El Salvador: Motion.

Acting Chairman

Before we start this debate I should like to state that there has been agreement between the Whips that Members be called on in a certain order. I should like to call out that order: Deputy Shatter, 4.30 p.m. to 4.43 p.m.; Deputy N. Andrews, 4.43 p.m. to 4.56 p.m.; Deputy Kemmy, 4.56 p.m. to 5.09 p.m.; Deputy Higgins, 5.09 p.m. to 5.22 p.m.; Deputy Noel Browne, 5.22 p.m. to 5.35 p.m.; Deputy Lenihan, 5.35 p.m. to 5.48 p.m., Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Dooge), 5.48 p.m. to 6 p.m.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann fully approves of Ireland co-sponsoring, with France, Denmark, Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Yugoslavia and Algeria, the resolution on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in El Salvador tabled by Mexico in the United Nations General Assembly; expresses its deep concern at the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in El Salvador, especially in view of the deaths of thousands of people and the climate of repression and insecurity which prevails in that country; requests the parties concerned in the conflict to extend co-operation to and avoid interfering with the activities of humanitarian organisations dedicated to the alleviation of suffering caused by the conflict and to apply a minimum standard of protection to the affected population as provided for in the Geneva Convention of 12 August, 1949; appeals to all States to abstain from intervening in the internal situation in El Salvador and to suspend all supplies of arms and any type of military support; urges the Government of El Salvador to adopt the necessary measures to ensure full respect for the human rights of the population by creating conditions which could lead to a political solution to the conflict through the participation of all representative political forces in that country in genuinely free and democratic elections.

I hope that the Chair will allow me the two minutes that I have lost during the previous matter.

Initially I should say that today is a most appropriate day to have a motion of this nature before the House because, as everybody present knows, it is International Human Rights Day. The problems of El Salvador are uniquely concerned with human rights. It is important that we put the problems in perspective. In doing that I intend to look briefly at El Salvador and the situation as it is at present. El Salvador is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and certainly the poorest in Central America. There are about four-and-a-half million people living on a portion of land that is, effectively, the size of Munster. The main political and economic power in El Salvador, as stated by many independent sources, appears to be vested essentially in the hands of 14 extremely wealthy and powerful families who have become known as the Oligarchy in that portion of the world, and there has for many years been a need for social and economic reforms of a radical nature in that country. The present problems of that country have to be put in that perspective.

A major problem is the unequal distribution of land. Sixty per cent of rural peasants in El Salvador effectively own no land whatsoever. Two per cent of the population own 58 per cent of the land. El Salvador has the lowest calorie intake per capita in all of Latin America. Seventy-five per cent of children in El Salvador under the age of five years suffer from malnutrition. Fifty per cent of the population are illiterate. Thirty-seven per cent of families in El Salvador live effectively in what I think can properly be described as one-room shacks. Thirty-five per cent of the population is unemployed and, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation in 1980, 20 per cent are underemployed. So it is fair to say that widespread poverty is endemic in El Salvador.

The problems of El Salvador which have received so much publicity in the last two years relate to the repression and violence of that country and which people living in that country have experienced. Repression is not new in the history of El Salvador. Over the decades the history of El Salvador tells of a struggle by people to seek to assert political rights and human rights and of a basic conflict between the interests of a minority who live in that country and the interests of the majority in achieving an acceptable degree of social justice. The violence in El Salvador has, in the past two years, escalated in a manner never previously experienced. The violence is such, and so much of it has been at the hands of the junta or the result of acts of persons who support the ruling junta, that in El Salvador there is virtually — and I do not believe it is unduly dramatic to say it — organised genocide.

The situation in El Salvador has been well documented. I must pay tribute to the work of Trócaire in this area, not only in trying to provide assistance for the people in El Salvador but in seeking to publicise a grave situation as it exists in that country. All of us in this House are indebted to members of Trócaire and other groups who have worked in this way. But not only Trócaire work in this area. Amnesty International, the Roman Catholic bishops both in El Salvador and the United States, and the United Nations have all given expression to the extent of the violence there, have publicised it and referred to it. There are conflicting figures about how many murders there have been in El Salvador, but all of these figures portray a horrific picture. In the report produced following the visit to El Salvador by Bishop Éamonn Casey and a delegation on behalf of Trócaire it is stated that, between 1 January and 31 July 1981, 9,933 people were murdered. In that report it is also stated that 15 to 20 of those murders take place every day in the capital. The report states that this is a horrifying increase when compared with the total of murders in the first six months of 1980. The evidence of murders in El Salvador and the facts concerning the numbers of people who have disappeared off the streets never to be seen again have been meticulously collected by the Human Rights Commission and by the legal aid office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador; and, according to the reports of that body, the vast majority of these murders were carried out by the combined security forces, sometimes assisted by armed civilians. From the documentation that is available, there is little doubt that the government of the country, either directly or indirectly, have been involved in the murderous acts that have taken place.

A report produced since Bishop Casey's visit to that country referred to the existence of a Government death list which included the names of considerable numbers of people, some of whom have since died, who were to be done away with. The majority of the names on that list were of members of the Social Democratic Party, ex-Christian Democrats, civilians who resigned from the junta in January and March last, when it was clear that the initial reforms that had been hoped for would not materialise, priests and lawyers. Six were staff members of the legal aid office in the Archdiocese of San Salvador.

