Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Use of Irish Airports: Motion.
"(1)(a) That, having regard to:
(i) recent reports that US aircraft landing at Irish airports may have been used to transport persons to locations where they may be at risk of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; and
(ii) Ireland's obligations inter alia under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003;
a Select Committee, to be known as the Select Committee on the Use of Irish Airports, consisting of seven Senators, shall be appointed to consider:
—the above-mentioned reports and any others of a similar nature which may come into the public domain;
—the mechanisms whereby the State or its agencies can ascertain the purposes for which aircraft landing at Irish airports are being used and the overall extent to which such mechanisms have been invoked since 1 January 2002;
—the mechanisms whereby the State or its agencies can investigate, whether on foot of allegations or otherwise, whether persons are being transported, via aircraft landing at Irish airports, to locations where they risk torture or inhuman or degrading treatment and the overall extent to which such mechanisms have been invoked since 1 January 2002;
—whether Irish laws and practices ensure adequate safeguards to prevent a breach, by the State and/or by any foreign official in the jurisdiction, the above-mentioned international human rights instruments and any other relevant laws;
and shall report thereon to Seanad Éireann by 1 June 2006.
(b) The quorum of the Select Committee shall be four.
(c) The Select Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 65(1) to (9) inclusive."
Tá fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Ó Treasaigh, mar a bhíonn i gconaí. This is one of the more extraordinary debates in which I have been involved. Like other Members on both sides of the House, I participated with considerable goodwill and flexibility in an effort, proposed by Senator Norris but essentially initiated and driven by the Leader of the House, to establish a select committee to examine the reports which were gradually emerging in the media of extraordinary happenings. The group that tried to establish the committee worked thoroughly to that end.
As I have said a few times without betraying any confidences, I suggested at the group's meetings that if the select committee was to have any weight and standing, it was appropriate and right that it should be composed as all committees of this House are composed, meaning that it should have a built-in Government majority. Like all other Opposition Senators, I did not want the select committee to be able to bushwhack the Government. I like bushwhacking the Government, but I regarded this issue as being of such seriousness that I was willing to forego that possibility. I thought everyone else was just as keen for it to be taken seriously. I was under the impression that there was consensus across all parties that this issue was deserving of the fullest support.
The group in question carefully assembled terms of reference for the select committee. It is worth saying that the terms of reference are not about condemnation or prejudging. They relate to the fact that reports had emerged that aircraft used in what we call "extraordinary rendition"— it is unfortunate that the phrase is now part of normal parlance — had used Irish airports before, during or after such activities. Although I may hear to the contrary, I do not believe anyone disputes that it is definite that such aircraft used our airports. One could argue about whether one accepts the word of the United States that no such prisoners were on board the aircraft when they landed in Ireland. That the aircraft landed here and that the aircraft were used in the practice of extraordinary rendition is a view that I take to be shared virtually universally. The issue of whether the individuals in question were tortured is a matter for further investigation, although I believe the case is pretty overwhelming.
As I have said, the first task of the select committee will be to examine the reports of such activities. In light of those reports, the second task of the select committee will be to ascertain whether this country can enforce what it accepts as its international obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, for example. Ireland has further obligations in line with its status as a founding member of the European Convention on Human Rights. Ireland was one of the first countries to accept courageously extra-territorial jurisdiction from the European Court of Human Rights. Like other countries, Ireland has suffered as a result of the ups and downs of that relationship. It has never flinched from its belief that it is right to accept such jurisdiction.
Having looked at the reports, the select committee will make an assessment of their validity and consider whether Ireland is willing and able to meet its obligations under various international agreements. That is all the committee will be charged with doing. Much of the motion before the House relates to the structure of the committee. It does not set out in advance what the members of the select committee believe to be the case. It has been proposed on foot of the considerable disquiet and evidence in this regard, which is found in other countries as well as in Ireland. Similar bodies have been established in other parliaments, for example, by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe and by the European Parliament.
While the group I have mentioned was attempting to draw up terms of reference, and in the immediate period afterwards, the Government was responding to queries from the Council of Europe, in particular. I was glad to hear the Government telling the Council of Europe it was in complete opposition to the practice of so-called "extraordinary rendition", although it was nothing less than I would have hoped for from an Irish Government.
The Government also told the Council of Europe that "a thorough examination of practice throughout the State ... revealed no indication of the occurrence" of any such practices, which would be "plainly in breach of international law, Irish law, and of the principles upon which the Council of Europe is founded". That is the Government's stated position, as outlined to the Council of Europe. I want the committee to investigate what the Government says it has already investigated. It is clear that the information is already in the Government's hands, assuming the Government is telling the truth, as I always do until it is proven otherwise.
I would like to know who carried out the "thorough examination" to which the Government referred in the document it submitted to the Council of Europe. Was it carried out by an individual, by an agency or by the Department of Foreign Affairs? What form did the "thorough examination" take? Were aircraft inspected as part of the examination? I do not refer to binoculars being trained on aircraft from 150 m away at Shannon or Baldonnel. Were the aircraft actually inspected? Did those who carried out the examination ascertain who owned the aircraft which are the subject of so many reports? Did they bother to do so?
The Council of Europe has been told that our Government carried out a "thorough examination". I seek the establishment of a select committee that would ask such questions, not of the US Administration or any other foreign administration but of this country's Government. Although the Government has claimed that the select committee's work has already been done, the public does not know how it was done.
Does the Government acknowledge, as the US Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, has done, that the practice of rendition exists? There may be a dispute about the definition of "torture". Dr. Rice has said that extraordinary rendition is used in defence of "our freedom", although she denies that the United States uses, facilitates or approves of torture, or allows it to happen. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that there was a serious dispute between members of the US Congress and the current Administration in Washington about the prohibition of the use of inhuman and cruel practices in interrogation. It was a debate that was about the different forms of torture. There is a no doubt — there is widespread literature available on this — that some people in the current US administration favour practices that would be regarded as torture in other countries, especially in western Europe. The US Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, acknowledged that such practices are carried out. The administration acknowledges that it believes that in certain circumstances, certain practices that could be cruel or inhuman might be justified.
Our Government has stated that such practices are in breach of Irish law, international law and of the principles upon which the European Convention on Human Rights was set up. What did the Government do to vindicate those rights? What did it do to vindicate Ireland's position as a country which believes that one of the fundamentals of its foreign policy is the vindication of human rights? Were any of the aircraft examined? If there is a reasonable suspicion that an aircraft that lands at Shannon was used in the process of depriving another human being of his or her most basic rights, does the State have any willingness or ability to investigate that aircraft? Does it have the willingness to search it, to carry out forensic tests on it for evidence, or to question the crew?
These are the issues that this committee was supposed to investigate. These issues were to be investigated by a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas dealing with Irish people. We were not attempting to be the Skibereen Eagle keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia. We were attempting to ensure that human rights best practice was being practised in Ireland. We were not asserting that anybody was on board any of these aircraft.
There is a prima facie case that aircraft which landed in this country were used in rendition. The US authorities deny that anyone was on board and our Government has assured me that it accepts the word of those authorities, which was given on the most categorical terms. That was said by senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and I am not in a position to question it. However, that is not to say that the issue is not of fundamental importance.
I have outlined what we were going to do, but somewhere along the line, the Government took fright. We had got to the stage where we had agreed reasonable terms of reference on a cross-party basis.
We agreed it with the Leader and with the Whip of the Progressive Democrats in the House. I could not go around and shake everybody's hand on the issue. I know that some Fianna Fáil Senators opposed this motion before they knew what was in it. Some of them did not realise that the committee was to have a Government majority. They did not realise that we would put temperate language into the motion, yet they still opposed it. About what, therefore, did they take fright?
We are constantly being told that the US is a friendly country. Let us suppose that our neighbours in the UK were accused of doing something like this to an Irish citizen north of the Border. Does anyone believe that the sensitivities about hostile acts expressed by Senators on the other side of the House would interfere with their crusade to defend human rights north of the Border? They would be right to defend those human rights. The major party of the Government has decided that for an Oireachtas committee to ask questions, which the Government claims it has already asked, would constitute a hostile act. In effect, the Government is stating that human rights are not indivisible. It is stating that human rights matter when other people whom we do not like transgress them, but when our friends in the US are dodgy about the law and its fundamentals, then all we can do is blink, turn our backs and pretend it never happened.
