Seanad debates

Thursday, 7 February 2019

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Ingrid Miley said on radio this morning that the Government's declaration that it was prepared to talk about everything except pay was a tinderbox.It is incredibly foolhardy advice from whoever is giving it to the Minister. There is a route map to a solution which has been spelled out by ICTU and the significance of ICTU saying that seems to have been completely missed by the Government parties as to how this issue can be dealt within the existing agreement.

The last point I will make on the nurses' dispute, and which needs to be recognised, is that if it is allowed to go into next week, it will never be forgiven and never be forgotten. To close down our health service for three days next week is entirely up to the response of the Government. It has very little time to get this right.

I wish to refer to Catalonia. Next Tuesday, after having been in arbitrary pre-trial detention for more than 14 months, nine Catalan political prisoners, including six former members of the Catalan Government, the former Speaker of Parliament and two civil society leaders, are facing a long trial before the Spanish Supreme Court. They face the grave charges of rebellion, disobedience and embezzlement of public funds. I ask for a debate on Catalonia because of the importance of what is going on there.

Their crime was to have organised or supported a referendum on self-determination, in line with the democratic mandate given to them by the Catalan people. They now risk a prison sentence of up to 25 years, since the crime of rebellion, which involves a "violent and public uprising" according to Spanish law, is one of the most serious crimes in the Spanish criminal code. Yet the undeniable truth is that they did not use or incite any violence, as accepted by the German court which turned down the extradition of former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont. Indeed, the only violence came from the brutal and shameful police response that left more than 1,000 injured voters. Police officers beating peaceful people trying to cast their ballot is an image we never again want to see in Europe.

Together with members of the EU-Catalonia dialogue platform in the European Parliament, I regret the repressive and judicial response of the Spanish authorities to a conflict that is political in nature. I reject the false narrative behind the accusations and I denounce the fact that this trial is a political trial. Dialogue and negotiation, not imprisonment and criminal prosecution, should have been the instruments through which Catalonia's legitimate and democratic right to self-determination ought to have been channelled. This political trial is not only an internal Spanish affair, it has a clear European dimension since it clashes with the fundamental values of democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to political participation. Even the right to a fair trial is at stake, since the political prisoners have denounced numerous irregularities during the pre-trial phase. For instance, most of their appeals against their pre-trial imprisonment brought before the Spanish constitutional court are pending, thereby blocking their access to the European Court of Human Rights.

We should all be watching this political trial closely. Catalans have a legitimate right to democratically decide their own political future and Madrid and Brussels need politicians with the courage to settle political conflicts not with criminal charges but with the tools of democracy. This trial will not contribute to a reasonable solution to the historical tensions between Catalonia and the institutions of Spain. The Irish Government should not be silent on this issue and instead should work to ensure that a political and democratic solution may be reached.


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