We all know that no one in that country has been protected or immune from acts of violence. There is no need to go into or to describe the circumstances of the death of Archbishop Romero or the four American nuns whose situation and experience and whose deaths have been so well publicised and documented. In the UN General Assembly in October a report of the Economic and Social Council testified to the level of violence and death taking place in El Salvador.

The purpose of the motion before us is to call on all parties who have been involved directly or indirectly in that country to give the people of El Salvador an opportunity to resolve their problems internally without outside interference. The level of the arms build-up in El Salvador has contributed to the creation of the present problem which has been greatly exacerbated. It is something that we in Ireland wish to have stopped. Much has been said about the role of the United States in El Salvador, and it is hoped that this motion, and the work done in the motion that was before the UN Security Council recently, will act as some pressure or will be a call from us to the United States to cease to supply arms to that region, indeed to cease to provide the level of support they have so far provided to the junta.

It is worth saying that more military aid has been provided to El Salvador in the past two years by the United States than in the previous 29 years. This is a call not only to the United States to stay out of the internal affairs of El Salvador, but also to other countries. It is hoped that the problems of El Salvador will be resolved ultimately by the holding of proper free democratic elections, elections that are genuinely democratic and in which all representatives of political parties and forces in El Salvador will be given a real opportunity to participate.

In this regard concern should be expressed about the elections that are to be held in El Salvador in March next. In the context of present conditions there I do not believe that any kind of proper, free elections can take place. All of us in this House would like to see such democratic elections, but they can take place only when the conditions which will enable them to take place are brought into being. Such elections should be monitored properly on an international level. No doubt the UN have a role to play in this. I congratulate the Minister, Senator Dooge, for the work he and the Department have done in this area. It has been a significant contribution on the international plane towards finding a solution to the problem.

It should be noted for the record that the fact that there are not many Deputies here today does not signify any lack of interest in the motion, as illustrated by the numbers of people who attended briefings on the issue in the past number of weeks.

I, also, should like to congratulate Senator Dooge on the manner in which he has dealt with this situation, particularly through the UN and the Mexican resolution we are supporting in the UN. I should like to think that this motion arises directly from that resolution. Ireland's contribution to human rights in the UN traditionally has been strong and independent. We should like to make it clear to our American friends and allies that this is not in some way anti-American. I want to assure them it is not. It is like the situation when a member of a family acts out of turn and does things we would regard as undesirable and anti-social. We are inclined to call to see him and bring him to heel. On this issue, I believe the Americans have a grave responsibility for what is occurring not only in El Salvador but throughout Latin America.

We in Fianna Fáil have been accused of opposing for the sake of opposing and I am glad that all parties have been able to reach agreement on this strong and forthright motion, which I welcome.

I feel strongly that we have an obligation in this House to include some consideration for the world outside our own local and national boundaries, and in doing so our discussion should lead to some awareness of the relationship between local, national and international affairs. I do not think we have enough such debates.

The preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO states: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." One obvious reason for debates of this kind is an attempt by Members to counter parochial attitudes and to try to stir the minds of our constituents outwards from important parochial issues and their understandable concern for local and national issues. The prejudices and sometimes unsympathetic attitudes of adults to Third World development are far less prevalent among young people. I welcome the concern being shown by university students and groups of young people throughout the country. El Salvador is not a million miles away. It is part of Third World development.

I am very glad to have been associated with the resolution now before the House. Indeed, I am glad that my suggestion that a motion agreeable to all parties in the House has won the warm approval of all sides.

El Salvador is a small country about the size of Munster, but with a population of close on five million. We have heard a great deal, through the press and television, about the happenings in El Salvador; pictures of such horror, stories of such frightening massacres, that we could hardly believe it. Could it be true? Had not President Carter withdrawn all aid from Samoza and destroyed his dictatorship, thus handing Nicaragua back to the people?

Was not Duarte being forced by Mr. Carter's administration to respect human rights, to hold free, democratic elections, recognising the genuine political forces protecting the people who were entitled to participate in a negotiated settlement culminating in free and open elections not like the charade the people are being asked to go through next year where the only winner is the Junta.

Within weeks of assuming power, President Reagan went along with Secretary of State Haig — shades of Nixon/Kissinger and Vietnam — and resumed arms shipments, helicopters, advisers, dollars, and even uniforms. Since then more than 35,000 El Salvadorians have died in the worst atrocious circumstances. Many of us felt this could not be true, that it could not be happening. In a world which is so used to violence we were shocked at what we were shown on television and in the newspapers and what we were told by the most independent of journalists, including writers in Time magazine, the New York Times and by the American Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It was important, therefore, that Trócaire sent a delegation to El Salvador including the chairman, Bishop Casey, Brian McKeown the Director, and Sally O'Neill the Head of Projects. In four days they discovered what the situation was in El Salvador. They came to certain conclusions which are contained in the report which has been referred to already. The first conclusion is:

In the light of what we have witnessed: because of the denial of human rights; the brutalising policy to the point of genocide which the present Government of El Salvador is perpetrating; we are more convinced than ever that it, in particular the security forces, is not capable of being reformed and could never bring justice, peace and stability to El Salvador. We are also convinced that any longterm solution must involve a demobilization and restructuring of the security forces.

