Dáil debates

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Priority Questions

Diplomatic Representation.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 29: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his view on the appropriateness of the position of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps being filled, not on a rotational basis as prevails in most countries; the appropriateness of the prevailing arrangements; the details of the recent meetings with the representatives of the Holy See; the details of the meeting sought by the Papal Nuncio with the Secretary General of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the conclusions he has reached. [46989/09]

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 30: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting with the Papal Nuncio; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47058/09]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 30 together.

The position of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps is a ceremonial position of precedence. The dean serves as spokesperson for the Diplomatic Corps on formal occasions and may be asked by the Diplomatic Corps to act as its representative in matters which concern the corps as a whole.

The longstanding practice whereby the Papal Nuncio assumes the position of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps is in full accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 and is followed by a majority of EU member states, including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, Malta and Italy, as well as by Switzerland and many other countries around the world.

The current Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, called to Iveagh House at my request on Tuesday of last week to discuss the report of the Dublin archdiocese commission of investigation, and the issue of the co-operation received by the commission from the Holy See and successive papal nuncios as it carried out its investigations. At this meeting, I conveyed to the Papal Nuncio the deep anger and outrage of the Irish public at the appalling abuse of children detailed in the commission's report. I emphasised to Archbishop Leanza the importance of the Vatican providing a substantive response to inquiries from the commission. I explained to the nuncio the need for the Holy See to provide the fullest possible co-operation with any ongoing or further State investigations into clerical child abuse, including in the context of the upcoming inquiry by the commission into the diocese of Cloyne. The nuncio undertook to convey my strong view that the Vatican should co-operate with any request from the Dublin and Cloyne commission or any future commission to co-operate with any request for information.

Archbishop Leanza also met the Secretary General of my Department on Wednesday, 2 December at the nuncio's own request. At both meetings, Archbishop Leanza made clear on his own behalf and on behalf of the Holy See his profound shock and dismay at the content of the commission's report. He stressed that there had been no intention on the part of the Holy See to withhold co-operation from the commission. He recalled that the Holy See had indicated that the commission should pursue its inquiries through the appropriate diplomatic channels.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Let me begin, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, with the last reference of the Minister to "shock and dismay". It is rather hard to accept that, given that the information in the Murphy report was available to the Vatican, although it chose not to act upon it, respond to it or assist in any response by others to it.

There were four elements to my question. I am aware that the papal nuncio's assuming the position of dean of the diplomatic corps involves no contravention of the Vienna Convention. However, I put it to the Minister that this practice was begun in very different times. In other jurisdictions the position is filled in different ways; for example, at the Court of St. James's, the longest serving ambassador serves as chair of the diplomatic corps.

I referred in my question to two meetings with the papal nuncio. I appreciate the point made by the Minister about his remonstration with the papal nuncio, but there is also the matter of the meeting with the Secretary General. Was that a meeting between the representative of a state and the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs? I presume that at the meeting between the Minister and the nuncio, the Minister was representing the Irish State under the Constitution rather than the church of the majority of people. I am not seeking to be offensive about this. With regard to the failure to respond to the Murphy report and the justification of this failure, there has been a switch from one form of relationship to another - sometimes one is talking to the papal nuncio as the representative of the Holy See, while at other times he is the mediator for the congregation of faith.

Is it not time to review the practice I mention in my question? In addition, is the relationship one between states or is it on a religious basis? How was the meeting between the Minister and the papal nuncio different from that between the Secretary General and the papal nuncio?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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This is a relationship between states. The meeting with the Secretary General was at the request of the papal nuncio and was clearly in his capacity as representative of the state of the Vatican. At the time, I was in Athens at the OSCE meeting. The request for a meeting with me was in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I take the point made by the Deputy that the papal nuncio has a dual role but, in essence, he is the representative of a state. The practice whereby the papal nuncio is dean of the diplomatic corps is not the core of the issue.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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No. It is on the periphery.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The core of the issue is the necessity of a substantive response to the inquiries of any independent commission or tribunal. We must reflect on that. Diplomatic channels do not of themselves undermine, in any shape or form, the independence of any inquiry. Any documentation that comes via diplomatic channels is sealed and there is no access by the State to the materials contained within. It is important to point out that diplomatic channels have been used frequently in the past by independent statutory bodies. The tribunals of inquiry have sought assistance from the authorities of foreign states via the diplomatic channel because such tribunals, while domestically wholly independent of Government, are State bodies and are so regarded in international law. For example, the Flood tribunal, in 1999, sought assistance from the UK authorities, as did the Morris tribunal in 2003. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which was established in 1974 and is independent in the performance of its duty, has also used diplomatic channels. The issue is the importance of receiving a substantive response to fundamental questions asked by an inquiry.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has mentioned a litany of precedents. I could also mention the commission of inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in which the Department of Foreign Affairs took an active role in seeking information. I agree with Deputy Higgins about the Minister's mention of "shock and dismay" on the part of the Vatican. I do not know how it could have been shocked-----

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Exactly.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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-----because it had all the files. To me, the reason for shock and dismay is that the Department failed to take a proactive role. It simply passed on the message to the commission and did nothing. Does the Minister not think the Department should have told the papal nuncio that the response was unsatisfactory? It should have liaised with the commission and made a request for the information.

