When the people of Catalonia cast their votes on independence two years ago, they were met by riot police. These were extraordinary scenes not only for the people of the region but for all of Europe. The brutality meted out by the riot police on behalf of the Spanish state was as unnecessary as it was horrific. Police seized ballot boxes and used batons and rubber bullets to remove voters from polling stations and injured hundreds of people. Election observers, including elected representatives from Ireland, witnessed at first hand this state brutality against young and old who simply wanted to cast their votes.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights articulates the right to free and fair elections as a fundamental right for all people. It states, "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government". That is the central proposition. Catalan leaders were imprisoned this week. They are elected representatives of their people. The referendum on independence in October 2017 should have been a triumph for democracy, no matter the result, but instead it became a battering ram to close down the call for independence and an opportunity to imprison or exile elected representatives who support independence. I am sure that, like me, the Taoiseach would condemn these actions. Nine representatives have now received lengthy prison sentences and are suspended from public office. By pursuing this course of action, the Spanish Government is undermining not only the stability of Catalonia, but also the values of the European Union itself.
Therefore, at the European Council summit tomorrow there must be an appropriate and proportionate response, one that is not simply about palming the prison sentences off as an internal matter for Spain. This is an issue that cuts to the core of democratic values right across the European Union, a union based on the rule of law, respect for democracy and respect for the right of the peoples of Europe to self-determination. I ask the Taoiseach to raise this issue tomorrow and to bring a very clear message on behalf of the Irish people that the behaviour of the Spanish state is not acceptable and that we stand with all peoples in defence of their right to free and fair elections and, crucially, their right to self-determination.