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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Dec 1986

Vol. 115 No. 6

Private Members' Business. - Joint Committee on Foreign Policy: Motion.

I move:

(1) That it is expedient in view of the importance of allowing the maximum public participation, political accountability on such issues, for example, as the need to reaffirm the principle of neutrality of Ireland in international affairs and to declare that Ireland's foreign and defence policies continue to be based on this principle, demilitarisation, and development strategy and providing an opportunity for debate in the foreign affairs of the State that a Joint Committee (which shall be called the Joint Committee on Foreign Policy) consisting of seven Members of Seanad Éireann and eight Members of Dáil Éireann be appointed to review, examine and report to each House with its recommendations on all aspects of foreign policy of the State.

(2) That the Joint Committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees and to refer to such sub-committees any matters comprehended by paragraph (1) of this resolution.

(3) That provision be made for the appointment of substitutes to act for members of the Joint Committee or each sub-committee who are unable to attend particular meetings.

(4) That the Joint Committee and each sub-committee, previous to the commencement of business, shall elect one of its members to be Chairman, who shall have only one vote.

(5) That all questions in the Joint Committee and in each sub-committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes the question shall be decided in the negative.

(6) That the Joint Committee and each sub-committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records and, subject to the consent of the Minister for the Public Service, to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist it for the purpose of particular inquiries.

(7) That any Member of either House may attend and be heard in the proceedings of the Joint Committee or in each sub-committee without having a right to vote, subject to the prior consent of the Joint Committee or the sub-committee as the case may be.

(8) That the Joint Committee and each sub-committee shall have power to print and publish from time to time minutes of evidence taken before it together with such related documents as it thinks fit.

(9) That every report of the Joint Committee shall on adoption by the Joint Committee, be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith whereupon the Joint Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report together with such related documents as it thinks fit.

(10) That no document relating to matters comprehended by paragraph (1) of this resolution received by the clerk to the Joint Committee or to each sub-committee shall be withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of the Joint committee or the sub-committee as the case may be.

(11) That the quorum of the Joint Committee shall be four of whom at least one shall be a Member of Seanad Éireann and one shall be a Member of Dáil Éireann and that the quorum of each sub-committee shall be three at least one of whom shall be a Member of Seanad Éireann and one a Member of Dáil Éireann.

Tugann sé áthas mór dom an Rún seo a mholadh, atá curtha síos in ainmneacha na Seanadóirí atá ina mbaill de phairtí An Lucht Oibre.

In moving this resolution I think we could not have a more appropriate day. On the one hand it is International Human Rights day and, on the other hand, it is also the day on which the other House is moving towards concluding its consideration of the Single European Act. The inter-purpose of this motion is:

That it is expedient in view of the importance of allowing the maximum public participation, political accountability on such issues, for example, as the need to reaffirm the principle of neutrality of Ireland in international affairs and to declare that Ireland's foreign and defence policies continue to be based on this principle, demilitarisation, and development strategy and providing an opportunity for debate in the foreign affairs of the State that a Joint Committee (which shall be called the Joint Committee on Foreign Policy) consisting of seven Members of Seanad Éireann and eight Members of Dáil Éireann be appointed to review, examine and report to each House with its recommendations on all aspects of foreign policy of the State.

The rest of the resolution is mainly technical but paragraph (6) is important in so far as, drawing on our experience of committees in this House, it suggests the giving to such a committee a number of powers which would get over obstacles that have arisen in practice in the operation of some other committees. Paragraph (6) states:

That the Joint Committee and each sub-committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records and, subject to the consent of the Minister for the Public Service, to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist it for the purpose of particular inquiries.

There are 11 paragraphs in the motion. Paragraph (10) is equally important because it equally extends the powers of committees. It reads:

That no document relating to matters comprehended by paragraph (1) of this resolution received by the clerk to the Joint Committee or to each sub-committee shall be withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of the Joint Committee or the sub-committee as the case may be.

This effectively gives a discretion to the committee to decide matters about which it should concern itself.

I want to flesh out some of the reasons why this motion has been placed before the House and in doing so I want to explain some of the basic principles initially. The important point about there being maximum public participation and political accountability in foreign policy has been adverted to in practically every parliamentary assembly I know of in Europe. Perhaps the most radical expression of this is in the case of Denmark where elements of foreign policy are initiated in the assembly and thereafter go on to be executed by the professionals who execute Danish foreign policy. We are far short of that. We are at the other end of the spectrum. We are out of step in relation to many countries in Europe in not having a full joint committee on foreign policy, as exists in the British House of Commons. I believe there should be support now for achieving the establishment of this committee.

When I say "the maximum public participation" again and again in my time as spokesman for foreign affairs of the Labour Party, the point has been raised by many people who write to me and ask what is Ireland's position on one matter or another, be it on apartheid, on a vote at the United Nations, on the position we were taking in relation to Europe and so forth. I have often tried to explain to them the logic behind a particular position taken and sometimes — in fact quite frequently — I have been unable to explain why we voted, abstained or opposed a particular matter. I regard that as setting a tension inevitably between two quite different things which have been discussed in other countries and which arise in the inevitable evolution of parliaments, that is, the distinction between the practice of diplomacy which is, of its nature, secret and the execution of foreign policy which responds to the moral temper of the people. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that there is a generous response to breaches of human rights, not only in Ireland but universally. I am very conscious of that. The evidence for this lies in the fact that many countries seek to abuse the concept of human rights and use it as a term of abuse, one against the other. Equally in relation to racism, there is a common position now in Ireland, thankfully, that opposes apartheid. In relation to development aid, people are moved by the appalling scenes that are presented on their television sets which show horrific circumstances of death.

The whole thrust of this motion, therefore, is to allow that moral response and the concern that exists in the foreign policy area, in the great areas I mentioned. There are questions such as what is our contribution in prosecuting positive neutrality? What do we mean by it? I used the term in the motion "the principle of neutrality". I am speaking about positive neutrality. I am not interested in hedged phrases, such as remaining neutral in matters of military importance or matters of military significance. That is a condition I do not apply to neutrality. Here, I am drawing on a long tradition which goes back to Tom Johnson, which goes right through all of the leaders of the Labour Party, including one of my predecessors as spokesman on Foreign Affairs and as Chairman of the Labour Party, Michael Keys, of Limerick, who spoke about neutrality being important as a major contribution towards making wars impossible.