Is the Minister satisfied with the outcome of his meeting with the papal nuncio? From what I saw reported, I would not have been satisfied. Can he give the House a guarantee that the material that was sought by the commission will be sent to it either directly or via the Department of Foreign Affairs? Does he agree that it may be necessary to have a supplementary Murphy report? It is important that the public understands what the Vatican knew or did not know.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will clarify a number of points. At the time the Department did communicate to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Vatican's position that it wanted to deal with the queries from the commission via diplomatic channels. The message was conveyed to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which, in turn, conveyed it to the commission of inquiry. It was the commission that decided it did not wish to pursue its inquiries through diplomatic channels. That is my understanding of what happened, and it was documented along the way. Therefore, the reason I put on record the previous instances in which diplomatic channels were used, as did the Deputy when he mentioned the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, was to demonstrate that they can be used without undermining the independence of such inquiries.

It would not have been for the Department of Foreign Affairs at that time to get involved in terms of actively pursuing the issue as a protagonist, because that could have undermined the independence of the commission, which it is, correctly, anxious to preserve. The point I made at the meeting was that if the material was there it could surely be collected and made available. I did not have any difficulty with this being done through diplomatic channels. However, the questions need to be answered and it is desirable that the information required be in the hands of the commission. Given the use of diplomatic channels by independent statutory bodies such as tribunals in the past, it seems there is a ready-made medium for delivery of such material that would not in any way undermine the independence of the inquiry.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Given that the Minister describes the arrangements that prevail with regard to the diplomatic corps as ceremonial, is he open to the suggestion that it is time to change them?

I wish to take further the point regarding the relationship between the head of a faith and a state. I raised this issue because of the extraordinary view of Cardinal Connell that there is secrecy involved in the relationships among bishops, priests and so on, and they should have their own rules. The Murphy report dealt with the welfare of young children. It dealt with the right of this State to have access to all the information without its having to be brought through any other parallel kind of law. I see serious issues with the relationship between the Minister and the representative of the Vatican. I accept entirely that it is a relationship between states. That relationship is not mediated by the intricacies of canon law. The Murphy report states that this was argued by Cardinal Connell when he made reference to the duties of secrecy between bishops and priests. If there is a relationship between states, there is no value in muddying this. I accept entirely the good faith of the Minister as regards seeking information but the process has to be ended whereby one can move from one type of argument to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to another one regarding the relationship between states. I would have asked the question, irrespective of the Murphy report, as a matter of modernisation.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Would the Minister not agree that there seems to be something extraordinarily contradictory in the fact that the Murphy inquiry went to considerable lengths to get a great deal of material, yet there seems to be a failure by the commission to seek the material from the Vatican through diplomatic channels? Why was this? I should like to hear from the commission why this happened because it contradicts everything else that was done in the report.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That is not a question the Minister can answer.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I agree, but perhaps the Minister could express a view on it. The commission went to great lengths to get all this material, and yet here was something at the very heart of the investigation. There was a mechanism whereby the material could, at least, be requested and this did not happen. Can we expect a response from the Vatican, and in the event, when will it be?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In response to Deputy Higgins, when the first Papal Nuncio was appointed to the State, in 1930, he automatically assumed the position of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. There is no sense of a demand within the diplomatic corps for any change whatsoever. One would have to go through a rotational system, or whatever, and it might even cause more problems than one would wish. We have not always followed the example of the Court of St. James in terms of how we do things here, as the Deputy knows.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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That is not an option I admire at all. It is more of a Cork thing, really.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Nor is the Deputy suggesting that, either, I would say. However, the Deputy's other key point is fundamental in terms of the relationship, and that goes to the core of the overall question as well, in the sense that a state to state relationship exists in terms of my role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and that of the Vatican.

I have read the report and it is very strong on the canon law issue, on secrecy, and very clear in terms of the law of the State being superior to the laws of any particular religion, while insisting that the welfare of children is paramount and uppermost as regards the consideration of any issue. The report does some considerable service to the State in the manner in which it has brought this out very clearly and effectively.

The Deputy asked me to comment, but I do not believe this would be at all appropriate, in terms of any commission of inquiry established by the State which must pursue its business independently of Government and Ministers. One of the reasons I was anxious to talk to the Papal Nuncio, is that I believe there is a genuine need that the substantive material requested is made available so that we may have completion in relation to the issue.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister any idea as to when this response will come?:

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have made these points, and of course we are awaiting a substantive response.