That is not happening and it will not happen as long as arms are provided to a very elite group in El Salvador. The second conclusion reads:

The increased oppression which we have experienced is proof, if needed, that U.S. militiary aid to the present Government merely prolongs and intensifies the oppression of ordinary people and takes us from a solution. We therefore reiterate our call to our Government, and to all those interested in peace and justice for El Salvador, to bring every possible pressure to bear on the United State to stop forthwith all military aid to the Junta and to seek rather a negotiated, peaceful solution.

That seems to me an eminently sensible objective. Their conclusions reached in El Salvador were confirmed for me at a colloquy in Madrid, "Europe and Latin America: The Challenge of Human Rights" sponsored by the Council of Europe. There we heard all sides of the argument. We head about Duarte's people. We heard people from Guatemala, Chile, Bolivia, and so on. They indicated that what was happening in El Salvador is probably, next to Guatemala, one of the worst cases of violations of human rights. During the three days the evidence was an overwhelming indictment of the junta and the military support being poured in by the Americans.

It may appear that I am being a little harsh on the Americans. I do not intend in any way to be anti-American. Far from it. I recognise our need for the support of the Americans in Western Europe to provide safeguards for democracy. It is very important that the blame should be laid squarely where it belongs. If President Reagan had continued President Carter's crusade, the situation would not be as bad now as it is in El Salvador.

I want to pay tribute to our missionaries who are working out there. I want to pay tribute in particular to the Poor Clares and the Franciscan Orders and the human rights activists who are working out there at great risk to their own lives. They are not working to support Communism, or the leftists, or any political ideology, but to help the people on the ground, to serve them and to preach the word of God.

Apparently the American State Department have been unable to pursue to a conclusion the deaths of the nuns who were raped and killed on 2 December 1980. Last Sunday The Sunday Times reported that no conclusion has been reached and no court case is pending. While the people responsible for these murders were identified sufficient evidence could not be obtained to bring them to trial. That was not the case according to a reporter who suggested that there was sufficient evidence.

I have to rush through this because I realise my time is limited. The Church in Latin America was for a long time a conservative political force. During the sixties there was a marked change in the Latin American church which espoused the cause of progress and human rights. The Latin American church is paying with the lives of its priests for its devotion to those ideals. In ten years large numbers of priests and nuns have been killed, arrested, kidnapped or sent into exile. I should like to pay tribute to the courage of those great people who are the new martyrs of the eighties. I want to pay tribute to their principled and courageous stand. I want to urge the Americans, for what it is worth from me, to reconsider their actions in El Salvador.

I am glad to have this opportunity to say a few words about El Salvador. Despite the sparse attendance in the House, this is a very important motion. We are a small country and people may say our influence is very small and hardly worth bothering about. I do not take that view. Our influence in these affairs is not insignificant. It is important that our voice should be heard loudly and clearly, not only in this House but in the United Nations and the EEC and in every forum possible where human freedom can be expanded and pushed forward.

We have a lot in common with El Salvador, which is a small country like our own, with a small population of 4,500,000 people. More than 300,000 people have fled that country and are now refugees because of the regime there under Duarte. It is only right and proper that we should be seen to take a proper and democratic stand in support of the motion of Mexico and the other countries who sponsored it at the United Nations. The importance of the earlier Franco-Mexican motion was that it broke the international conspiracy of silence on this question. It is high time that we moved in behind the other countries who sponsored the motion on El Salvador at the United Nations.

We cannot claim that we do not know what is going on in El Salvador, because it is a very long way away, and we have other things to contend with. We have the clear and independent testimony of journalists, social workers, priests and nuns, who went to El Salvador and saw for themselves, and reported what they saw in the newspapers, on television and on the radio. Many of them are still living in El Salvador and sending back reports to us.

I want to bring to the attention of the Dáil today the reports of two journalists. One is John Snow of the British Independent Television Network who has just come back from El Salvador and shown on television a series of searching but objective programmes on life and conditions there. Many Deputies may have seen those programmes. I submit that no impartial viewer of John Snow's programmes could say that life in El Salvador is free and democratic, or that human liberty and human aspirations are respected. He has especially exposed the brutality and murder campaign of the army in El Salvador in its suppression of free speech and any kind of normal political activity or democracy there. He showed very clearly how a whole village and its people had been wiped out by the army without any attempt to bring those people to justice.

Another journalist whose work comes to mind — and she comes from nearer my home — is Ann Daly of RTE. She has been sending back reports which have been honest and searing in their indictment of the El Salvador army. Nobody could call that RTE journalist a subversive or radical of any kind. She has gone out to see for herself. Certainly she has no axe to grind and cannot be accused of having any kind of a chip on her shoulder. She has merely told the story as it has happened, and as she has seen it, in El Salvador. She has merely reported what she has seen at first hand. I have heard and read her account. I have also seen her on television. It is a vicious and ugly story about the denial of democracy and freedom there. It is about a reactionary attempt to stamp out or stifle people's rights to liberty and self-expression. If the testimony of those two journalists is not sufficient we have also independent reports of countless social workers, priests and nuns who have been there and have told us what it is like. I have heard some of them myself. People may contend that those stories are not true; I, for one, believe them.

