaragua. They went there to investigate the Nicaraguan elections. I am very glad to say that, having gone out there with this specific brief under the aegis of the Interparliamentary Union, they actually did their job. They came back here, issued a communique and a very detailed and well-produced report on the Nacaraguan elections. This was principally at the executive initiative of the leader of the group, the then Senator  Michael D. Higgins. It was not a requirement of the machinery. We have just had a group which has gone to Guatemala. I do not know why they went. I do not know much about what they did there. I have heard no communique. I know of no report being issued, although I did — and I am very glad as an Independent Senator to be able to say this — hear by accident a very interesting explanation of what went on in a Radio Éireann news programme. Even that aspect which lies inert and can be used, is by no means adequately or fully used.
I believe that one important aspect of the establishment of a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs would be that it would have the capacity to invite submissions and engage in discussions with senior and responsible voluntary organisations like Amnesty International, Oxfam and the Catholic relief agency, Trocaire, who have so valiantly upheld the honour and dignity of this country. The contribution they could make would be exceedingly important.
I could instance many different groups, but I would like to draw to the Minister's attention, for example, three such groups. First of all, I will start with Amnesty International. This year is the fortieth anniversary of universal declaration of human rights; and Amnesty International have issued an appeal to Governments, including our own Government here, to make human rights a major foreign policy goal. This is not only the fortieth anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, which occurs on the 10 December 1988, but it is also the anniversary of several international covenants. I would like to refer to those in some detail. First of all, there is the international covenant on civil and political rights. Secondly, there is the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. These were signed on behalf of the Irish people by an Irish Government 22 years go, but they yet wait to be ratified. I believe that an Oireachtas Joint Committee on foreign policy would ask, and ask very  trenchantly and continuously, why this is so.
Mr. Norris: I understand that there is some legislative difficulty and that there is a problem of the repercussion in domestic legislation of incorporating fully these most desirable covenants. So much the better, say I. If it is necessary to alter Irish domestic law as a result of our given commitments to international concepts of morality, then the sooner we set about changing our Irish domestic law the better. I can think of no better forum in which to introduce such legislation than Seanad Éireann.
There is, finally, a third member of this triad, and that is the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Why has this not been fully activated? Again, we get promise after promise after promise. In the debate on the Video Bill, for example, the question of incitement to hatred was raised. I thought that it was an inappropriate place in which to raise it as an adjunct to a Bill with which it had absolutely no connection. But I welcomed it. I said “Fine, I will support that”. I did make some small additions to it, but I also attempted to provoke the Minister into producing a full Bill outlawing incitement to hatred. A commitment was given that this would be done, but it seems to be another case of “consideration” leading virtually nowhere. Again, it seems to me here in this area a joint committee on foreign affairs would be a very good thing.
Amnesty International also have some very interesting things to say to us in terms of the documentation of human rights abuses throughout the world. I would like to point to a rather anomalous situation that exists in our foreign policy. For example, we have here and we welcome here an Iranian diplomatic mission. In Iran, however, the basic safeguards of human rights are still not in place. This is quite clear. In Ervin prison in Tehran torture is still widespread. Beatings on the feet and with electric cables are a  matter of course; torture by electrical probes continues as do torture with cigarette burns and mock executions. In addition, punishments are regularly carried out involving flogging and amputation of limbs and fingers. There were 4,467 acts of corporal punishment involving flogging and multilation, such as the amputation of fingers and other major limbs, in the Tehran area alone in 1986-87. There were 160 executions in 1987, which is an increase of 45 over 1986. That is only the official figure. God knows how many more are being executed, often after summary trial or no trial at all. There is — as the Minister is, I am sure, aware — on the Order Paper today a motion deploring the treatment of members of the Ba-hai faith in Iran.
I would like to know of and to be able to get at the principles underlying our foreign policy. Are they simply matters of commercial self-interest, that we do not want to aggravate a potential economic market? Beef, perhaps, may raise its sometimes attractive head once more again. But I would remind the Minister that under the Constitution this is supposed to be a Christian and democratic state. If it is, I would like to be informed of the Christian principles underlying our practical and diplomatic relations with other countries. I realise that we live in a practical world and that economic considerations must be taken into account. But it is required that certain other moral principles be taken into account in the context of our Constitution.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement is also a highly respected movement in this country. In June there will be the renewal of the Free Nelson Mandela Campaign. Nelson Mandela, a figure internationally respected, will be 70 in July. He should, I believe, be unconditionally released. There should be pressure from our Government to do this. We have also got a situation where the mind of the public is far in advance of Government policy with regard to sanctions. The official Irish Government attitude appears to be towards a kind of creeping sanction, where the Anti-Apartheid Movement  would seek full, immediate and mandatory sanctions. I believe that the present attitude of Government was very largely formed by the brave stand of the Dunne's Stores' strikers rather than any development of policy attitude on the part of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Even what we have done with regard to sanctions, the limited moves in regards to sanctions are rendered almost meaningless by virtue of the fact that, while our imports from South Africa are certainly declining very rapidly, exports of meat once more are rocketing and are estimated to reach £87 million this year. I am very concerned by this, because it means that we will be dependent upon the goodwill of South Africa and there is no question of doubt whatever but that this must help to colour our attitude towards the South African regime.