At this late stage I know that there is still a significant majority in this House in favour of setting up this committee. The Opposition is in favour of it as are a significant number in the Government parties. Let them assert themselves just this once in the same way that those who are opposed to this motion asserted themselves. They should not be walked into the voting lobbies just because a local lobby based around Shannon Airport has put human rights behind their naive belief that there are jobs involved in looking up to Uncle Sam.
I am very happy to second this motion and I am very grateful to Senator Ryan for giving me the opportunity to do so. Like many other people, I was astonished when this committee was deliberately collapsed. In reply to my question about the committee on 1 December 2005, the Leader stated that if the European Parliament is taking the issue seriously, then we should do likewise. We had about six meetings and the legal representative of the Oireachtas was there to advise us. The terms of reference were agreed between all parties, yet suddenly, the whole thing was punctured and I am sure that this was not without the intervention of the Government. Some of my colleagues on the other side of the House have been gombeens on this issue. I use that word advisedly and I would like to rub it in. A gombeen is one who sells out one's ideas for cash and it is a perfectly parliamentary term to use. Such people do not care if human beings are tortured or murdered, because we know this has actually happened.
If Members are looking for specific facts, I refer them to five specific flights.
I want to refer to five specific flights. The first flight landed on 17 June 2003. Hassan Osama Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was abducted in Milan. He may not have been a very nice person, but he was treated with contempt for his human rights. He was taken via a military air base in Aviano, Italy and Rammstein, Germany to Egypt on a Gulfstream jet, which later flew to the US via Shannon.
That is the very fudge the Senators on the other side of the House are trying to make. Under international law, it constitutes complicity in a crime if one assists in the flight. This is what we have done and this is what the Government has tried to conceal. I would appreciate less nonsense from that side of the House.
The suspect was then taken to Egypt, was tortured and released without charge. He was then re-arrested and he has not been seen since. He was probably murdered in Egypt.
The plane used for the second flight was registered as N379P, which made several changes when it was discovered that we were following it. The Americans were obviously more embarrassed about it than the Government. That flight, known as the "Guantanamo Bay express", was spotted at Shannon Airport in 2002 and had been involved in the abduction of two men from Stockholm in 2001. There is a criminal case pending on this issue.
Since yesterday, we have been in possession of information stating that the British Government, despite its repeated denials of the use of its bases for rendition, has been involved in such a process. The following three flights are of interest to this House because they were routed back through Shannon. Flight N313P arrived from Brize Norton at 10.15 on 19 October 2003, departed to Tripoli at 13.00, arrived from Tripoli at 15.35 on 22 October, departed to Tripoli at noon on 28 October, arrived from Tripoli at 17.10 on 29 October and departed to Shannon. Flight N379P arrived from Islamabad at 15.50 on 18 October 2002, departed to Washington at 9.00 on 20 October, arrived from Amman at 12.50 on 16 January 2003, departed to Shannon at 10.00. Flight N8068V arrived from Marrakesh at 12.10 on 15 May 2004, departed to Luton at 13.00, arrived from Luton at 11.05 on 17 May and departed to Shannon at 8 a.m. The sole purpose of these airplanes was rendition of illegally kidnapped victims and we facilitated that by refuelling those airplanes at Shannon.
The Human Rights Commission, on 23 December last, called on the State to inspect flights into Shannon. This is not just a group of cranks on the backbenches of Seanad Éireann. I will now turn to the response of the Government to the Marty committee. We were told that inspection was not necessary because it was duplication. As a result of a complaint I made to the Garda Commissioner, I was visited by two detective superintendents. They told me, and I confirmed it this afternoon, that the Garda has no power to enter these aircraft in these conditions because of the way the UN convention on torture was incorporated into Irish law. The Government said something totally contradictory in this report, so which is correct?
The instructions to the Government were to investigate whether there had been active or passive co-operation. I do not suggest there was active co-operation but there is factual evidence that there was passive co-operation. There is no doubt on this point.
I have indicated that some of it is contradicted by senior Garda officers. The Senator also asked about aid or assistance in the transportation by aircraft or otherwise of persons so deprived of their liberty. Is it beyond the intelligence of a small section of the Fianna Fáil Party to understand plain English? If one refuels an airplane, one is facilitating its operation. It is part and parcel of the flight and would be so understood in international criminal law.
The Government says that in the interests of the proper operation of the security and safety of an aerodrome or the security and safety of persons, aircraft or other property thereon, a garda may arrest without warrant any person who assaults or whom he or she reasonably suspects to have assaulted another person. This is a series of five flights where we know that people were assaulted. This has been determined in several European courts. The pilot of that airplane was the same pilot who brought it back through Shannon. We know he was involved in the assaults. Why was nothing done? Why did the Government not ask who was in the airplane? Why were the airplanes not inspected?
The gardaí told me — this is laughable — that they interrogated the cleaners. The cleaners might notice the odd cigarette packet on the ground but they would not notice the subtle adaptations so people can be shackled and manacled in the aircraft. The Government signally failed in its duty to inspect and that is why this part of its answer is a downright lie and a disgrace to the Irish people.
I will not withdraw anything. Under Irish law a victim is entitled to secure civil damages against the State. I sincerely hope that the people for whom the Government has been complicit in their kidnap and torture will sue the State and I hope the record of Seanad Éireann and the fact that I and others have pursued this over the past few years will stand as evidence.
Senator Marty mentioned "by act or omission". We have not covered the State's act of omission but I am aware of what the Government is trying to do. It is trying to squirt out obfuscation so it can pretend it did not know. However, ignorance of the law is no defence in law. The Government said it is fully aware of its obligations. It might be but why did it do damn all about them? Where the Secretary General's request is concerned, the Government said the issue arises largely — and this is the fudge — in the context of the transport of any individual while so deprived of his or her liberty. The transport of an individual includes the return leg. That is what the Senators are so afraid of, but can one in conscience think of people being tortured?
The CIA says that if one wants somebody tortured, one takes them to Jordan or Syria and if one wants them killed, one takes them to Egypt. This is on the record from a senior CIA operative. Look at the destinations of those flights. Where were they going?
On 21 November 2005, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Terry Davis, wrote to the governments of all of the member states of the Council of Europe. Exercising his powers under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Secretary General sought from each state an explanation of "the manner in which its internal law ensures the effective implementation" of certain provisions of the convention. This was done against the background of, and I quote:
. . . recent reports suggesting that individuals, notably persons suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism, may have been apprehended and detained, or transported while deprived of their liberty, by or at the instigation of foreign agencies, with the active or passive cooperation of High Contracting Parties to the Convention or by High Contracting Parties themselves at their own initiative, without such deprivation of liberty having been acknowledged.
There are two parts to this request. The first part asks for an explanation of the adequacy of domestic law relating to unacknowledged deprivation of liberty and the activity of foreign agencies. The second part asks whether any public official or "person acting in an official capacity" has been involved in any unacknowledged deprivation of liberty during the period since 1 January 2002.
The actions of all persons in the territory of Ireland are governed by Irish law, including those relating to the deprivation of liberty. Irish law confers specified privileges and immunities upon certain representatives of other states and international organisations, which could present a procedural bar to the enforcement of Irish law against such persons. These are diplomats and representatives of some international bodies which are given special remission. In addition, Heads of State and Ministers for Foreign Affairs enjoy immunity while on Irish territory.
It is appropriate to outline the controls which exist in respect of the acts of officials of foreign agencies who transit Irish territory by aircraft. The law applicable to both civil and state aircraft is somewhat different. With regard to civilian aircraft in flight, Ireland's competence to exercise jurisdiction in cases of criminal offences committed on board foreign civilian aircraft is governed, as regards aircraft in flight, by the 1963 Tokyo Convention. Article 4 of the convention allows Ireland to exercise criminal jurisdiction inter alia in respect of such offences committed on Irish territory.
When the aircraft is not in flight, the Tokyo Convention places no restriction on Ireland either investigating or claiming jurisdiction to prosecute in respect of a criminal offence appearing to have been committed on board an aircraft registered to another state. Civil aircraft used by foreign officials which land on Irish territory are not entitled to any state immunity.
With regard to foreign state aircraft, it is a requirement of Irish law that prior permission must be sought for a foreign military aircraft to land on Irish territory. In such circumstances, the foreign military aircraft enjoys immunity from search by Irish officials unless permission is conditional upon the waiver of this immunity. Non-military state aircraft must also, in accordance with international law, seek permission to over-fly or land in Irish territory if immunities are to apply. If a person, who is believed to have committed an offence in Ireland, leaves the aircraft, he or she can be arrested, charged and prosecuted, including for a crime committed against an Irish person on the aircraft, or an international crime, wherever committed.