Therefore, the neutrality I am speaking of is not conditional in the sense of being available as a negotiating point for the unification of this country, or conditional in another sense when this extraordinary phrase is use, that we are on the one hand militarily neutral but not ideologically neutral. Ideological neutrality is left usually without the specification in geographical terms as to where it is assumed freedom lies, what the definition of democracy is, and so forth.

All of these issues such as questions of neutrality and the other great topics I mentioned should be debated. I make reference to demilitarisation and to development strategy in particular. Here all of us have been appalled by the enormous wastage of human and physical resources in the war effort. Should our response stop at being a moral one? I am not arguing that these moral expressed opinions do not translate into political practice. What I am saying is that there is a need for an integration in our policy and that integration will be provided when voluntary and expert agencies will have a committee — as exists in other parliaments, I emphasise — to which to come and offer their evidence and indicate their support.

I said previously it is easy to move people by telling them such facts as that 40,000 children die every day from malnutrition, most of them under the age of one year and, for every one of those children who die, six will live in conditions of chronic poverty condemned to blindness, illness, illiteracy, hunger and lack of shelter in this developing world or that before the end of the century we will have comdemned 650 million or 700 million people to conditions of malnutrition. These are facts which move people instantly. Equally so do facts on armaments — that one scientist in five will spend his or her intellectual energies in the war effort while, at the same time, there are crying needs in the development area. It is not possible to prosecute the project of peace and demilitarisation without its being linked to development. I think we would agree on that.

It is not possible either to have a moral response at home and not have it reflected overtly in foreign policy in terms of a required political response. I am very worried about a number of aspects that bother me in this regard. A number of injurious fractures have arisen in relation to some of these issues. May I just cite some of them? In relation to the issue of neutrality itself, how is neutrality balanced with the requirements of our industrialisation policies? I wish it was not balanced at all, that there was never a condition placed on it. I know from my own experience on many occasions in the past when those of us in this House who believed in peace took a position that was critical of some of the major investors in this country, the messages came quietly but regularly to elected representatives in this House and in the other House that we should draw in our horns, that it was not the time to speak of human rights in Nicaragua; it was not the time to speak of the ignoring of the International Court of Justice at the Hague; nor was it the time to speak of armed mercenaries. Yet the facts of these breaches explode on our television screens.

If we have a policy it should be an integrated one. That is my simple plea. I cannot for the life of me see any evidence of how we can achieve this as parliamentarians, not to speak of members of the public. You might say — and I do not want my case to fall on this one — there is a committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities who deal with some matters which are relevant. I was a member of that committee when it was originally established. When the committee reported as it did in the past on the Dooge Report and others, we had an opportunity for some debate. That is not what I have in mind. The terms of reference of the committee I am suggesting enable them to address the issue of foreign policy in the broadest sense. When one looks at the conditions I have laid down in paragraphs 2 to 11 I want the committee in establishing such powers to draw on the experience of other committees.

I welcomed the establishment of the committee system in this House but I said at the time that the committee system must be given teeth. It is very interesting to note that when the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Privilege and Procedure) Bill, 1976, establishing the committee system was introduced in its initial form, it contained a section which would give power to committees to summon witnesses by letters delivered to them personally by registered post, to examine witnesses and require witnesses to be present and so forth. Equally I argue that we need to go much further than that and enable witnesses to come and enjoy privilege before the committee so that the committee may be able to do its work to the fullest extent possible. When we think of the Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies there were occasions on which witnesses did not come. There are occasions when the committees can be manipulated by the non-availability of a Minister of the day. It is, therefore, terribly important that the committee that is established has the powers I mention.

When I was drafting this resolution I looked at the experience of other countries where the committee system has been established and there is a commitment to it. The members who serve that committee are professionals, independent of the process of government. This is the norm in many countries, the idea being that the Parliament itself will be able to enjoy a full and unrestricted scrutiny of what is the regular practice of the Government of the day. That is a full committee system. I am putting that provision contained in the document prepared in 1976 in its original form back in and suggesting that this committee has that power.

There will be enormous advantages to this committee. Among these will be that it will be able to draw on the great anxiety that exists at present for political education which will include aspects fo foreign policy. The proceedings of this committee will be studied by people in places where foreign policy, thankfully, is becoming a matter of great interest. If one looks at the published works on the history of Irish foreign policy, one finds that people have pointed out that it has been necessary on occasions for people interested in foreign policy to sneak in and out of the country in case people found they were missing from their constituencies. Thankfully, those days are changing. Our eyes have been opened as the media have opened the windows of the world exposing us to the realities of war, the needs of development, the hunger I described and the great challenges that face us. There is a new atmosphere now and we should take advantage of it and make foreign policy a matter of regular and vibrant debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas. The existence of the committee is absolutely essential in this regard.

For instance, we should resolve the issue of neutrality once and for all. I admire the work of the Royal Irish Academy but I recall their debate on neutrality. Unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of making a contribution to the group in relation to any aspect of foreign policy but I look forward to doing this in the future. Their discussion on neutrality was very interesting but it was all somewhat tendentious. If the papers that were read on that occasion were presented to a foreign policy committee we would all benefit, we would have a full discussion, we would be able to talk about the quality of evidence, what was a matter of comjecture and what was a matter of fact.

If Members of this House need one example above all else in favour of what I am saying, would they not agree that the atmosphere in which the Single European Act has been discussed in this country vindicates the establishment of a committee? I read with great care the document produced by the Government on the Single European Act and the explanatory guide. I have read other articles on the Single European Act. I have been interested in trying to tease out the implications in relation to the three great principles that are a matter of debate — the question of neutrality, military and defence alliance, the implications of the single market and the protection of employment, and the question as to whether, having removed all tariffs, you can do what has never happened in history: restructure competition so as to give away benefits to the peripheral regions. I want to be convinced and I feel that a committee like this might enable us to hear all the arguments. Let us have them fully and let us leave them unemotionally.