We had just this year a moving debate in this House on the Sharpeville Six. I am very glad to say that in this case international pressure, which I believe would have been maximised had there been a committee on foreign affairs, had some success. Recently, there has also been another case, not in South Africa but in Namibia, during which six South African soldiers penetrated Namibia and murdered a member of SWAPO. A trial was commenced. They first of all denied that they were South African soldiers. They were not, of course, in uniform. It then emerged conclusively that they were South African soldiers and on the day of the trial Mr. Botha intervened personally and quashed the whole thing. There was not a squeak throughout the world about this.
I would like to turn to Oxfam, another group that I would hope would be able to make a contribution to the development in the area of foreign policy. Everyone in this country is concerned with the kind of work that Oxfam does. It is vitally important, particularly psychologically, in this country, which still remembers the impact of the famine of the last century. We, as a people, have a particular sensitivity in this matter. We are used to people bewailing the fact that throughout  the world people who were aware of the grief, suffering and misery of the Irish people stood idly by and did nothing. What are we doing ourselves now? If one reads the reports of Oxfam in Ireland, or if one reads the Estimates — the summary of supply service net estimates — you find what we are doing; or, rather, not doing. It does seem rather cynical. In the Estimates for this year, while the Estimate for the Department of Foreign Affairs goes up by 3 per cent, International Co-operation goes down by 21 per cent. We are actually in a sense welching on our commitment to the international community and the Third World.
Mr. Norris: I would like to say also that I would welcome a return to the very active foreign policy of the 1950s and 1960s. It is remarkable that during that period Ireland did draw an independent line. It is interesting to note that during the recent visit of President Hillery to China the President of the Peoples Republic of China paid particular and warm tribute to the fact that Ireland had taken an independent line with regard to the seating of the Peoples Republic of China at the United Nations. I would urge the Minister to consider that the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge will come in January 1989, not very far away. We are already envisaging the spectre of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops in 1990, which leads to a fear of the return of Pol Pot. No significant development aid has been given to Kampuchea because there exists there at present a Vietnamese-backed Government, thus preventing total economic recovery. Ireland must vote at the next United  Nations assembly against the recognition of the CGDJ, which has a large Khmer Rouge regime membership.
Professor Murphy: I have pleasure in seconding the motion and if my contribution is not as fully prepared as it might be, I must say it is entirely my own fault. I did not realise until half an hour ago, in fact, that this motion was being taken tonight and there are some references I would like to have verified and so on. Nonetheless, I am very glad to be in a position to second it. With reference to what Senator Norris said a moment ago about the President of the Peoples's Republic of China, that particular gentleman was not terribly well informed about the course of events back at the United Nations nearly 30 years ago because, as I understand it, while we are active in pushing for a discussion of whether or not the People's Republic of China should supplant their Formosan rivals in the United Nations, when it actually came to a decision, we were less than fortright if, indeed, we did not take our stand against the People's Republic of China. Fortunately such subtleties are not recalled by our Chinese friends, for which we should be grateful.
The matter of foreign policy, with which this motion is concerned, is sometimes relegated to an inferior place because there is the mundane assumption that it is not bread and butter. Well, even that assumption, in the last analysis, cannot be substantiated because, indeed, foreign policy can be very much about bread and butter, if not about our bread and butter, other people's bread and butter. It also touches an essential part  of a nation's personality. Foreign policy is really how other people see us, the face we present to them and the way we behave in a community of nations. That, indeed, is a very crucial part of our behaviour.
In the time of Grattan's Parliament, as it is familiarly if erroneously known, one of the Members, aflush with the new Protestant nation's awareness of their quite illusory independence, full of a kind of new delusion of grandeur that the Parliament really meant something, stood up one day — again I regret that I cannot give the exact reference — and said plaintively that one of the great drawbacks of the constitutional situation which prevailed after 1782 up to the Act of Union, was that the kingdom of Ireland, as it was then, had no foreign policy of its own; it was subordinate to the foreign policy of London. He used the phrase which, I think, sums up the importance of foreign policy: “Who, out of Ireland”, he said, “has ever heard of Ireland?” That kind of defeatist isolationism, that voice was still to be heard very much later.
Patrick Keating opens his book, A Place Among the Nations, as I recall, with a quotation from a Deputy in Dáil Éireann in the twenties when there was a debate on the Department of External Affairs, as it was known then, who more or less said: “What do we want a Department like that for? We do not have any external affairs.” I hasten to add, they did not have many internal affairs either at that stage. What he meant was, of course, that in the forefront of Irish consciousness in the twenties the only foreign affairs were Anglo-Irish relations. We live in a very different world now.
This motion is not mainly designed to inform the people of this country about the international scene. In fact, they are exceptionally well-informed. Anybody who has spent some time abroad and who has compared the reactions of other plain people, as it were, with that of our own when it comes to international matters, would be very gratified to discover that the level of public consciousness and awareness and interest of the average Irish citizen in what is going on around  him in the world, is exceptionally high by any standards. American visitors, for example, are astonished in a presidential year, as it happens to be, at the familiarity of the ordinary Irish citizen with the issues involved and the personalities at present competing for the highest office in the United States.