Article 40.4.1° of the Constitution provides that "No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law". Under Irish law the deprivation of a person's liberty can only take place in defined circumstances. There is no concept in Irish law of a detention, which is simultaneously both lawful and secret. Irish law provides numerous mechanisms to prevent an unlawful deprivation of liberty.
There are only two circumstances in which Irish law permits lawful deprivation of liberty by foreign agents in Ireland and where the authorities of another State can detain a prisoner on Irish territory. Section 40(1) of the Extradition Act 1965, permits the transit through Irish territory of a person being conveyed from one country to another, pursuant to an agreement in the nature of an extradition agreement. In such a case, the transit must be consented to by the Minster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and is subject to the relevant extradition provisions and any condition the Minister thinks proper. The Ireland-US extradition agreement of 2001 additionally permits detention of prisoners by officials of the United States as they pass through Ireland. However, the agreement at Article XV requires the consent of the State for each such transit.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may also consent to the transfer of a sentenced prisoner through Irish territory pursuant to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons 1983, when he is satisfied that Article 16 of that convention is applicable. It is not lawful for the Minister or the State to consent to the transit of a prisoner through Irish territory other than in the two circumstances I have outlined. All detention, whether secret or otherwise, which does not have the positive authorisation of law in the State, constitutes the criminal offence of false imprisonment.
Section 33 of the Irish Air Navigation and Transport Act of 1988 provides that in a case where it is suspected that a crime is being committed on a civil aircraft, an authorised officer, which includes a member of the Garda Síochána, may, in the interest of the proper operation or the security or safety of an aerodrome, or the security or safety of persons, aircraft or other property thereon, arrest without warrant any person who assaults, or whom he or she reasonably suspects to have assaulted, another person.
Section 49 of the Irish Air Navigation and Transport Act 1998 provides for an authorised officer to enter an aircraft in an Irish airport when he considers it necessary for the purpose of exercising any power conferred upon him by, or under, this Act, or the Act of 1988. Section 49(3) provides that the authorised officer may, at any time, require the operator or registered owner of the aircraft to produce for inspection by him such documents, relating to the aircraft or passengers or goods on board the aircraft, as he may require; or inspect the aircraft for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the relevant legislation.
The availability of habeas corpus application, the procedure for which is set out in Article 40.4.2° of the Constitution, provides a mechanism by which all forms of unlawful detention can be judicially challenged. This remedy is supported by the unenumerated constitutional right to communicate with the court for the purpose of making this application.
When the request of the Secretary General refers to the possibility of the involvement in unacknowledged deprivation of liberty of any public official or person acting in an official capacity either by action or by omission, it raises two questions. Investigations have confirmed that no unacknowledged deprivation of liberty has occurred in any of the State's detention facilities as a result of an act of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Similarly, investigations have revealed no instance of unacknowledged deprivation of liberty to have occurred in any of the State's detention facilities as the result of an omission of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
The Government is fully aware of its obligations to prevent involvement by omission in the unacknowledged deprivation of liberty, and to fulfil all its positive obligations in respect of this matter. As far as the Secretary General's request is concerned, the issue arises largely in the context of the transport of any individual while so deprived of their liberty, which has become known as "extraordinary rendition". When the Government became aware in 2004 of allegations regarding extraordinary rendition, urgent contact was made with the United States authorities, through both the US embassy in Dublin and the Irish embassy in Washington, to ensure that the Irish position was fully understood and respected.
The Government sought and received assurances that prisoners had not been, nor would they be, transferred through Irish territory without the express permission of the Irish authorities. It was made clear that in conformity with the relevant domestic and international law, permission would not be granted for the transit of an aircraft participating in an extraordinary rendition operation or for any other unlawful act. The US authorities' assurances were subsequently reiterated in a number of meetings throughout 2005 and they were confirmed at a bilateral meeting in Washington D.C. between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the US Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, on 1 December 2005. They have been repeated at several meetings since. The Government accepts these assurances, which are of a particular clarity and completeness. They are factual and in no way qualified by any reference to the circumstances in which, or the purpose for which, any hypothetical prisoner might be transported.
The Government has carefully considered the value of these assurances having regard to its obligations under the convention. It is satisfied it is entitled under the convention to rely on clear and explicit factual assurances given by the Government of a friendly state, on a matter which is within the direct control of the Government. Notwithstanding the US assurances, investigations have taken place, two of which were forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In neither case was any charge made.
The Government has fulfilled all of its positive obligations in respect of preventing unacknowledged deprivation of liberty, particularly with respect to any possible transport of individuals while deprived of their liberty. There is, therefore, no question of any public official or person acting in an official capacity being involved in such activity by omission.
In no circumstances would the unacknowledged deprivation of liberty be legal in Ireland. In this respect, all of Ireland's obligations in respect of the European Convention on Human Rights are fulfilled. On 10 November 2005 the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, made clear the Government's very deep concern over allegations of the possible existence of secret prisons. On 14 December 2005, he recorded the Government's complete opposition to the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition. A thorough examination of practice throughout the State in response to the Secretary General's request has revealed no indication of the occurrence of either unacknowledged deprivation of liberty, or the transportation of any individual while so deprived of his liberty. This is entirely in keeping with the Government's stated position on the matter.
Therefore, I see no reason for the establishment of a committee at this time. I have absolute faith in the Government and the Garda to investigate such matters if necessary. In response to a pervious speaker, who referred to the US not being a friendly state, I say when the chips are down we call on Uncle Sam.
The previous speaker stated that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, had expressed his total opposition to a policy of rendition and also gave his view that the practice is not being facilitated by the State. This is what this important motion is about. It is not about party politics; it is a moral issue. It is deeply disappointing from the parliamentary point of view of Seanad Éireann and from a human rights perspective that it appears the Government has decided for political reasons that the Seanad cannot investigate this crucial human rights issue. I am getting signs from my colleagues across the floor that the Government has made no such indication and therefore it must be from the Government Members of this House.
On numerous occasions in the past three or four years we have debated the issues arising from the Iraq war and in particular the human rights ones. These debates were not held at the behest of any individual Member of the House. It was almost on a consensus basis that some months ago we decided informally to establish this committee. A small group of us representing each of the parties and the Independent group sat down to agree reasonable wording establishing an all-party committee to examine the vital issue of rendition. As Senator Ryan outlined in his opening remarks, the committee's job was not to act as judge or jury but simply to inquire, examining the issues and the reports already available, and try to achieve some knowledge of what might be happening at Irish airports. It was a responsibility this House should have been honoured to take on. Senators should have a special duty to ensure respect for human rights at home and abroad. Where they are concerned, rendition must be considered in detail, since it breaches human rights on a massive scale.
We are all aware that in recent years we have been in the midst of what some term a war on terror or terrorism and others a clash of civilisations. Undoubtedly, a case can be made that democracy must be defended and freedom advanced. I fully agree with the idealistic goal of defending democracy and trying to spread it, since it is the great guarantor and protector of civilisation at home and abroad.
Unfortunately, one neither defends democracy nor advances freedom by losing the moral high ground. Once we start allowing, or closing our eyes and ears to the illegal practice of torture and the possibility of rendition, we are truly losing the human rights battle and the moral high ground that Western civilisations have traditionally claimed. For almost 50 years after the Second World War, there was a clash of ideology on the European continent. On one side of the Berlin Wall was the communist system of government, while on the other was an open, politically-free and market-driven economic project. However, the essential difference between those two governmental systems was that one allowed human rights, democracy and freedom to flourish, while the other did not. In the end, it was unsurprising that freedom won out.
I am greatly concerned that, as we look across today's world at what some call the clash of civilisations, to win the so-called battle, those who proclaim most loudly that they are advancing freedom and democracy have thrown away their moral compass, reducing themselves to practices outside civilised norms. The committee that we are attempting to establish in Seanad Éireann would investigate whether some of those illegal practices were facilitated or occurred at Irish airports.
As some speakers have said, the subject is currently being discussed at the Council of Europe, and several colleagues, including Senator Ormonde, would have attended the most recent plenary session a few weeks ago, where the rapporteur on the matter, Senator Dick Marty, presented his interim report. It is of course fair to say that the report probably raised more questions than it answered. However, it was the start of a process, and the Council of Europe expects each of its member states to respond and clarify the issues raised by the committee.
