[Sinn Fein]

30th January 200

Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs have written ``chapter of shame''in Irish diplomatic history

Speaking during the Private Members debate on Iraq Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin accused the Government of wanting the ``freedom to pursue their own policy priorities undisturbed by the irritant of democratic accountability''so that they could ``abandon all vestiges of neutrality''. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``In the present international crisis the conscience of the Irish nation is not here in Leinster House. It is in the Peace Camp at Shannon Airport. It is outside the gates of this House at the peace demonstrations and public meetings now taking place almost daily. It will be on the streets of Dublin on Saturday 15 February when many thousands of people will oppose the war being prepared by the United States administration and the British government.

``The conscience of the nation does not reside here, although there are many of us on these benches who have been determined in our opposition to this government's destruction of our neutrality.

``It most certainly does not reside in the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs. By their actions in the international crisis the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs have written a chapter of shame in Irish diplomatic history. They would win the admiration of the vast majority of Irish people at home and abroad and of friends of Ireland everywhere if they conducted themselves as a sovereign government should. Instead we have the abdication of responsibility and the abandonment of any concept of truly independent foreign policy.

``The international policy of Sinn Fein is entirely consistent with our national policy. We seek lasting peace in Ireland and lasting peace globally. We seek the resolution of conflict through dialogue and we have a proven record of achievement in conflict resolution, with all the other participants in the Irish peace process, which is internationally recognised.

``A key part of the struggle for Irish independence since the days of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen has been the desire of Irish people not to be embroiled in imperial wars which cost so many Irish lives and the lives of oppressed peoples all over the world. Successive generations sought to give Ireland her own place among the nations, rather than as a province of an empire. Fianna Fáil once prided itself on its pursuit of an independent foreign policy. That has now become a sham. While lauding the role of the UN Security Council this Government will not even indicate what its attitude when the US and British governments go it alone, regardless of the UN, and unleash their war on the Iraqi people. It has always been said that the remnants of Redmondism reside in Fine Gael, but we are seeing it now re-emerging in the guise of Fianna Fáil and their PD partners.

``I deplore the facile view which presents any criticism of the foreign policy of the Bush administration as anti-American. If that is anti-American then millions of Americans are themselves anti-American. Not since the Vietnam War has there been such a widespread anti-war movement in the United States.

``The Government knows very well that, contrary to the repeated statements of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the UN Security Council does not truly represent the entire United Nations. The permanent members exercise their veto and they are the real powers. Yet even this is not enough for the United States administration and they are preparing to wage war - aided by their unquestioning ally, the British government ? regardless of what the UN thinks. Let it not be forgotten ? the US Administration was dead set against the return of the weapons inspectors to Iraq.

``I must protest on record that despite at least five requests by myself and my colleague Sinn Fein deputies since September 10, this Government has refused to allow a proper and full debate on the international crisis and the use of Shannon in the build-up to war. It is THEIR legal and constitutional responsibility to ensure that this debate happens ? NOT the responsibility of the Technical Group. This Government have continually promised a debate ? two days before the second Nice referendum the Taoiseach promised that a debate on Iraq would take place the following week. It never happened. We were also initially promised, and the media were leaked promises, of a Dáil debate this week ? but none materialised.

``Why have they refused? They want the freedom to pursue their own policy priorities undisturbed by the irritant of democratic accountability. In this, they cite their privilege under Article 29.4 of the Constitution on executive powers, which allows for Government and Ministerial discretion. The truth is that they don't intend to consult the Dáil, nor to answer to the Dáil unless and until absolutely necessary. And what is the reason for this?

``Sinn Fein charges this Government with harbouring covert plans to abandon all vestiges of neutrality, and we demand that they come clean on this, and answer to the Irish people and their representatives.

``This Government is systematically abandoning neutrality by stealth:


``Irish people oppose war, and value neutrality. The Government would have overwhelming support for independent foreign policy and neutrality that is positive and pro-active.

``Sinn Fein will continue to demand at every opportunity that neutrality be enshrined in the Constitution and in law so that no future government can take us down this shameful path ever again.''

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