Smith on @FiannaFailparty’s continuing commitment to and support for #Palestine

Brendan Smith TD on Fianna Fail’s continuing commitment to and support for Palestine during a Private Members Debate Motion in Dail Eireann on Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Brendan Smith TD in Dáil Éireann

Brendan Smith TD in Dáil Éireann

Deputy Brendan Smith: On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the need for the Government to recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders. We will be supporting this motion. I am glad that Deputies on all sides of the House are supportive of this proposal. We believe this House must send out a strong message in one voice on behalf of the Irish people that we stand with the people of Palestine and their right to self-determination.

We acknowledge that this motion largely reflects what happened in Seanad Éireann on 22 October last. When a motion supporting the recognition of the state of Palestine – it called “on the Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine and do everything it can at an international level to help to secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – was carried unanimously on that historic occasion, it was an indication of the strong democratic support in Ireland for such recognition. It reflected the strong desire in this country for a sustainable and secure settlement of the conflict in the Middle East, for peace for Israelis and Palestinians in their own states, and for equality, fairness and justice in the settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Fianna Fáil has been at the vanguard in supporting a two-state solution in the Middle East for a number of decades. Fianna Fáil in government led Ireland to become the first EU member state to declare that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based on a fully sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and coexisting with Israel. That policy position was launched in 1980 by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Brian Lenihan senior, who said that the Palestinian people “had a right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State in Palestine”.

The motion passed by Seanad Éireann shows that we are moving further in this regard. We now believe the time is right for the Government to fully recognise Palestine as a sovereign, independent state. We have called on the Government to follow the lead of the French Republic’s Parliament, Sweden and the UK House of Commons by recognising the state of Palestine. Our rationale in this regard stems from a frustration with the lack of progress in advancing the two-state solution in recent years. That is a message that has come from all speakers here tonight.

The recent war in Gaza and the unwillingness of the Israeli Government to engage in meaningful and constructive negotiations with the Palestinians have resulted in a mind shift across the world regarding how best to approach the conflict in the Middle East. We acknowledge that recognition by itself cannot end the occupation. Only Israel can do this. If Ireland and other EU states recognise Palestine, it could represent an important step towards unlocking negotiations. The recognition of Palestine would be anti-occupation, rather than anti-Israel. Given that Ireland already recognises the state of Israel, the recognition of Palestine would help to create a parity of status.

Some 20 years after the Oslo Accords, the prospect of achieving a two-state solution appear to be more remote than ever. That fact should concern all Members of this House. It appears to any objective observer that Israel has done everything it can to undermine the chances of achieving such an outcome. We acknowledge that there have been many initiatives allowing for talks on peace, but they have continuously failed with the result that Israel has intensified its illegal occupation of Palestine. The illegal settlements on the West Bank have trebled in size as Israel has seized more Palestinian land and planted Israeli settlers on it. Israel has erected a huge separation barrier and implemented what must called an apartheid regime on the West Bank that denies Palestinians the basic human rights their Israeli counterparts take for granted. Such actions are not those of an Israeli state that is preparing for a two-state solution. Such actions will not inspire and consolidate peace.

This summer, we witnessed Israel’s third devastating assault in six years on the people of Gaza. Any hope the Gaza ceasefire might lead to meaningful peace negotiations was quickly dashed when, within one week of agreeing to it, Israel announced more settlements on the West Bank. This deeply provocative move fundamentally undermined any prospect of peace.