We in this committee could have played a role in that process. In a sense, we were being asked to do no more than the Government should have been doing. Senator Norris outlined his grave disquiet at some of the answers the Government has apparently given, and we must take on board much of what he has said. A significant body of opinion suggests that our airports are being used in a manner that the vast majority of citizens would neither accept nor wish to see. We should have been able to establish a committee in this House to ask the hard questions and determine the real position. It would have been in everyone's interest if we could have done so. No one gains from the current situation whereby we are expected to ask the US Government for an answer without any independent method of verification.
It is my deepest and dearest wish for us to conduct such an inquiry in full, investigating and examining all the claims made to us, ultimately finding that there is no practice of rendition, extraordinary or otherwise, through Shannon. Unfortunately, if we as a parliamentary group cannot even begin to ask the questions, we will remain in a fog of confusion and doubt. The questions of right versus wrong, morality versus immorality, torture and the abuse of human rights will only lead to further despair and disaster. We elected Members, guardians of the Constitution, have a duty to ask every possible question, using whatever mechanism is available to us, regarding any degree of attack on the human rights of citizens on our soil or those passing through our country. Those issues must be raised and the attacks ended.
I hope that, given the very reasonable and fair motion before us and the all-party agreement that obtained up to a few weeks ago, we might re-enter that spirit and establish a committee of which this House and the Irish public might be proud.
I join previous speakers in welcoming the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, and his officials to the House. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this grave topic.
When the Council of Europe reported on alleged secret detentions, it was careful to set out the context of its work at the start. Senator Marty was particularly struck by the fact that it was in the United States that discussions on this topic first really took off. We must recognise that this is not a case of Europe preaching down to the US from the moral high ground, asking them to take heed and open their eyes. I cannot reiterate enough the importance of separating the legitimate concerns of the Irish people about the activities of governments and agencies from tunnel-visioned, irrational, anti-American, ill-founded rants. It does not serve this House, or the interests of the rightly concerned public, if we descend into the latter.
As I said, it was in light of an article in The Washington Post and a report by Human Rights Watch published last November that the international media reported allegations that the CIA is or was running a system of secret prisons, including prisons in certain "central and east European democracies".
The point most specific to our debate today is that aircraft chartered by the CIA allegedly flew over, to and from European territory, benefiting, therefore, from airport facilities including Shannon Airport, to transport suspects, completely illegally, to those secret centres. Senator Marty's report to the Council of Europe is very careful and precise in its use of language, and I encourage all to follow suit.
The Opposition motion refers to "recent reports that US aircraft [are] landing at Irish airports [and] may have been used to transport person to locations where they may be at risk of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment". It refers to recent reports and not to evidence. While there have been allegations and reports, there has been no evidence. While I do not suggest that Members suspend their concern or suspicions — I certainly will not — contributions should be made on the basis of what is known. Without entering Donald Rumsfeld's world of "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns", Members should restrict themselves to first discussing what they know and second how best to reveal that which they do not.
The Opposition motion suggests that a select committee of this House, known as the Select Committee on the Use of Irish Airports, and consisting of seven Senators would make a valuable contribution to this second objective. Without creating any possible negative ripples in our important and beneficial relationship with the United States, I am unsure whether anyone can say with certainty that either of these propositions are absolutely true. I can state that the claim in this House on 2 March by Senator Norris that the select committee "on rendition flights through Shannon Airport [was] disestablished by ... the Government ... on the basis there was nothing to examine" is absolutely untrue.
Members will be aware that I worked on drafting the terms of reference for the proposed select committee and was pleased to so do. Hence, I will make my point as clearly as possible. The select committee was not convened because a majority in this House did not support it and not because a majority in this House felt there was nothing to examine. I share the view expressed by the Leader of the House on 1 March "that it was not my wish that [the issue] was ending in this manner". I consider that this House was done a disservice by pursuing a process towards establishing the select committee so far and so publically. However, I am not inclined to undermine this House by proposing defiance of its determination and the will of the majority.
Returning to the substantive issue, namely, the value of another investigation, Members should, as I suggested, consider what is known. Senator Marty's report for the Council of Europe noted that he was informed of the many questions to the Government and the replies received. The Government expressed its total condemnation of the practice of what has been termed "extraordinary renditions" to the investigation and stated that it had never authorised any overflight of Irish territory by chartered aircraft for that purpose. Interestingly, references to Ireland constituted just five lines of his 25 page report.
What else is known? The United States has given Ireland repeated, clear and explicit assurances that no prisoners have been nor would be transferred through Irish territory without Ireland's permission. In December and several other times, the Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, has confirmed these assurances. Ireland was one of only three countries to receive categorical and unqualified assurances on the non-use of its territory for rendition. As far as the Government is concerned, Shannon Airport is not used in any way for extraordinary rendition. The report to the Council of Europe verifies this situation.
The role of the Oireachtas must not be confused with that of the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Those bodies make the independent determination as to whether there is enough evidence in respect of reports and allegations. Our system of justice and separation of powers is in place for specific and important reasons.
This brings me to third point in the Opposition's motion, namely, the mechanisms to investigate allegations. I understand that the Attorney General has strongly advised the Government that the Garda Síochána has the legal basis to board planes and investigate. Furthermore, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform assured the Oireachtas and the public that the Garda has full power to board civilian chartered aircraft such as those about which many of these allegations have been made. As for the value of any select committee, its objectives and capabilities would be obliged to clearly extend beyond those of both the investigation by Senator Marty and the work undertaken by Mr. Terry Davis. Members must also consider the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committees on European Affairs and Foreign Affairs and any sub-committees envisaged by those bodies.
The Government continues to follow the long-standing practice whereby details supplied by the United States authorities to the Department of Foreign Affairs are accepted in good faith as being accurate. While the Opposition Members will undoubtedly decry this practice, I warn them to be careful as to where their logic might lead them. If Ireland was to take a stance on ceasing any engagement with any entity or operation that in any way facilitates the running of a military operation, it could have serious and unforeseen consequences. Should we ask Intel, Hewlett Packard or Microsoft to cease operation in this country because armies employ their technology, such as microchips, computers and operating systems? Should we ask Pfizer, Abbott, Wyeth and all our pharmaceutical companies——
——to pack up because soldiers in combat situations might use their medicines? This issue is grave and Members should be concerned. They should seek assurance and do what is valuable and practical. This House should reflect the concerns of citizens in a manner that serves them well.
The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, is welcome to the House. I am particularly glad of his presence, as he listens to debates. I hope to speak in a moderate tone on this issue. I can remember an advertisement which appeared long before the Minister of State's birth. I believe it was for Palmolive soap and its slogan, "what even your best friends are unwilling to tell you", pertained to body odour. While I apologise for bringing the subject up, I do so because I regard myself as a very good friend and admirer of the United States and am particularly conscious of the economic and social ties that bind us so closely together. However, there are times when one is obliged to state that one considers that one's friend may be making a mistake.
As I also noted the last time I spoke on this matter, one does one's friends no service by pretending they have no shortcomings. It is indeed part of the role of a friend to gently point to where a person has gone wrong, if indeed he or she has done so. While one should be loyal to one's friends and give them the benefit of any doubt, this does not mean closing one's eyes to reality. I believe that the concept of "my friend, right or wrong" has no place in friendship.
While in the United States last month, I expressed unease regarding the rumours and suggestions of possible torture in Guantanamo and elsewhere. I was surprised at the reaction of some former senior American administrators, who informed me that such actions did not run counter to their constitution, as it only protected their own citizens. I had never heard such an argument before. It would be useful to have a debate on that subject and the United States should be glad to hear it.
I wish to add my support to this doomed motion and to tell those Members who oppose it that their action is short-sighted and not in the interests of those they seek to protect. As Senator Bradford has spoken well on this subject, I will not repeat it. If democracy means anything at all, it means a readiness to discuss difficult subjects. Hopefully, one discusses them in a reasonable way while basing one's case on genuine evidence. However, a disservice is done to democracy if one attempts to sweep difficult issues under the carpet in its name. I believe this is in danger of happening with regard to this matter. Democracy demands that one is always ready to hear both sides of an argument, however much one might disagree with the other side. Democracy is always ill-served when a majority uses its strengths to stifle debate. The history of Northern Ireland has something to teach us in that respect.