This, of course, shines out by comparison with the abysmally and dangerously low level of information on the outside world of the average American citizen. It is not then in order to make our people more informed on international affairs that we are pushing this motion. They are very aware and very sophisticated but I think they feel somehow, at the same time, that they have no power over what is happening, that decisions in the international sphere are taken without their knowledge and outside their power and the whole point of this motion, as I put my name to it, is to make foreign policy representative and responsible and a matter of popular control.
Senator Norris said that foreign policy is no longer the exclusive business of princes and prelates, but they have modern counterparts and we should beware that our affairs are not taken out of our hands and run for us in these vital areas by anonymous diplomatic mandarins. I have nothing but the highest praise, indeed, for the Department of Foreign Affairs and for those who have served there down the years. I have come to know many of them personally. At the same time I will not relinquish my claim as a citizen and that of those I represent to a right to know what is going on and to be able to direct policy rather than leave it to an elite in Iveagh House.
Éamon de Valera intended our Constitution to operate in such a way that the people would be masters. That shines out through every clause in the Constitution. They must be masters also in these matters which are not simply esoteric matters to be left to our betters. In the nuclear age, they are of absolutely vital concern to every citizen and the people cannot take proper decisions in these areas at election times and during referenda  unless they know what is going on. One of the main purposes of this motion is to provide them with that knowledge through the Oireachtas.
I have been uneasy, from time to time, about the way in which the professionals in the Department of Foreign Affairs take certain things upon themselves which, in my view, on certain occasions they were not entitled to do. I still have very grave reservations about the way in which, for example, the Government funded the referendum campaign on the Single European Act. I held in this House that that was a usurpation and a violation of the proper use of public funds and I must say I got a very unsatisfactory answer to it. Matters like that should be brought under the scrutiny of such a committee. That is a classic case where it would not be up to an individual Senator from the back benches to try to get some answer out of the Department of Foreign Affairs but where a real, representative Oireachtas committee with teeth could make a much more formidable demand.
I do not have time to go into the subparagraphs and paragraphs except to say that they are all very important. Our relationship with countries in the developing world is of special importance because we do have a very special relationship with them and they see us in a very special light. The matter of human rights, referred to in the sub-paragraph (iv) is important because frequently our concept of human rights in Ireland is limited and clouded by certain very conservative traditions and we need the illumination of outside courts and outside views on this matter.
Subparagraph (vi) refers to the need to deal with “policy positions adopted on behalf of the State in the United Nations General Assembly and other such International Assemblies” Again, this is a matter of great concern because insensibly, over the years since the time to which Senator Norris referred when we seemed to have a very independent foreign policy, our attitude in the United Nations has become modified by the imperatives prevailing nearer home.  That is something which has always caused me particular unease.
Finally, I come to sub-paragraph (vii), our position with regard to neutrality and non-alignment, a cause very dear to my own heart. I am going to be saying this weekend in a speech at Listowel Writers Week that, despite all the ambiguity of our neutrality, despite the reservations we have about how we came to acquire it, despite its anomalous operation, nonetheless it is the right policy. It is the moral policy; it belongs to the high moral order. It is those who want us to be part of a nuclear military pact who are insane. It is those who want to keep us out of these pacts who are sensible and who have the right moral approach.
Moreover, apart from the nuclear context altogether, to be anything but neutral in a world where armaments and arms deals deprive countless millions of people of their food and their rights, it seems to me that to be anything but to be neutral is to take the wrong policy. Finally it is good business, because we have no imperial past and because we are seen — though rather incorrectly so — as non-aligned by certain countries all over the developing world, we have a good standing there and that is something which is extremely valuable.
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, these are matters to be resolved and discussed not by individual partisan views but by this committee. I do not think foreign affairs is a luxury; in this modern age it is an absolute essential. Many of us may disagree on many of these issues. I am sure my friend Senator Ross who put his name to this motion would not be ad idem with me on many issues here, but he does agree with me and with Senator Norris on the need for representative dealings, if you like, and representative handlings of these vital issues.
I urge the Government, in concluding, that if they are really serious about making the Oireachtas relevant and making it of interest to the people, as would seem to be the case from the recent decision about televising proceedings and so on, there can be nothing of more direct relevance and more representative than  the establishing of such a committee. I have pleasure in seconding the motion.
Mr. Lanigan: Let me say, first of all, that the motion seems, to have broadened out from the setting up of the committee. Those who put down this motion are not the first to talk about the setting up of a committee such as this. Indeed, the matter was discussed in 1983 in this House and a motion very similar to this was discussed in December 1986. On that occasion the Government parties, as they were at the time, split and there was a vote on how this particular committee should be set up. The Labour group within the Government at that stage put down a motion which was very similar to this motion and there was an amendment put down in the name of Senator Dooge. It was an unusual debate at the time in that the motion put before the House was put forward by Senator Ferris, representing the Labour Party, but not in the name of the Labour Party. The proposer of the amendment was Senator Dooge who put it down in his own name and not on behalf of Fine Gael and not on behalf of the Government of the time. There was a reasonable and very broad discussion on the implications of the setting up of this joint committee during that debate. The debate in the way it has begun here this evening is developing along the same lines and with the same arguments as were put forward in 1986.