As my colleague, Senator Power, outlined in the Seanad, these actions represented a deeply cynical, long-term game aimed at destroying any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. Unfortunately, these actions have been facilitated by a largely passive international community, including the EU, which has stood by as Israel has wilfully violated international law and ignored countless UN resolutions. As things stand, Israel has no incentive to engage in meaningful negotiations. It has successfully used its military might time and again to ensure it holds all the cards. Without wider recognition of the Palestinian state, representatives of Palestine have been in a weaker position at the negotiating table. It is time to redress this balance by joining Sweden and other EU member states in recognising Palestine and thereby making it clear that statehood is a right of the Palestinian people, rather than an Israeli bargaining chip to be played in further negotiations which are doomed to fail. The recognition of the state of Palestine would increase pressure on Israel to pursue a genuine peace process that has a real prospect of delivering peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

Fianna Fáil has always respected and celebrated the establishment and progress of the state of Israel. We have never questioned the right of the Israeli people to exercise their right to self-determination and self-defence. Our support of this motion and our tabling of the motion in the Seanad in October should not be seen as a slight against Israel or its people. Like any other nation, Israel has a duty to abide by internationally accepted standards of human rights, proportionality and responsibility.

The Palestinian authorities must act in a responsible fashion in their interactions with Israel. They should condemn the recent lone wolf attacks carried out in Jerusalem and take action to prevent such attacks in the future. Ireland has traditionally and rightly been vocal in its support for the Palestinian people and proactive in lobbying on their behalf internationally. We do this because we understand what it is like to be a nation without a voice. We understand the difficulties of bargaining with a stronger power. We understand conflict between peoples. The lessons of our experience should inform our efforts to secure full recognition for the Palestinian state and deliver a viable two-state solution to settle the conflict.

We have the opportunity to outline our position now instead of seeking to hide behind the EU’s lack of consensus on this matter. Sweden is not hiding behind the lack of an EU Common Position or accepting the Israeli line that the recognition of Palestine is something in Israel’s gift in future negotiations. Nor should we. In supporting this motion and taking this step to help build a lasting and just peace in the region based on human rights and respect for international law, we are sending a clear message on behalf of all Irish people. We should take this step and join the many others in the international community who want a lasting peace in the Middle East. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to support the recognition of the state of Palestine. We should also use all other international fora available to us to encourage other states to make the same moves.

The Acting Chairman will recall how the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, stated his belief at the last meeting of our foreign affairs committee that the EU had to take a more proactive approach in seeking a peace settlement. I hope that the Minister strongly puts to the European Council the message that, along with other members of the international community, the EU has a binding and moral duty to ensure basic justice and equality for a people who have been downtrodden for many decades.

I recall reading some essays on the work and political life of one of Deputy O’Dowd’s predecessors in Louth, Frank Aiken, who served for many years as Minister for External Affairs and was one of Fianna Fáil’s founding members. During his time at the UN in the 1940s and 1950s, he often spoke at length about the need for justice and equality for everyone in the Middle East. Many years later, we are speaking about the same subject. Unfortunately, there has been no progress for the Palestinian people.


20th Anniversary of IRA Ceasefire should act as Impetus for Progress : Govt is failing to engage in seeking solution to Northern Talks

Government Failing to Engage in Seeking Solution to Northern Talks – FF

20th Anniversary of IRA Ceasefire should act as Impetus for Progress

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brendan Smith TD has stated that the Government has failed to fully engage in seeking to find a solution to the current impasse since the unsuccessful end of the Haass Talks in Northern Ireland at the end of last year. The Government must take a “hands on” approach if this process is to be brought to a successful conclusion. The Irish and British Governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement have an obligation to ensure the successful implementation of the commitments of that internationally binding Agreement.

Deputy Smith stated: “This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the announcement of the IRA ceasefire. This week, we recalled the great leadership shown by the late Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and the risks he was willing to take to achieve peace when in Office.”

“It is time for this Government to refocus its efforts in the North and push for further progress in completing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and finally agreeing the Haass proposals”.

“There is an opportunity now to complete the work that was begun by Dr Richard Haass and Professor Megan Greene in finalising proposals to deal with the very important matters of parades, flags, identity issues and the past. The Government needs to take a more proactive approach to Northern Ireland. Since this Government took office we have seen a continuous drift in meaningful engagement between the Northern Executive, the British Government and the Government here. Put simply, it appears the North has not been a priority for this Government”.