One of the reasons used by Members to justify the Seanad's existence to a highly sceptical outside audience is the promotion of this House as a place where reasoned discussion can take place and where people can come together in a less adversarial way than is usually the case in politics. That is one of the reasons why guillotine motions are so rarely imposed in this House. I believe this greatly enriches our legislative system, given that Committee Stage debates of many Bills in the Dáil are truncated by the use of the guillotine. I would have hoped, therefore, in this safe House that people would have shown themselves big enough to allow the formation of the sub-committee proposed in this motion. The fact that this is not so means that this is a bad day, not just for democracy in general but for the reputation of this House in particular.
I thank Senator Quinn for sharing time with me. Like the Senator I too would consider myself a friend of the American people and like him I was there a few months ago and was staggered — one does not get this impression from the American television media — at how many people are so alarmed by the situation into which they have got regarding Guantanamo Bay, regarding the possibility of people being sent for extraordinary rendition, the fact that there have been such abuses carried out by American and other personnel in the prisons in Iraq and the fact the Iraqis seem to be running a regime for the thousands in their prisons far worse than that which was run by the former regime of Saddam Hussein. They are worried about the infiltration of Iranian militia into the south of the country and the fact that there are now so few journalists on location to report on it. I was there at a time when one of the last American journalists working in that part of Iraq was shot dead. No wonder we do not hear about Basra because there are no journalists there anymore to tell us about it.
We must take on some responsibility for telling our friends that we think they are making a serious mistake. It is clear they have already lost the battle in promoting human rights and democracy. When one now goes anywhere in that part of the world one finds Americans who say they pretend they are Canadians. I have never known of Americans in the past being anything other than enormously proud of the fact that they were Americans. I understand what people are saying about our significant economic dependence on America but it will not do to let them go to hell in a hand-cart, because this is what is happening at present.
When we speak of torture I sometimes wonder if people really take in what we are speaking about. The other day I read the forms of torture to which people who have been sent for extraordinary rendition said they were subjected. One of course is hanging up by the arms, which does not sound too uncomfortable until one realises that people are frequently hung by their arms tied behind their back. If one wonders why Senator John McCain, although a member of the Republican Party, speaks out repeatedly against extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay, it is because that is how he was treated when he was in Vietnam — one may notice he is no longer able to raise his arms above a certain level. This is someone who has stated that when he was tortured by the Vietnamese and they would ask him for the names of his platoon and battalion, he used recite the names of various baseball teams because it was all he could remember. His objection to torture is that he thinks it is useless. I am sure he has humanitarian reasons as well.
There are people who are subjected to water-boarding. This is where they are held on a board, submerged, head backwards, into vats of water so that they think they are drowning and pulled out at the last moment. The following occur in the countries to which people are sent for extraordinary rendition: the pulling out of finger-nails, which has been going on for years; electric shocks to genitalia and lips; beating of the soles of the feet; beating of the back; beating of the soft parts of the body so that internal tissues are damaged, which is serious because it can cause internal bleeding, etc.; and keeping people in uncomfortable positions, not for ten minutes but for months, where they can neither stand up nor stretch out, in dank, cold conditions without sanitation, and frequently naked. When we ask that we want to be sure nothing like this with which we could in any way be involved could happen to people, many of us want to speak out as well on the entire practice.
While of course I understand the extent to which the economic situation troubles Senators on the other side of the House, those in America to whom I spoke are desperately worried about what happened, for example, to the young Syrian computer engineer from Canada who was taken off an airplane in Boston and held for ten months in such conditions in Syria. He now cannot work, cannot go on airplanes and says that while he is grateful when people tell him — his case was all over the Canadian and international newspapers — in supermarkets how sorry they are for what happened to him, all he can do is cry. He says his life is over, and he is in his thirties.
Tá mé lán sásta freastal ar an ábhar an-tábhachtach cuimsithe idirnáisiúnta seo. Táimid an-buíoch don Fhreasúra gur chúir sé an rún tábhachtach seo faoi bhráid an Tí seo agus go bhfuilimid le chéile chun díospóireacht a bheith eadrainn air.
I welcome this opportunity to address the Seanad on this most sensitive issue. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have on numerous occasions made clear in Dáil Éireann the Government's complete opposition to the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition. It is my privilege to do likewise here in Seanad Éireann, not alone on my own behalf but also on behalf of my party and on behalf of the Government. Consistent with this opposition, the Government is determined to ensure that all of our obligations to protect human rights, under both international and domestic laws, are fulfilled. There can be no question of sacrificing human rights in the fight against terrorism.
The question before the Seanad this evening is, however, more specific. It is whether this House should establish a select committee on extraordinary rendition and the use of Irish airports. According to the terms of the Private Members' motion, the select committee would consider four points, namely allegations relating to certain landings at Irish airports, the way in which the State can determine the purpose of different flights, the way in which the State can investigate allegations in this area and the adequacy of Irish laws in this area.
I recommend that Senators not support this motion for the following reasons. First, comprehensive investigations on extraordinary rendition are already underway in the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. It is difficult to see what value an additional inquiry here would add to these investigations. Second, Ireland, along with only two other European countries, has received specific, categoric and unqualified assurances on this issue from the United States authorities that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission.
Third, it is clear from the recent report published by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that Ireland's practices with respect to dealing with the different categories of aircraft that land at Irish airports are fully in line with those of our partners. Fourth, and most significantly, I would emphasise the complete lack of any specific evidence that the law has been breached at Irish airports in any way. Indeed, there are not even any concrete or particular individual allegations. Finally, one week before we celebrate in Washington D.C. the many links binding our two countries, I would invite Senators to consider for a moment the value that we all attach to Ireland's relationship with the United States. When all of these points are considered, I hope the House will agree that the proposed establishment of a select committee is unwarranted and unnecessary.
Senators will already have seen copies of the Government's comprehensive reply to a questionnaire on the subject of the possible unacknowledged deprivation of liberty circulated by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Terry Davis. In its reply, the Government confirmed that in answering the questionnaire it had unearthed no occurrence of unacknowledged deprivation of liberty, including in the context of extraordinary rendition. On 1 March last, just one week ago, the Secretary General released his preliminary analysis of the 46 replies which he had received. Ireland is one of only 13 countries whose replies the Secretary General deemed sufficiently comprehensive not to require clarification. His report shows that Ireland's practice is fully in line with that of all partners, and does nothing to undermine the value of the factual, categorical and unqualified assurances that we have received from the United States authorities.
The Government's reply makes clear that investigations have not been confined to the international level. In addition to the inter-departmental investigations that were occasioned in order to provide a comprehensive reply to the Secretary General, the Government's reply notes that three investigations were conducted by the Garda Síochána into complaints surrounding extraordinary rendition. In two cases, in accordance with standard procedures, papers were forwarded to the DPP. In neither case was any further action found to be warranted, owing to the inadequacy of the evidence that any unlawful activity had occurred.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is also conducting an inquiry, in addition to that of the Secretary General. Separate to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament has established a temporary committee to investigate allegations made in this area. The Government has stated it will co-operate to the fullest extent practicable with this investigation. There will, presumably, be a considerable overlap, between the investigation of the European Parliament and that of the Council of Europe.
I would like to turn to the issue of the assurances that the Government has received from the United States authorities. When our Government became aware in 2004 of allegations regarding extraordinary rendition, urgent contact was made with the United States authorities to ensure that the Irish position was fully understood and respected. The Government sought and received explicit, categorical assurances that prisoners had not been, nor would they be, transferred through Irish territory, without the express permission of the Irish authorities. It was made clear that, in conformity with the relevant domestic and international laws, permission would not be granted for the transit of an aircraft participating in an extraordinary rendition operation or for any other unlawful act.
The US authorities' assurances were confirmed by the Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, at a bilateral meeting in Washington, DC, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 1 December 2005 and they have been repeated at several meetings in 2006. The Government accepts these assurances, which are of a particular clarity and completeness. That only two other European countries have received bilateral assurances of such a categorical nature only goes to emphasise their credibility and solidity. The assurances do not depend on any interpretation of what is or is not legal under international law, as they relate to a simple question of fact.
The Government has carefully considered the value of these assurances having regard to our obligations under international law. The Government is satisfied that it is entitled under international law to rely on clear and explicit factual assurances given by the government of a friendly state, on a matter which is within the direct control of that government. Contrary to what some have suggested, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights does not hold that diplomatic assurances cannot be relied on in such a situation.
