Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Kidnapping and Detention of Ms Ingrid Betancourt: Motion


11:00 am

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

"That Seanad Éireann:

expressing its outrage at the kidnapping and detention for political ends of hostages, held by illegal armed groups in Colombia, including in 2002 that of Ms Ingrid Betancourt, a former member of the National Senate of Colombia and a candidate for the Presidency of Colombia;

appalled by the written and photographic evidence recently recovered by the Government of Colombia that portray the inhuman conditions in which Ms Betancourt is being held;

recalling further that Ms Betancourt has dual French-Colombian citizenship and is therefore also a citizen of Europe;

regretting that in the last two years, proposals made to facilitate a humanitarian exchange resulting in a release of all hostages held by illegal armed groups, including efforts by the governments of France, Spain and Switzerland have not been successful to date;

noting the renewed efforts made by the President of France with the full support and encouragement of all the Member States of the European Union;

noting also efforts at intermediation made by the President of Venezuela, which were acknowledged in the Council Conclusions on Colombia of 19 November 2007, and further recent offers of intermediation made by the Presidents of Argentina and Brazil;

welcomes the recent offer of the Colombian Government to create a 'zone of encounter' for a humanitarian agreement and the offer of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia to act as mediators in securing the release of the hostages;

calls upon the illegal armed groups in Colombia to release all hostages without delay and on all involved parties to demonstrate the necessary political will to bring an end to this brutal affront to human rights and dignity; and

continues to support the Government of Colombia in its search for a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict, including through direct engagement with those illegal armed groups which may be prepared to negotiate, and to bring lasting peace to Colombia."

I reserve my right to speak later.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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This is an opportune moment to consider the plight of all those held hostage in Colombia, including Ms Ingrid Betancourt. In unanimously adopting its motion on 20 December 2007, the Seanad has already expressed its outrage at the detention of Ms Betancourt. The Government and Irish people share these sentiments. We were appalled by the written and photographic evidence recovered last year by the Government of Colombia that portrayed the inhuman conditions in which Ms Betancourt is being held. We are extremely concerned by further evidence in recent weeks of her failing health and the appalling conditions of her detention.

We all recall that Ms Ingrid Betancourt is a former Colombian presidential candidate and activist for human rights and environmental issues. During the Colombian presidential election campaign in February 2002, she and several colleagues visited the demilitarised zone in Colombia in order to hold talks with the FARC guerrillas. Ms Betancourt was taken hostage by FARC and she has remained in detention for the six intervening years.

However, Ms Betancourt and the other hostages are not forgotten in their plight. As what has been termed the "white march" in Paris last weekend showed, they have the support of all of us in their fight to secure their freedom. In 2004, my colleague, the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Treacy, met Ms Betancourt's husband and offered the support of the Irish Government and people for his wife and other hostages in Colombia.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, welcomes recent initiatives to secure the release of the hostages and bring an end to the internal armed conflict. I very much regret that the recent joint humanitarian mission to Colombia to treat Ms Betancourt and other hostages was not allowed access to them.

However, efforts do not stop there. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is due to travel to Colombia soon to discuss the situation after the joint French, Spanish and Swiss humanitarian mission was denied access by the FARC. We fully support these initiatives. I would also hope that all those with influence on the FARC will use it to positive ends.

At EU level, the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union most recently adopted Conclusions on Colombia on 19 November 2007. Ireland was actively involved in the negotiation of these conclusions, which expressed the EU's total solidarity with the Colombian people, its full support for the Colombian Government in its search for a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict and underlined the importance the EU attaches to the ongoing implementation of the Justice and Peace Law.

The Council further expressed its hope that progress would be made in taking forward negotiations in order to reach a humanitarian agreement, to secure the release of all hostages, to end the armed conflict and to bring lasting peace to Colombia. In the same spirit, the Council welcomed all initiatives taken with the Colombian Government's support with the objective of promoting a successful peace process.

The Government of Colombia has repeatedly stated its commitment to bringing to an end all terrorism in Colombia within the framework of the Justice and Peace Law. This law, passed in 2005, provides an overall legal framework for the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of illegal armed groups into Colombian society. The Justice and Peace Law, which was adopted through a lengthy democratic political process, strikes a difficult balance between peace and justice.