Therefore we cannot bury our heads in the sand any more, contending that El Salvador is a long way away, or that we have other things to contend with. We know now what is going on there and it is time we took a stand. We have been told by the Duarte regime that elections will take place next March and that things will be all right thereafter. We should not be fooled by this undertaking because these elections, if they ever take place, will be sham elections; they will not be fair or free. Nobody could describe them as anything more than a cosmetic exercise or camouflage, an attempt to fool the outside world. Even if observers from the UN could be put in for a short period that would do nothing whatsoever to change the character of those elections.

Approximately five new parties have been formed in El Salvador in recent times. These are bogus, spurious, right wing parties, set up to fool people into thinking there is some sort of vigorous opposition to the Duarte regime. It is just another cosmetic exercise and camouflage to fool people into thinking that normal democracy will obtain in that country. The only real opposition there is the liberation struggle taking place. Unless we recognise this opposition, through the liberation forces, no progress can be made by anybody. If eventually there are to be some free and democratic elections there must first be a negotiated settlement. After peace has been restored — if it can be — the army in El Salvador must be reformed immediately and the murderers within that army brought to justice. That must be a first priority. When the opposition — and I am talking about the real opposition there — are recognised, then there could be a negotiated settlement. It would be a mistake for anybody listening to me to think that a call for a negotiated settlement constitutes and expression of weakness on the part of the liberation forces, because it is not. They are the democratic element there. They have said they will recognise the right to private property after peace has been restored and democracy obtains.

It is as well for us to understand that democracy will rule in El Salvador. The Americans or anybody else can step in there but they cannot stifle people's rights because the people of El Salvador will assert themselves. Democracy, freedom and liberty will rule there as sure as I speak in this House today. That is the first lesson to be learned by the Americans.

That takes me to the American involvement in El Salvador. I think it is a mistaken involvement. It is negative, destructive and has nothing whatsoever to offer the people of El Salvador. If the Americans want to involve themselves in that country they should put in money, and money only, to help eradicate poverty, injustice and lack of fair play there. That is the only positive role America could play there. Putting in military observers is a mistaken and foolish policy, one doomed to defeat. It must be remembered that that is how America became involved initially in Vietnam — sending in a small corps of observers and specialists — and we know what that led to. It is time America dropped its burden in El Salvador and got to hell out of it, giving some positive support by contributing some money. That is about the only useful role they can play there. It would help also in recognition of the opposition as being the true spirit of the El Salvador people.

We must shout loudly here today that we will keep pushing until democracy and liberty are restored to that country. We must also press for freedom of speech, real freedom of election and above all, the participation of the opposition in that process. That is the only way forward, to recognise and support the participation of the opposition in the whole democratic process in El Salvador, not merely at prospective election times but now. That is the first and most positive step to be taken. Unless we in this country make our stand for freedom and human dignity there it will redound to our shame throughout the world.

I have had quite an amount of contact with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in other places. I found him to be a liberal, fair-minded man, progressive in other departments. I wish him well in his new assignment. I hope he will have listened to what we have said here today. I hope he will retain his liberal, progressive qualities and demonstrate them in this House and also at the United Nations. I hope he will use his voice there and within the EEC to articulate the viewpoint put forward in this House today.

On behalf of the Labour Party I should say that the original motion, which was signed by myself and endorsed by all of the Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, supported the Mexican-French Declaration in its original terms.

I join with other speakers in drawing attention to the seriousness of the present situation in El Salvador. May I say something very blunt about this matter. In 1981 we would think it disgraceful if we read in the reported debates of an Assembly that somebody had ignored the conditions of the Irish Famine in the last century, that somebody had ignored the brutal murder of Irish civilians. Yet, at the same time I find it difficult to understand why so few people are interested in the fact that conditions in El Salvador, which are so atrocious — I think the number of people who have been murdered and who have gone missing must be understood and expressed as a percentage of the total population — should excite so little concern among public representatives on this occasion in this House.

It is an important principle in my relationship to this Assembly to acknowledge concern where it exists. I want to place on record my appreciation of the inter-party spirit in which Deputy Niall Andrews has articulated his concern on this issue. It is an issue that concerns humanity: 45,000 people are dead, many more people are missing without trace. When we cut through the rhetoric and language we know that when evening falls in the country about which we speak an uncertainty is generated among its population, an uncertainty that is unusual in so far as it brings death, absence and not only death and absence but the later witness of mutilation. It is important that an assembly like this, which is privileged in the Western world to enjoy the freedom to discuss conditions of debate and difference, should not be silent on this issue, that we should speak unequivocally and strongly on it.

I want to locate this rather descriptive statement of mine to a more analytic principle, one of foreign policy. In relation to foreign policy the position of Ireland always must be that rights issues take precedence over every other issue. Our historic experience indicates that this is the appropriate position for us to take. We have a residual historic experience of colonialism. We are today people who are dependent in a number of ways on foreign investment. I know it has been an explanatory factor in the silence of a number of people on the present issue that people think that because we need American investment in our economy we must be silent on this issue. It would be disgraceful if we were silent on this issue. The fact is that a small community is caught in the middle of a confrontation of super-powers, that people are dying every day and are missing every day. It is very important that our voice be heard and be stated unequivocally.