Aside from regular scheduled airline flights, US aircraft visiting Ireland can be divided into three categories: military aircraft, troop transports — civil aircraft, which have been chartered by the US military — and private civil aircraft of the type alleged to be involved in extraordinary rendition flights. Military-state aircraft form a specific class of aircraft, which require permission to land in Ireland. Once permission is granted, such aircraft are immune from search in accordance with the internationally accepted principle of state immunity. There is no suggestion that this category of aircraft has any involvement in extraordinary rendition. Troop transports, similarly, are not mentioned in the allegations concerning extraordinary rendition. These aircraft, which are treated as normal civil aircraft for the purposes of search and inspection, are required to seek permission to land in Ireland, owing to the fact that troops they are transporting tend to travel with their personal weapons.
The final category of aircraft comprises mainly small business jets. In accordance with the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, civil aircraft making unscheduled flights such as these may land for technical stops such as refuelling without a requirement for permission. Thousands of such aircraft pass through Ireland every year. As with the troop transports, the Garda is fully entitled to search these aircraft if it has a reasonable belief that a crime is being committed on board. This right of search derives from a number of sources, including our Constitution, the common law and the air navigation Acts and it is described in detail in the Government's reply to the Council of Europe questionnaire. It has been suggested by some, that the lack of a power of search, contained in the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000, somehow undermines the right of the Garda to search these aircraft but this is patently untrue. The fact that legislation may not contain search powers does nothing to undermine the fact that they exist and are derived from other sources.
The Secretary General's report and inquiries by our embassies abroad, confirm that Ireland's practice is squarely in line with that of other partners in respect of all three categories of aircraft. Not least given the quality of the assurances that we have received, it would not be wise or appropriate for Ireland alone to depart from standard international practice. Secretary General Davis has, in very general terms, suggested that such practice be reviewed. He says he will in due course make concrete proposals. If and when he does so, we will carefully examine them with our partners.
Those opposed to the Government's position in this debate, have highlighted that, to date, the Garda has not searched any aircraft for prisoners or signs that prisoners may have been transported. They have suggested it is the fault of the Government that such a search has not occurred. We are fortunate that we do not live in a society where searches are carried out or prosecutions launched at the bidding of the Government. The Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions have the independent capacity to launch a criminal process, if the grounds exist for them to do so but the reality is there is a complete lack of evidence of illegal activity. A striking feature of most of the allegations made in this area is their vague and circumstantial character. They depend on the retrospective imposition of a pattern of activity on a range of data long after the alleged event and long after any conceivable action, could have been taken.
The most frequently repeated, specific allegation with which everybody will be familiar is that on 18 February 2003, a Gulfstream jet, which had delivered Abu Omar, who had been seized in Milan, to Cairo landed at Shannon on its return leg to Washington DC. Even this allegation accepts the fact that no prisoner was on board, as the aeroplane came through. The allegations as to the previous activities of this aeroplane are substantiated, it is claimed, although no supporting materials have been provided, by the retrospective interpretation of flight logs and FAA data. Even if they are true, it would have been entirely impossible at the time, to have known of the aircraft's involvement in an earlier extraordinary rendition operation, as it passed empty though Ireland. Moreover, it is impossible to verify or control the previous or future activities, which might take place outside our jurisdiction, before or after an empty aeroplane passed through. In what way do the Government's critics suggest that any action they recommend would have had the slightest practical impact in this case?
There is nothing of significance in the recent release of flight data by the British Ministry of Defence. The aircraft mentioned have been the subject of media reports over a long period and their landings at Shannon Airport were confirmed to Dáil Éireann in December 2005 in reply to a parliamentary question by the Minister for Transport. In his reply, the Minister informed the House that these aircraft landed at Shannon for technical purposes, namely, they were technical or refuelling stops, to which I have alluded. In accordance with the 1944 Chicago Convention, civil aircraft may land in Ireland for technical stops without notifying the Department of Transport. Thousands of such aircraft pass through Ireland every year. There is nothing in the newly released data to contradict or undermine the specific or categoric assurances we have received from the US authorities that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory nor would they be without our permission.
I referred to the quality of the assurances we have received from the United States authorities, but I would like to touch on the value of our relationship with that country. Ireland has derived substantial economic benefit from its close relations with the USA. It is our largest export market and the main source of foreign direct investment. The commitment that the US has shown in nurturing the peace process in Ireland is witnessed in tangible form by its contribution of $458 million to the International Fund for Ireland, since 1986, an average of $28 million per annum. It is not just about money. Among other things, the US is home to millions of people of Irish birth and descent, including the undocumented, on whose behalf the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs will lobby next week. We receive ongoing active and constructive support from the US for the peace process in Northern Ireland. This support, from both Republican and Democratic administrations over the years and from both sides of Congress, has played a profoundly important role in underpinning the peace process on this Island.
In March 2003, Dáil Éireann voted to endorse the Government's decision to continue the long-standing practice of making landing facilities available to US military aircraft at Shannon Airport. I know this is appreciated in Washington, and only last week, President Bush availed of the facilities on a stop-over. The transit through Shannon of US forces, on their way to Iraq is covered by a number of UN Security Council resolutions, dating back to 2003. The most recent of these was agreed by the Security Council, unanimously, on 8 November 2005.
Despite our closeness to the United States, this does not mean that though friends we are in any way unwilling or hesitant to convey clear views on issues of concern. We have done so consistently, I have spoken to the United States ambassador on such issues and we constantly communicate our position at the highest level, from the Taoiseach to the President, from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State and across all diplomatic levels. We have made clear that we do not believe that extraordinary rendition is justifiable in any circumstances. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has made clear our belief that the Guantanamo facility, should be closed. This has been made clear publicly and privately.
We come to a view on the merits of each particular situation. In this instance, it is emphatically not the case that we are unduly or unreasonably influenced by our relationship with the United States. However, it would be irresponsible for any Government, in the absence of a good and sound reason for doing so, to act as if it did not believe clear assurances, which have been repeated at very high levels.
The situation with which the Government is faced with respect to extraordinary rendition and the use of Irish Airports is twofold. On the one hand, we have categoric, specific assurances from the Government of a country with which we enjoy exceptionally close relations that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be without our permission. On the other hand, we have a loose collection of unsubstantiated allegations which claim to cast doubt on these assurances but are unsupported by any evidence.
Given this situation, I trust Senators will agree that there is no reason to change Government policy in this area. Furthermore, I urge, following my description of the different investigations already under way along with the quality of the assurances we have received from the US Authorities, the lack of evidence of any misuse of Irish Airports and the fact that our practice is completely in line with that of our partners, that this House reject the motion to establish a select committee. I trust that this puts the matter in full context for all members of the House.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The last time he was here when I was speaking, I mentioned that he was the Minister of State with responsibility for delivering the Lisbon Agenda on competitiveness throughout the country, an extensive package of reforms. Now we hear his extensive knowledge of Iraq and the issues surrounding it. I was, therefore, interested in what he had to say in the context of this motion.
I support my colleagues in the House who have sought the establishment of a select committee and I will explain my reason for this support. It is important to state that this country has friendly and good relations with the United States of America and its people for good reason. Nobody suggests that as a sovereign independent republic we should trade this off against the historic and long-standing relationship we have had with the US.
I support the United States of America. It was America that came to Europe at its gravest hour, that put in place the international, multilateral approach after the Second World War that led to the establishment of the United Nations, that helped fund the rebuilding of Europe after the ravages of fascism in the 1940s and late 1930s and that put in place an important international architecture of international law which has remained in force from the 1950s to date. I recognise all that is good in that multilateralism. However, in more recent years the drift of US foreign policy has not helped America or the world in terms of establishing a peaceful order and an international agreement on international rights that should be understood and recognised by all.
I make a distinction with regard to the role of this House in the Government's right to have its programme implemented in the House and with regard to our not standing in the way of Government decisions and manifesto commitments. It is never the responsibility of the House to stand in the way of the Dáil when it comes to the implementation of Government policy. However, there is a fundamental distinction between the Government's right to implement its agreed programme and manifesto and the role of this House to ensure that fundamental human rights we all recognise are adjudicated in the House.
The Government has missed a glorious opportunity in the context of Seanad reform by not accepting this motion.
What is the Government afraid of? The Minister of State speaks about the quality of assurances. Those assurances are from one government to another, not from one Parliament to another. I do not understand the Government's difficulty with allowing the establishment of a select committee that would ensure this House could come to the same set of conclusions as the Minister has on the basis of assurances he has got from the Executive of another state.
I have an open mind on the issue. If, tomorrow, we had a select committee established with a Government majority and it came to the same conclusion as the Minister of State within a few months, that would be fine. What difficulty has the Government got in allowing the work of this House to fulfil its role in supporting fundamental international human rights? Why will it not allow the work of this committee to commence and come to some conclusions?
It is important to establish this committee. If the Government prevents this basic reform and approach, we have a bigger problem on our hands, namely, the problem of the reform of the Seanad. I have said previously that unless this House reforms itself, it should be abolished. The timescale for reform has long since come to an end. The view of all Members of this House when it met after the last Seanad election was that there should be reform. We put in place a reform committee that produced excellent proposals. We now see a way of implementing those proposals.
The problem now is that we cannot seriously talk about reform of the House unless the Government is prepared to allow the Seanad to come to its own conclusion on matters such as the establishment of a select committee. I question the intention of the Government to bring about serious reform of this House if it uses its blocking majority to oppose what is an innocuous select committee being established to examine this important matter.
The people of the Shannon region would be more than happy to see this committee in place or to allow this Parliament to do its job. I refer Government Senators to the clear commitment in the Standing Orders of the House that select committees are to be established in this House to report to it in a forthright and immediate way on any matter of concern brought to its attention. I have much more faith in the Members of this House and their ability to make honest conclusions than some Government Senators. I have much more confidence in the Members of this House to do their job, but unfortunately the Government refuses to allow the Seanad to do its constitutional job. In that process, it is ruining the prospect of Seanad reform.
Unless this House reforms itself and shows itself relevant to the issues raised by ordinary citizens on a constant basis, it will soon be abolished. As important as this motion is, that is the message I would like to pass on. We must reform this House and the tangible, demonstrable way to start that process is to accept this motion.
Leaving aside the main issue, reference was made earlier to this motion and the creation of an all-party committee. Senator Ryan, though he may not have intended to, gave some indication of the difficulties with this when he mentioned the fact that the motion was being rejected before Members knew its contents. Perhaps if Members had been more informed this situation would not have arisen. If one wants to set up an all-party committee, a party that is expected to be part of that committee should be allowed to give some indication of its views on the matter. I listened carefully to Senator Minihan and presume that before he was involved in the discussion about setting up such a committee, he sought guidance and advice from members of his party.
The Leader of the House explained at the conclusion of the discussion she had with the Opposition about this motion that many of the Fianna Fáil Senators were not fully aware of its contents or objectives. They were being asked to take part in an all-party committee without all-party conclusions. I would be concerned about a committee of this type and fully endorse what the Minister of State has said tonight. I was a member of the Council of Europe when the initial frenzy in the media commenced on this and related issues. It commenced in November 2005 when an article appeared in the The Washington Post, containing information provided by Human Rights Watch.
I would have concerns about information from Human Rights Watch. The human rights watch taking place at Shannon involves one or two individuals under cover of darkness with binoculars at the perimeter fences of Shannon Airport, supplying aeroplane registration numbers when we have at the disposal of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, details of all flights from Eurocontrol and, if necessary, from the satellite communication system of the Council of Europe, based in Spain.
The initial complaint in The Washington Post, on foot of information from Human Rights Watch, did not concern renditions but allegations that secret detention centres had been set up by the CIA in Poland and Romania. The Polish and Romanian authorities immediately rejected that allegation, as did those in the Czech Republic, Armenia, Georgia and other countries in central and eastern Europe. On foot of those allegations, the Council of Europe undertook the initial investigation, under the Secretary General, Mr. Terry Davis. The European Parliament is also engaged in an investigation and Deputy Coveney is taking part in that. It would be very unwise to rely, as Senator Norris appeared to, on the evidence of an ex-member of the CIA. I do not know where he met him or what discussions he had with him, but I would be very wary of anything the CIA would tell me with regard to renditions or secret detention centres. A thorough investigation of the issue was undertaken by a number of Departments vis-À-vis the questions raised by the Council of Europe. A response was given and it has been accepted by Mr. Davis that Ireland is one of the few countries where no further questions or doubt arise.
There is widespread confusion with regard to what takes place at Shannon and the Minister of State has clarified the situation this evening. The public would be well advised to read carefully the information the Minister of State has put on the record. There is an idea abroad that diplomatic immunity, that is the immunity conferred on diplomats, Heads of State, Foreign Ministers and others who travel through or operate here, applies equally to operators of civilian aircraft that may be used by the CIA. No such diplomatic immunity applies to officials of foreign aircraft. Immunity does not apply to flights other than those that are cleared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and for which notification and all necessary details regarding those on board is supplied.
I live closer to Shannon Airport than most of the people who have spoken this evening. I have been through the airport on countless occasions and have represented the area since 1973. There has never been any suggestion that prisoners on their way to Guantanamo Bay or other places of detention are being transferred through Shannon. There is no evidence of that.
I would not be a party to the type of activity we have seen by those who are putting misinformation into the public domain. They are the very same people who protested in Shannon, broke down perimeter fences, damaged aeroplanes, frightened people who were boarding flights, caused untold damage in the vicinity of the airport and did a disservice to the issues involved here, whether they relate to American troops on charter flights, the President of the United States of America or anybody else. As an indication of the public support for their attitude and their unfounded, wild allegations, which have been examined and rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions, four people turned up to protest when the President of the United States was going through Shannon last weekend. The public in Shannon are well aware of the facts but it is important that there is no confusion between those with foreign diplomatic immunity and other personnel going through the airport on civilian aircraft.
The Minister of State referred to the investigations on extraordinary renditions that have been set up the Council of Europe and the European Parliament and said that it "is difficult to see what value an additional inquiry here would add to these investigations". I have just read the working document of the temporary committee of the European Parliament on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners, which directly contradicts what the Minister of State said. The working document of the committee states:
On the basis of the answers given to the Council of Europe, EU National Parliaments and Parliaments of relevant third countries should be invited, through their committees responsible for the Control of Secret Services, to answer the questions contained in the Temporary Committee mandate:
i. Has the CIA carried out rendition flights and torture on EU territory, including acceding candidate and associated countries?
ii. Have EU citizens or citizens from acceding candidate and associated countries been abducted?
iii. Were Member States' authorities aware, informed or complicit?
iv. Have EU/EC law, national legislation, international/bilateral conventions been violated?
Not only does the mandate envisage the committee liaising with national parliaments but that Ireland will have its own committee to inquire into the subject matter. It also states, "Furthermore, the Presidents of National Parliaments should be invited to provide information on current or past parliamentary enquires on the matters provided by the Temporary Committee mandate". Assuming the Taoiseach is the "president" of our Parliament, he will send a representative to the committee to provide information on our current and past parliamentary inquiries on the matters covered by the temporary committee mandate. The committee proposed in the motion has already been foreseen by the temporary committee's mandate.
What the Minister of State said is undermined by the temporary committee's mandate. He claimed the Council of Europe report shows Ireland's practice is fully in line with that of all partners, and does nothing to undermine the value of the factual, categorical and unqualified assurances that we have received from the United States authorities. The Council of Europe report actually contradicts the Minister's statement. When Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, launched the report, he said, "These obligations are of a positive nature, which means that the member states are obliged to actively prevent such human rights violations from taking place, and not simply react if they stumble upon them accidentally".
The report did pick up on Ireland. It claimed states are not systematically requested to provide passenger lists or cargo information, even though they could be. Terry Davis has stated the work of the report is not the end of the process but the beginning. For all countries involved, legal safeguards, frameworks, etc., need to be put in place. The taking away of personal liberty must be made a criminal offence. A legal framework must be introduced for the activities of foreign agents.
As Senator Brian Hayes pointed out, the ongoing work of the Council of Europe report will require the Oireachtas to do its job as a legislative body. It may well require us to put in place additional legislative provisions. If the proposed committee is established, it will inform our work as legislators. The Minister of State trusts Senators will agree that there is no reason to change Government policy in this area. The motion proposes for Members to do their work.
It is not a radical proposal; it has to do with reform. Although there are calls for the Seanad to be abolished, it is recognised that it has done important work in the past. It is absurd that Government Senators will not agree to this motion because they could well be doing themselves out of a job.