The process of peace negotiations between the Colombian Government and the right-wing paramilitary group, AUC, began in 2003 with between 30,000 and 40,000 combatants having been demobilised on completion of the process in 2007. The Government of Colombia is currently engaging in dialogue with the left-wing guerrilla group known as the ELN in pursuit of a negotiated peace agreement. However, negotiations between the major left-wing guerrilla group, the FARC, and the Government have not yet commenced.

The EU has expressed its support for the Colombian Government's policies aimed at ensuring the rule of law, legality, security of persons and human rights. The EU has also condemned systematic breaches of the most fundamental human rights, including the right to life and to liberty, perpetrated by all terrorist groups in Colombia.

The Government will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia through our Embassy in Mexico City, which is accredited to Colombia, as well as in co-operation with our EU partners with resident diplomatic missions in that country. Ireland is fully supportive of efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Colombia, including the release of Ms Ingrid Betancourt and all the hostages held by illegal armed groups in Colombia. Ireland will continue to work with its EU partners towards a solution and will continue to support the Government of Colombia in its search for a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict, including through direct engagement.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Hannigan.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, to the House today and thank him for coming here to address this all-party motion. Many Senators have expressed their concern about the situation in which Ms Ingrid Betancourt finds herself in Colombia today. Any right-thinking person would be horrified at her situation. It is very distressing to read of the appalling circumstances in which she has been held for the past number of years. I am sure many Senators have read Lara Marlowe's accounts in The Irish Times of what has been happening to her. Information has come to light through one of the hostages who has been freed. In a recent article in The Irish Times, Lara Marlowe wrote that "saving Betancourt is now a race against time".

In the letter which was smuggled out from the jungle where she has been kept chained to a tree and held in the most appalling conditions, Ingrid Betancourt described herself and other hostages as the living dead and that her legendary strength had left her. She said that "nearly six years of captivity have shown me that I am no longer as courageous, intelligent and strong as I thought". The article stated that in a letter to her mother, she said that death would be a relief and "a sweet option". Lara Marlowe also wrote that Ingrid Betancourt's letter stated that she had found out that her father had died from reading an old newspaper cutting in the encampment.

It is almost beyond belief to imagine that people would be as cruel and inhuman to any human being as they have been to this woman. Ingrid Betancourt was a Green Party Senator in Colombia, was very involved in the peace process, took risks for her country and went to meet with the rebels. Some would say that what she did was somewhat foolhardy but she said she felt she had to take those risks for peace at the time. It must be an appalling situation for her two children to experience and for them to hear on an almost weekly basis that their mother's health is deteriorating.

Most recent reports suggest that her life is at risk. I commend the efforts being made all around the world. This is why it is important that we play our part in the Seanad. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has taken many initiatives in recent weeks to try to ensure that she is freed. He has made people available with airplanes and has involved the army to ensure that if a rescue is possible, it will be there to do it.

At European level we have been playing our part. The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, has been meeting with the President of Colombia to try to effect change. This is what we must do. We must work at national, European and world level. Ingrid Betancourt is a European citizen by virtue of her dual French-Colombian citizenship. Her only crime is her commitment to democracy and freedom of speech and expression. Under no circumstances does anybody deserve to be treated the way in which she has treated.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government raises her situation at national, European and UN level, given the urgency of the situation. I ask that the Government takes every action it can. We must show solidarity with a woman who is being kept in the most extreme circumstances.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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I also welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank Senator Fitzgerald for sharing her time so that I can speak. My party and I will support this motion. Ingrid Betancourt is an inspirational person for many people across the world, myself included. I have seen a documentary and read much about her. She is truly one of those people who is involved in politics for all the right reasons.

At the time she was kidnapped, she was attempting to liaise with FARC guerillas to find a solution to the strife and troubles affecting her country. She was acting in good faith for the lot of humanity. Her kidnap by FARC was a cold and callous act and does its cause no good. Her continued captivity is a cause for concern. I am worried about reports about her health and how she is being treated.

It is very depressing to see the impact it is having on her family. Her son and daughter give birthday greetings through the radio in the hope that she might be listening in the jungle. They recorded an announcement about the death of her father, the former ambassador to UNESCO, and played it on the radio in the hope that she might be made aware of her father's death. It is a terrible way to have to live.

Over the past six years as teenagers and now as young adults, her children have been without their mother. The impact on the family can only be imagined. That FARC continues to hold her in captivity does its cause no good. This motion can help to impress upon FARC that it needs to release her for the good of humanity and for peace.