On that issue I would like to see the committee begin by taking up the first of those. It might come to the conclusion — a conclusion which my party favour — that the position of neutrality be given a legal basis, that it be put into the Constitution. I am very conscious that we are on the eve of debating the 50th anniversary of the 1937 Constitution and I have long said that it is not a Constitution that we should lug around on our shoulders for ever. There is not a specific provision for equality of men and women in that Constitution. Be that as it may, I believe we should discuss the appropriateness or otherwise of a constitutional affirmation of our position on neutrality.

When I was a Member of the other House and I sought information as to why we voted on particular matters, I was not always able, as an elected representative, to find that information. As in so many other things, there has grown up in Ireland what I would call the fallacy of expertise. The suggestion is often made that expertise in some matters arises in practice and that practice is governed by criteria of pragmatism. What I am saying is that we are surrounded by an anxiety which is based on idealism by many people to understand and participate in a world made safe against war, a world of peace where the issues of development will be applied. I am not arguing against pragmatism. I am simply an old-fashioned logician.

I believe I was elected here to discuss foreign policy and that the other House has elected Members to discuss foreign policy. It should be debated in these Houses and on a complex matter this committee should exist and we should attend it with seven Members from the Seanad and eight Members from the Dáil. We should let experts come and we should let professionals come and we should see what our policy is. We should let the public have the full view of why we hold particular views on any matter. I cannot see how anybody can be afraid of this process. Of course, the response will be that the matters discussed are often so delicate and the nuances are so great that really one could not trust people to know what it is that we are achieving.

I have so often read the phrase, "We have explained to our partners our feelings on this matter and we are working towards a position" and so on. I am sure much of moral significance has been achieved in this regard, and I would not want to endanger any of it, but I am not going to pay the price of not having accountability on foreign policy for such a process. I feel a little irritated this evening about that matter. I am very angry at the manner in which some of the aspects of European political co-operation have been discussed in the last year or two. We had an opportunity to look at some aspects of it here when the reports came from the Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities but it was hardly full enough, for example, in relation to the single market and the meaning of terms like "cohesion" and so forth. I would have liked a much fuller debate on all of that.

There are many matters outside of Europe. There is the business of our attitude towards issues that arise in Africa. There was a long saga as to what the Government's position was in relation to South Africa. There is the question that arises in relation to Nicaragua. I am not in the business of meeting people at the airport, bringing them in and managing to have them received by officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs to whom I am extremely grateful. My point about it is that I would like to discuss the events that are taking place, for example, the hiring of mercenaries, the question of the displacement of funds. In the absence of this committee I am left open to the charge that has unfortunately been made against people like me before, that people are weary of listening to anti-American speeches and so forth. I am not making those speeches but I feel that as a parliamentarian I am entitled to enjoy the mechanisms of the majority of Parliaments, that is, by having a committee who would deal with these matters and would discuss them.

I want to say something about the amendment which, I am afraid, I would ask the movers to consider withdrawing. I think it would be unacceptable for a reason that perhaps was unintended. The amendment suggests the deletion of all words after "that". In doing so it deletes the first part of paragraph 1. It deletes even the reference to the maximum public participation, political accountability, the reference to neutrality, to foreign and defence policies based on the principle of neutrality, demilitarisation and development strategy. That is not left in in the amendment and, knowing the generosity of my colleagues on this side of the House, this is probably an oversight. I presume that their amendment was probably more directed to the structure of the committee. The amendment suggests that:

Seanad Éireann is of the opinion that consideration be given to the establishment of a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in order to promote as wide a consensus as possible on all matters of Foreign Policy and that informal all-party discussions be initiated to discuss the terms of reference, the structure and the procedures of the proposed Committee on Foreign Affairs.

That formulation would do credit to Sir Humphrey because it not only stops us from doing something in the lifetime of this Government, it also involves us in a process of consultation that would so erode everything that is aimed for in the motion that with the greatest respect I suggest it is not likely to amend or approve the basic motion and reluctantly, I would have to say it is not acceptable either to myself or to the group for whom I speak.

I hope we will have support from all sides of the House for the kind of committee I mention. It is now likely that the Single European Act will be ratified. Do the Members of the House not agree that the existence of this committee will be even more necessary in those circumstances than it is now? Surely in relation to all of the issues that I have mentioned, for example, if you take the welding together of common positions even in relation to development, will that not be necessary to be considered by such a committee? What about the increasingly difficult circumstances of retaining our neutrality in practice? In that regard I hope the committee will flush out something that is becoming a little wearisome. There are different views on neutrality. There are those who believe in positive neutrality, and there are those who do not believe in it at all. To their credit they have been speaking out lately. They said this whole thing is quite meaningless. I want to hear the views of people as to whether it is useful for a while, or it is conditional, or so forth. That debate should take place. Otherwise we are in danger of eroding democracy and Parliament itself, using language that is devoid of content and is devoid of some commitment.

Therefore, the entire thrust of this motion is to try, while allowing professional practice within the diplomatic realm, to restore the position of Parliament, to allow parliamentarians to debate foreign policy, to allow the public to see parliamentarians debating policy which reflects and responds to the values they hold and the concerns they have. Once the policy has been decided it should be executed with the professionalism which has always been of an enormously high standard within our Department of Foreign Affairs for which I have the greatest respect.

If we do not do this, not only will the process be secret, not accessible, not contribute to education, not build on what we have achieved in relation to public awareness and development, but it will be worse than that. It will mean we will have a policy that means something in some circumstances. For example, I might ask a simple question. I do not know how to answer a letter somebody wrote to me — well, I do, I have answered it — which asked the question as to whether when industrialists are being wooed in the different investing countries we ever feel it necessary to say we are a neutral country. It is a good question from a person who is a citizen, interested in industrialisation, interested in peace, interested in human rights, interested in all of the issues of disarmament and so on.

I am not arguing for any crude simplicity to replace what might be regarded as a sophisticated complexity that has served us well over the years. I am expressing a view that has been debated within the Labour Party, that has been accepted by them as policy, but far more important, there is a desire among the public and there is an anxiety on the part of every parliamentarian in either of these two Houses with whom I have ever travelled abroad to be involved in forming foreign policy. This will simply, very modestly, without any great changes put us into line with other Parliaments in Europe.

