I propose to share my time with Deputies O'Donnell, Mulcahy, Killeen and Conor Lenihan.
Private Members' Business. - An Bille um an Seachtú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht 2003: Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is said that wonders never cease. Last weekend we saw provos marching for peace which we obviously all agree is a welcome development. Would that it had happened 30 years ago. Now we have the truly bizarre situation of the political wing of an illegal military organisation calling on Parliament to amend the Constitution to include a new wording on neutrality.
I welcome this debate. It provides us with an opportunity to engage in a serious discussion about neutrality and a chance to talk about its rationale, nature and extent. It also provides us with an opportunity to dispel some of the humbug that surrounds the issue. It is worth considering a number of home truths before we legislate for neutrality. It is also worth being clear about exactly what we mean so that there is no scope for confusion about the great issues at stake.
Let us begin with the word "army". When delegates at the Progressive Democrats national conference speak about "our army", we have in mind the Defence Forces, the Irish Army, the organisation charged under Bunreacht na hÉireann with responsibility for the defence of the State. The same is true in the case of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Sinn Féin, unlike every other party represented in the House, is inextricably linked to a military organisation. The provisional republican movement embraces both Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. I for one have no way of knowing where one organisation begins and the other ends.
In that case, the Minister of State should not make a claim.
Sinn Féin has an electoral mandate in both parts of the island. Politicians of all parties welcome its participation in the democratic process while competing vigorously with it for public support. However, the provisionals are not content to rely solely on their electoral mandate. With great arrogance they reserve the right to maintain an army, presumably to attend to their military needs. This means the provisionals form the only political organisation in the State which arrogates to itself the right to execute our citizens without due process. This is hardly a trivial issue and is one that might be addressed by Sinn Féin Members in the debate.
Arrogance manifests itself when it comes to the question of military alliances. It is generally accepted by most commentators and observers that Irish neutrality can be defined in terms of non-participation in military alliances. It is also accepted that we are not neutral in the moral sense when it comes to issues like 11 September, nor are we neutral when it comes to supporting United Nations action in conflicts throughout the world. The question of alliances is key. We are not part of a military alliance. The Sinn Féin Bill would solidify that position in constitutional form, yet the provisionals arrogantly reserve to themselves the right to enter into military alliances as it suits them.
The affairs of the provisional republican movement are not an entirely open book. There is evidence to link them with the regime in Libya, with the Spanish terrorist organisation, ETA, and with the murderous FARC group in Colombia. The thrust of the provisional position seems to be that, while the Government should not enter into military alliances, the provisionals will enter into them whenever it pleases them to do so. That hardly seems like a consistent position to me.
The provisionals are not noted for their attachment to the Constitution, the document under discussion. They appear to have difficulty accepting our Defence Forces and police force. They also appear to have problems accepting the validity of the State. The Constitution is an open, public document voted into existence by the democratic will of the people almost 70 years ago.
The provisional republican movement which seeks to amend that Constitution is governed by a constitution which is anything but open or democratic. The provisionals appear to live in something of a parallel universe of their own making. They have a constitution which is a secret document, a general army convention which meets in secret and elects an army executive which, in turn, chooses the all-powerful army council, a type of permanent politburo which, quite literally, calls the shots in the organisation.
That is called the Ard-Fheis for Sinn Féin.
To the best of my knowledge, I have never received a polling card for an election to the army council, yet this body, which dominates the provisional movement, believes itself to be the legitimate Government of Ireland.
I would appreciate it if the Sinn Féin Members used the opportunity presented by the debate to clarify these matters. Will they address a number of specific questions? What is the relationship between the army and the party? Does the army council still believe itself to be the real Government of Ireland? What alliances does the movement maintain with armed groups in other countries? These are pertinent questions in the context of the debate.
Everyone welcomes the fact that the provisionals are on ceasefire, that they have played a key role in the peace process and that they have entered mainstream politics on both sides of the Border. That does not mean that the provisional movement or its Sinn Féin component enjoys special political privileges not accorded to the rest of us. How can an organisation with a secret constitution credibly seek to amend the Constitution? How can an organisation that maintains international military links preach that the State should not do so? How can an organisation that arrogantly believes it is the real Government of this country expect to be taken seriously in a parliamentary democracy? Do the provisionals not have any sense of political embarrassment?
I certainly accept that the provisional movement is unique. Its political wing, Sinn Féin, is, to the best of my knowledge, the only socialist party in Europe funded by donations from American businessmen. I suppose it deserves our grudging admiration for that because it is a remarkable achievement. Unique or not, the provisionals must begin to abide by the same standards as the rest of us. The people have been very tolerant and understanding of the movement in recent years because they wanted the peace process to succeed and did not want to see a return to armed conflict. Time moves on and the patience of the people is not limitless.
It is time for Sinn Féin and the republican movement to complete the transition from militarism to mainstream politics, to abandon the secret and shadowy world of army councils and army conventions and embrace democracy in a clear and unequivocal fashion. If the provisionals fail to do that, I do not see how they can hope to be taken seriously when they participate in major debates on the affairs of our State.
I oppose this Bill. The Constitution of 1937 for the first time gave full effect to the conduct of Ireland's foreign policy as a sovereign, independent, democratic State. It was with considerable wisdom and foresight that we committed ourselves then in Article 29 to the pacific settlement of international disputes and international law as the rule for our conduct with other states. This was a statement of fundamental policy that was courageous and determined on the part of a people who had so recently endured desperate loss of life in the First World War, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Our commitment was for the peaceful settlement of conflict and the rule of international law, something quite different to neutrality as a political or even military concept.
The constitutional principle guiding our foreign policy pre-dates neutrality. It predates the Second World War, the founding of the United Nations, NATO, the Warsaw Pact, the non-aligned movement, the entire Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It has been enduring and sustainable across many years and through many circumstances.
The policy as distinct from the principle of neutrality followed two years after Bunreacht na hÉireann was approved. It was a policy, as we know, made in response to the specific national and international circumstances of 1939. The principled stance had been taken earlier in 1937. The pragmatic response at the outbreak of the Second World War was neutrality. Neutrality was implemented in a pragmatic way to secure our interests during and after the war.
When we stood back from joining NATO, it was because the Government of the time believed this was incompatible with partition on our island, not because neutrality was a fundamental principle. The evolving and pragmatic policy of neutrality, like the constitutional precept of the pacific settlement of disputes, has enjoyed the widespread support of the Irish people – with the notable exception of Sinn Féin. Some 60 years ago in this House, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh said it was his opinion that it was "absolutely undeniable, that there is nothing since the Free State was founded, in which the people have taken a deeper interest than in this Constitution." This is still the case. Debates on our Constitution and amendments thereto have always provoked great interest, precisely because it is our Constitution, the basic law to which we give allegiance and which supersedes all other laws.
