Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
46. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the two Catalan civil society activists and seven Catalan politicians that remain imprisoned in Spain (details supplied); and if he has raised the continued detention of the persons with his Spanish counterpart. [3966/19]
Six former Catalan Ministers, the former speaker of the Catalan Parliament and two civil society activists remain in prison on politically motivated charges relating to the Catalan independence referendum that took place in October 2017. I have just come from the audiovisual room where the former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, addressed Deputies and Senators. He is living in enforced exile along with four other Ministers and is facing charges. Is the Tánaiste concerned that these political prisoners remain in pre-trial detention? Has he raised the issue with his Spanish counterpart or his colleagues within the EU?
Constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters that are best determined by its citizens and their public representatives.
Such arrangements must be determined within the framework of the constitution and the rule of law which have underpinned democracy in Spain over the past 40 years.
I have raised it with my Spanish counterpart - in fact, it was with the previous Minister before there was a change of Government, when there was huge tension in Catalonia. The Government continues to follow with interest developments in Spain, a country that is an important EU partner and friend of Ireland. I welcome the increased engagement between the Spanish Government and the regional authorities in Catalonia.
I am aware that judicial proceedings are under way and a number of individuals are awaiting trial. As these matters go before the courts, it would not be appropriate for me to comment politically in respect of them.
This goes back to an earlier discussion in terms of raising the question of where is the EU's collective voice and the condemnation of the violence, the state repression, the attack on polling stations, the attack on voters and the jailing of politicians and civil society activists. Does this not concern Ireland and the EU? Where is the talk of sanctions? I listened to what the Tánaiste stated in the context of these matters being before the courts. That approach is interesting in view of the fact we are celebrating Ireland's independence, when many of the Irish leaders were in prison. The people who are in jail believe in democracy and are non-violent but the Spanish response has been repression and the closing down of debate and the media. The use of violence has come from the state, not from those who are jail. I accept that it is before the courts but Ireland and the EU need to do more in this regard. Yes, we are concerned about what is happening in Poland and Hungary, but we should also be concerned about what is happening in Spain.
The Government continues to follow with interest developments in Spain. However, constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters that are best determined by its citizens and their public representatives. As stated, such arrangements must be determined within the framework of the Spanish constitution and the rule of law, which have underpinned democracy in Spain for the past 40 years.
The embassy in Madrid maintains contact with Spain's national and regional authorities, including Catalonia, on an ongoing basis.
This is a political issue not a legal one. The Spanish Government must enter into meaningful dialogue with the Catalan Government to find a political solution. After what I heard today, people are saying that the dialogue is not happening and that is what is missing. Those people should not be before the courts on charges of rebellion. The Spanish state needs to stop using the Spanish police and the Spanish legal system to attack the Catalan independence movement, which has a legitimate political demand. All of us in this Chamber must raise our voice in support of our Catalan counterparts. We cannot ignore this important issue of democracy and human rights. Will the Minister ensure the Department sends observers to the upcoming trials of the Catalan political prisoners?
I do not think this issue is necessarily as Deputy Crowe presents it. Catalan independence remains a deeply divisive and contentious issue in Spain. It is a legal and constitutional issue. Deputy Crowe is simplifying a complex issue. The Spanish Government is willing to open dialogue with the regional government. As another EU member state, we must respect the constitution of another country. While we have always sought and advocated for a political solution to this issue, which has caused a lot of tension, as we would expect other countries to respect us, we must respect the Spanish constitution.