I second this motion which stands in the name of the Labour Party group. The Parliamentary Labour Party have discussed this subject at length and as the chairman of our party, Senator M. D. Higgins, knows, we have a foreign policy section and this subject gets a lot of coverage within our group. The formulation of what we want to do here has been agreed in principle by the parliamentary party who have approved bringing it to this House as an expediency motion. This is not to be confused with either the Single European Act, which we will be discussing next week, or a motion which will be in the name of the Leader of the House and myself in connection with the Single European Act which is similar to the resolution in Dáil Éireann which deals specifically with Ireland's position on neutrality. That motion would read:

That Seanad Éireann reaffirms Ireland's position of neutrality outside military alliances, and notes with satisfaction that the provisions in Title III of the Single European Act relating to the co-operation of the High Contracting Parties (that is the Twelve member states of the European Community) on the political and economic aspects of security and the closer coordination of their position in this area do not affect Ireland's position of neutrality outside military alliances.

That resolution will be taken in conjunction with the debate on the Single European Act. This declaration and expediency motion deals with that aspect of our positive neutrality as the Labour Party chairman has said, and also deals with the actual legal process that will be set in place if this motion is carried. In other words, this is an expediency motion and if it passes through this House — which I hope it will — will automatically go to the Dáil for consideration and if passed by them, a formal process will set up an Oireachtas joint committee on foreign policy.

Senator Higgins talked about the Labour Party's position on the question of neutrality. It cannot be denied, that we have held a very strong view on this matter over a longer period than any other political party and we are very proud of that. That has been reaffirmed quite recently by our present party Leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, at a meeting of the Socialist International Group in Portugal. We are responsible for this resolution in both the Dáil and Seanad and are anxious to reaffirm our position on positive neutrality. I agree with Senator Higgins that, if it is possible to frame a suitable wording that could be put with all-party agreement in a referendum, once and for all the position on neutrality should be enshrined in our Constitution. We would certainly favour that course of action if it is possible legally to have proper wording that could be put to the people. To avoid additional expense, it could be put to the people on a general election day so that there would be no ambiguity about our views or our methods in approaching this problem.

Our attitude towards neutrality is included in the first paragraph of this Private Members' Motion. I am rather disappointed that, unfortunately, in an area in which I thought we could have agreement, an amendment has been tabled by my colleague, the Leader of the House.

Not in my capacity as Leader of the House.

His name and my name appear on the motion for next week and his name and mine appear on other resolutions in different capacities in the House, but it is a pity that we differ on the strategy to be adopted on this issue. The Leader of the House, in his capacity as a member of the Fine Gael group, is entitled to put down an amendment, which he has done, and no doubt he will explain in his contribution why he feels his procedure is better than ours.

Our reason for going about it this way is that it is an expediency motion and, as such, would have an effect in the other House. It would carry on into the other House and come back formally to set up the actual procedure. I hope it is not seen by the Department of Foreign Affairs as anything but supportive of developing a policy on the many differing areas of foreign policy. We are a neutral country. We are non-aligned and in many ways we are a very influential small country in the area of foreign policy. We play a specific role within the Community and we hope that the structure we are suggesting will develop a policy which will be implemented within the Community. We have a specific all-party policy which has been followed in the UN from the date of our joining the United Nations to which we have all subscribed. We hope this joint committee will be a development process for the continuation of our foreign policy input into the United Nations.

We also have the Inter-Parliamentary Union which annually sends delegates representing the Parliament — not the Government — to meetings throughout the world at which we are expected to contribute on areas dealing with foreign policy. We have to depend on support and information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and I want to commend them for that. I have often had the opportunity to speak on behalf of Irish delegations abroad and have had nothing but co-operation from the Department of Foreign Affairs in trying to formulate a position for an all-party group. We are suggesting that it should be done in a more formal way and we hope the Department will see this as being supportive of developing such a programme. We are suggesting that these formal structures should be welcomed by the Department and, indeed, by any Government.

This committee should represent all parties in each House and that representation should be commensurate with the numerical strength of parties within the Houses. If we follow that through to its logical conclusion any Government of the day would have a majority on the Oireachtas joint committee and could influence it, if they so wished. The Department of Foreign Affairs could benefit and would have a consensus from differing political affiliations within the Houses of the Oireachtas to help them formulate a policy that would have widespread support from the people.

If this course had been followed in the Single European Act a great deal of controversy would not have arisen. Much of the controversy arose because people did not fully understand the implications of the Single European Act. If this process had been followed it is possible that some of the worries and fears of the people, the trade union movement, the Irish sovereignty movement and other interested people who have been sending us reams of information, as well as the Council of the European Movement, would not have arisen. When the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities attempted to approach the problem of the Single European Act they had to consider whether their terms of reference allowed them to discuss it. In section 6, on page 3 of their report when the question of discussing the Single European Act arose, the joint committee considered whether the subject came within their terms of reference.

A similar situation arose before when they were considering the European Parliament's draft treaty establishing the European Union or the Spinelli Treaty as it was called. Because these two items had been discussed within the context of the Community, they felt they had a right to discuss it, but they immediately questioned whether they had any position which they could have taken on the Single European Act. If there had been a specific foreign policy committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas there would have been an immediate forum in which the discussion we all wished to take place on the Single European Act could have taken place. This would have been of benefit to those who have been promoting our position in Europe. I want to congratulate Senator Dooge in the efforts he made to try to ensure that the Single European Act would reflect Ireland's interests. We had an opportunity in this House to discuss it in the past and I think most of us commended him for the supreme effort he put into it. It is only when it will be explained properly to people that they will fully understand the kind of work he put into it and the reservations he expressed on behalf of all of us, particularly in the area of neutrality. We have had to do the same thing in the Socialist group, many of whose members are members of NATO. Any common manifesto we have implemented with them has always had a sort of caveat that because of our neutrality, the Irish position had to be reserved on issues which were outside the concept of the European Community.