“As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, any time we have made substantial progress on North-South development, the agenda was driven by the two Governments. That commitment and work gave us the Downing Street Declaration, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. I genuinely believe that without the active and leading role being played by both Governments, we will not see the kind of progress that needs to be made for the sake of all of the people on this island”.

“There are other important issues within the remit of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive that need to be progressed without further delay and political parties holding executive office have to represent the interests of all the community and not just their own political base. Unfortunately we have witnessed missed opportunities due to political posturing and the two major parties in the Assembly, the DUP and Sinn Féin, must honour their responsibilities”.

“The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement will bring additional benefits to all the people of this island and there is an onus on both Governments and the Northern Executive to maximise the potential of further North/South development and also Irish/British relations. The political progress since 1994 must act as a catalyst for further political economic and social development on the island of Ireland”, concluded Deputy Brendan Smith.



Note: This statement was issued on August 30th 2014.

@FiannaFailparty condemns further violence in #Gaza and rising anti-semitism in Europe

Attacks on Gaza

Attacks on Gaza

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brendan Smith TD, has condemned the resumption of violence in Gaza following failed negotiations to extend the original humanitarian ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

Deputy Smith also strongly criticised the large number of rockets which were fired from Gaza towards Israel after a 72-hour ceasefire expired at 8am local time.

“Over the past number of weeks the Fianna Fáil Party have strongly and consistently condemned the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces in their attacks on innocent people in Gaza resulting in huge loss of life and suffering for so many. Fianna Fáil have always advocated for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and a full return to peaceful negotiations with the aim of establishing a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. In recent weeks, the world has witnessed the slaughter of innocent people in Gaza and a new low was reached when UN schools and refugee centres were attacked by Israeli forces.

“There is a need for peace, not a resumption of violence. This is very tragic news coming from Gaza today and begins another period of attacks which will result in the killing of innocent civilians from both sides of the conflict. I condemn in the strongest terms the rockets fired at Israeli targets ending the humanitarian ceasefire which began three days ago.

“The Irish Government and the European Union must seek to influence both Israel and Hamas in exercising restraint. In particular, schools and refugee camps run by the United Nations must not be targeted in any way. The international community must raise its voice in objection to any such attacks by either side in this conflict. Work must also continue by those who can initiate a pathway to peace to build on the discussions already begun in Egypt.

“I along with many Irish citizens will be taking part in anti-war demonstrations across Ireland at the weekend. Ireland has had a long interest in the challenges in the Middle East and has always acted out of experience from our own troubled history and out of an over-riding respect for and belief in human rights for all people across the world. Successive Fianna Fáil Minsters for Foreign Affairs have consistently spoken out in favour of a peaceful, equitable and a fair and lasting settlement in the Middle-East. We have always championed the causes of oppressed countries in the world at the United Nations and in other international fora.

“The world, and in particular Europe, must ensure that the current conflict in the Middle East does not result in any anti-Semitic behaviour occurring in our countries. There have been some very disturbing reports of rising anti-Semitic behaviour in Europe. All right thinking people deplore anti-Semitism. It must not be tolerated in any of its forms in society. Let the message go out from Ireland that we are for peace, human rights and equality in the Middle East. We are not a country engaged in anti-Semitic behaviour and any suggestion of same could only be seen for the outrageous comment that it is.”


This statement was issued on Friday August 8th and also appears on the Fianna Fáil website:

Smith condemns ongoing slaughter of children in Gaza

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Brendan Smith TD has condemned yesterday’s attack in Gaza which resulted in the loss of the lives of eight children and two adults in a playground. The UN’s children’s fund says there is no safe place in Gaza for children, as the death toll from the conflict continues to rise daily.

Deputy Smith commented, “The continued slaughter of children in Gaza is completely unacceptable and inhumane. Any loss of life is deplorable, but the killing of a child is particularly appalling. As the conflict between Gaza and Israel escalates, it is becoming more apparent that innocent civilians and children are accounting for a disproportionate number of the casualties and fatalities.