12:00 pm

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am very pleased to be here to talk about the plight of Ingrid Betancourt. When I read the articles during the week, I was appalled by her state of health and the cruelty of her captivity. I did not think such a thing would happen today and that people could be so cruel and without feeling. It is a golden opportunity for us to put this issue on the international stage and talk about it here to see how best we can highlight her plight.

When one thinks about all that she was doing and her struggle against corruption and drug trafficking, one sees that she was simply trying to bring about democracy. She was not involved in crime. She was simply talking about freedom of speech and how her country and the democratic state could be reformed. She risked her life and the lives of her children to serve this cause.

She is now in her seventh year of captivity and there is a growing urgency about her situation and that of the other hostages, who are held illegally. Her crusade has earned attention and we must acknowledge that it is a crusade at this stage. I am delighted that France, Spain and the so-called white march have highlighted this to such an extent. We must join with other EU member states in bringing this to national and international attention to fight the guerillas and highlight how we can release this very ill woman.

It is very important to show that Ireland has not forgotten the plight of these hostages. We must have this debate and do it through our work and through talking about it wherever we are. Initiatives by EU partners are very important and we must keep encouraging member states to talk about it, as we are doing here. I hope every other Parliament throughout Europe will highlight this issue.

The question is one of how to support the Colombian Government in its efforts and to get it to enter into dialogue to try to bring about her release. Drug barons and drug trafficking seem to have infiltrated all walks of life in Colombia. They have infiltrated the local economy, the banks and parliamentarians. It is a question of how one breaks that down. Ingrid Betancourt is a wonderful woman who has done so much.

We must stand up here as this is a golden opportunity for us to do what we can to highlight her situation. Assassination is an industry in Colombia. The fact that we and the rest of the world have talked so much about the plight of this woman has perhaps kept her from being assassinated. We must keep talking, as must every country, to try to and see if we can release her from this awful, cruel activity. Like my colleagues here today, I am glad to have the opportunity to put this on the agenda. Hopefully we will get some measure of activity going in whatever shape or form through the media and talking at local meetings. We need our ambassador to keep the talking going because that is the only way it will get through to these people.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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With the permission of the House I wish to share my time with Senator Bacik.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is a very good day. It is excellent that this motion is an all-party one signed by the representatives of the different groups. I had forgotten this motion was on the Order Paper when I tabled the other one as a result of direct contact from the campaign to release Ingrid Betancourt. I proposed the simple idea that there should be contact with FARC as clearly and directly as possible to request it to release her. I was very happy when I was advised by the office that the all-party motion was quite the best because while it includes Ingrid Betancourt, it broadens the matter. It is a good day that we are unanimous because it will send the right message. It was also just as well we took it because apparently we had no other business for today.

This is a very important motion. First, there is the principle that kidnapping is a beastly, inhuman and indefensible practice because it entails using the physical distress of a human being as if he or she were merely an inanimate pawn in a political game. That is revolting and I condemn FARC for it. I know it started out as a left-wing organisation with, as it saw it, the interests of the poor. However, it has gone on from that and has gone down some very dangerous ways involving kidnapping, terrorist explosions and the generation of enormous sums of money from drugs.

Ingrid Betancourt comes from a very distinguished family. Her father was the Colombian Ambassador to UNESCO, which shows a certain context. Her mother founded a refuge for street children, which again is a humanitarian concern. She organised political campaigns for her family and was elected to the senate, which gives us another interest because she was, like us, a senator. She received the highest vote in the election in which she was successful. We also have an interest in her because she is a European citizen. She has dual citizenship, being also a citizen of France. It is appropriate and right and we have locus standi to raise this issue.

After she was elected she took her principles to where they led her and she impugned the reputation of one of her political sponsors, the President of Colombia, for corruption, which shows her extraordinary integrity. She met and negotiated with FARC in good faith on humanitarian reasons. She indicated that she saw them as among the representatives of the oppressed. Then they cynically snatched her. From documents that have been released we know that while she was in the initial phase of that negotiation, FARC had decided already on the tactics of kidnap so that it could use her in its war against the government, which I unreservedly condemn. It is horrifying to think of such a woman being smothered and dragged around the jungle given that she has hepatitis B, malaria and a serious dermatological condition. We know from that extraordinary and powerful article by Lara Marlowe that she has now endured such misery that she has said she would welcome the peace of death. She keeps in contact to a certain extent. Her mother broadcasts every day in the hope that it will be heard.