I agree with Senator Higgins that in most democratic parliaments in the world some formal structure is there to deal with foreign affairs and I think it would be a welcome development if we could achieve a consensus on it. However let us look at the US congressional committee system in which members of the Executive of the United States are required in a public way now to be accountable for their actions in relation to foreign affairs and to their foreign policy. There is the incident which has now been described as a possible illegal action in relation to Iran and the movement of funds arising from that illegal transfer of arms to Iran, transferred for the overthrow of another Government. If the United States did not have some sort of formula by which they could ask even the Executive to be responsible publicly, you could imagine the dilemma that the ordinary public in America would be faced with. No action could be taken against either a President, or people acting on his behalf or with his agreement or even without his knowledge.

I am not suggesting for a moment that anybody in our Department of Foreign Affairs will do things like that. However, we are anxious that a procedure be devised to allow us to discuss foreign policy and to send for documents or people with whom the committee might like to have discussions. Sittings could be held in camera if the matters under discussion were top secret. When a request is made to an Oireachtas Joint Committee to treat matters in a confidential way, generally speaking such a request is granted. I would not have any worry about this question whatsoever, especially in the area of foreign policy, when what we are doing is generally something all of us can be proud of in whatever forum the Irish nation is represented.

Our performance in the area of foreign policy and our condemnation generally of acts of violence throughout the world is a record of which we can be proud. I think it is appropriate that Members of the Oireachtas would have an input into that process. As I say, there would always be a Government majority and if the Minister or the Government felt strongly enough about a matter, that particular view would prevail. Governments change but usually a foreign policy that has been developed on behalf of the country stands on the record, whether in the UN or in the Community. It is important that there would be an all-party, across the board input into a sensitive area like foreign policy. I hope the House when it has heard all the points of view will agree to the motion as set out. There may be reservations about the actual legal structures, but we felt it was appropriate to do it in this way. It means it will automatically go to the other House for discussion and I hope it will receive the support of all parties of the other House.

Perhaps when the Leader of the House hears the case from all sides he may be prepared in his private capacity to withdraw his amendment. I welcome the Minister of State and hope that he will have an opportunity of responding from his Department's point of view to what the Labour Party are trying to do in this matter.

I move amendment No.1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Seanad Éireann is of the opinion that consideration be given to the establishment of a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in order to promote as wide a consensus as possible on all matters of Foreign Policy and that informal all-party discussions be initiated to discuss the terms of reference, the structure and the procedures of the proposed Committee on Foreign Affairs."

The purpose of the amendment is to broaden the discussion and to make sure that there is a full discussion of this extremely important matter before we do proceed to establish any structures. I would make it quite clear that I am not moving this amendment as Leader of the House, I am not moving it as leader of the Fine Gael Group. I am moving it as the spokesman for the Fine Gael group on foreign affairs and it is seconded by the Fine Gael spokesman on European affairs. I do not want any additional weight to be added to my words other than the logic of my argument.

There are several questions raised by this motion. The first one is, should there be a committee on foreign affairs in this House? I do not think anyone who knows the interest I have taken in foreign affairs over the past years can doubt that I would agree wholeheartedly that there should be a committee on foreign affairs. Senator M. Higgins said there are many such committees and the spectrum ran from Denmark to the UK. If we look perhaps at the two ends of that spectrum, I do not think that we find a good model.

What does the committee on foreign affairs in the UK deal with? It has dealt, as far as I know, with three or four matters since its inception some years ago: the constitutional problem of Canada and the invasion of Grenada. Since they are part of the Commonwealth, it is virtually a Commonwealth committee. It is not a committee on foreign affairs. In regard to Denmark, they do not just have one committee on foreign affairs, they have three committees on foreign affairs and it seemed to me that Senator Michael Higgins was endeavouring to hold up Denmark as a better example to us. Let us look at the record of Denmark.

I said I would stop short of the Danish example.

You would need to stop a good deal short of the Danish example. Danish negotiators in the EC have been stultified by the excessive powers of the Committee of the Danish Parliament or rather one of the three committees. They have a committee on foreign policy, they have a committee on foreign relations and they have a committee on the European Community. This committee on the European Community has terms of reference that ensure that the negotiating position that Denmark takes up in the EC has to be approved of by that committee before it starts. I want to say that I think Denmark has lost in the past ten years by that position. Denmark has lost by the rigidity that its committee structure imposes upon it. I do not think this is a good model to follow.

When this motion was put down I went to the trouble of looking at what was the position in regard not only to our fellow-members of the Community but in regard to Europe generally. This matter was discussed at the Conference of European Speakers held in Copenhagen in 1984 and Dr. Steerkamp, who was a rapporteur on the relations between Parliament and foreign policy made the following remark in his introduction of his report and I think it is highly relevant to what we are discussing today. I quote from Dr. Steerkamp on page 94 of the report to the Copenhagen Conference.

First in the field of foreign policies the relationship between Government and Parliament should be one of delegated confidence and not of organised distrust.

I think Senator Michael Higgins does not hold the position of full confidence in the Government at the moment but I suggest that is no reason why he should go right over to a position of organised distrust. I fear that, in fact, this motion is very close to organised distrust of the Minister of the day and of those who assist him in the carrying out of his duties.

That is unfair.

The committees which have been set up by Parliaments are of various types. Many of the committees — including the foreign policy committees — that exist in other countries exist because all legislation goes through committees before going into a plenary on the floor of the House. Many of these committees, certainly in their foundation, were founded as legislative committees. They exist also for the interchange of information. They exist for the preparation of special reports as do our own committees. Some committees are set up for the purpose of investigation when things go wrong.

Senator Michael Higgins has laid a great emphasis on section 6 of his motion, on the unlimited power to send for persons, papers and records. That is the hallmark of an investigative committee, not of an informative committee, not of a legislative committee, not of a committee which is attempting to reach a position of trust between a Parliament and Government. In that, the motion goes too far.