“The sustained rocket attacks on both sides of the border should be condemned at the highest level, however, the Government here has shown little leadership in this matter, choosing to abstain from a UN Human Rights Council resolution to set up a commission of inquiry into atrocities in Gaza as well as refusing a Dáil debate on the issue.

“There needs to be clear message from the international community that the level of violence being used by Israel against Gaza is disproportionate and should not be tolerated. We have always acknowledged Israel’s right to defend and protect itself, but the level of violence demonstrated in recent weeks, and particularly over the last few days has been excessive.

“I am backing calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, to limit the number of civilian deaths. It is imperative that the situation is not allowed to intensify. Too many innocent lives have already been destroyed in this conflict, and the increasing death toll is unacceptable. Concerted diplomatic efforts must be made to find a resolution to the current situation, and all available mediation and conciliation agencies should be used to bring about a peaceful end to the ongoing atrocities”.


EU ignoring the crisis in Iraq: ethnic cleansing of Christians by #ISIS

EU ignoring Iraqi displacement crisis – Smith

Brendan Smith TD in Dáil Éireann

Brendan Smith TD in Dáil Éireann

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Brendan Smith TD is calling on Minister Charlie Flanagan to prioritise the escalating displacement crisis in Iraq and to move this situation up the European agenda at the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. France has now offered asylum to the thousands of Christians, who have been forced to flee their homes because of the threat from the Islamist jihadists group ISIS.

Deputy Smith commented:

“What is happening in Northern Iraq is appalling. ISIS is engaged in very straightforward, brutal, but largely unreported ethnic cleansing. Northern Iraq was home to one of the oldest Christian communities on earth, with Mosul having been a centre of Christianity for almost 2,000 years. Today, under death threats, the Christian community has fled in what has been described as the largest mass flight of Christians in the Middle East since the Armenian massacres and the expulsions of Christians from Turkey after the First World War.

Before the allied invasion in 2003 there were around 1 million Christians living in Iraq. Almost three quarters have left following the onset of the civil war and targeted attacks by jihadist terrorists.

Deputy Smith continued:

“Fianna Fáil has raised this issue in the Dáil with the former Tánaiste, but we have been deeply disappointed by the Government’s apparent disinterest in what is happening. Sectarian displacement on this scale should be a cause for much greater concern for policy makers across Europe than it has been to date – I would like to see Ireland taking a lead role in moving this situation further up the agenda at a European level.

“There are many very difficult conflicts and legitimate demands on international attention at the moment; however we need to be careful that this massacre, which is truly historic in scale, does not simply pass unnoticed and unchallenged. Minister Flanagan has an opportunity in his new role to shine a light on the situation in Iraq, and I would urge him to raise the issue with his European counterparts at their next meeting”.


Ireland’s Abstention on Gaza Vote at UN is a: ‘Dereliction of Proud History in Foreign Affairs’

Attacks on Gaza

Attacks on Gaza

In a joint statement, Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Brendan Smith TD have criticised Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan’s decision that Ireland should abstain from a UN Human Rights Council resolution to set up a commission of inquiry into atrocities in Gaza.

They commented:

“Like many people across the country, we listened in disbelief to the news that Ireland had joined other European states in abstaining from the vote at the UN Human Rights Council. What is happening in Gaza is an outrage and it is happening in plain sight.”

“If the international community is not able to find the moral courage to speak out on an issue which is as clearly unacceptable as the killing of young children or the bombing of a UN school housing refugees, one is left to wonder what level of atrocity is needed before we say stop.”

“The attempt to justify our abstention on the basis that the resolution did not adequately condemn rocket attacks by both sides is depressing. We utterly condemn the reckless attempt to target civilians using rocket attacks, but does that mean that we cannot also put our name to a resolution to investigate the slaughter of four innocent children on a Gaza beach?”