However, Sinn Féin held itself superior to the new Constitution, to Dáil Éireann and to the State. It contributed nothing 66 years ago to the construction of our Constitution and has contributed very little since 1937, not least in its Bill today. What mattered to Sinn Féin back then, and what still seems inordinately important to it, are its ideology and its paraphernalia, the self-styled army convention, the army council, etc.
The initiation of this Sinn Féin Bill to amend the Constitution has raised a few eyebrows. The same party has for years, and with great ferocity, sought to subvert the 1937 Constitution and all it stands for, including Article 29. It worked actively against the policy of neutrality by collaborating with the Nazi regime against the State and the Government of Ireland, as well as against the democratic Allied forces. Latterly, it pursued its alleged commitment to international peace through arms deals in the Libyan desert, and in fostering fraternal links with ETA terrorists in a fellow EU member state. Its claimed commitment to the de-militarisation of Europe apparently excludes the tonnes of semtex in its own republican hands. Its claimed commitment to the rule of law does not extend to co-operating with police investigations into the Omagh atrocity. We all know its alleged belief in neutrality allowed republicans to shoot members of our legitimate Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána.
Since the Second World War, the policy of neutrality has been tested and stretched by many people, but never so cynically hi-jacked as by today's Sinn Féin under the guise of peace-loving neutrality. In 1937, Sinn Féin ignored the will of the people when we approved the Constitution. In its Bill today, it also ignores the referendum we held, as recently as last October, in which the Irish people voted to amend the Constitution so as to reserve to themselves the power to decide whether or not Ireland would enter a common European defence.
This was the most recent way we dealt with the issue of defence and military neutrality. The Government brought forward the proposal on European defence having listened to the people's concerns in the first Nice referendum. We had a protracted, democratic debate and all sides had their say. The opponents of Nice claimed last October that a "yes" vote still allowed the Government to enter a non-European defence arrangement, such as NATO. This spurious argument was well aired and was well refuted too. The people made up their minds in favour of the constitutional amendment and did not accept the conspiratorial claims about other defence pacts.
The result of that referendum is that our policy is a consistent whole, at each level. Constitutionally, we have never wavered in our fundamental commitment to the pacific settlement of disputes and the rule of international law. We maintain the power of Dáil Éireann to decide on each deployment of Irish Defence Forces outside the State on a case-by-case basis. The Government exercises day-to-day responsibility over defence and foreign policy. The people themselves have the power to decide directly on entering any automatic defence commitment in a European defence.
None of this implies pacifism. None of it implies moral ambivalence. None of it implies inaction in the face of abuse of human rights or threats to international security. None of it means we are politically neutral. There is no part of our constitutional or political tradition which means we cannot agree with our partners in the EU and with the UN Security Council that the threat of war is valid to achieve compliance with international law and that the use of military force is a valid last resort. It is not part of our foreign policy tradition that we would make ourselves unable to agree with and actively support the United Nations Secretary General when he articulates these very points.
We recognise that our commitment to international law means we are bound to uphold and vindicate that law. Neutrality does not mean we should neuter ourselves in upholding international law. When the Security Council and international law is being defied, as Iraq has done since 1991, then we should play our part in whatever way we can to uphold international law and the primacy of the United Nations.
However, this Bill would introduce passivity, pacifism and impotence into Ireland's ability to uphold the international law that is at the centre of our foreign policy and of our constitutional commitments. We have a representative, responsible and directly elected Government, charged to act in the national interest in the foreign policy of the State. However through this Bill, Sinn Féin would shackle the State and the Government's legitimate management of our security and our international obligations. It would undermine our ability to act in support of our constitutional commitments. Such a disabling of our democratic institutions and of our constitutional principles has obvious parallels with the republican movement's failed attempt to subvert the State by violence over many years. How ironic that what Sinn Féin failed to achieve by violence, it now seeks to achieve by law.
Most Deputies will agree with me that the best contribution Sinn Féin can make to peace in Ireland – and peace internationally – is to get on and deliver on decommissioning republican guns and semtex, as envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement and mandated by the people; to co-operate with legitimate police forces; to participate in policing in Northern Ireland; and to discontinue its dubious international networks and activities. Most people would agree that Sinn Féin has some nerve lecturing constitutional parties in Dáil Éireann on neutrality and peace.
Having been involved in the peace process, I feel strongly when I say all of us welcomed the republican movement's embrace of democracy and its move from the margins to the centre of government in Northern Ireland. That is what the peace process is all about. It has brought all of the energy, which sustained 30 years of war, into its political activities and good luck to it. I believe this is the first Bill Sinn Féin has sought to enact under the Irish Constitution. This is a welcome and overdue recognition of the legitimacy of this State, of our Parliament and of the Irish Constitution. What a pity its first effort is a genuine masterpiece of irony.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Killeen. I oppose this Bill, not because I do not believe strongly in this country's policy of neutrality – far from it. I am firmly committed to the policy pursued by this and previous Governments of non-membership of military alliances, which has formed the bedrock of our foreign policy over many decades. Ireland's long-standing and honourable policy of military neutrality is not in question. There is no question of Ireland seeking membership of a military alliance. Successive Governments have held this position. The people voted last October for a constitutional amendment, passed at the same time as approval for the Treaty of Nice, which states clearly that Ireland may not join an EU common defence. That will not and cannot change unless the people so decide in a referendum.
If this is the case, why do we have this Bill before the House at this time? If the people have spoken clearly on the question, surely the Bill is unnecessary, unless its purpose is to create the impression that the position is not clear and the decision of the people last October was somehow insufficient and not to be trusted. Ireland's policy of neutrality is not to be cashed in like a political chip, it is there because the people want it. However, they also recognise that our military neutrality has never meant that we are neutral in support of the United Nations or in the face of challenges to the UN.
I issue a challenge across the floor to Sinn Féin. If it is found by the inspectors that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein is refusing to co-operate, would Sinn Féin support military intervention by the United Nations to put an end to the matter? When Shannon Airport facilities were used during the lawful military action in Bosnia, there was not a peep from the likes of Sinn Féin. The party is trying, in the most cynical fashion, to ride the tiger of populism and curry favour with public opinion through this pathetic Bill.