In regard to the amendment excluding all the words in section 1, the attempt in the amendment was to be as economical of words as possible. Certainly to ignore section 1 of the report is not to say that one disagrees either with the principle of neutrality or with the principle of having a development strategy. I think there has to be a good deal of discussion. I agree with Senator Michael Higgins that we should have been having this discussion. We should have discussed it before now. We in this House have discussed foreign affairs to a greater extent during the past 12 months or so than they have not been discussed in either House for many a year. We have to decide what should be the proper procedures because this is an extremely delicate situation. If we move too quickly with an expediency motion, if we move to quickly to set up a committee with these powers, we may find ourselves in fact not achieving the objective which we all have.

I would like to quote from the report of Dr. Steerkamp who, having talked about the position in the Netherlands, then talked about the general problems that arise in this area. I am quoting now from page 132 of this report where he is talking about the influence of Parliament on foreign policy. He said:

"...for what may happen is that a government is forced by Parliament to assume a certain starting-point in negotiations which from the beginning does not stand a chance. Parliament may then have exerted a significant influence on foreign policy, but if the actual effect of this policy is reduced to next to nothing, one might wonder whether it has thus not missed the mark. If Parliament wishes to exert effective influence on foreign policy it will have to take into account the above-sketched special conditions to be observed when formulating that policy."

Later on page 133 this rapporteur who is President of the First Chamber of the Parliament of the Netherlands — that being the Chamber that corresponds to this House in their system — says:

Parliament will gain no good by providing the government with a rigid mandate for negotiations. The government's hands are then tied beforehand, and it will not be able to help to reach a decision which in such circumstances is usually only feasible by giving and taking compromises.

I think we need a committee on foreign affairs which will establish the principles on which there can be no compromise. It should be quite easy for the parties in this Parliament to do that. I do not believe that the committee which is the subject of an expediency motion here tonight is the form of the committee to accomplish that. I believe that the powers that have been given to it are excessive. I am forced to react to this proposition here in public, on my feet. I am required because this motion is put down here in Private Members' Time to discuss this in public. I would far rather have had informal discussions among all the groups before we came together. Indeed that always has been my attitude to foreign affairs.

Senator Michael Higgins will remember that when I had responsibility for foreign affairs, on one particular occasion I went to a good deal of trouble to ensure that in regard to the question of EI Salvador that there would not be three motions in Dáil Éireann on the question but that the parties should come together so that we could have a united position on it.

It was a high point in foreign policy.

I thank you for the compliment. It may be that the example has not been followed to the extent to which it should. I am a believer in this approach. I feel the motion goes too far. It is as simple as that. I can sit down with Senator Michael Higgins, Senator Lanigan and other Members of this House, the Minister of State or the Minister and we would have an extremely large measure of agreement. Foreign policy must allow for an input from Parliament, but it also must allow for the fact that the main responsibility is the Minister's.

This motion seems to take the attitude that there is no future for diplomacy. That remark was made by Bismark on the outbreak of the Crimean War. Indeed if we do in our own age have an outbreak of war it may well be it would then be correct to say there would be no future for diplomacy. I think there is a future for diplomacy. I think there is a future for delegated confidence in Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Ministers of State for Foreign Affairs. I think delegated confidence can only and properly be given if there is a good deal of exchange of information.

My experience has been — before I was Minister for Foreign Affairs and after — that the Department of Foreign Affairs are remarkably open in the manner in which they are prepared to brief Members of the Oireachtas.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Dooge has one minute.

Indeed, Senator Dooge hardly requires that one minute. Senator Dooge wishes to conclude by saying that I believe we should set up a committee on foreign policy that will lead to an improvement in the delegated confidence which we have in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department. I do not believe the motion that is being put before us tonight will do that and I think we have a duty — all of us have a duty — to seek how that may best be done.

In seconding the amendment so clearly proposed in that forceful speech from my colleague, Senator Dooge, I do so for the reasons which have been very clearly outlined.

I have long held the view that this House was an ideal place in which to have a committee specialising in foreign affairs and foreign policy. In 1979 many of our colleagues here will recall that I established and ad hoc sub-committee specifically dealing with foreign affairs which had the honour and the benefit of receiving and hearing a number of distinguished ambassadors and foreign statesmen who visited this country to speak with us and apprise us of various aspects of foreign policy, not only in Europe but in the world in general. It is all the more desirable now, having regard to the fact that since joining the EC Ireland is more and more dependent on the development of foreign policies in the EC and the new situation that creates for us. I share the view that the motion as proposed by my friends in the Labour Party is perhaps a little bit too strong. Indeed, it would constitute one of the strongest committees in the House. I doubt that we need that kind of strength in this area which is now of such importance to this country.

In 1975 I had the honour serving as vice-chairman of a small five man sub-committee at the bureau of the European Parliament. We were charged with examining and reporting on the working conditions of the then proposed directly elected European Parliament. In the course of our studies we looked at the systems in the US, Canada, Switzerland the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the USSR. While we were not looking at committee systems in particular, it was clear that there was an advantage in Parliaments where committees covered delicate areas such as foreign affairs and European affairs. It was quite clear also that in countries where the committee system had a sound grip the Department of Foreign Affairs had very little leeway when it came to negotiating for and on behalf of their respective countries. That, I think, breeds intransigence at international level.

From my constant contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs I know they are more than willing to provide Members of the Oireachtas with briefing material at all levels. There is an excellent working relationship between the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Minister and the Minister of State and the individual Members of the Houses. We appreciate the fact that so much information and statistics are made available to us. I am glad members of the joint committee had the opportunity over the past couple of years — it is unfortuante that it was only over the past couple of years — to visit projects grant-aided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

This gives Members of the Oireachtas an opportunity to see for themselves the problems the development countries must face. It is not possible to have that appreciation without having firsthand knowledge, without seeing on the ground the difficulties which masses of people in the developing countries must face. It is important that we should have in the Oireachtas a strong committee with the members dedicated not just to recognising the problems of developing countries and trying to appreciate their difficulties, but able to visit them and come back with a commitment to do something very tangible about those problems. The progress we have made under successive Governments — but none better than the present — must continue.