“Ireland once had a proud tradition of strong, principled and independent foreign affairs policy. The decision to sit on our hands and abstain from what should have been a very clear position on this UN resolution is a dereliction of this country’s proud history in foreign and humanitarian affairs.”


@FiannaFailparty Calls for Emergency EU Foreign Affairs Council to Address Escalating Crisis in #MiddleEast

Brendan Smith TD

Brendan Smith TD

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs & Trade Brendan Smith has called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Eamon Gilmore to seek an emergency meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to address the escalating crisis between Palestine and Israel. While Fianna Fáil welcomed the EU call for all sides to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties and to do their utmost to achieve an immediate ceasefire, it is clear that more needs to be done to create a pathway to peace.

Deputy Smith stated: “We are now witnessing a daily escalation of atrocities. Retaliation will only result in further retaliation. Innocent people on both sides are being killed and injured, and these casualties will only breed more hatred.

Deputy Smith continued: “Now is the time for the European Union to show leadership in finding a path for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I am calling on Minister Gilmore to seek an emergency meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to find a way to guide both sides away from conflict and secure an immediate ceasefire.

“This is an issue Fianna Fáil has consistently raised in Dáil Éireann and there is a need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to highlight this ongoing conflict at a European and international level”.

Govt must wake up to ongoing jobs crisis in Border Region – Smith

brendan-smithFianna Fáil’s Spokesperson on Border Region Development, Deputy Brendan Smith, has accused the Government of sleep-walking through the ongoing jobs crisis in the border region.

According to the latest Live Register figures, the Border region is lagging far behind the rest of the country when it comes to tackling the jobs crisis.

Deputy Smith explained, “As of the end of March, there were 6,553 people on the Live Register in Cavan and 5,885 people on the Live Register in Monaghan. That’s a tiny decrease from the 6,713 and 6,012 respectively at the end of February. The decrease is more than offset by the numbers who have been forced to leave the area for work, the numbers who have dropped off the live register to engage in education and training and the numbers who have been kicked off the Live Register because their Job Seekers entitlements have expired.
“It means that we have seen virtually no improvement in the employment situation in Cavan, Monaghan and right across the border region. It adds to the strong sense that there is a two-tiered recovery underway in this country. While Dublin may be benefiting from some improvements, this region is being left behind. There has been a major fall-off in IDA visits to this region over the past three years and little or no focus by this Government in creating jobs in Cavan, Monaghan and the border region.

“It’s extremely frustrating for job seekers across Cavan and Monaghan to hear the Government praising itself for the ‘improvements’ in the labour market, when unfortunately there is little evidence of any improvements in communities across the border. The Government cannot afford to sit back and claim that we no longer have a jobs crisis. This is simply not true. Over 200 people a day are still emigrating. There are now 180,000 people across the country who have been out of work for over 12 months. And we have serious regional imbalances in employment rates that seem to be growing month on month.

“I am once again calling on the Government to recognise the extent of the job crisis in the border region and start making a targeted effort to create jobs here. We cannot continue to allow a situation where parts of the country experience some economic recovery while other parts, like Cavan and Monaghan, are left behind. It’s time that this Government made this region a priority.”

Irish Govt’s box-ticking misses opportunities for all-Ireland growth and reconciliation


Below is a speech I made on how the Irish Government’s box-ticking, hands off approach to Northern Ireland is allowing opportunities for growth and reconciliation to slip away. We need to return to the sense of drive and determination shown by Albert Reynolds and John Major in the period leading up to the Downing Street Declaration.

Brendan Smith TD

Brendan Smith TD speaking in Dáil Éireann

Dáil Statements on Government’s Priorities for the Year Ahead: (Resumed)

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Brendan Smith: I will deal with Government priorities as they should relate to Northern Ireland. While I believe the Government has wrongly allowed itself to increasingly be seen as more of a bystander than an active participant on issues concerning Northern Ireland, the Government is not to blame for the recent problems. Leaving the peace process in the hands of two parties focused on partisan interests is not a policy to bring much needed benefits to the people of the entire island.

