[Sinn Fein]

24th October 2001

Ó Caoláin supports govt. amendment - need for ``maximum unity''

Decommission Sellafield!

Speaking in the Dáil in the debate on Sellafield Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called for a united front of all parties to lead a campaign for the closure of Sellafield. He said:

I spoke last weekend at a conference in London organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In that speech I was highly critical of the current government on its foreign policy - on the Nice Treaty, on neutrality, on the war in Afghanistan. But when I turned to the issue of Sellafield I felt it was right to concur with the Taoiseach's strong statement when he said he was appalled at the decision of the British government, announced in the most underhand way, to authorise a MOX plant at Sellafield. I feel that now is a time for Irish people to speak with one voice on this vital issue.

Sellafield is a threat to the very existence of the Irish people. A major accident at the plant would cause such devastation on this island that the future of human society here would be in doubt. Huge swathes of Britain would be similarly affected. This grim reality must be the basis of our approach to the campaign to close Sellafield.

I strongly believe that successive Irish governments, including this one, have not done enough to fight Sellafield diplomatically, politically and legally. All parties who participated in governments share that responsibility. But now is not the time for recriminations about past failures. We must have maximum unity around the demand of the Irish people for the complete closure of this death-plant, this potential Chernobyl on our doorstep.

I agree with most of the Labour Party motion, in particular its demands for further action from the government. But I think that, with respect, the Labour Party has missed a golden opportunity to unite the House around a motion that all could endorse. The government was of course never going to support a motion, which included sections deploring their actions. I note, in passing, that the Labour motion speaks of Irish inspectors being stationed permanently at the plant. There should be nothing permanent about this plant. It should just go.

We need a coming together of all parties and all Members of this House in a unanimous commitment to comprehensive action by the government and a united demand on behalf of the Irish people to the British government for the closure of Sellafield. I have this evening written to the leaders of all parties and to the Independent members in this House seeking such a consensus for united action.

I feel so strongly on this point that I am willing to support the government amendment in a practical demonstration of my commitment to a united approach. Now is the time for united purpose and united action. It is not the time for party political point scoring. It may give us short-term satisfaction and marginal electoral advantage to have a go at the administration for not doing enough. But in this crisis situation it only serves to dissipate vital energy, which must be used to campaign to get the MOX plant stopped and to get Sellafield closed.

Discussions between the parties on the drafting of a motion could have achieved a unanimous vote in the House. And I believe we must seek to achieve that in the time ahead so that the message goes out to the world that there is total unanimity against Sellafield and behind a forceful campaign for its closure.

When he approved the decision to open a MOX plant at Sellafield earlier this month the British Prime Minister Tony Blair was guilty of an act of bad faith and disregard for the Irish people on a par with anything done by his predecessors in the long and sorry history of Anglo-Irish relations. Many in this House have scorned Sinn Fein when we have pointed out the delays, the failures and the bad faith of the British government at various stages of the peace process. At the root of that bad faith is the historic disregard for the Irish people which still persists among large sections of Official Britain. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in their contempt for Irish opinion on Sellafield.

But the British government displays a disregard also for its own people. What a sad indictment of this Labour government that it must advance the argument about the employment of the workforce in Sellafield to defend the plant. Does it regard the health and the very lives of the workers at Sellafield and their families as less precious than their numerical strength as a workforce when the local and national employment figures are tallied? If the British Labour Party had been true to its best traditions it would have had a plan in place, even before it came into office after Major, to close this plant and establish sustainable employment for its workers.

This grave and imminent danger to all our lives requires unprecedented action. We should establish in the Oireachtas an All-Party Action Committee to forge a united and effective approach. The party leaders in this House and, if possible, the party leaders in the Assembly in the Six Counties, should come together at the earliest opportunity in a very public way to lead the campaign for closure.

Governments are usually very reluctant to engage in overt political campaigning which includes public protests and demonstrations. They are even more reluctant to support and participate in such campaigns in the jurisdictions of other states. But now is not the time for diplomatic niceties. I would urge a mass public campaign in both Ireland and Britain, spearheaded by the Irish government and the Irish political parties and mobilising people power to have this plant shut down. We must deploy every possible method in this campaign ? diplomatic, legal and political. We need to mobilise the wide support the closure demand enjoys within Britain itself.

I wish the government well in its legal action. But it cannot and must not rely solely on this approach. Political pressure at national and international level and the deployment of people power is what will close Sellafield. Let us maximise the pressure. Let us send out the demand loud and clear to the British government to decommission its deadly nuclear industry now.

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