At the launch of the Council of Europe report Terry Davis stated:
. . . hardly any country, with the clear exception of Hungary, has any legal provisions to ensure an effective oversight over the activities of foreign security services on their territory. In Hungary, the competent authorities are instructed by law to detect any activities of foreign secret services interfering with or threatening the sovereignty, or the political, economic or other important interest of Hungary.
There is evidence that such foreign service activity is occurring. If it was not a fact, these inquiries in the Council of Europe and the European Parliament would not have been conducted. If such activity is going on in Ireland, it undermines our sovereignty in a unilateral way. The Government is ceding our sovereignty to the United States.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy. I oppose the establishment of the proposed committee on my account and not on behalf of the Government or anyone else. Suggestions were made that some Members on this side of the House are doing the Government's bidding. I came to my own decision on the proposed committee, as others did, when I considered its implications.
To establish such a committee is irrelevant, particularly in light of the existence of the Council of European and European Parliament committees which have Irish representation and are receiving the full co-operation of the Government. These committees will have much greater powers in getting information and intelligence-gathering because their remits are European-wide. What additional purpose would the proposed Irish committee serve? It will only fan the flames of the anti-American agenda. It will seek to ignite a debate on the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war and US intervention in the region.
I do not believe it is relevant to do so under the auspices of the proposed committee. A debate on the matter should be open in the House and not under the guise of the establishment of an investigative committee that talks about the transfer of prisoners.
Such a committee would be used by certain opponents of the United States, as indicative that the Government has taken sides with the US, thereby, ignoring our neutral stance. For 50 years, Shannon Airport has been used by military blocs; during the Cold War, the Russians used the airport when they were not flavour of the month through all sorts of atrocities.
There were no objection from the revisionists at the time who now seek to change Government policy on US military flights through Shannon Airport. The committee is a backdoor way of getting at the flights. It would establish an unhelpful witch-hunt.
The agenda is not about extraordinary rendition or torture on Irish soil. It has more to do with an agenda associated with military flights through Shannon Airport. The issue of extraordinary rendition and torture has been dealt with through the assurances, as the Minister of State outlined, given by the US Administration. I am prepared to accept those assurances in good faith. Not to accept them from a friendly nation and a country with which Ireland has enjoyed an enormous level of positive social and cultural interaction would be a setback.
There was much talk about the necessity to maintain a good working relationship with the United States. Senator Quinn used the soap slogan about telling a friend of his or her body odour. An old saying is that if a friend needs to be told something, do not do it from the altar. There are diplomatic channels through which the Government has on many occasions managed to get its point across to the US Administration about the atrocities that have taken place in Europe. Senator Brian Hayes spoke about it being an innocuous committee. The House certainly does not have an innocuous image in the US.
I was shocked by those Members who claimed that we are stifling debate and it is a bad day for democracy. I listened to Senator Brian Hayes claiming that he had the ambition to reform the Seanad. Before he entered the House, I spoke for years of reforming the Seanad. I will not use it, however, to undermine Government policy on this issue.
I was happy to hear the assurance of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs that this select committee should not be set up. The terms of reference would not stand up. I do not understand the purpose of this select committee. It would undermine the Government. If the Members opposite were on this side of the House, would they allow Government policy to be undermined? They would not.
——and that it was meant to extend the role of the Seanad and so on but to conclude the point just made, this is strictly an Opposition motion. I do not believe that the parties opposite, if they were in Government, would put forward or support this motion.
I have an old-fashioned, de Valerian view, namely, that sensitive matters of foreign policy are for the Government to decide and it should not be unduly constricted or——
——cut across by the Oireachtas. The Senators opposite should read the Official Report of the debates on the aspects of the Constitution dealing with foreign policy. The Government should determine foreign policy and if the Senators opposite do not like the foreign policy, from time to time elections are held in which they can elect a different Government.
It now appears the rug was pulled from under the Leader by the Fianna Fáil group or whatever source in that regard. That is a matter for them to deal with, however, and I am sure they will deal with it in the manner in which they always deal with such matters.
There is a question about the role of the Garda. Senator Norris said he was informed by senior members of the Garda that they do not have jurisdiction to board the airplanes in question. The Minister has stated categorically that is not the case. That question must be clarified with the senior gardaí because I would have thought senior members of the Garda would be au fait with the law of the land in this regard and if they are not, they and their superiors should be informed of the law.
I am very surprised by that. I am not anti-American, nor are almost all of the speakers on this side of the House, but we expect America, the same as any other nation, to comply with international law at all times. There are no exceptions in that regard. We cannot close our eyes to reality, as was mentioned by Senator Quinn. We must investigate matters about which there is public concern. That is the purpose of this House. I would have thought a select committee like the one proposed would have done its business in a proper and coherent manner. That is all we are asking for on this side of the House. That is the objective of the motion. It does not condemn the Government. It is trying to get answers to questions that are in the public domain. I commend the motion and hope we will have the necessary support to have it accepted.
I will make my contribution in a bullet point fashion because there are a number of issues to be dealt with. Let us first get rid of the anti-American notion. I had the privilege of meeting Senator John McCain last September to talk about Irish illegals in America. Senator McCain is a brave American. He was the one who led the charge against his own Administration to ensure that American agents everywhere in the world were bound by American law. He did not believe he was being anti-American by insisting that America stand up for its principles.
The debate about extraordinary rendition is about a lapse in standards on the part of the United States that it claims to support. None of us who criticised them were being anti-American. We support what America stands for and are asking that America stand for what it claims to stand for but it has singularly failed to do so. Let us get away from the anti-American aspect. I believe in the principles on which the American republic was founded.
Let us then look to our friends in America. I had the great privilege to be involved in the protests against the war in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago. Those protests were led by the Irish Voice in Vietnam, which was presided over by Dan Breen, who was a founding member of Fianna Fáil and an inspiring figure for people in Fianna Fáil. He had no worries about upsetting his friends in America and did not listen to people whinging about American investment in Shannon when there was a principle of the oppression of a small country to be defended. That was the Fianna Fáil that used to be; the current Fianna Fáil is an entirely different animal.
Will somebody explain to me the reason the Attorney General has not told the gardaí that they can investigate these aircraft? Have we reached a level of incompetence that advice that goes to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe never reaches senior officers of the Garda Síochána? That is a fact.
As for the nonsense that Parliament should not be involved in foreign affairs, let us leave it at that. It is nonsense. It is one of de Valera's aberrations, a man for whom I have great admiration. It was a de Valera aberration that foreign affairs was his preserve and everybody else should butt out. That was always his view but he was wrong.
We continue to be told there is no evidence. I could read out to the House the evidence of an Italian prosecutor on what was going on in terms of the 22 CIA operatives whom he has indicted but I do not have enough time. How much evidence do the Senators need to know this is going on?
I do not allow myself to be diverted from fundamental principles by matters of local inconvenience. I have done it all my life and I have dealt with members of Senator Dooley's party who used race as an election issue. I did not let electoral concerns interfere with——
The Government says it has investigated the matter. How did it investigate it? It will not tell us. It tells us there is no need for this investigation because the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have done that. It is fine for the European Parliament and the Council of Europe to investigate it but it is not appropriate for the Irish Parliament. I know the reason for that. It is about parliamentary accountability. The Government does not want to establish a principle where Parliament would make it accountable for matters of foreign policy.
Senator Mansergh, in his naivety or perhaps because he is by nature a very honest man, let the cat out of the bag when he said that the fundamental issue is that the Government wants to hold on to foreign policy. It wants to be accountable to nobody except——
It knows this will be an issue in the general election.
The idea was put about that there was no majority in this House for this motion. I defy the Senators on the Government benches to say they will have a free vote to see where the majority lies.
——because the Government has told them they must kowtow to Uncle Sam, they must not upset Condoleezza Rice or stand for a principle because they will upset their friends in Washington the week before St. Patrick's Day, on which day they will eat, drink and be merry with a man who is responsible for at least 50,000 deaths in Iraq. That is what they stand for. God be with Dan Breen——
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 16 (James Bannon, Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Brian Hayes, Mary Henry, Michael McCarthy, Derek McDowell, David Norris, John Paul Phelan, Brendan Ryan, Sheila Terry, Joanna Tuffy)
Against the motion: 28 (Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Pat Moylan, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Kate Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Norris and Ryan; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.
Question declared lost.