Levels of trust are falling and, worst of all, opportunities for growth and reconciliation are being missed. It is these opportunities I wish to focus on in my contribution today. The Government needs to seriously refocus its priorities now and make it a priority to re-engage on all issues relating Northern Ireland, the North-South bodies and the all-island dimension.

Last December, we had the opportunity to hear the former British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, outline how he and Mr. Albert Reynolds worked closely in partnership to achieve the Downing Street Declaration. That work was carried out during a very difficult period in the history of both islands and it was the tenacity, commitment, leadership and courage of both political leaders that achieved that very important declaration.

Similarly, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement were victories for constitutional republicanism. That commitment and that leadership were shown, and this is what is needed at present to deal with the important issues confronting the people in the Six Counties, which are of critical importance to the entire island.

The Government, and the Tánaiste in particular, needs to abandon the box-ticking exercise it is currently engaged in, namely, focusing on holding formal meetings, and it needs to start to develop concrete proposals for new North-South activity. The development of all-Ireland frameworks should be a core priority not just for the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and their Departments, but for all Departments and all State and statutory agencies.

The cross-Border bodies that were established following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 have been successful. I believe their potential has not yet been maximised. Of course there are other areas where we should be developing a framework for new all-Ireland bodies. We need to be fairly vigorous in that respect. In developing an all-Ireland framework, we need to be very conscious of the importance of the message sent out to communities, North and South, where there are major infrastructural projects. In the area of all-Ireland bodies, it is surely time for us to develop the further and higher education sectors on an all-Ireland basis.

I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is with us this evening. In the area of health, there is potential to maximise opportunities and deal with issues right across the board in an all-Ireland context. That area needs to be given momentum and priority. I represent two of the Ulster counties and we need cross-Border development to maximise the facilities and services north of the Border and also to provide services south of the Border, where applicable, to people from the Six Counties.

There is potential to work together and develop centres of excellence in whichever jurisdiction once all the people have access should the need arise. With regard to infrastructure projects, it is very regrettable that the Narrow Water Bridge project has not progressed. Substantial funding was committed by the European Union but there was a shortfall of a few million euro, which should have been made up by the Northern Ireland Executive and by our Government because it is a project that would be very beneficial for the east coast counties of Louth and Down and stretching to the broader region, where more visitors are needed.

In the overall context of public funding, it is a relatively small amount, and it would be a shame if that project were lost. A substantial part of the funding was provided by the European Union. Some funding had to be made up by both the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government here but a relatively small amount of funding could have got that project to construction stage. In 1989, in much more difficult economic and political circumstances, the Government was able to progress the restoration of the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal, which is now the Shannon-Erne Waterway.

It involved an investment of £30 million. In 1989 and 1990, the relationships between North and South and between east and west were far removed from what they are today. The Government at the time was determined to bring that project to fruition, and it succeeded. It has been a major catalyst for tourism development in Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim, and further afield in the South.  It would send out a strong message to communities on both sides of the Border if the Narrow Water Bridge project was to be advanced, and it would cost a relatively small amount of money.

My colleague, Deputy Seamus Kirk, has continually highlighted the potential of this project and the need to advance it when we have favourable political circumstances, despite the economic challenges. I know there are competing demands for public expenditure. However, it is a project where the European funding is substantial and should not be lost. Likewise, we need to progress the proposal to restore the Ulster Canal, which runs through my constituency and a number of counties north of the Border.

The same is true of the A5 road. Representatives from the northern side of the Border and County Donegal are as anxious as my colleagues here that the project is advanced. On a recent visit by the Good Friday committee of the Oireachtas to County Derry and Letterkenny, County Donegal, numerous public representatives and interest groups highlighted to us the need to ensure that the necessary investment goes into the A5 and that there is an adequate road network between County Donegal and the capital of this country, which does not exist currently.