The Deputy should come clean and declare his support for a war.
I have not heard condemnation from Sinn Féin of the attack on an aircraft in Shannon Airport.
It should not have been there.
Are Sinn Féin Deputies prepared to condemn in forthright terms that attack, which was condoned by Deputies Sargent and Gormley of the Green Party? Let us not have double-speak. Let us have a little honesty—
The Deputy should start practising what he preaches.
Let Sinn Féin Deputies be up front and stop engaging in cynical manipulation of the House. I challenge them to stop speaking with a forked tongue. Although it may come as a shock to them to speak truthfully for a change, they should try it. They might even find it enjoyable.
The Deputy supports a war. He should give George Bush a call.
Ireland has long been a supporter of the United Nations as the primary instrument responsible for the promotion of collective security based on international law. As a small state, it is in our interests that the rule of law govern international relations. Our view has consistently been that the use of military force against another state should, except in cases of self-defence, be authorised by the UN Security Council and should only be used as a last resort once all other peaceful means have been exhausted.
Let us remember that the members of the United Nations have vested this responsibility in the Security Council. These members include Ireland and other neutral countries, among them Switzerland which last year became a member of the United Nations for the first time. In doing so, it accepted the coercive and far-reaching provisions contained in the UN Charter.
If a state defies the authority of the United Nations, there are provisions in the charter through which, as a matter of last resort, military action can be authorised by the Security Council. This is the sanction which enables the United Nations to maintain its primacy in terms of international collective security. It is in Ireland's interests that it continues to do so.
Who sanctioned Shannon?
Kofi Annan stated in Brussels on Monday that, in the current circumstances, we must uphold the credibility of the Security Council and the United Nations. This means standing ready to honour our commitments under the UN Charter while maintaining our support for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Iraq.
I welcome the resolution passed by the European Union on Monday in Brussels. It is a comprehensive statement on behalf of the entire Union. Would we be able to honour our commitments to the United Nations if the Bill were adopted or would we have to first await a ruling from the courts? Would the adoption of the Sinn Féin Bill pose difficulties for our continued support for and participation in the European Union's common foreign and security policy? The EU is developing its capabilities for civilian and military crisis management.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
The Deputy should conclude.
The Fianna Fáil Party should conclude.
For all the reasons I have outlined, I oppose the Bill.
Ba mhaith liom a chur i gcoinne an Bhille seo. Níl gá ar bith leis, go speisialta i ndiaidh leasú an Bhunreachta anuraidh. Tá sé socraithe de réir toil na ndaoine nach mbeidh an tír seo páirteach i gcomhaontas míleata agus níl éinne ag moladh go mbéimís páirteach i gceann acu siúd. Ba chóir dúinn a ghlacadh leis nach bhfuil an domhan ar fad ag crith le heagla roimh ionsaí uainne. Tá an Bille os ár gcomhair mar go bhfeileann sé ar pháirtithe áirithe ligint ar dhaoine go n-athrófaí stádas na tíre i leith an neodrachais. Is mór an trua go bhfuil daoine ann a chreideann iad agus gur éirigh leo an dallamullóg a chur orthu.
Since 11 September 2001 the world has faced new threats and challenges which most of us had never anticipated or expected to have to face. The current threat and other possible sources of threat are significant. This country has always acted in accordance with the wishes of the United Nations. Ireland played an active and central role in framing certain resolutions in response to the 11 September atrocity, a role of which I am particularly proud and which is only natural for a country which has traditionally prided itself on its commitment to the United Nations.
Our response to the changed international environment has also been framed by our participation in the European Union. Many people will have been surprised and no doubt impressed by the performance of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and their EU counterparts in the summit meeting on Monday last. Europe emerged as a political entity which clearly defines itself in terms of its participation in the world in a manner which those of us who do not want a war very much welcome.
There are differences in the House as to how best to avoid war. Unfortunately, there are also differences on the nature of the current situation in Iraq. I confess I am confused by some of the sentiments and speeches emanating from some of those involved in the peace movement. While I believe that the vast majority of them are genuinely committed to world peace, I find it difficult to understand the distinction a great many of them make between what they claim to fear are the intentions of the United States and what they, like the rest of us, clearly know of the reality of, for example, the regime in Iraq.
Most of the Opposition speakers stated they are committed to our involvement in the United Nations. They did not explain how this can be squared with the continued defiance of the United Nations by the current Iraqi regime. It is inevitable that the United Nations will emerge from the current conflict equally as impotent as the League of Nations did in the 1930s unless some means is found to ensure that a number of resolutions spanning many years have an effect.
I find it difficult to understand the reason Members of this House and others have shown scant regard for the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children who are believed to have died over the past ten or 12 years. Although it suits some to argue their deaths were due to United Nations sanctions, which undoubtedly had an impact, the leadership in Baghdad also had a role to play. I am particularly surprised that the deaths and torture of political activists opposed to the regime and the treatment of the Kurdish people warrants less interest, hullabaloo and commitment to peace than the apparent threat of a US attack on Iraq.
If the Deputy had attended the march last week he would have met the Iraqis and the Kurds.
People need to state where they stand in relation to the future of the country.
One hundred thousand people, and the Deputy still got it wrong.
They need to either oppose a UN resolution or offer alternatives, which they clearly do not have.
In the context of this Bill, and I confess I do not take quite as jaundiced a view of Sinn Féin putting forward the Bill as some of my colleagues.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
The Deputy should conclude.
I welcome this departure if it indicates there is more to come. On occasion I find myself in agreement with Deputy McGrath, and even Deputy Michael Higgins, but we need to have consistency and this Bill is not the way to go forward.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I want to indicate immediately that the attitude of my party is to support the Bill on Second Stage. We find serious flaws in the text of the Bill but we believe it is important that this principle be discussed, particularly at this time. I wish to share my time with Deputy Costello and I suggest a 15 minute to five minute division.
That sounds fair.
I wish to clarify a few matters that have arisen in the debate. In 1988 in this House, I condemned the use of mustard gas, supplied by western European countries, against the Kurds by the Iraqi regime. Unfortunately, there was not much interest at that time in the Kurdish minority in Iraq. I still condemn the abuses by that Government that continue to take place but I can provide information on what is likely to happen in the event of a military attack on that country.
In 1991, 90,000 tonnes of explosives were dropped on Iraq. According toJane's Defence Weekly, between 55% and 70% missed their target. A total of 72% of the population is urbanised. The population of Baghdad alone is between four and a half and five million. When we discuss topics such as this we should remember the history of warfare. In the First World War, 5% of the casualties were civilians. In the Second World War, 50% of the casualties were civilians and according to the international peace index, in most of the conflicts of the 1990s, the figure for civilian casualties was about 75%. When we speak easily of military strategies in relation to the solution of any conflict, we should bear in mind the immediate and future consequences on humankind.
I want to explain why I welcome the debate on this Bill. Much of the confusion has arisen by the rather narrow and negative use of the concept of neutrality. When I was first elected to the Dáil, it was not always restricted to military neutrality. This is a fairly recent usage. From this narrowing came the suggestion that we would not take actions that would contradict our neutrality but what was missing was a concept of positive neutrality. If Second Stage is passed, we can then discuss precisely what we mean on Committee Stage, including the challenges and problems that lie within the Bill. Positive neutrality, for example, means an active, informing principle of foreign policy. I use these words carefully because they have been used in the formulation of other countries' foreign policy. An active, informing principle of foreign policy means that one has a particular view in relation to armaments.
There has been much confusion in the contributions so far between, for example, defence and security, which is one of the paradoxes of our time. For example, the current United States defence budget is $396.1 billion. The combined budget of the remaining next nine countries is just about $180 billion and the armaments budget of the axis of evil countries is $16 billion. In other words, the budget of the lead country is twice that of its allies and 25 times that of all its enemies. The difficulty, as some Deputies have suggested, is that the threat is now international terrorism and, unfortunately, this is what has happened in relation to the rather extreme ideological thinking currently guiding defence planning, particularly associated with people like Donald Rumsfeld, who has held the view since 1997 that a rogue state is needed to exhaust one's misplaced expenditure on defence.
Turning to the principles of the Bill, positive neutrality, as an act of informing the principle of foreign policy, means working for disarmament, on which there could be agreement, but it means much more. It means addressing the basis of true security in issues like the deflection from expenditure on armaments to tasks of development. It is sobering to think, for example, that in the huge figures I quoted, two weeks' armaments expenditure would provide clean water for every man, woman and child on the planet or that the basic needs of the planet could be met for $28 billion in terms of the different UN statistics.
I visited countries where I saw extreme militarism including, for example, Somalia, which I visited during the famine. In Somalia, the Soviet Union had provided $270 million worth of arms in the 1970s until the sides were switched. The United States then took over and it supplied $154 million worth of armaments. Italy provided $520 million worth of armaments to a country that is now hardly a state and which has a population of eight million.
In debating what we mean by positive neutrality, and this is part of the difficulty in the Sinn Féin Bill, we also need to highlight some important distinctions. Neutrality does not mean impotence, nor does it mean standing aside from conflicts but we have to realise that currently there is a fundamental cleavage between two concepts in the United Nations. Arbitrary lines drawn around colonial borders led to states that in turn joined the United Nations. They then had their borders crystallised, as it were, and they invoked a concept of sovereignty. What are we to say to ethnic minorities and others faced with genocide behind these borders? When action has taken occurred has used the concept of humanitarian intervention, a concept used by Hitler in Poland, Mussolini in Ethiopia and so forth.
And by Britain here.
Yes. What is needed now, and this is interesting in relation to the new thinking that is beginning to emerge, is the concept of sovereignty as responsibility and protection. For example, if we turn the problem upside down and consider people's inalienable rights, and then consider the capacity of states to deliver those rights or the proclivity of states to deny them, what we are speaking about is the responsibility to protect. From that we could invent new principles and begin an international dialogue. By investing the United Nations with additional authority, we might expand this protection of rights, the concept of sovereignty as the responsibility to protect. We must remember the distinction, which is defined by the needs of those who need protection rather than by the intentions of those who are seeking to intervene, which changes it entirely in relation to sovereignty.
Another part of that concept is to accept the responsibility to prevent conflict as well as the responsibility to rebuild after conflict. This use of neutrality as a positive and informing principle of foreign policy will enable us to seek a new path beyond the threshold of sovereignty and vindicate those rights. People are correct to ask if we can invoke neutrality as a moral principle to stand aside when there are threats of genocide or ethnic and so forth. We cannot but we can lay down precautionary principles in relation to the implementation of this measure such as, for example, right intention and proportional means. These have been developed by, among others, Gareth Evans and Dr. Mohamed Sahnoun, whom I met in Somalia. It is for that reason we are better off accepting a Bill on Second Stage, discussing it and making our contributions. We can then get over the problem that affects the United Nations.
The strengths of the United Nations are the universality of its membership and the universality of the fall of its obligations. No country has the right to put the United Nations at risk through pre-emption. Not one international legal scholar supports the principle of pre-emption. Regarding references to the League of Nations, the United Nations must be respected but it is the UN's charter which makes the universal bind. The United Nations is neither the plaything of the most powerful nor the consequence of power relations. For those reasons it is very important we use it to the full.
In the spirit of the Taoiseach's comment on the need for a second UN resolution, it would be interesting to know how he worked out the first resolution had been concluded in its remit. The first resolution must work through to its end and its results must be evaluated. That is a function of the Security Council. It is cheap to speak of how a resolution will facilitate certain parties; even when a resolution is made I remind the Taoiseach of the United Nations charter. The UN is there to prevent wars, not to authorise wars. It has authorised the use of force 14 times but it is not there to facilitate wars, nor is it there to do soex post facto, except at great damage to itself.
The Taoiseach stayed silent on another issue. Ten times in the history of the United Nations a process known as uniting for peace was followed. This means that where the Security Council is divided and cannot reach a conclusion, a process can be initiated through the General Assembly which enables initiatives to be taken to break that impasse. This was done in the cases of Korea in 1950, Egypt in 1956 and the Congo in 1960. These are the possibilities if we decide to stop feeling that neutrality is some great burden upon us but define it positively and responsibly in relation to our international obligations.
I find the Bill flawed textually and I am sure Sinn Féin will accept this criticism. One could not accept the principle, for example, that a policy of neutrality could be stated in a constitutional document. That lacks constitutional precision. What if the policy changed? There are also other problems in relation to the Bill and it would be better if it were clear in its definitions. I am using the term "positive neutrality" and I am then going on to refer to that as an active, informing principle of foreign policy, but these are matters which can be discussed.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, suggested last night that our concern for security has become diffused and now largely rests with the EU. That argument is flawed. The issues of defence and security are separate, as he knows, but when it comes to the balance between the United Nations and the EU regarding foreign policy, there is a great advantage for a country like Ireland in making more of its United Nations relationship – this is something we can do.
A speaker suggested last night that our neutrality began in 1937 with Eamon de Valera's Constitution or with the Second World War, but it most certainly did not. The Irish Neutrality League and other voices advocated neutrality at the beginning of the last century. The interesting point is that they were inclined to express their wishes, as Connolly did, in a precisely humanist essence. They spoke of the cost of war for ordinary working people and it is the same now for the youngsters of some poor state who will have to die in any forthcoming conflict. They saw war as a waste of ordinary people's lives – that was their motivating principle. Those early writings on neutrality were highly ethical and international.
For those reasons I cannot see why people are afraid of a debate on this legislation to improve its text. I have no difficulty in supporting it on Second Stage and I look forward to contributions from others on this topic.
I too have no difficulty in supporting the Bill. I welcome the chance for debate as there are many issues to be teased out. The House should not divide on the Bill but allow it to proceed. It is important to debate issues such as war and neutrality because we stand on the brink of war. The greatest power in the world is threatening to invade Iraq with or without a United Nations resolution. The wonderful march last Saturday was a great boost to everyone. Some 100,000 people marched in Dublin and others marched in different parts of the country. The people of Ireland stood up and were counted – they spoke with their feet and their presence. That sends a message to the Taoiseach and the Government and also to the United States and other countries.
I was amazed and dumbfounded to hear the Taoiseach take credit for the march. One would swear he was chief marshal of the march. At the moment the march set off from Parnell Square at 3 p.m. the Taoiseach was in Oxmantown in our constituency, knocking on doors, looking for votes. When the biggest march in a long time, on the biggest issue one could imagine – war and peace – took place, the leader of the country was knocking on doors for votes. He could have given his support by standing up to be counted and if he could not turn up he could have at least sent a message. However, he was a couple of hundred yards away, doing something only a huckster politician would have done in the circumstances. That was unconscionable.
The Labour Party put forward a proposal before the Nice treaty referendum, which was accepted and incorporated into the text, that the State should not become involved in any European common defence. Previous to that the Taoiseach made a commitment that if we did engage in the Partnership for Peace, there would be a constitutional referendum. It is a shame he did not honour that commitment because it would have given us an opportunity to discuss these issues of alignment and neutrality.
I agree entirely with Deputy Michael D. Higgins. It is high time we looked at where we stand on this issue. In 1932, when Taoiseach Éamon de Valera was President of the League of Nations, he made a statement outlining the form of neutrality under which we operated during the Second World War, saying that if the great nations were to behave irresponsibly, the small nations should not assist them. James Connolly and James Larkin, when they said they would serve neither king nor kaiser, were stating that Ireland would not be party to any imperialist military alliance that would cause the deaths of people in war.
I call on the Government to allow this Bill to continue past Second Stage.
In the last Dáil the Green Party produced a Bill similar to this to insert an amendment enshrining the concept of neutrality into the Constitution. This Bill embellishes that because it takes into account discussions that have since taken place in this House, particularly at the All-Party Committee on the Constitution.
It offers a useful starting point to discuss the concept of neutrality, its importance and value to many in our nation. The role of Dáil Éireann in seeking to bring about any change in the Constitution is purely facilitative. We do not exist to change the Constitution but to put forward proposals the people then debate and decide upon. On those grounds, despite the reservations of Government speakers, and those of the Fine Gael party, which is close to enunciating a position in favour of Ireland's participation in military alliances – a perfectly valid position with more honour than the position offered by the Government parties – even parties that believe Ireland should play an active role in military alliances can vote for this Bill because it will allow the citizens to discuss the issue.
When the Green Party published its own Bill to insert a clause on neutrality into the Constitution we published a parallel Bill on changes to the Constitution. The Green Party believes in open and participative democracy. A flaw in the Constitution is that the sole proposal rights for change rest with Dáil Éireann. It is a feature of many other democracies that citizens, through petitions and campaigns, can put forward proposals and, if necessary, change the constitution of their nations. There are many who fear such an eventuality because they fear the concept of real democracy. If, however, we look at Bunreacht na hÉireann as a living document, the idea of the people really owning it should be embraced. I hope to have an opportunity to reopen that debate in future.
This Bill has been criticised because the Government is satisfied with the nod and wink approach to neutrality. It claims that it is unnecessary to put it down on paper. If neutrality is not enshrined in the Constitution, the nonsense we have seen the Taoiseach engage in every day this week will continue. He has refused to tell the House whether he is prepared to back unilateral or pre-emptive action or if he is prepared to seek a second UN Security Council resolution. When the pressure is high enough, when 100,000 marchers have an effect on his party and Government, he makes statements to the national broadcaster about people's support for the Government line. If neutrality was enshrined in the Constitution and there was a legislative base to our foreign policy, the Taoiseach would not be able to engage in such shenanigans. In spite of the Taoiseach's statement this evening, where he said there were certain circumstances in which the Government would not support action in Iraq, he still refuses to spell out those circumstances. Our lack of a constitutional base allows him, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government to do this. If recent events have demonstrated anything, it is a contemptuous attitude towards the active foreign policy role this State should play and that its citizens want it to play, as we saw last Saturday.
There are those who ask what neutrality stands for. They want a pedantic, dictionary view of neutrality. Neutrality, as my party and most people in this State understand it, is about giving an endorsement to how we already play a role in the world through our very valuable involvement in United Nations peace keeping efforts, where we act as a buffer in warring zones. It is about avoiding going down the slippery slope where we become peace enforcers. Support for peace enforcement means signing up to the doctrine of George W. Bush. The country does not want to go that way but I am unsure about the way this Government wants to go. That is why it is important that we have this debate and let Irish citizens decide.
Government ambivalence on neutrality has seen us act differently from other European countries, such as Austria, Sweden and Finland, that are certain of where they stand on neutrality. One of the applicant countries, the small island state of Malta, has a constitutional provision on neutrality. If it is possible for Malta to enter the EU with its constitution, why can we not change our Constitution to allow such a firm statement of policy?
Deputy Costello mentioned the changes effected through the Nice treaty. That was only a partial exemption that meant a referendum would have to take place for a European Union defence force. We could still become involved in other military alliances without a referendum. The Government could decide to join NATO, although given the current state of that organisation, it might be a good time to join. It is constitutionally possible for us to do that but it is not what the Irish people want and it would not be in their interests.
I regret that the Government, particularly Fianna Fáil, has chosen to refuse to debate neutrality on this and previous occasions in recent years. I believe that is not only against the interests of Fianna Fáil and the country, but also against the very nature of Fianna Fáil and its history. Reference has been made to Eamon de Valera's role in the League of Nations. The House is indebted to the excellent work of Frank Aiken as Minister for External Affairs. As the Minister representing Ireland in its first participation in the United Nations in the mid-1950s, he was always willing to take a strong, independent, strident line that made Ireland look well in the eyes of other countries, particularly small developing countries.
Why did tens of thousands of Irish people take to the streets last Saturday? Was it to approve of Government policy by saying "We are right behind you in support of your policies and stance"? No, it was not. All of us know that people marched because they are worried and anxious about the inexorable slide towards war. They also have grave reservations about the role Ireland is playing in this situation. Many are concerned about Ireland's neutrality, some holding stronger views than others. There is uncertainty over the whole issue.
What does neutrality mean in practical terms? In peace time, we need not worry or even think about it, but when the shadow of war looms, it exercises our minds greatly. That, of course, is part of the problem. We need a reasoned debate on neutrality. As a people, we need to take time to reflect on the role we can play as a sovereign state, as part of the UN and in a world that is changed forever by the threat of international terrorism. We need a debate about our responsibilities in the wider global context. How do we distinguish between peacekeeping and peace making?
What is our role, if any, in conflict resolution in other parts of the world? If tomorrow, next week or next year, our peace and security were threatened by a terrorist group, either acting alone or with the backing of a particular country because, for example, it considered that Ireland's geographical position was strategicvis-à-vis Europe and the UK, would we expect others to come to our aid? Would we be screaming for the UN or the EU to intervene to defend us or would our neutrality protect us? That may appear far-fetched, but who would have thought that just over ten years ago, thousands of innocent Muslims would be butchered in Srebrenica in the heart of Europe? We watched it nightly on our television screens and we were helpless. Would it be any different if it were Ireland instead of Kosovo? These questions cannot be ignored even if they are difficult. If, as politicians, we duck the difficult questions, we do no service to those whom we represent.
However, that debate is for another day. Tonight, we must face the difficult question, where stands Ireland's neutrality in the shadow of a war on Iraq? Nobody knows and that fact alone brought many people onto the streets last weekend. We need leadership. We need our leaders to take a stand and to work within the framework of Irish neutrality as it now stands. The debate we must have is for another day. Now, we need to know where our Government is leading us. It is not enough to be told that a decision will be made when and if a particular situation arises. If one does not know where one is going, one can end up anywhere. That is what people are afraid of.
The Taoiseach promised us a referendum on Partnership for Peace. Irrespective of whether we needed it, he promised it and he did not deliver. People are losing trust in the Taoiseach on this issue. Ireland's neutrality is like a piece of elastic. It is being stretched to the point where some of us are afraid it will snap. The Taoiseach must make a clear, unambiguous statement as to Ireland's intentions in the event of unilateral action against Iraq. If we remain as we are, hopping from one foot to the other, waiting to see which direction the wind blows and hoping somebody else will take the hard decisions for us, we will lose all credibility at home and internationally.
The Irish people deserve better. We must be able to trust our Government. Unquestioning acceptance of the US stance is not good enough. Those of us who watched the "True Lives" programme on RTE last night were riveted to our television screens as we watched on camera, as if we were there, the failed coup against President Chavez in Venezuela. The shadow of the CIA was there, just as it was when General Allende was ousted in Chile in the absence of the cameras. We cannot be unquestioning. We have hard decisions to take now and in the future.
We lack decisive leadership. When we have the debate on neutrality, as we must have, the Irish people must decide because they are the supreme authority and will ultimately have to live with the consequences.
Too often the Government presents neutrality in a negative way as a "do nothing" philosophy. I noted the hysterical reaction of three Deputies on the Government side of the House to a debate on neutrality and their personal attack on Sinn Féin. Was that an effort to avoid the issue or was it a display of fear due to the fact that tens of thousands of people came out on the streets last week to show the Government and the establishment of Europe that they are wrong and are afraid to face up to the reality that they have made terrible blunders which are leading us into a cul de sac of war?
We in Sinn Féin want to articulate the positive aspects of neutrality. At its core, this must mean being a positive force in arguing for not just nuclear disarmament but a massive scaling down of the international weapons industry. We have legitimate fears that the current US Administration and, indeed, the British one spends more time acting in response to lobbying by the arms industry than listening to millions of voters protesting about the military build-up and spiral into conflict in Iraq. A study by the World Policy Institute shows that before joining the Bush administration, 32 high-level appointees served as executives, paid consultants or major shareholders of the weapons industry.
We in Sinn Féin believe that neutrality can be a tool, not to ignore international conflict but to resolve conflict and tension between states, regions and cultures in the modern world. For a practical example of this in action, one need look no further than the unparalleled record of Irish personnel on UN peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. This Twenty-six County State is uniquely placed on the international stage. While counted as one of the industrialised so-called "first world" states, we have an experience of colonial occupation and exploitation that makes us all too aware of the situation facing the less developed states in central and South America, Africa and Asia.
Our unique perspective of international politics is an asset that can promote understanding and dialogue. We have a responsibility to wake up the EU, the UN leadership, the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank to the reality of global politics today and make them tackle international problems more effectively and efficiently. We can be a bridge between the global haves and have nots, between the exploiters and the exploited. We should have used our membership of the UN Security Council as a campaigning member in favour of debt cancellation and renewed investment and aid for less developed states. We should have been lobbying for cheaper medicines to be made available to combat AlDS, TB, hepatitis and other treatable ailments.
We should have presented plans for reform of the UN. We should have been able to stand up to the US arms industry. Do we want to live in a world where, since 1992, the United States has exported more than $142 billion worth of weaponry and supplied arms or military technology to more than 92% of the conflicts under way in 1999 and, in the period from 1998 to 2001, over 68% of world arms deliveries were sold or given to developing nations? As a neutral state, we are not advocating pacifism. We are advocating global justice and when necessary will support a just war. For example, we will support a war on poverty. We will support stopping the arms trade and replace it with fair trade. Ireland is a small state but that does not mean it has to dilute its ambitions or fail to articulate its principles.
Why, for example, has the Government in each of the past five years refused to meet its own meagre commitments on overseas aid? The simple act of sharing our wealth internationally could be a powerful signal to other wealthier states to show that we are willing to fight global poverty. This Government will bend over backwards to let arms and soldiers get moved through Shannon and expend resources policing the airport, yet they will not spare small change from Government spending for overseas aid. Is that what it means to be neutral? Here, again—
Deputy, your time is concluded.