I share Senator Dooge's views that this matter is of extreme importance. Therefore, it is important that we should have a committee that will work. In order to achieve that there should be the widest negotiations on formulating and setting up this committee. For that reason I ask the House to accept that Seanad Éireann is of the opinion that consideration be given to the establishment of a joint committee on foreign affairs in order to promote as wide a consensus as possible on all matters of foreign policy and that informal all-party discussions be initiated to discuss the terms of reference, the structure and procedures of the proposed committee on foreign affairs. This is a necessary first step to get this off the ground. At no other time in the history of the State have we been so dependent on the policies of other countries. We never had such an input into international affairs as we have now and as exercised by the Government with style and imagination. The input from Ireland has been second to none, more especially in the EC.

When I first came into this House in the sixties the then Minister for Foreign Affairs had made a dynamic impression on the United Nations. The work undertaken there by successive Ministers, especially by the late Mr. Frank Aiken, put this country firmly on the map. We have no vested interests in the super powers or the power blocs. The words and speeches of Irish Ministers are listened to with respect because of the basis from which they are delivered. I formally second the amendment as proposed by my colleague, Senator Dooge.

I suppose I could say it is unusual to listen to a debate between the two Government parties as to where they should be going in relation to foreign policy.

Open Government.

Open Government it may be. I am privileged to be in on this discussion between the two parties. I am not too sure of the nuances involved in the Leader of the House not addressing us as the Leader of the House but as a member of the Fine Gael Party. He is seconded by a Senator from the Fine Gael Party not on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, but as as member of the foreign relations committee of the Fine Gael Party.


So I presume that the exchanges are coming from the far side to try to hold me to within my 15 minutes. We are discussing foreign policy and the differences between the two parties seem to be of minimal importance. The motion before us is very narrow in one sense. We will be discussing the question of neutrality next week within the ambit of the Single European Act, and also demilitarisation, development of strategy and various other items mentioned in this motion. The Leader of the House, acting not on behalf of the Government but on his own behalf, put down an amendment which is very wide-ranging. It can involve any aspect of foreign policy. I suggest that we should sit down, in an informal manner, and discuss whether we should have this committee. Since the debate is between the two Coalition parties I will react to certain things that have been said. If we look at the Order Paper it has to be said that——

I said I was hoping for generous support.

——there are a number of items dealing with foreign affairs and there is obviously a need for the debate on foreign affairs to be brought within the ambit of one committee rather than as is the case today. On the Order Paper today there are motions on: Developing Countries: Apartheid and Development in Southern Africa; Legislation of the European Communities; Cereals; Stock Exchange Regulations; Co-operation with Developing Countries; Report on visit to Zambia, the Sudan and Ethiopa. All those motions are obviously matters which are of interest to the Department of Foreign Affairs and should be of interest to the proposed committee that might be set up.

Various people have said here this evening that they are very satisfied with the attitude of the Department of Foreign Affairs towards people going abroad and in the briefing they give. On occasions I have found that briefings from the Department of Foreign Affairs, before going on a visit abroad, were not as comprehensive as they should be, but were very narrow. At all times I found embassies, consuls and embassy staffs abroad very much au fait with the situation in the countries in which they are operating. It may be that sometimes what they find on the ground is not relayed back to a particular desk in Iveagh House. I would put in a caveat before giving the Department of Foreign Affairs full credit for being up to date with the situation on the ground. I do not think they are, but the embassies, consuls, ambassadors and staffs, whether in the political field or in the industrial commercial field, are at all times very constructive in their attitude towards the problems that confront them. They have been very helpful to visiting members of the Oireachtas and I give them full credit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs are elitist in a sense. They do not play a major part in internal politics in Ireland. When legislators go abroad there is the feeling that they are going on junkets. Nevertheless, much of what happens in Ireland can be dictated from abroad. More and more we are being conditioned by foreign affairs policies of other Governments. It is necessary for us to look at the operations of the Department of Foreign Affairs in depth. We must look at our attitude towards them and we must have a better means of communication vis-á-vis the Department and the Members of the Oireachtas.

It is unfortunate that on a day on which a soldier of the Irish Army was buried in Athlone this matter should be discussed. We send the condolences of the House to the widow of Private O'Brien who was killed in the Lebanon and to the Army, the Chief of Staff, and the Minister for Defence on this sad occasion. We are debating foreign affairs and there was an intrusion, which I think was unfortunate by the Minister for Defence into the situation regarding our presence in the Lebanon. It was suggested that, after looking at the situation on the ground over the next few days, he will come back and will advise the Government on what we should do regarding our presence in the Lebanon or our withdrawal from the Lebanon. I feel that is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Senator is moving very far away from the motion.

If the proposers of the motion can cite examples in the motion, I should be able to cite examples in my response to the motion. Government policy on our involvement in the Lebanon should be left to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is a political decision. It is not a matter for the Department of Defence or the Minister for Defence. I suggest in relation to foreign affairs that no cognisance should be taken of any suggestion by the Minister for Defence that we may pull out of the Lebanon for any reason. There is no doubt in my mind, or in the mind of any member of the Army to whom I have spoken, that irrespective of the heavy losses we have suffered in that area we are needed to fulfil a peacekeeping role there. I suggest that the Minister, Deputy O'Toole, should have a look at the situation on the ground and report back to the Government but not make suggestions as to what we might or might not do.

We are dealing with the area of foreign affairs at a time when nobody can believe the words of the Department of Foreign Affairs of any major country. The British Government are in total disarray because of their activities in the area of foreign affairs. They have proved that they are quite willing and capable of getting involved in the internal politics of this country. They have got involved in the internal politics of Nicaragua and El Salvador. They have got involved in the Middle East conflict in terms of their involvement through Israel with Iran. They have got involved in many conflicts. It is vitally important——

I do not think that arises.

——that we take up a position on foreign affairs. When mention is made of the setting up of committees I have often felt I would like to query our representatives in the United Nations when we find that on issues which are of major world importance it seems that we sit on the fence too often and do not vote. Neutrality is not about not voting. Neutrality is something which is quite positive and mention has been made of positive neutrality.

The Senator is moving away from the motion.