There are a number of outstanding commitments under the Good Friday Agreement. We have mentioned these in the House on many occasions but I refer again to the need to re-establishment the civic forum, which is provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. We need Acht na Gaeilge to be introduced without further undue delay. A bill of rights needs to be established for the North of Ireland and an all-island charter of rights needs to be developed as well.

There is a need to establish the North-South consultative forum. When one considers that well in excess of 300 submissions were made to the Hass talks by civil society, it shows that civic society wants to buy into the political process and have the relevant fora in which to make their contribution. Both Governments have also failed to address the need for a victim-centred truth and reconciliation process.

The British Government has also failed to act on its Weston Park commitment to hold an independent inquiry into the killing of the human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane. That was an international agreement, and the British are not honouring their side of that agreement.

Mr. Finucane’s sons have continued his work in his name and the memory of all those who were brutally murdered. They make the simple point: how can we deal with the past if there is no process of examining it?

In her excellent book, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, Anne Cadwallader of the Pat Finucane Centre has catalogued some of the tragic and distressing stories of the victims of collusion by state forces. While reading about their stories is difficult enough, hearing them told to one in person brings home the deep pain and hurt felt by the surviving families. It is very clear to all of us that those issues need to be addressed.

Late last year, I was in Armagh and heard the story of the killing of Dinny Mullen from his daughter Denise. I listened to Seamus Mallon outline the terror inflicted on so many people in counties Armagh and Tyrone due to collusion from so-called state forces including the British Army, the UDR and the police in the North, which resulted in very many innocent deaths. The people who suffered so much must have justice.

I am realistic enough to know that in many instances it will be very difficult to bring some of the inquiries to a conclusion. The past on this island is touched with sadness and tragedy. It represents a grave challenge to all of us who are working towards building a future free from the sectarian passions and violence that tainted the lives of previous generations. However, that does not mean we should run away from difficult questions. It does not mean that all victims were the same and that all who lived through those decades share the blame. In reality there were those who took up the gun and resorted to ruthless violence for their own ends, while the vast majority sought peaceful means to achieve legitimate aims. It is very clear to all of us that dealing with the past must be victim-centred.

Abandoning justice for victims would be an abdication of our moral and civic responsibility to those who endured during those grim days. That would be a betrayal of our duty to the men and women who were always committed to peaceful means. The history of the Troubles cannot be left to those who bloodied their hands on either side of the conflict, be they perpetrators of state violence or paramilitaries on either side.

We are approaching the 40th anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of 1974, which resulted in the deaths of 33 civilians and the wounding of almost 300 people, the highest number of casualties in any one day during the conflict we refer to as the Troubles. The loyalist paramilitary group, the UVF, claimed responsibility for the bombings. There are various credible allegations that elements of British security forces colluded with the UVF in those bombings. The Joint Committee on Justice called the attacks an act of international terrorism.

In July 2008, the then Government Chief Whip, Pat Carey, moved a motion on this matter that had the unanimous support of all parties and Members of this House, and a similar motion was also passed in 2011. We are still awaiting a British response to those motions.

As we are approaching the 40th anniversary I had the opportunity recently to meet with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the British Labour Party spokesperson on Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis. I impressed on both men as strongly as I could that the British Government must be forthcoming and respond to the request of a sovereign Parliament which has asked that the necessary inquiries be progressed, and that access by an independent international judicial figure be allowed to all original documentation held by the British Government relating to the atrocities that occurred in this jurisdiction.

That was the recommendation of Mr. Justice Barron when he produced his report, into which so much work went subsequently by the justice committee of this House. We know that substantial progress has been made in the area of policing since the Good Friday Agreement. There was progress up to the past 13 or 14 months with regard to parades. According to a recent report in the Irish News, and from recollection,I believe it referred to almost 200 sensitive parades that were permitted last year despite failure by the organisers to complete forms correctly. It is not acceptable that the Parades Commission would allow incomplete applications to be processed, finalised and approved.