The motion, as has been said by Senator Norris, would go a long part of the way in the setting up of the committee but it is a matter for the Committee on Procedures and Privileges as to what committees are set up. It is not our function to set up committees. It could be said that we can recommend that committees be set up but we have no function in the matter here in reality.
Much has been made, in debates of this kind throughout the years, of the fact that in most other countries there is a committee of the Houses of Parliament on foreign affairs but in most other countries they do not have the same type of Oireachtas set-up as we have here. In many countries there is a total distinction  between the executive and the legislative function. Here we do not have such differentiation. They are not quite as separate as they are in other countries. Indeed, in most of the countries of Europe which have foreign affairs committees, the business of legislation is dealt with by committees. The bulk of the work in all areas is done at committee level. It would be wrong to attempt to suggest that, just because we do not have one here, we are out of order in relation to other countries throughout Europe. We have our own way of doing business. They have their way and, just because we do not have a joint committee on foreign affairs, does not mean that the other countries that have it are right and we are wrong.
The motion itself is a very broad one and there are a number of implications that could be read into it which would give a sense of criticism of what has been happening in our attitude towards certain areas of foreign affairs. It was suggested by Senator Norris that many of our stands in various countries on foreign affairs were based on our economic priorities and not on the rights of the people involved, that when we take stances we take them on economic grounds and not on moral or social grounds. I would have to refute that suggestion because, throughout the years, we have taken the high moral ground on issues which could definitely have been harmful to us in economic terms.
It should be stated quite categorically here that, long before anybody was taking the side of the Palestinians in the Middle East, our present Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1970 in Bahrein gave recognition to the PLO which was not given by other countries in Europe until the oil crisis began to hit them. Suddenly, some of these countries decided to take sides in the Middle East due to the very economic considerations Senator Norris mentioned. We had made the decisions on the rights of the situation and we did not take economic considerations into account at all.
Mr. Lanigan: Sub-paragraph (iii) refers to the welfare and rights of Irish citizens abroad as if consideration is not being given at present by the Government and by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the welfare and rights of citizens abroad. Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and, indeed, our Embassy officials throughout the world have taken quite a considerable interest in the welfare and rights of our citizens abroad and on all occasions when representations were made on behalf of our citizens abroad through our embassies, through our Minister for Foreign Affairs or through the Taoiseach, there was an instant response. Sometimes it might appear as if enough is not being done but we have to consider the fact that sometimes nothing can be done because we are dealing with Governments who may not be as open as ours in certain cases. Indeed, it is very easy to get the wrong story coming back from abroad at times when it might appear that there are people who are totally innocent of crime or innocent in certain acts which they may have committed and matters may not be as they appear on the surface.
I have seen at first-hand the care and concern given to Irish citizens abroad. The work done by the Taoiseach recently in terms of the problems associated with the Irish in America has to be acknowledged and we have to compliment him on the amount of work he has done in this area. We have a policy with regard to international trade. That policy is well covered by both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Industry and Commerce at present. I am not too sure why sub-paragraph (v) should be included in this motion.
I do not think it is necessary to set up a joint committee of both Houses to deal with the establishment and maintenance of good relations in countries with which  Ireland has commercial and diplomatic dealings. The position is that the establishment of good relations comes about because of commercial considerations rather than the consideration of the moral ground mentioned in Senator Norris's speech. It would appear that in relation to sub-paragraph (vii), Ireland's position with regard to neutrality and non-alignment, there might be a questioning of our situation. It cannot but be said that Ireland's position as a neutral nation is regarded highly throughout the world and that, because of this, we are accepted in areas where other people of Europe are not. We have a non-colonial past. We are accepted as being neutral in the very best sense of the word and because of this we have seen that our troops are welcomed as neutral peace-keeping forces wherever they have been asked to go. They have never gone outside the bounds of the mandate given them by the United Nations, wherever they have been. They are extremely highly respected no matter where they go. I suggest that our policy on neutrality is not up for discussion by any joint committee. It is a position which is well-known to the Irish people and is well-respected by them and will not change.
I noticed that at the Christian Democrats meeting in Galway recently the leader of the Fine Gael party, Deputy Dukes, came under quite some pressure from some members of the European Parliament regarding our position on neutrality. I was glad that Deputy Dukes on that occasion came out quite strongly and said he had no intention of changing this position. I am glad he agrees with the majority of the Irish people on this very, very important matter and I would have absolutely no wish to have this situation brought before a committee to be examined and reported on to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Again, last weekend in Cork we had a questioning of our neutrality by the Progressive Democrat spokesperson on Foreign Affairs. I must say it was not a nice sound to listen to her discussing what she called our “sham attitude” towards neutrality. We have a perfectly legitimate  attitude towards neutrality and long may it continue.
Paragraph (6) is disturbing in the sense that there is a suggestion that there would be power to send for persons, papers and records. This could have a devastating effect on the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Not alone that, but because of the nature of things at times there is a coming together as between what happens in the Department of Foreign Affairs and in the Department of Justice and I do not think any committee of the Oireachtas should be allowed to have for discussion papers and records which could be used or misused by the media.
Over the past number of years we have had many very good discussions on foreign affairs. The lack of a committee on foreign affairs has never inhibited Members of either House from putting forward their own views, popular or unpopular. I do not think there has ever been a lack of goodwill on the part of any Government to allow somebody to bring forward as a matter of priority something which is in the area of foreign affairs. Indeed, that has happened on numerous occasions during the period of this particular Oireachtas and it was not only on the Adjournment that these discussions took place. It was not, as Senator Norris said, that the House was misused in the sense that the debate was not answered because the Ministers came in and made speeches. I think on all occasions when there were contributions on foreign affairs in this House the Ministers came in and replied to the debate rather than giving set speeches.
The debate which started originally in 1983 continued in 1986 and continued with a question to the Minister — the Tánaiste, not to the Taoiseach — in March, 1987. The Minister said on that occasion that the Whips could discuss the matter but that basically it was a matter for the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses to decide whether these committees should be set up.
The motion is an extremely broad one. There are a number of issues in it to which I would take exception in the sense  that they do not give credit to the various people who have been working in the areas of human rights, neutrality, international trade and special relations with countries in the developing world which I have touched on. I do not think it is a motion that the Government could accept at this stage.
Mr. Manning: I would like to commend the Independent Senators for bringing this motion before the House tonight. It must have been tempting for them at this time to have opted for some more immediate motion which perhaps would have caught public attention to a greater extent. This is a motion which in parliamentary terms is important and it is one which my party will support vigorously.
It is an appalling comment on this House and on this Parliament that we have to debate this topic here this evening. It is an appalling comment that we have to ask from Government as a favour what should be an established right of this House. What we are asking for is no more and no less than that this House and all parts of this House should have the right to scrutinise our foreign policy; that we should have the right, on a regular basis and in detailed discussions with full access to information, to review our foreign policy; that we should have the right by engaging in this process to educate ourselves and, by extension, to educate the wider public in the details and the nuances of our foreign policy. Finally, what this debate is asking is that, through the process of education, information, scrutiny and access, this House and the other House and the elected politicians in both Houses should provide a leadership role in foreign policy. That is what this debate is all about. That is what we are asking from the Government.
I was astonished at the reaction of the Leader of the House to the very reasonable  case made by the first two speakers this evening, and the case made in the context of this motion. It was a speech of apology. We, the politicians should not get involved in matters which are too complicated, matters that we might not understand; we should not get involved in issues which already are being well taken care of by our bureaucrats; Government Departments understand these things; Government Departments should not be disturbed; these are not matters for the elected Houses of Parliament. I do not know how he could stand up here this evening and make this case and call himself our Leader in this House, the person who speaks collectively on behalf of all of us when this House has to make its case.
I remember the famous occasion during Ireland's triple crown rugby game when Ciarán Fitzgerald rallied the Irish team from behind and that famous evocation came across over the radio and television. I will leave one word out. He asked the Irish team: “Have ye no pride in yourselves?” I am asking ourselves this evening: have we no pride in ourselves as parliamentarians that we are prepared to be told by the Leader of this House that these things are too important, too complicated, too delicate for us to engage ourselves in the detailed scrutiny and examination of them? Unfortunately, what the Leaders of the House said this evening reflects the Fianna Fáil attitude to the whole question of parliamentary reform, parliamentary committees and the vigorous participation by the Members of all parties in the two Houses.
I have said on many occasions, and I believe it very deeply, that the only justification for the Seanad is that it be a good Seanad, that it work, participate and be informed, that it gives itself, and takes where it is not given, a role which justifies its very existence. The speech made by the Leader of the House this evening is the best speech in favour of the Progressive Democrat's motion to abolish this House that I have heard in a very long time. If we are not going to involve ourselves in these relevant and important matters, what role have we  got? This committee being proposed here this evening is only one of a number of committees which this House and the other House need if we are to be the sort of strong, vibrant and relevant parliamentary democracy which all of us want both Houses to be.
The history of committees in this Parliament has been a very unhappy one. We saw the attempt in the previous Oireachtas to establish a widespread system of parliamentary committees. We saw that an attempt to provide greater information for ordinary backbenchers and for Members of this House. We saw it as an attempt to bring about a greater degree of accountability. We saw it as an attempt to provide a meeting place between interest groups, the ordinary public and the legislators. We saw it as a place where real influence on policy-making could be exerted by parliamentarians. The last experiment was not fully successful. During that time Government Ministers found, as Government always do when in office, that Parliament can be tiresome, a nuisance; it can ask questions which they or their officials do not want asked. The committee system was not used to the full. Some committees were not successful. Nonetheless the experiment was well worth undertaking. By and large it justified the hopes of those who put it in place.
Since the coming into existence of this Government we have seen under the guise of public spending cuts or savings in public expenditure the playing down, the almost wiping out of existence of most of the committees. This is a very unhealthy development which again calls into question the self-perception of Members of both Houses and their view on what the role of Parliament in a democracy should be. If we are not to take ourselves seriously, if we are not to give ourselves a role which is carried out as a normal matter of course in every Parliament in the free world, how can we expect the people outside, the daily  denigrators on talk shows, television programmes and the back pages of Sunday newspapers to take us seriously.
This motion tonight is a very small but worthy attempt to turn back that process. That is why I appeal to every Member of this House who is concerned about the rights, dignity, stature and usefulness of Parliament to support this motion. It does not have to be a party motion. I am very sorry that the Leader of the House sought to make it such, sought to be defensive, when he knows in his heart and is on record as saying in the past that such a committee is worthwhile and would be worthwhile.
He went down through the various functions which the Senators proposing this motion have assigned to it. I would like to hone in especially on paragraph (1) (ii), “the special relationship of Ireland with countries in the Developing World.” That should not be part of this motion tonight. There should be a special committee dealing with Irish aid and Ireland's role in helping the countries of the developing world. It is nothing short of a scandal that that committee has not been reactivated. I know that the Minister here at this moment has a deep concern for the Third World and for Ireland's role on aid to the Third World and all of that.
In the last Oireachtas the development aid committee was an example to all other committees. Under the chairmanship of the then Deputy Nora Owen it set a lead. It informed the consciousness of people. It raised that consciousness. It was educative and it was influential. It gave a very strong feeling to people outside this House that Irish Parliamentarians were concerned with Ireland playing an effective, and not just a bureaucratic role, in the development of Third World countries. It is a shame on both our Houses that that committee has not been reactivated. That is the only part of this motion with which I would not agree. I believe there should be a separate, special committee for Third World development. With every other part of the motion I find myself in total agreement.
 Senator Lanigan referred to the needs, welfare and rights of Irish citizens and said they are being adequately protected. He knows that that is not so. He knows there is widespread concern among members of all parties about the plight of Irish emigrants. He knows also that we cannot just depend on our extremely hard-working dedicated and diligent diplomats in foreign countries, especially in Britain and the United States, to look after the needs and interests of these Irish people. He knows that. Nobody is going to turn this into a debate on knocking Irish diplomats. They are probably amongst the best in the world. Our Department of Foreign Affairs, for their size and resources, are superb. They are first class and the members of our diplomatic service have given disinterested, honest service to this country over the years. Clearly the question of emigration affects elected representatives, the people who day by day are in contact with the parents, brothers and sisters of those who have emigrated. If they cannot be a through-put of information and exchange of ideas and pressure on the Government to do more through a committee such as the one proposed in this motion, where can this type of activity take place? I know Senator Lanigan cannot be serious when he says all that can be done is being done at present.
I do not want to be party political, but two years ago, day in and day out in the other House, the then Government were blamed for the plight of these emigrants. The Government at that time were told what they were doing was inadequate, and that they carried the full responsibility. That criticism was unfair then. It would be unfair to the present Government. What we are doing is only at the very tip of the iceberg. I can see an extraordinary useful role — a role which would strike a chord with the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of those who have been forced to emigrate — if a committee of this House or of both Houses was to concern itself directly with the role and the plight of our emigrants. We can go right down this list; we can look at the  next sub-paragrpah, “the international dimensions of the concept of Human Rights.” We in this country have a proud but not umblemished record as far as human rights are concerned. There is a great deal that we can do — without sermonising, as President Reagan is doing in the Soviet Union at present — by our own record and from our own example to strengthen the mood for the extension of human rights right across all the civilised countries of the world.
“International trade”— why should that be outside the scope of a parliamentary committee? Surely at this time, with the need for Irish companies need to export and need to find new places in the export market, the expertise, the feedback, the participation of a parliamentary committee could not but be helpful in this regard? But I will go down to the question Senator Lanigan took most time to deal with — the question of our neutrality and our nonalignment. Yes, we are neutral and we are nonaligned. This policy did not come out of the skies. It is not the eleventh Commandment; it is not on a tablet of stone. Our policy has evolved slowly over the years. That evolution had more to do with practice and national advantage rather than any ideological commitment to the idea as such.
Mr. de Valera, the father of Irish neutrality, was not neutral in the conflict between fascism and democracy. He was not neutral in the conflict between Communism and parliamentary democracy. Our neutrality in the war was a policy which was in the national interest and received support as such. In the years after the war there was a healthy and lively debate as to whether we should continue to be neutral. The late Seán MacBride was quite prepared in the late forties to enter into a military alliance with the US, if he thought that was in Ireland's interest at the time. As a member of the European Communities we are not nonaligned; we are aligned with the third biggest trading group in the world. We are aligned in matters of philosophy, in large chunks of ideology, in our commitment to parliamentary  democracy and in our commitment to European integration. There are huge questions to be discussed here and to be teased out.