Neutrality is mentioned quite specifically in the motion so I am speaking to the motion. The question of our neutrality is something that we should not be ashamed of. Because of our positive neutral stand in the world, we have been able to have a bigger influence in world affairs than our size or our population should grant us. Senator Higgins mentioned that we should be aiming at a world made safe against war. There is no way I can see that we can make the world safe against war. We cannot be protected from war either. The situation in the world at present would allow us, as a small country, to have a positive place in world peacekeeping. We have never been involved in colonialism. We have never been involved in any war of attrition. We have never been involved in anything except in our own attempts to have a Thirty-two county State provided here. We have fought against an oppressor which was the biggest colonial power in the world at one stage.

Mention was made in the Dáil yesterday of the difference between neutality and sham neutrality. I do not think there is such a thing as sham neutrality. We are either neutral or not neutral. I do not consider neutrality to be sitting on the fence. At all times we must take up positive neutral positions. We must fight against oppression and we must be seen to fight against oppression wherever the oppression comes from. I do not want to become part of any power bloc. I do not want to become part of a power bloc which is associated with the East. I do not want to become part of a power bloc which is associated with the West.

The Senator has four minutes left and I would like if he would get to the motion for the four minutes.

I do not want to be protected by a power bloc from the East. I do not want to be protected by a power bloc from the West. Mention was made of open congressional committees in the United States. I sat in on one of these open committees when the question of extradition was being debated last year in the United States and I thought that it was the biggest sham I ever sat in on. It was a public meeting gone wrong. Every member, whether they were Congressmen or Senators, was speaking to their own constituencies and were not speaking to the actual extradition Bill. I can remember one particular quote, even though everybody at the time suggested that no extradition Bill would be brought in. One Senator said he could imagine how it came about. Maggie was sitting down one night with Ronnie. After having a nice meal Maggie said to Ronnie: "I want a `B' from you Ronnie." Ronnie asked what was that. She said: "I want an extradition Bill to be brought in. In actual fact Maggie got her `B'. She got her extradition Bill. Unfortunately——

We will have that Bill next week.

Foreign policy has been dictated in the European countries to a large extent by the overwhelming fear that other people have had of Margaret Thatcher. Because she has been so much in Ronald Reagan's pocket, we have not played as strong a part in European foreign policy as is necesary. The situation regarding the setting up of the committee——

The Senator has two minutes left and perhaps he would keep to the motion even for the two minutes.

I am not sure where we stand on this question of delegated confidence or organised mistrust. I distrust any motion brought in here in the names of one or other of the Coalition parties which is not supported by the other. It would appear to me that, basically, what we are not talking about here is the setting up of a committee which will have positive and worth while results. That is basically the conflict between the two parties in Coalition. That does not mean we should not have a further look at the relationship between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Houses of the Oireachtas. In conclusion, I suggest that——

Which side is the Senator on?

I am not supposed to suggest which side I am. I am speaking to the motion before us. There is a suggestion that Parliament should influence foreign policy. I was not too sure what is meant by that. Parliament should determine foreign policy. I do not think we should accept what comes from the Department of Foreign Affairs. We should tell the Department of Foreign Affairs where we should be going in terms of our policy. That does not mean we react on an ad hoc basis from day to day in regard to items which might come up. Is there a future for diplomacy? I do not trust diplomats. Diplomats never tell the truth. Diplomats are people who react to statements made by other people. Diplomats are people who have not got a place in the real world and they are sent out because they can listen. They can prevaricate and they are plausible. I am not suggesting that Senator Dooge in his capacity as a diplomat was plausible or anything else.

I hope I was at least that.

Is there a future for delegated confidence? I think that there is. In regard to the motion I have said all I want to say.

That was nothing.

I assume I am getting the same indulgence to follow Sentor Lanigan around the world and back again. His last comments were interesting in so far as he said he does not trust diplomats. The position in my party has always been that we prefer to trust diplomats than generals. It is far safer and much more democratic.

I second the proposal Senator Lanigan made in relation to the tragic death of Private O'Brien. It is a disgraceful state of affairs that we have killing by Israeli surrogates, a State with which we have friendly relations. Quite recently we entertained its President. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has made a protest about the killing. It is disgraceful that the Israeli's continue to make Irish troops targets, using surrogates.

Senator Lanigan referred to the amendment put down by Senator Dooge in whatever capacity. Either as Leader of the House, as spokesperson for Fine Gael or as a former Minister for Foreign Affairs. Somebody remarked this evening that the amendment would do justice to Sir Humphrey. It is a classic piece of draftsmanship. Senator Lanigan can escape from that classic Fianna Fáil dilemma of being presented with two options and wanting to do nothing. In this case he can decide. Senator Lanigan expressed support for Senator Higgins's motion. By passing this Labour Party motion we would have a foreign affairs committee with substantial power and sharp teeth. There should not be a dilemma. The problem probably would be to convince Deputy Gerry Collins that it would be in his interest as well as that of the country. Then we might see Fianna Fáil voting on this rather than sitting in their seats.

We have a number of joint committees. When they were set up by the Leader of the House at the time — Deputy John Bruton was the person who initiated such committees — it was felt that they would contribute enormously to the work of Parliament and to the development of policy. I find it quite extraordinary that in an area of foreign affairs some people feel such a committee is not necessary. It is interesting to note the question of the arms to Iran that somebody who negotiated on the American side preferred to have a passport-forged or not — which purported to come from this country. That gives an indication of the status afforded to people from the Irish Republic. It is recognised throughout the world that this country has no colonial past. It wishes no nation ill and it has always been involved in trying, in so far as it could, to strengthen international peace and in fighting for international justice. It is worth nothing that the Irish passport is such a badge and we should be proud of it.

There is the point by Senator Lanigan in relation, for instance, to the United Nations. The only forum to which our diplomats there are answerable to, presumably, would be the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Iveagh House. Ireland, under Frank Aiken at the United Nations, had a positive and well-stamped-out position in relation to nuclear war and to nuclear weapons. Over the years that position has been eroded. We are now one of a large number of countries in the United Nations. For some of those reasons a joint committee of the Houses would have a dynamic role to play in evolving Irish foreign policy. The fears that Senator Dooge expressed——

The Senator is on borrowed time now.

I suppose the whole Government are on borrowed time now.

Debate adjourned.