There are clear guidelines for the Parades Commission to ensure that parades are properly notified. To my recollection, only two parades in 2012 were not properly notified to the authorities, so the massive increase in non-notified parades has to be a cause of concern and emphasises again the need for the Haass talks to be progressed. The parades issue did significant damage to the economy of Belfast and beyond, particularly around Christmas 2012 and into the early part of 2013.

We do not want parades to cause the issues they have consistently caused for small communities where there is thuggery and intimidation through the misbehaviour of a number of people taking part in those parades, which are not properly organised and where the organisers take no responsibility for organising them properly. More than 3,600 people died in the troubled era that scarred this island for more than three decades.

The wave of violence that consumed so many lives in the North has left a dark legacy for an entire generation. Out of that bleak period, the Good Friday Agreement emerges as a shining light. For the first time since 1918 the entire island voted as one, and voted overwhelmingly in favour of moving beyond the bloody battles of the past towards a shared future. That Agreement was not a free pass to the individuals who chose the route of violence that terrorised the North over 30 years.

To conclude, I would have thought greater effort would have been made to try to complete the Haass talks and to reach agreement coming up to St. Patrick’s week. I commend the Alliance Party, the SDLP and Sinn Féin on the huge effort they put in to try to reach an agreement when Dr. Haass was here chairing and leading those talks.

I said months ago and it is still my opinion that the two Governments should have been more active participants in those talks. When we look back on the recent history of our country, and in particular go back to the Downing Street Declaration of 15 December 1993, the two sovereign Governments, under the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach of the time, Albert Reynolds, drove that process.

Similarly, with the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement, it was the two sovereign Governments driving the process that brought it to a successful conclusion. There is great potential in the Haass talks to deal with those particular issues that continue in many respects to scar individuals and communities throughout the North of Ireland and that have a downside for all of this island. After St. Patrick’s week, we go in again to an electoral process North of the Border, with European and local elections, and then we are into the marching season. There is an urgent need to bring to a successful conclusion the Haass talks that offer so much potential for all of this island.


Brendan Smith TD presses the case for undocumented Irish following Speaker @johnboehner comments

On Thursday last (March 6th) I once again raised the important issue of the Undocumented Irish in the United States. I stressed how important it is that we keep up the pressure for progress on this issue and urged the government to use the St Patrick’s Day celebrations and our access to the White House and Capitol during that time to press the case for the more than 50,000 undocumented Irish and ensure that 2014 is the year of immigration reform in the USA

Brendan Smith TD

Brendan Smith TD

Dáil debates  Thursday, 6 March 2014

Topical Issue Debate : Undocumented Irish in the USA

Brendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fáil):  I am glad to be given the opportunity to raise this very important issue at this time. In June 2013, the US Senate passed the most monumental overhaul of US immigration laws in a generation which would clear the way for millions of undocumented residents to have a chance at citizenship, attract workers from all over the world and devote unprecedented resources for security along the US-Mexico border. The vote was 68 to 32, which was a very sizeable margin of victory, with 14 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with all Democrats in favour of the legislation. That vote puts the onus of immigration reform on the Republican-led House, where leaders have unfortunately been resistant to the Senate legislation.

House Speaker Boehner has refused to bring the Senate Bill to the floor or even go to conference with the Senate. He has stated that reform of the immigration laws will be a priority in 2014 for the House and indicated to USA Today in December 2013 that immigration is next on the agenda, once the Senate passes a bipartisan budget deal for the next two years. Unfortunately, the comments from House Speaker Boehner on 6 February express doubts about progress on this legislation. 

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, ILIR, is still fighting for the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the immigration debate. The lobby was set up in December 2005 and it has since held several immigration rallies throughout the United States, along with high profile lobby days in Congress to advocate for our undocumented Irish workers. