Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.


5:00 pm

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

—commends the efforts of all Irish Governments since the foundation of the State to encourage those involved in paramilitarism to desist and to move into the democratic mainstream;

—notes the efforts undertaken over the last decade by all Irish Governments to encourage the Provisionals away from paramilitarism and into exclusively democratic and peaceful means of advancing their political objectives;

—notes that all parties to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement reaffirmed their "total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues" and their "opposition to any use or threat of force for any political purpose";

—notes the public commitment given by Sinn Féin President, Mr. Gerry Adams, in May 2003 that the IRA would engage in "no activities" which would undermine the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement;

—notes the recent conviction of Mr. Niall Binéad for the crime of IRA membership;

—notes with regret the unwillingness of the Provisionals, in the talks leading to the publication of the Governments' proposals in December, to undertake not to "endanger anyone's personal rights and safety";

—notes with regret the resumption of so-called punishment attacks in Northern Ireland immediately following the recent breakdown in political negotiations;

—notes with regret the inability in a recent newspaper interview of the Sinn Féin President, Mr. Gerry Adams, to urge that citizens with information on serious crime should bring that information to the Garda Síochána and notes that he urged such citizens to bring that information instead to "respected members of the community";

—notes with regret recent comments by the national chairman of Sinn Féin, Mr. Mitchell McLaughlin, that the murder of Mrs. Jean McConville was not a crime;

—notes with regret the recent robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast and associated kidnappings;

—notes that the recent Northern Bank robbery has been attributed to the Provisional IRA by both the Garda Síochána and the Chief Constable of the PSNI;

—calls on the Provisional movement to end its self-imposed political isolation, to opt for exclusively peaceful and democratic means and to turn its back conclusively on paramilitarism and on all forms of criminality; and

—commends the Government for its absolute insistence that the Provisionals give up all forms of paramilitarism and criminality.

I hope this motion has given Members a chance to reflect on several of the points highlighted. I could elaborate on each one but it is no longer necessary. Recent events, interpretations and actions substantiate all the points the Progressive Democrats have identified in this motion.

Last week in Poland more than 30 Heads of State joined survivors of Auschwitz to mark 60 years since the Red Army liberated the Nazi death camps. In a ceremony of remembrance for the 1.5 million people who died there world leaders called for all to learn the lessons of the Holocaust by intensifying efforts to crush prejudice, sectarianism and intolerance. Speaking at Auschwitz and Krakow, President Putin said that just as there could be no good or bad fascists there could be no good or bad terrorists, and double standards in this respect are unacceptable and deadly for civilisation. He urged unity against the threat of terror, saying that civilisation could be saved if people united against their common enemy.

One wonders how the appalling horror of Auschwitz could happen. In the early 20th century Germany was deemed one of the most sophisticated and progressive countries in the world and in less than a lifetime that stable, modern nation of 80 million people led Europe into moral, cultural and physical ruin and precipitated murder on a titanic scale. It begs the question how or why man perpetrates such heinous crimes on his fellow man. One wonders how the Germans, an advanced and highly cultured people, gave in to the brutal force of National Socialism so quickly and easily and why there was so little serious resistance to Hitler. It is hard to understand how an insignificant radical party of the right achieved power with such dramatic suddenness. Why did so many fail to perceive the potentially disastrous consequences of ignoring the violent ideology and nature of the Nazis? Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

When evil extremism gets involved in the political process, and particularly when it is close to placing its hands on the levers of power, good people need a wake-up call. Evil works in devious and diverse ways. Soothing mantras are used and abused. The phrase Arbeit Macht Frei, work makes you free, lingers above the gates of Auschwitz, a grim reminder of a perverse deception.

Communist ideals such as social justice and equality for all are populist. Communist language such as "the struggle", "the masses", "exploiters" and "the exploited" won many friends and admirers in the West but this masked the nightmarish evils of the Soviet gulags, a system that marked or destroyed the lives of millions.