Neutrality is not a sacred cow; it is not something like the Irish language and Irish unity to which Fianna Fáil can say; “Yes, we agree with it” and then put it on the shelf and take it down when it is convenient. Neutrality is a real evolving issue. Our neutrality must always be interpreted as best befits our national interest. A committee which would look at it, which would tear away the shibboleths and all the reflex thinking of the past, is something which would be well worthwhile. I would love to see a detailed examination of Irish neutrality. It can only be in our interest if we do that. It can only be in our interest if we actually take the idea, look at it, see where it came from, ask ourselves to what extent it is still in our interest, ask ourselves to what extent are we fooling ourselves — and we are not bad at doing that — in claiming that we are neutral, when our Minister for Foreign Affairs nips out for a cup of tea when the Foreign Ministers of the other 11 members of the European Communities sit down to discuss matters of defence or security at the end of their meetings, which is the case at present. Why not be honest about it? Why not use our position of neutrality to exert even greater influence than we have in the past? We have used it to effect in the past, but I think we could use it to greater effect.
For all of the reasons I have mentioned — and there are many more I could mention — this motion is well worth supporting this evening. I would appeal to the Government side to support this motion as parliamentarians, as people who want to see a strong, vigorous foreign policy and as people who are ready to stand up and assert the rights of both Houses of this Parliament.
Mr. Robb: I congratulate Senator Norris and his colleagues for bringing this to our attention. I enjoyed very much listening to his thorough preparation of his brief, with the vast majority of which  I would be in complete accord. I also feel that Senator Maurice Manning has done not only the Seanad and the Oireachtas a service but indeed the country a service, by highlighting the fact that the Leader of the House has probably had an off day, if not an off year. Because if one reads his speeches back in 1986 one will find there are some differences between the emphasis that he gave here today and the emphasis he gave then.
Mr. Robb: I would be quite shattered to feel that we were moving into an Ireland where the whole organisation of the State and the management of its affairs were going to become more closed, more secretive, at a time when we have been prepared to laud Irish education, the intelligence of young people and their awareness of issues that affect the global state at this time. The Irish youth are very committed to change in the world at large. They are committed to the great issues. We have seen them demonstrating, and debating. We are aware of their pressure in areas to do with nuclearism, neurtrality, matters of the Third World, in particular, the peace making role of Ireland and the whole philosophy and concept of a positive neutrality, to which I shall return.
I would wholeheartedly support the words of Senator Manning when he pays a tribute to the dedicated service of the Department of Foreign Affairs. In the short time I have been here and in my own dealings with them I have had nothing but help and much constructive suggestion. I have found them extremely responsive to anything I have to say, always willing to listen. I feel that the work they have done, in particular in relation to Northern Ireland, is something for which this whole island should be very indebted to them.
Having said that, I must, however, come back to some of the points raised by Senator Norris in his delivery, because in other areas my association has not been just quite so happy. This relates to some of the things which the Leader of  the House referred to — the conflict between commercial self-interest and wider principles in relation to foreign affairs. In the last Seanad I had many motions down — you may notice that I have very few down this time because I found that it was a very fruitless exercise — but one of them referred to the appalling atrocities being perpetrated in Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime. I felt quite qualified to talk about this because at that time I had working with me in Ballymoney the brother of Mahoud Rajavi who, as you probably know, is the Leader of the Mujhaden. Therefore, I did know the situation in Iran first hand. I was telephoned, however, to suggest that I should take that motion off the Order Paper. Similarly I had a motion down dealing with the need for Ireland to ratify the UN Covenants on Human Rights. I was delighted to hear Senator Norris raise this matter also. If he is not a colleague, I am sure he is certainly associated with Ronald Tynan, who has made this a great central issue of his platform letter writing to the national newspapers. In addition, I had another motion down, which still remains on the Order Paper; and it has been there for some five or six years in more or less the same form as it is at present, that is, Item No. 34. I did not put those two matters on the Order Paper just for fun; I did it because they are very central to the philosophy which the little group to which I belong, the New Ireland Group, has been advocating for a long number of years. It was also suggested that perhaps by airing these matters one would be raising some very thorny issues at the United Nations which could disturb the status quo in relation to the definition of the term “right to self-determination”. Indeed, one could go further but I think one need no longer fear this. That is why I am ventilating it.
We have moved into an era in Irish political life where at long last there seems to be an opportunity, however tentative and however tenuous, of meaningful dialogue between people who have been traditionally and for a very long  time not prepared to speak to each other because Article 1.1 in both UN Covenants on Human Rights Affairs the right of all peoples to self-determination. One of the problems I have had and one of the reasons I wanted to have this matter aired was that I could see immediately that this could become a recipe for conflict. If Irish Republicans are, on the one hand, affirming the right of the people of Ireland to self-determination and Northern Loyalists, on the other hand, are affirming the right of the people of Northern Ireland to self-determination, what is affirmed as a fundamental human right, instead of becoming a recipe for resolution of conflict, becomes a means of promoting it.
That Seanad Éireann, recognising the significance of the right to self-determination in giving freedom to the peoples of the world [that was in the old colonial context] observing with concern the social and political conflict which has been caused in many nations States by domination of minorities by majorities, urges the Government to recommend to the United Nations the amending of the first sentence of Article 1, Clause 1 of the United Nations Covenants on Human Rights by adding to the words all peoples have the right to self-determination', the words ‘based on the achievement of consensus’ and to press urgently for a suitable definition of consensus and also for wider publication of the means of achieving it and methods of assessing it.