In the brief time available to me I want to ask a question that is frequently raised in the media, namely, are statements on El Salvador left-wing statements? Let us be clear about the motion before this Assembly this evening. This is the unanimous statement, I hope, of all the elected representatives of this country on an important issue. It is not a sectional statement but is the unanimous statement of an elected parliamentary assembly that lays down fundamental principles, expresses the hope that there will be a return to democracy, that such a return to democracy will involve the participation of all parliamentary forces, that expresses its repugnance to interference and its rejection of the right of any super-power to give assistance that will result in military aid. That is what is involved. It is not just some casual statement late in the week by the Irish Parliament. It is the strong, unanimous statement by the Irish Parliament which stands behind our Minister and I congratulate him on taking the position he has taken. This motion urges him to say that on this issue the Irish people, speaking through all their elected representatives, want to put the issues of life, of non-interference, of the right of a country not to be interfered with militarily, before every other right.

My support for this motion is not offered apologetically. The position of the Labour Party relates to the position taken by the Socialist International and by the Confederation of Socialist Parties in the European Parliament. Those assemblies condemned the American interference in El Salvador. I will not put a tooth in it. I believe that outside interference in the affairs of El Salvador — American aid in this case — is supporting murder, repression and the suppression of democracy. It must be ended. It is important to recognise the historic significance of what is taking place this evening. We are putting Ireland's position on record. It is unusual to have a principle of foreign policy debated in the parliamentary assembly in such detail as we are witnessing in the case of El Salvador. We are instructing our Foreign Minister to say that, irrespective of every other consequence, the rights issue be given predominance in considering the question of El Salvador.

I began by saying we would find it insulting on reading even now an historic reconstruction of our own experience of famine or oppression if people had been silent. Is it not curious we have such little interest in this matter this afternoon? I would have wished there was a better attendance in the House. I welcomed the fact that Deputy Niall Andrews had indicated all-party agreement on this subject. However, there is another point that is important, namely, that having had the courage to take an unequivocal position on a principle of foreign policy we would not be so apologetic as to erode it entirely.

Ireland's position in relation to the El Salvador problem must be related to our attitude to development within Latin American Politics in general. As an elected representative who lives in conditions of freedom, I cannot apologise for the fact that people in El Salvador who are fighting for freedom, are left-wing, that they are people who describe themselves as guerrillas. The truth is that all over Latin America the matter of power in society is being questioned by many combinations of popular forces. They choose not to call themselves neutral forces. In many cases they are left-wing forces. Let us be perfectly clear that Duarte himself has at times been in co-operation with such forces. They have a legitimacy within Latin American politics in general. Latin American politics has every right to give its own stamp to its historical experience and to reject American interference.

I have been going through all the many press reports circulated by the American Embassy on this question. They suggest that the people of El Salvador can be held as a pawn in international politics. This is to subject a people and a population to expedient foreign policy that is imperialist in its tendency and in its effect and I reject it. The attitude of the Social International and of the Confederation of Socialist Parties in the European Parliament has been to reject this in its principle and in its entirety.

In supporting the joint statement that this motion represents, I want to state clearly the position of the Labour Party. We support the liberating forces in El Salvador. We support the right of the Opposition to be involved in parliamentary elections and we support the restoration of democracy. However, I must ask myself a question. Would it not be very easy in an elected assembly and in conditions of freedom to simply say we are in favour of the restoration of human rights and democracy in El Salvador. How distant that is from the reality. The fact is that we must completely and unequivocally oppose the forces that are interfering in El Salvador. I recall when I spoke about this matter on the first occasion that people said others like myself were silent on other issues of interference, for example, by the Soviet Union in different parts of the world. My party have condemned these. We condemn them again, but here there is no room for fudging the issue. Our position as a nation must be clear. We realise that the position in El Salvador which results in loss of life and in uncertainty for people living there is simply untenable.

I look to the total volume of correspondence from the American Embassy. Does this mean that elections are promised? Elections have been the usual dressing of dictators in such circumstances. I urge the Minister that there be no compliance by Ireland with any monitoring of elections that are not really participative. The appropriate position of Ireland on this question on elections must be considered in relation to the conditions that precede the elections. For example, do conditions in El Salvador allow for the regular participation of all the opposition forces or are they simply a dressing? On that question we may have an opinion. With the elections having been organised, our going along to attend and offer some opinion would be complicity in a fraud, in this case not about a normal election but an election succeeding murder, the disappearance of people and the suppression of democracy. We have a role to play in this. We should visit El Salvador and should offer our opinion there on the conditions that precede the elections, but our presence should not be to dress up some undemocratic pretence.

Let me say, in conclusion, something about the position of the Labour Party. Our support for this motion is based on the fact that the principles of our original motion derived from the Socialist International and the Confederation of Socialist Bodies are broadly met by this resolution. As well as this we do not want people to confront us with the suggestion that we have been silent on the suppression of democracy in cases of interference by super-powers. This is an immediate issue before us and on this the position of the Labour Party is that they support this motion and are delighted to congratulate the Minister on taking a position for Ireland which puts issues of rights and principles before issues of economic expediency.

I support the motion. Deputy Higgins pointed to the remarkable unanimity in the number of individual Deputies who sponsored the motion who are quite clearly across the party divide. If anything was to emphasise the importance in which they hold this issue of El Salvador, it surely must be that very feature of this motion: that it is so unanimously supported by all parties when we find it so difficult to get any kind of agreement on any other issue in this House. It is a tribute to people that they can submerge differences and be at one in condemning the present regime in El Salvador.

