Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 July 2019

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I join in the thanks to all the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Many of them will continue to work during the summer, and I thank them for that too.

I second Senator Gavan's suggestion that we have a debate on military transport through Shannon when the House returns in September. I have heard calls for such a debate on many occasions. It is overdue in light of the very hawkish atmosphere that obtains internationally. The assertion of and clarity surrounding Ireland's neutrality and its role as a peace-building nation are more important now than ever before. Ursula von der Leyen, her country's Minister for Defence, is the proposed candidate for President of the European Commission. We need to be crystal clear to our European allies and countries across the world that our unique voice is one that is for disarmament, peace-building and neutrality.

In the context of peace-building, I wish to make a special call, which the Leader pass on. I had hoped to have a Commencement matter on this today but, due to the number of matters tabled, it was not taken. Civil society in Sudan has been expressing very clearly and strongly the need and desire for a transition to a civilian-led government. For those of us who care about democracy, it is a really important moment. After 30 years of dictatorship we have a vibrant, young, dynamic and inclusive Sudanese civil society wishing to engage in peace negotiations and have a civilian government. Ethiopia has stepped in as mediator, but Ireland can have a role in ensuring we see meaningful negotiations, that the result of those negotiations is a genuinely democratic civilian-led government and that the lives of civilian protestors are protected. I say this particularly in the context of major days of action this weekend, on 13 and 14 July. I ask the Leader to pass on to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade a request that Ireland indicate that it is watching to ensure there is no violence against protesters. The other issue the new European Commission must deal with over the summer is the fact that European funding is going to the rapid support forces in Sudan, now operating without any government. Many fear that these forces have very strong and inappropriate links to the Janjaweed, who have been engaging in violence against civilians. We must therefore look to suspension of European funding, much as the African Union has temporarily suspended Sudan's membership of the union pending successful negotiations towards a civilian government.

This leads me to one important point. I say all this because democracy matters. One person who cared passionately about democracy and politics was Noel Whelan. I also had the opportunity to work with him a little on the marriage equality and repeal of the eighth amendment campaigns but also as part of Democracy Matters. He was somebody who believed passionately in the importance of politics. He was humorous, he was an analyst and he was strategic. Most of all, he believed that politics was important, and I know he encouraged so many people to engage in politics. I urge that when we come back from the summer recess this Seanad look to how we can fulfil the vision, which Noel put forward, for a more democratic Seanad in which everyone has a voice. I join in sending my sympathies to all his family and his many diverse friends across Ireland.


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