To conclude, I would ask the conscientious Deputies of this House to support this Bill and enshrine positive neutrality in the Constitution.
The Government has actively participated in, and carefully listened to, this detailed debate, both today and yesterday. Many disparate arguments have been raised and the scope of the contributions that have been made illustrates the complexity and wide-ranging nature of the issues involved.
There are many aspects of the neutrality issue that most Members of the House share in common. There have been many voices that question what is, in my view, the highly significant role that Ireland's policy in this area has played as a core value in our foreign policy. This has been the case since Irish neutrality became practically possible with the return by Britain of the treaty ports in 1938. Neutrality has since been a policy adopted by successive Governments. It has as its core defining characteristic the non-membership of military alliances. This central aspect of Ireland's approach remains as valid now as it ever was.
Let me be absolutely clear in response to some points that have been raised. There is no question of Ireland joining a mutual defence alliance such as NATO. To suggest otherwise is a complete red herring. What is more, the people already voted last October for a constitutional amendment, passed at the same time as their approval for the Treaty of Nice, which precludes the State from entering a common defence in the European Union without a further referendum.
What then is the point of the proposal in front of us to put neutrality into the Constitution at this time? Ireland's policy of military neutrality remains as viable as always. In a post-Cold War situation the emerging defence and security challenges have moved away from traditional defence towards crisis management. Nevertheless, our attachment to military neutrality remains undiminished.
At the same time, the Government wants to continue what we have been doing for decades and continue to play an active role in preventing conflicts and peacekeeping. This is an area where we have particular strengths and where we have, and can, make a real difference. The contribution of the Defence Forces to UN missions since 1958 has been a source of pride to successive Governments and to the Irish people. They have earned an excellent reputation as peace-keepers in many diverse locations and I want them to play a prominent role in other crisis management missions. This role is entirely in keeping with our commitment to collective security that has been pursued through the United Nations. A clear and ongoing tendency has been greater UN reliance upon the resources and capabilities, not only military but also civilian, of organisations like the European Union.
An aspect that really concerns me about this proposal is the reality that the incorporation of a specific reference to neutrality in the Constitution could have a serious impact on the capacity of the Government to support the United Nations. Where would this leave us? It would raise questions as to whether we could fulfil our obligations under the UN. How, for instance, would a constitutional amendment relate to the enforcement provisions of the UN Charter? Could we fulfil our obligations under the charter should these be invoked?
Recourse to the courts would be a clear implication of these proposals for amending the Constitution and this is not an appropriate area for judicial interpretation. These are not matters to be settled in the Supreme Court rather than by the duly elected Government which, under Article 29 of the Constitution, is responsible for the external relations of the State.
I heard several speakers refer to the militarisation of the European Union. This assertion simply does not stand up to scrutiny. I would have thought that these concerns had been well and truly put to rest with the declarations made at the Seville European Council last June. At Seville, the 15 EU Heads of State and Government put on record beyond doubt that the Union's capacity to conduct humanitarian and crisis management tasks does not involve the creation of a European Army. Does the solemn word of the 15 Heads of State and Government of the EU not stand for something very significant?
No practical purpose is served by the proposals now put forward by Deputy Ó Caoláin. They would instead only result in Ireland withdrawing from our international responsibilities. This runs contrary to Ireland's perspective on our commitments under the United Nations and our strong track record of engagement on international issues.
I am firmly of the view that military neutrality on its own is not enough to maintain conditions of peace and security internationally. We need to be constructive in seeking to play our part in preventing and managing conflicts. This includes peacekeeping, notably through the UN and now also through regional organisations such as the European Union. For this and previous Governments, military neutrality has never meant sitting on our hands and shirking our responsibilities to the international community. We are not, for example, neutral in the face of the threat posed by international terrorism, nor were we neutral in response to the shocking atrocities we all witnessed in the Balkans only a short decade ago. I do not believe for one moment that the Irish people would want to stand aloof, ostrich like, in response to these horrific situations which have appalling humanitarian consequences. That is not in our nature.
This Bill represents a backwards step. It would do nothing to enhance the protection of military neutrality that is already there and I reiterate the Government's opposition to it.
I wish to share time with Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Ó Caoláin.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Some of the contributions to this debate, both inside and outside the Dáil, were worthy of walk-on parts in comedy shows like "The Office" featuring David Brent. What would Ireland's position be, we were asked, if an EU state were occupied by a foreign invader? First, one is currently occupied by a foreign invader. It is called Ireland and it is NATO troops who are doing the occupying. For the less well informed Deputies, and there are many on this issue, they are British troops who are part of the NATO alliance.
What would we do in such a situation, we were asked, if we had enshrined neutrality in the Constitution? That is the wrong question. The question is: what could we do – throw stones at them? Besides, it is a bogus scenario. If some of the EU warmongers get their way, European troops are much more likely to be active outside the borders of the EU, rather than defending them.
We have really managed to call the Government's bluff on this occasion. All through the Nice I and Nice II debates the Government told the Irish people that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in favour of neutrality. Now the cat is well and truly out of the bag and people know exactly where they stand. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers have one last chance, in about 15 minutes' time, to save some of their integrity by voting for this Bill and I ask them urgently to do so.
The Government professes to support neutrality. When he was Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Deputy Brian Lenihan stated:
Ireland's policy of military neutrality is premised on our intention not to become involved in hostilities between other states . . . In Peacetime this calls for non-membership of military alliances and the State accordingly does not propose to join a military alliance.
Mar Thaoiseach i 1992, dúirt Albert Reynolds:
The policy and tradition of neutrality in the military sense has served Ireland well. [It] has served as a symbol of sovereignty and independence . . . [and] helped us play a constructive role in UN peacekeeping.
Sa bhliain 2001, dúirt Aire Cosanta an Teachta Micheál Mac Gabhann:
In line with Government policy of military neutrality, the Government has made clear that Ireland would only participate in operations authorised by the United Nations in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Dáil approval.
The same year, the Progressive Democrat Deputy and then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, indicated the Government's "firm attachment" to military neutrality and claimed that "we are not interested in joining military alliances."
During the second Nice treaty debate, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, stated that non-membership of military alliances was a core characteristic of Irish military neutrality. However, the strongest statement on this issue from Fianna Fáil came from Deputy Roche, now a Minister of State, who said in 1999:
It is bizarre that Ireland is willing to talk endlessly about our neutrality but we have never sat down and determined in clear terms what we mean by neutrality . . . We should possess within our law a clear and unambiguous statement of how we determine our neutrality as a nation . . . to bind this and every future Government on the issue of neutrality . . . we should give the people the opportunity to express their views on neutrality at the earliest possible date . . . They should be given the opportunity to write into their Constitution their commitment to neutrality in clear and unambiguous terms.