The details of the position in El Selvador have been made clear already and I do not intend to go through them beyond the query to the House, to what extent is this to be of any real effect? Deputy Higgins talked about rhetoric and language. As one of a generation who watched this kind of thing going on for many years, through the time of the League of Nations before the Second World War and afterwards, I would like to find out from the Minister if he feels, in taking our protest station here so far away from the problem, we are likely to have any real effect on it. It is quite obvious that there are two components to the repression in El Salvador. One is the attempt by the 14 families to hold on to their privilege and possessions against the wishes of the ordinary people in El Salvador. That is a phenomenen common enough in the world's history and the history of Europe, Africa, of East and West. The second component is this question of the US influence. The US find themselves involved in the cold war, in the struggle against what they consider to be the hostile forces of the Soviet Union and the Eastern socialist countries. An attempt is made by them then to defend their position. In Latin America one's difficulty is that if you take one side against the other you are either pro-American or pro-Soviet.

I am speaking as a person horrified by what we hear from El Salvador. Deputy Kemmy has referred to the influence of the journalists. Like us politicians, journalists come in for much criticism, most of it adverse. In this case it is quite remarkable — rather like this House on this motion — how unanimous has been the reporting back from El Salvador of the independent journalists. Included in this must be the journalists from the US, and that is a tribute to the US. The fact that one reads about the horror, torture and inhuman treatment of man by man in El Salvador, much of it critical of the United States, underlines this. We have the magnificent reporting by John Snow on ITV and the very moving, marvellously courageous, clear and compelling evidence of Ann Daly on RTE. Her dispatches from the front line are a remarkable tribute to her talents as a journalist and her great personal courage. They convey her sense of indignation at what she saw and her insistence that she go there and report back to us.

There is no doubt that in this case, as in the case of Vietnam, the contribution of the journalists is wonderful. Many US journalists, some British and French, in the television services mainly, showed us the horror of Vietnam and must have made a great contribution to the creation of the public opinion which eventually brought the Americans to withdraw from that country. A feature of our times is the immediacy of the capacity of the journalists to put the case before us all and in that way help us to become involved, as we are in this tiny little country so far away.

It appears that the intensity of the horror of El Salvador is comparable with the horror of Vietnam. It is a tiny place about the size of Munster, with about four million people. About 45,000 people have been murdered there in the last three years. To that extent we know about the problem. Unlike my generation, which watched in Auschwitz and Buchenwald the extermination of the Jews, this generation cannot offer any defence whatsoever for remaining uninvolved. Indeed, apropos, and again in defence of the United States, may I draw attention to the remarkable contribution they made in the Second World War compared with their inexplicable aims on this occasion. Everyone was aware during the Second World War of the remarkable contribution made by the United States in the air, on sea and on the land, and the enormous sacrifices by the finest of their young people, not counting the cost. So their action now simply cannot be dismissed. All we can do is wonder how they can behave in this inexplicable way in this tiny little country in view of their past record in the defence of freedom at a time when that defence cost them so much. There does not seem to be any doubt whatsoever that they are deeply involved, that they are providing the arms, the information and the support for the wealthy vested interests. The leadership of the United States will do that anyway because they are defending what they believe to be their own interests in Latin America.

There is the possibility of elections. From what we gather nobody seriously believes that elections have any value or any merit whatsoever in establishing a democratic society. As we see things, no election to determine a democratic society could take place in the circumstances presented to us by the Junta. It is interesting to note that truth, which is usually the first casualty in a war, has not been a casualty on the media in this war. Despite the powerful disclaimers put out by the American Embassy, and no doubt the very considerable pressure imposed on virtually everyone in the United Nations to accept the American point of view on this issue, very few of us have any doubt whatsoever but that the United States is deeply involved. I would like to pay tribute here to Senator Dooge for his courageous stand because I am quite certain, if precedent is anything to go by, he must have been subjected to the kind of pressures to which so many other countries succumbed.

I do not subscribe to this motion in any anti-American spirit whatsoever. I subscribe as someone who has a great admiration for them in their contribution to anti-fascism but, as they are developing at the present time, El Salvador is becoming the United States death camp in Latin America. It is becoming the Auschwitz and Buchenwald of Latin America run by the United States. For these reasons we must do whatever we can to try to shame them away from that particular policy.

Deputy David Andrews is taking the place in this debate of Deputy Brian Lenihan.

I suppose it is unusual in this House for one brother to pay tribute to another brother but the credit for this debate rests squarely with Deputy Niall Andrews and Deputy Michael Higgins who has been consistent in his support of what I describe as the Andrews committee on El Salvador. A great deal of work has been done through this committee, through the attendance of cross-party support over in the Setanta building. The preparatory meetings have been very worthwhile in relation to this debate in producing a unified approach to El Salvador.

We have been speaking for the last hour on this particular subject and, while the contributions were excellent one thing which concerned me in these meetings to which I referred, was the courageous people we met. One thing uppermost in the minds of the people who addressed us at these meetings was a solution to the problem. The talking has to stop and the killing has to stop and the time has come to find solutions. We must find solutions to this very serious problem confronting El Salvador. When I say "we" I mean ourselves and other countries who have shown concern for the pitiless manner in which the people have been treated by their present masters, the Junta.