I realise I am in a very privileged position to be in this House at all without a vote to my name. I am not really accountable to anyone and I do not claim to be representative. Nevertheless it is frustrating because I feel it could be of benefit. It highlights perhaps what could be  achieved were Senator Norris' motion to be taken really seriously not only by the Government but by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It would be possible for me not to have to wait five or six years but through sub-paragraph (vii) of Senator Norris' motion to put my viewpoint forward to this committee. Furthermore I would know that through paragraph (9), if the committee felt there was any merit in what I was saying, it would be duly published and it would, therefore, reach a wider audience and could promote further debate and test one's opinion against the views of others.
The attitude which I, as say, the Leader of the House took in his off day perhaps, prevents me from having that discussed, in particular, if the Department of Foreign Affairs are advising behind the scenes in the way they were advising some years ago — and perhaps things have changed — that this motion would be better not discussed because of other reasons to which I am not privy and reasons, presumably, related to their particular expertise, their knowledge, the sanctity of communications to which we are not privy.
Mr. Robb: Precisely. What Senator Manning said was that we have a right to know. It is because of that feeling that we have a right to know, and because we are dealing with a Fianna Fáil Government, and because their previous Leader, the late Éamon de Valera, drafted a Constitution which, for all its faults highlights the rights of the individual in the State, that I feel this must be taken much more seriously than it seems to be taken by the Government at this time.
There are many aspects of our foreign affairs with which we could be dealing through this machinery and it would open up a very dynamic form of communication between the people who are interested. I have mentioned the youth of Ireland. After all, the globe is getting smaller and we talk about a space ship berth and a global village. We are all  partly inter-dependent and related to many many different peoples who have traditionally not known each other so well until this century. I think the young people feel they must be part of the debate too.
We have talked about neutrality. Senator Manning showed that Irish neutrality had evolved. I do not think I could quite go along with the conclusions he was making at the end of his deliberations, but certainly at the start it was an expression of independence. It then became a subject for debate to which he alluded. More recently we have heard talk about positive neutrality. Now, what do we mean by positive neutrality? I have asked that question before in this House. Who better to try to tease out the implications of positive neutrality than a committee such as this? That committee would not only be debating with people who would make submissions to it but would also presumably have a very healthy, positive and constructive communication with the very fine people who work in the Department of Foreign Affairs. It would seem to me, therefore, that there would be a very healthy symbiosis between the Civil Service on the one hand and the elected representatives on the other. There would be accountability to the ordinary people and a much wider, more open, more free and thereby more constructive debate with many many ideas being poured in for consideration and for sieving, if Senators will excuse this word.
The question of positive neutrality raises opportunities for Ireland because we could be looking, for example, at whether we could be the central focus of a new commonwealth of small nations. I am not referring to what was understood once as the British Commonwealth. Indeed, talking about a new commonwealth of small non-aligned nations, I think it would be interesting to see what happens in the Soviet Union over the next 20 years. Undoubtedly, once the controlling centralism of that huge monolith which operated from Moscow begins to be released and there is a lighter touch, a lighter hand, we will see arising  throughout the Soviet Union this ethnic awareness, awareness of religious minorities, marginalised sections, and so on and, so forth.
The Fourth World concept which some more sophisticated Europeans have been aware of for some time will probably become very either a problem or a challenge depending on how things go in the Soviet Union. The re-emergences of the old states that have been trapped inside the centralised nation state will be something which will have to be grappled with. Ireland in a sense has been part of the problem and suffered from the problem. After all, we have in our own country different groups who look at the island in different ways. You could take as one extreme the Gaeltacht and you could take the Northern Loyalist community as another. We have to grapple with these sort of dilemmas in this shrinking world as we move away from the old concept of the nation state and into a more internationally inter-dependent type of global community where identity is certainly important. It will always give us our roots and our strength, but how we relate that identity to the wider world will also be an issue.
There are many other matters which I could raise at this time. I did mention the word “commonwealth”. Why, for example, particularly in relation to what is happening in Northern Ireland at the moment — and there are rather hopeful signs — could we not have a look at the old Commonwealth, if you like? I have emphasised here — and some Senators seem to be unaware of it — that the so-called British Commonwealth no longer exists. The old commonwealth does not count for much but it is surely a further platform for Ireland in the affairs of the world. It is also a means, if you like, of keeping under control our nearest neighbour and our most patronising partner. The Commonwealth contains many other republics and the late Éamon de Valera did not want Ireland to depart from the Commonwealth.
This type of issue could once again  become more openly debated and could become the concern of a committee such as this. It could also be indirectly transferred to the interests in the Department of Foreign Affairs who I have no doubt, because of the talents and the enthusiasm which exists there, could use the setting up of this type of special committee to advantage for Ireland as a whole and also beyond its shores. Ireland is facing a very interesting time in its global responsibility and because of that it is vital that we take the proposal made by Senator Norris, and seconded by Senator John A. Murphy, very seriously. I hope that the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition does not reflect the viewpoint of the Government.
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