For the first time Seanad Éireann has a representative of Sinn Féin, who is an excellent able and honourable person. I regret that he was unable to be here today for various reasons. I appeal to him that Sinn Féin should use its contacts because it has direct contact with FARC and we know that. It should use that contact. As I understand he is sympathetic, I hope that this might happen.

I honour that remarkable man and campaigner for democracy and human rights, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, for the role he played. I very much regret that the Colombian Government invaded a neighbouring state and shot dead the number two in FARC, who was in charge of the negotiations. Talk about an own goal.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I thank Senator Norris for sharing time. I also welcome the motion and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am delighted to have played a role in bringing about the unanimous motion that was passed in December calling for the release of Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages being held in equally appalling and cruel conditions by FARC in Colombia. When I raised this matter in the Seanad in September as a matter on the Adjournment, I said at the time it seemed the release of Ms Betancourt and others was imminent. In the interim another hostage has been released by FARC. Sadly however, Ingrid Betancourt and others remain held by FARC and yet again we seem to be at a crisis point. As others have said, reports of her deteriorating health have caused great concern. This week France and other European countries have sent a humanitarian mission to Colombia to seek to see Ingrid Betancourt and assess her condition. Unfortunately FARC has rejected that medical mission and Paris has now called it off. Again we seem to be at a crisis point.

In a week when protests are being held in cities across the world, notably in France, it is appropriate that this House would express its deepest concern at the continued detention of a fellow democrat and a former senator, as Senator Norris has said. By highlighting Ingrid Betancourt's case we do not belittle in any way the trauma and appalling conditions of the other hostages being held by FARC in Colombia. Pain is being felt by hundreds of other families whose loved ones are being held by FARC. As outlined in our earlier motion, the pressure being put on the FARC rebels and the Colombian Government to reach a solution for Ingrid Betancourt should also have a positive impact on bringing about the release of other hostages being held by FARC. To put it in crude terms, Ingrid Betancourt is a very valuable hostage for FARC. However, the conditions of the other hostages being held by FARC will also be affected by what happens in Ingrid Betancourt's case.

As others have said, Ingrid Betancourt is a democrat. She was campaigning as a candidate in the presidential elections when she was kidnapped. She is being held in these appalling conditions because she believes in democratic rights. As democrats in this House we need to stand up in solidarity with her and to renew our call for the Government and the EU to put as much pressure as we can on the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrillas to negotiate to bring about the release of Ms Betancourt and other hostages.

The motion we passed unanimously in the previous term shows how strongly all of us on both sides of this House feel about the continued detention of Ingrid Betancourt and how strongly we feel sympathy on humanitarian grounds and great compassion for her two children, mother, husband and other family members who have been campaigning so strongly across the world for her release. We have already called on the Minister to do as much as he can to put pressure on the Colombian Government and on FARC. However, it goes further than that. On the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Ireland has much to tell other countries about how peace processes can be brought about. Senator Norris has mentioned the pressure Sinn Féin could bring directly. I believe the Government could do more than simply support the initiatives of others and should take its own initiative, if necessary including sending members of the Government to Colombia to seek to bring about Ingrid Betancourt's release at the earliest possible opportunity.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Before calling Senator Boyle, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, to the House.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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In agreeing an all-party motion on this issue last December the House felt it was doing what it could to bring attention to seeking the earliest possible release of Ingrid Betancourt. In returning to the issue today and speaking directly to that motion we are amplifying and embellishing that call because of the circumstances in which Ms Betancourt finds herself. It is believed she is suffering quite seriously from malaria and hepatitis and has been engaged in a hunger strike for a number of weeks to bring attention to her issue. As a public representative she sought to improve the lot of the citizens of her country and she found herself in this intolerable situation. As Members of a similar Assembly, we have agreed this motion and we are speaking in a collective agreed way today on her situation.

The politics of Colombia are very murky. It is difficult to identify where right and wrong and good and bad exist in terms of the issues that country must face. Other speakers have referred to how the Colombian Government has made things more difficult by its recent actions. The existence of the FARC guerilla organisation and its practices, particularly the taking of hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, cannot be condoned by anybody who believes in democracy. In the past there was a peripheral involvement of Irish politics in the politics of Colombia. Those who felt the need to be apologists for these types of organisations and tactics must speak clearly now on the situation of Ingrid Betancourt.

As has been mentioned, hope existed towards the end of last year that hostages would be released. Some hostages were released and one of them was the vice-presidential candidate with Ingrid Betancourt in the Colombian presidential election. Ingrid Betancourt, in addition to being a former member of the Colombian senate, is the leader of the Green Party in Colombia and she and several other party members were kidnapped. I had the honour of meeting Mr. Betancourt, Ingrid Betancourt's husband, at a Green Party convention a number of years ago and it is deeply disturbing that her kidnapping has been prolonged so unnecessarily over such a long time.

I am grateful to Senators for taking the opportunity to return to this issue today and for speaking so clearly and collectively in seeking that this matter be addressed. I support the calls made by other Senators that the Irish Government, given its unique position in terms of international relationships and its experience in conflict resolution on this island, seek to engage in this issue by offering whatever support it can, particularly in the context of the EU. We have already seen the role President Sarkozy has undertaken in making diplomatic and other facilities available for securing the release of Ingrid Betancourt as quickly as possible. If and when that happens — and we all pray it happens soon — we should stay engaged in that process and ensure the hundreds of other people who are similarly held hostage are let go immediately. We should offer the benefit of our experience in conflict resolution to establish greater bilateral relations with the republic of Colombia to help it overcome the long-term effects of its recent and current experiences. That is the role this country and Government should be prepared to play.

Photo of Fiona O'MalleyFiona O'Malley (Progressive Democrats)
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I am glad of the opportunity to speak on the case of Ms Ingrid Betancourt. It is important that we highlight not just Ms Betancourt's case but also the plight of other hostages who are held not only with Ms Betancourt or in Colombia but throughout the world. It is appropriate that we do this in this democratic Chamber. It is important to recognise the risks that some people take in their native countries when seeking to represent people or when they are elected. Politics is a noble profession and some people risk their lives to pursue it.

It is unfortunate, as Senator Boyle mentioned, that the political association Ireland has had with Colombia has been dominated by the shameful connection of Sinn Féin with FARC. The FARC originated as a political organisation to highlight the plight of the poor in Colombia and to seek justice through representing the poor. However, it has now become a dangerous paramilitary organisation. It is most unfortunate that Ingrid Betancourt, in trying to campaign politically, has become its hostage. It is always good to take the opportunity to remember people who are taken hostage when they seek to become political representatives. The issue of justice really comes to the fore.

She is a woman of enormous courage and is a great humanitarian. This is not the first time a political chamber in Ireland has paid tribute to her. My colleague in South Dublin County Council, Councillor Cait Keane, had a motion passed some years ago on the issue and on that occasion I met Ingrid Betancourt's daughter. In such situations one gets a sense of the pain for the family. This was a family growing up without their mother. It is one thing to experience the absence of one's mother but it is another to learn of the dreadful ill treatment she has had to endure during her incarceration.

We must remember all of the hostages, political or otherwise, who are held. It is a traumatic situation for them. These are people who are motivated only by the good of other people and how they believe they can help their communities. For that reason, it is appropriate that a united House should show solidarity with Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages being held captive. I am glad the Seanad is doing that.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis seo cur leis an rún ata os comhair an tSeanaid. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir O'Malley, tá an rud atá ag dul ar aghaidh i leith Ingrid Betancourt scanallach. Iarraimid uilig go scaoilfí saor í láithreach. Tá sí á choinneáil ag FARC.

I welcome this debate and commend the Independent Senators for putting forward this motion. The motion has the support of all Senators in the House, and rightly so. It is scandalous that this person is being held by FARC. We have serious concerns about her health but, regardless of her health situation, she should be released immediately. I urge everybody with any influence to seek her immediate release. The Irish Government is trying to do something about it but we should also use the power of the European Union, which has a duty to its citizen. We must also use the neighbouring countries that might have influence. Hugo Chavez has been able to secure the release of hostages held by FARC in the past and we should, through our diplomatic corps, impress on him and others the need to use their influences to secure her release. I am grateful for the opportunity to support this motion.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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Like other Members, I believe we should pass a strongly worded motion to seek the release of Ingrid Betancourt by FARC guerillas. On this island we have experienced the same type of massive change that is happening in many parts of the world. According to the adage, one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. Fine Gael is the only political party on this side of the House that has experience of elected Members being assassinated in the fight for freedom. A Senator was also assassinated. One could say the successors of the people who assassinated the Members of this House are now in power in both jurisdictions on this island. That shows how change can happen and how we must accept what the hand of history deals us. However, we must always fight for democracy, and democracy is what we are discussing in this motion.

FARC claims to represent the poor and downtrodden in their society but its actions in this case are simply turning its members into terrorists. They are not freedom fighters; this type of behaviour makes them purely terrorists. Furthermore, they give legitimacy to the Colombian Government acting with a heavy hand in the territories controlled by FARC. The Colombian Government is adept at acting in a heavy-handed manner and to some degree abuses the civil and human rights of individuals in these areas who may be innocent of the activities of FARC.

If FARC released all these hostages, not just those who are known on an international level, it might allow the spotlight to be turned on how that country is being run. There are human rights abuses on both sides. When we see what is happening with Ms Betancourt, we see only one side of the argument. On the international stage FARC is painted purely as a narco-terrorist group. No legitimacy is given to what it claims is a fight for the human rights of individuals living in its territories. The message FARC should take is that if it wants to be taken seriously on the international stage and be seen as more than narco-terrorists, it must release all the hostages and stop this practice of keeping a people down by using terror and kidnapping.

Kidnapping is a step up from assassination. In our society and through millennia we have seen that when one assassinates, it is over; when one kidnaps, one prolongs it. We have seen this happen to one of our citizens, Mr. Brian Keenan in Lebanon. The idea behind kidnapping is to make a person's misery an international issue. Once one is assassinated, it is over. A former Italian Prime Minister was assassinated and is now long forgotten. People probably cannot even remember his name. However, when people are kidnapped and held for years it gives a notoriety to the organisation that does it. It is a despicable act and should be condemned by this House. The message we should try to send to FARC is that this type of behaviour paints it in the worst possible light.

What Senator Norris said was interesting; Sinn Féin has a conduit to FARC. Whether it denies it or not, Sinn Féin had contact with FARC during the period when Sinn Féin was active in what we consider terrorist activities. It should use those contacts to explain to the people running FARC that it does not matter that their second in command has been assassinated by the Colombian authorities; in the eyes of the international community, they are still the bad guys in this story and will remain so as long as they abuse the human rights of individuals as internationally renowned as Ms Betancourt.

We should condemn all forms of violence because it happens across the world. We have talked about Tibet and Darfur. Often we do not talk about small, indigenous groups of people such as the Karen people of Burma, about whom nobody talks, and whose human rights are abused to an unbelievable degree. If this House wants to send a message it should be that everybody should condemn FARC for what it is doing and that FARC will never receive any recognition until it stops this terrorist behaviour.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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I support what has been said in very strong and caring terms in connection with the case of Ms Betancourt. FARC has caused much suffering and mayhem. It is ostensibly a left-wing group, but in reality is more like a criminal group. The actions taken against FARC have sometimes been hampered by the lack of co-operation between neighbouring countries in South America. They should seriously consider how they manage the fight against terrorism. I think particularly of a recent response by the Colombians that drew a threat of war from the Venezuelan President. Co-operation is needed in particular when dealing with a group such as FARC.

We have an interest in every case, but a particular interest in Ms Betancourt's situation because she is a member of the European Union. She is a brave lady who went to an area to which she was specifically asked not to travel. In the interests of spreading the message of democracy she went there and was, unfortunately, captured. She has been treated in a dreadful manner and is in a distressing state. She has a family and her father died while she was in captivity. How does one deal with people who have links with other terrorist groups and crime? On the other side one deals with democratic nations that make unreasonable demands. It is a particularly difficult situation, like all other situations where we speak for the rights of the individual.

We will continue to make progress and I commend the Minister for his efforts in this area in ensuring the voice of the Irish people, who have a tradition of supporting the less fortunate or those in a situation like Ms Betancourt's, and seeking to ensure that their voice is heard. As a parliamentarian Ms Betancourt stands for all of us. A member of the Colombian Government, she was also a presidential candidate. The Green Party will have a particular interest in that Ms Betancourt was the head of the green movement in Colombia. In every aspect it strikes a chord with the Irish.

I ask that we continue our efforts despite the manner in which the captivity has been conducted and that all efforts will be made. It is very difficult when people ask for the release of prisoners who have been found guilty by due process. There was no due process in the kidnapping of Ms Betancourt. Even for those who have done such a thing we would always seek due process when their turn comes. It is no harm to remind them that the day will come when they will face the judge.

For humanity, democracy and all that is right about human rights I share in the calls for the immediate, unconditional release of Ms Betancourt. I am not certain how an envoy or some manner of co-operation could be supported to find come common ground so that Ms Betancourt could be released. However, it could not be on the basis of people who were tried and found guilty in a court of law being released so that an innocent person could be freed.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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Next Tuesday, 15 April at 2.30 p.m.