I would ask the Minister to consider solutions to the problem, immediate solutions. Urgent solutions are required. The Minister in his short time as Minister has shown himself to be liberal and approachable and his action on the recent resolution in the United Nations reflects his generous sincerity in respect of this particular problem. The Minister has in his Department excellent officials. An immediate solution may be to get his officials to meet with the various agencies which have concerned themselves in this country with El Salvador. Here I think of Trócaire, Amnesty, and the religious and lay organisations. Perhaps he would get his officials to sit down with these and take a new look at the situation in the light of the debate here this evening.

In paying tribute to the role played by Ireland at the United Nations it is fair to say that the main thrust for Ireland's attitude there came from the genuine and courageous part played by Trócaire, Amnesty and the other religious and lay people who have interested themselves in El Salvador. Bishop Casey must rate very high in the league of courage, as do the Franciscan nuns and priests who have gone out there and the Poor Clare nuns, together with the excellent reports coming back from El Salvador through the courageous lady, Ann Daly, who has been mentioned already in this debate.

We have an important role to play on El Salvador in the United Nations. As Deputy Michael Higgins said in his well thought out contribution, we are not a big country in USSR and USA terms but in the context of colonial domination we have a strong role to play in international affairs. In that context we are above suspicion. I believe we are listened to particularly by those Afro-Asian countries with a colonial-dominated past like our own. We were a British colony for many hundreds of years.

It has been stated that 35,000 have died in El Salvador over the past number of years. One must be clear that this is not an anti-American debate. One is not anti the American people but is concerned about that Government's role—and particularly President Reagan's role — in this whole squalid, sorry and obscene affair. The thrust of American foreign policy, particularly related to that area, is in containing the balance of peace. As long as peace is contained within the countries of Latin America, stability is maintained in the area and difficulties do not flow outside the borders of those countries.

In the meantime, however, many thousands of people are being murdered by the regimes which are containing and maintaining this balance of peace in these areas. This is where President Reagan must have a lot to answer for. There is irrefutable evidence that arms have been reaching the Junta through the American Government. It is also fair to say that there is irrefutable evidence that arms have been reaching the anti-fascist or anti-Junta forces, from whatever source. We in this House are not anti-American, but pro-human rights. We are pro the right of people to live in peace and harmony in their own country. If people are being dealt with on a genocide basis, surely it is the concern of the rest of the world, and of Ireland in particular, to play its part. We have had our share of troubles. President Reagan's attitude is very difficult to explain. While President Carter was a weak enough man in many ways, he had a plank in his platform in relation to human rights. It did not appear to do him much good, however, when it came to seeking re-election.

The anticipated March 1982 elections in El Salvador have been mentioned and one can only have the deepest and gravest suspicions. It is proper, if the elections are to be held and if the charade is to be continued in the name of democracy, that the United Nations might as well monitor them. Whether the United Nations will be given the necessary facilities to ensure that the elections are carried out in atruly democratic fashion is open to question. At the end of the day, the obscenity of the Junta will continue to exist.

A number of meetings have been held outside this House, which have been attended by members of all parties in large numbers. The fact that there are few people in the House this afternoon is not a reflection of a lack of interest. The interest in this situation is ongoing. It has been suggested that a small group of three or four Deputies from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour should go to El Salvador during Christmas. The House has an obligation, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to give that delegation every possible support and, more particularly, to ensure their safety. One need only look at what happened to certain delegations in the recent past. I pay tribute to the intended delegation from this House. They are courageous people who are doing a service, not only to the House and to Ireland but to the people of El Salvador.

When the Minister is replying to this debate, I urge him to address himself to finding immediate solutions. From the time that this resolution was set down in the Dáil office up to this very moment, many people have been murdered. The time has come to stop talking and to find solutions to this urgent problem. It would not take very much grey matter to indicate to the Americans that they have a very important role to play in bringing about a solution for the El Salvadorean people. Certainly, the United Nations has a role to play but, in the final analysis, the blame and responsibility for the ongoing tragedy in that country must lie with the American administration. Whatever influence the Minister can bring to bear on the United Nations or on the United States Government to find a solution to the problem should be used.

Deputy Markey has two minutes in which to speak.

I agree with the part of the motion which refers to the expression of deep concern at the violation of human rights in El Salvador. I agree also with the part which calls, I presume, on the El Salvadorean parties concerned to stop interfering with the activities of the many excellent humanitarian organisations working there, or trying to work there, and with the part of the motion which calls on the Government of El Salvador to ensure full respect for human life of the population and to try to ensure that free and democratic elections are brought about.

I have some reservations about that part of the motion which calls on countries to abstain from intervening in the internal situation of El Salvador and to suspend all supplies of arms and military support. It may not be appropriate for us to look far afield at a part of the world where the economic interests are held by a number of countries. A reference has been made to El Salvador being about the size of Munster. Let us put it in that context. If we were in a part of the world near a Munster which was involved in a civil war, inflicting much death and ill-treatment on the population, the rest of this area being a foreign country, with deep economic and security interests at stake, would we not think we might perhaps have a right to involve ourselves in some respects in what was going on in Munster in that situation? When we talk of the interference of countries, our own history has seen situations where people whom we now look upon as our representatives at certain critical periods of our history welcomed the French and the Spanish to these shores. If the French and the Spaniards had succeeded in intervening in this country at those critical times, would we not have looked upon them as our saviours?