Extremism is present at both ends of the political spectrum. Nazism and Communism shared a contempt for democracy and civil rights. The scourges of Nazism and Stalinism are a disturbing legacy and thankfully Europe has not experienced evil on such an epic scale in many years. That legacy should shape our thinking for the present and the future. As humans we can learn from the experience of past victims.

I am extracting principles and lessons here, not making analogies or comparisons. The principle is that democracy must be protected from those within a democratic process who are inherently undemocratic. We need to maintain healthy scepticism when words such as "republicanism", "nationalism" and even "the peace process" are used by those whose ultimate objectives are known only to themselves.

Post-war Europe shows that peaceful democratic progress is best facilitated by fully embracing the responsibilities that go hand in hand with democracy. It is unlikely that the Celtic tiger would have reached our shores if an extremist party had been in power or held the balance of power in our jurisdiction over the past two decades. History demonstrates that extremist populist parties are like a cancer in society. They develop insidiously with their tools of duplicity and criminality and when they gain power they wreak economic, cultural and social havoc.

In business and law, there is an axiom, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. Politics is at that juncture: let the voter beware. Evil thrives when a good man or woman is apathetic. Over recent years the greater good of a Northern Ireland political settlement took precedence over decent standards and the endorsement of normal democratic procedures, in a vain effort to appease extremism. Middle Ireland felt distinctly uncomfortable with this, for it appeared that it and the centre parties were marginalised while Sinn Féin increased its vote and popularity.

Many concessions were made with little given in return. Middle Ireland is enjoying peace and prosperity and is comfortable living in a democracy that has evolved since the State achieved independence. I share its discomfort at the prospect of a diminution of democracy by the Government's dealing with entities which do not accept the responsibility and accountability democracy demands.

Parties which do not embrace the democracy in which they participate should not benefit from that participation. When they fully participate in and embrace democracy and the responsibilities that accompany it, without preconditions — which only they can determine — they will be welcome to play their full part in making Ireland a better place. Middle Ireland is prepared to wait patiently until that happens.

The turnout in this week's elections in Iraq sends a message to middle Ireland. The Iraqis showed astounding courage in standing up to terrorism. There was a 60% turnout in the face of snipers, car bombs, suicide bombers, etc. They embraced their chance of democracy and risked their lives to cast their votes. Their courage was a clear example of the will of the majority not being deterred by militants. One need only consider the recent Ukrainian elections to see another example of peaceful demonstrations bringing about the desired result.

My appeal this evening is to the silent majority to stand by and cherish their democratic principles, and not to sell them out to those who place no value on them. The Government's responsibilities are enormous as it stands firm on these values. It deserves the support of every true democrat in the interests of this country. For too long, we have bitten our lips, turning a blind eye to Sinn Féin's duplicity for fear of upsetting it, fearing that once again the armalite would take precedence over the ballot box.

The people of this island and Britain have done all they can to facilitate Sinn Féin. It was invited into the centres of power in Dublin, London and Washington in the hope that dialogue would foster greater understanding — it did not. It was guaranteed seats on the Northern Executive in the hope that political responsibility would bring about an end to intimidation — it did not. What more can we give while protecting and securing our democratic values?

The future of the peace process is clearly in the hands of Mr. Adams and the IRA. They must embrace democracy and all its responsibilities. There can be no fudge or ambiguity. Sinn Féin must respect and support the democratic institutions of the State: the police, the courts and the law of the land. There can be no other way. There can be no further tolerance of its version of policing, justice or criminality.

As a democrat, I am prepared to fight for what I believe in, and the Irish people also have the stomach for that fight. We must no longer tolerate the intimidation and criminality for which Sinn Féin-IRA stands. We owe this to Jean McConville, Jerry McCabe and all the victims of the sectarian violence that has bedevilled this island for too long. Democracy must and will prevail. The time has come for us to face down what we have tolerated in this island in recent years.

The Taoiseach in recent days has stood firm and supported our democracy, on which I congratulate him.


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