Based on those words, the Government should welcome this Bill with open arms. Regrettably, it has not done so, and that is because it fears exposure. Since 1997, the Fianna Fáil-led Government has systematically pursued a policy of abandoning neutrality by stealth. It has joined NATO's Partnership for Peace, despite promises to the contrary. It has refused to seek a legally binding neutrality protocol to the Nice treaty, despite public outcry. It has set the precedent of ministerial authorisation for war complicity without the assent of the Dáil in the case of the US-led war on Afghanistan. Sa chruachás atá ann faoi lathair, níor úsáid an Rialtas a shuíochán ar Choiste Slándála na Náisiún Aontaithe ná a sheasamh san Aontas Eorpaigh chun tacú leis na tíortha sin atá i gcoinne an chogaidh san Iaráic. Ina áit, tá an Rialtas tar éis ligint d'fhórsaí Stáit Aontaithe Mheirceá aerfort na Sionainne a úsáid ar a mbealach chuig an chogadh. Má ghlactar leis an Bhille seo beidh an gníomh sin agus gníomhartha eile dá leithéid mídhleathach agus míbhunreachtúil.
The Sinn Féin amendments would disallow participation in standing military alliances and restrict overseas military involvement to UN peacekeeping missions. Ireland needs this Bill. Neutrality is a cornerstone of independence in foreign policy. Up to now it has only been constitutionally implied. At the moment, there is no clear constitutional barrier to this State's joining a military alliance. Contrary to what is claimed, the Seville declaration does not constitutionally enshrine neutrality and non-participation in military alliances. Tá Sinn Féin ag iarraidh go mbeidh an neodracht lonnaithe go soléir sa mBunreacht.
I want to deal with some of the misinformation that was given yesterday about the Sinn Féin Bill and what it does and does not do. It seeks to enshrine permanent military neutrality in the Constitution. We have opted for a minimalist formulation that relies upon the canon of international law, the 1907 HAGUE CONVENTION RESPECTING THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF NEUTRAL POWERS IN THE CASE OF WAR ON LAND, as referred to by Deputy Gormley earlier. Sinn Féin has a fuller concept of neutrality, which is reflected in this Bill. We want to see that reflected in supporting legislation in future. In particular, we support the concept of positive neutrality as a significant force for good in the world, one whose potential has not yet been fully realised.
There is nothing inward-looking, backwards or narrow in Sinn Féin's proposal. We have expressed our vision of positive neutrality in action. The proposed amendment must be read in the context of the other provisions of Article 29 regarding commitment to peaceful resolution of dispute through dialogue, international co-operation and compliance with international law. Is gá dúinn a ghlaoch ar an Rialtas deireadh a chur leis na pleananna slíbhíneacha atá aige a fháil réidh den neodracht. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé sásta teacht anseo agus a rá go soiléir an bhfuil sé ag cur deiridh leis an neodracht nó ag tacú go huile is go hiomlán leis.
I thank every Deputy who addressed the issues at the core of this Bill. I include the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, and Deputy Killeen of Fianna Fáil, who were among the Deputies who contributed to this timely and enlightening debate. It has been enlightening on a whole range of levels. I note, sadly, that naked hatred of Sinn Féin and Irish republicanism remains a core value of the Progressive Democrats, as articulated by Deputy O'Malley. Having listened to the Deputy over the months since he was returned here last year, I think it was beneath him as a person. I wonder which O'Malley's hand was actually behind the pen that put it together.
It was the British Embassy.
The Bill is timely, but it was signalled some time ago. In April 2001 I stood here as the lone member of my party and presented this Bill before the House. I could only bring it to First Stage at that juncture, but I made it very clear that we would revisit this at the first opportunity, and that is exactly what we are doing. This is the first Sinn Féin Private Members' time of this Dáil. I am not only grateful to my colleagues but also to the Independent and Green Party Deputies who spoke in favour of the Bill. I also welcome the support of the Labour Party. It has some differences with us on some elements of the Bill, but it is giving its support to its progress through Second Stage. Cuirim fáilte ar sin.
I concur with Deputy Michael D. Higgins when he speaks of a policy of positive neutrality and he will have noted that my colleague, Deputy Ferris, actually used that phraseology. The Government side has argued strongly against this Bill, as have their colleagues on the Fine Gael benches. That is a telling point because the real lines of demarcation in this Chamber have been exposed by this debate as never before. People in this House, and especially outside it, should recognise that.
The Government claims it has a policy of non-membership of military alliances, yet it will not agree to put that into the Constitution. It claims it would tie its hands. Why does it believe that? About what issue does it not want its hands to be tied? The only conclusion I can reach is that it wants to carry on with its shameful erosion of neutrality and move this country forward towards participation in military alliances. There can be no other explanation for the position it adopts. There are Deputies here on the Government benches and the Fine Gael benches who agree with the general principles of this Bill. I reiterate our appeal to their party leaders to allow for a free vote and allow Deputies to vote with their consciences.
The leaderships of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats have abandoned neutrality. If they wish to challenge the Bill, they should allow it to proceed to Committee Stage so that the debate may continue, but they are intent on killing it off tonight. The only reason they want to do so is because they have seen the evidence of popular support for the vision and the thinking behind this Bill, as demonstrated in the streets of this city only last Saturday. They know very well that the Government, if it is to allow this Bill passage, will not win the real debate when the referendum to enshrine positive neutrality in the Constitution is put before the people. They may very well win this evening's debate, with the numbers here tonight, but they know that when they go before the people they will lose, and the people know that also. The Government no longer trusts the people, but it should make no mistake, the people no longer trust Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in Government. That is what they fear.
This Bill requires and demands the support of all who uphold independent foreign policy and a policy of positive neutrality. I urge Deputies to vote with their consciences and to recognise the clamour of public opinion in their respective constituencies, as demonstrated on the streets and articulated through local radio, newspaper coverage and on the national airwaves. They should acknowledge and catch up with the opinion of the Irish people by voting tonight in accordance with the views of those who put them here to represent them. I urge Deputies to vote "Tá" to the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2003. I hope Members will have the guts to vote and that they will stand with the Irish people for a vision for the future of which we can be proud.
Cuireadh an cheist.
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