My reservations lie only with what part of the motion which refers quite specifically to the American involvement. I have been somewhat shocked by the slightly vitriolic anti-American comments made here this afternoon.

We have made it clear that it is not an anti-American motion. It is a motion for human rights.

The Deputy's time is up.

I could go on at length on this subject.

The Deputy cannot go on at length. I am calling on the Minister.

I support the motion, with the exception of that part of it.

The Deputy is talking about the American Administration and their involvement in El Salvador. Their involvement is obscene.


Order, please. The Minister for Foreign Affairs to conclude.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Professor Dooge)

As Deputy Shatter said in moving this motion, it is most appropriate that it should be discussed by the Dáil on this day which has been designated Human Rights Day by the UN. In a world which has regrettably become accustomed to the most blatant violations of human rights, the suffering and deprivation of the people of El Salvador has drawn a unique response from the Irish people. The widespread media coverage which this conflict is receiving has meant that the almost unimaginable horrors of daily life in that far-off country have intruded into our own living rooms. The campaign of Bishop Éamon Casey of Trócaire, based on his personal observations, and the fact that we have a number of courageous and dedicated missionaries in El Salvador have both helped to focus the attention of Irish people even more sharply on events in that country. I am glad of this opportunity, on behalf of the Government, to pay tribute to Trócaire and to the Irish missionaries in El Salvador, the Franciscan priests and nuns and the Poor Clare Sisters, for the work they have done under very difficult, and at times, dangerous circumstances in channelling assistance to where it is most needed.

Deputy Noel Browne has asked what we can do. A poor country like us must answer frankly "not much". But we have done what it was within our power to do. Deputy Kemmy seemed to indicate that what had been done on behalf of this country had only been done recently in response to the Franco-Mexican Declaration. I do not know if he meant to convey that, but if he did it is a mistaken view. I would like to state quite clearly that the previous Government have acted in the same way as this Government are now acting in regard to El Salvador.

This Government, like its predecessor, has done and will continue to do everything within its power to help promote a full settlement of the tragic conflict in El Salvador and to emphasise the need for all parties to the conflict to show respect for human rights. For some time now we have been making our voice heard in various international fora on the question of El Salvador. At the May 1980 session of the UN Economic and Social Committee in New York our delegation made a substantive reference to the situation in El Salvador in its statement on human rights. Ireland supported a resolution calling for human rights and fundamental freedoms in El Salvador at the UN General Assembly in December 1980 and we co-sponsored a similar resolution at the March 1981 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. As a result of that resolution a special representative of the UN was appointed to examine the situation in regard to human rights and fundamental freedoms in El Salvador. That special representative reported in October 1981, having visited El Salvador and having discussed the matter with representatives of the Junta and with representatives of the FDR. I have arranged for a copy of that report to be placed in the Oireachtas Library for the information of Deputies and Senators.

Additionally, within the EEC we have raised the El Salvador problem at various levels of European political co-operation, including ministerial level, and we pressed strongly and successfully for a Community aid programme to assist the many refugees in El Salvador who are the innocent victims of the conflict.

In the past few months the Government have allocated £100,000 to the relief operation in El Salvador, £50,000 of which will be channelled through Trócaire and the rest of which is to be allocated to the International Commission of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This contribution reflects, in a practical way, the concern of this country for the suffering of the people of El Salvador.

In my address to the UN General Assembly on 30 September last, I expressed the concern of the Irish people at the widespread violations of human rights in El Salvador and stressed the desirability of a negotiated settlement of the problem. These remarks, and our acceptance of the principles underlying the Joint Franco-Mexican Declaration, were regarded in the UN and elsewhere as a constructive and important contribution to finding a solution to the El Salvador conflict.

The motion before us asks Dáil Éireann to approve fully of Ireland's cosponsoring of the resolution on El Salvador tabled by Mexico at the present UN General Assembly. This resolution is in many ways the culmination of a number of efforts that have been made in international fora to work towards a solution to the conflict in El Salvador and its provisions correspond to the specific matters mentioned in the present motion.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that the resolution was adopted by the Economic and Social Committee of the General Assembly on 3 December by 65 votes in favour, 21 against with 54 abstentions. The resolution will now go before the Plenary Session of the General Assembly where a vote is expected before the end of this month. In addition to the other EEC countries which cosponsored the resolution with us — Denmark, France, Greece, Netherland — the motion was also supported by Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom abstained.

Deputy David Andrews asked if we could do more than express our horror. He suggested that we might take a new look at the situation. This is what we are always attempting to do. He suggested that we get in contact with the various bodies in this country who are interested in the problem and knowledgeable about it. I would like to assure him that we are in constant contact with such bodies as Trócaire and the Ireland/El Salvador Committee. Both myself and officials of the Department met the representatives of the FDR on their visits to this country and we will continue to maintain such contact. But what can we do? Is there an instant solution to this problem? We are a small country. We can do little more than what has been attempted in this House today, to express our concern, to indicate our dismay at seeing a small country, struggling with appalling economic and social problems, being sucked in to an East-West confrontation. This is what we must continue to do in the international fora where, though our voice is not a loud one, we are listened to.

I will end by thanking the House for the manner in which they have dealt with this motion.

Question put and agreed to.