Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Post-European Council: Statements
Let me consider the topics discussed at the meetings in the past two days. Obviously, the multi-annual financial framework was discussed. Nobody denies the importance of that and of the budgets for the work of the European Union. I believe, however, that there are certain rights issues that are not receiving the attention they deserve and are not being acted upon sufficiently. Speaking during the pre-European Council statements last week, I referred to a statement by the EU's ambassador to the African Union to the effect that, in spite of the EU being the world's largest overseas development aid donor, there is a core group of the world's poorest who are receiving less than 10% of EU aid. While the EU is stressing the importance of the EU-Africa partnership, and there is going to be a summit, there is a need to spell out exactly how it will be a real partnership, not the traditional Europe-dominating-Africa relationship we have seen in the past.
Another rights issue that arose last week concerned Libya. I refer to what is now happening with General Haftar, to the Rohingya and to the case in the International Criminal Court.
Disappointingly, we are not hearing that the EU is being proactive on the issue of Catalonia. While I accept that Spain is the EU member, it is not right that people such as teachers, town mayors, community activists and others exercising their right to peaceful protest are being issued with arrest warrants. Some are in prison. We are aware of the sentences that have been imposed on the seven elected representatives and the two leaders from civil society. There is much concern about the conviction of Mr. Jordi Sànchez and Mr. Jordi Cuixart, who gotnine years in prison for leading a peaceful protest. This is opening the door for criminalisation of activities such as peaceful civil disobedience. The two men had already spent two years in preventative custody ahead of their trial. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for their release. EU member states are allowing the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be violated. I am referring to rights such as rights to a fair trial, to freedom of thought, to freedom of assembly and to freedom from discrimination. The men are being denied their constitutional right to appeal their convictions through normal channels of the lower courts.
The former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Ms Carme Forcadell, was sentenced for allowing parliamentary debate on independence. She said her role as Speaker of Parliament could not be to censor debate and that her duty was to defend the sovereignty of parliament and political pluralism. She also stated, "In a democratic parliament, the word has to be free." For that, she got 11 and a half years in prison. The EU is conspicuously quiet on this.
At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence yesterday, we had an interesting discussion that included Brexit. It is all very well for Prime Minister Johnson to say everything will be done and dusted by 31 January, but we know there is a different reality. It is in the months soon after 31 January that the reality will hit and that the elements of the unknown will arise. Who really knows exactly what will happen?
There was a word of warning at the meeting yesterday on the disconnects. It concerned the unionist-loyalist community's attachment to the Crown and its fear of minority status for the unionist community and their sense of British identity. The younger generation is so caught by the past, some would see reconciliation as betrayal. While many of us look forward to a 32-county republic, unionists will feel threatened by a border poll. Instead of a border poll, there should be a discussion on a new Ireland and what a new Ireland or 32 counties would look like. This would be just like the plans for a conference on the type of Europe that we would want. In the midst of Brexit, these issues are still very alive and relevant because the legacy was never really resolved under the Good Friday Agreement.
I just noticed a report from the Seanad special select committee on this. Evidence was presented from a wide number of industries, including those from the food and drink, agriculture, fuel, and energy sectors. The main thrust was the impact of Brexit on the food industry, and especially the impact of no deal. This is not as far-fetched a possibility as it may seem if Britain is going out one way or the other on 31 January. The introduction of tariffs will decimate Ireland's food and drink exports to the UK. Northern Ireland farmers are already feeling the effects of losses. We are seeing the repercussions of our over-reliance on one market, the UK market. While negotiating Brexit was challenging and fraught, it might be nothing by comparison with implementation.
I realise we are discussing climate change tonight but I do not believe there can be progress on this unless there is a real commitment to climate justice. The EU at least recognises there are serious challenges associated with achieving carbon neutrality. It recognises a need for significant public and private investment. There are a number of positive points in the conclusion in that the next multi-annual financial framework has to contribute significantly to climate action, with a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality. I hate using the cliché about time running out but I believe this is the reality. There is a need for much more action of this. I am not just talking about funding.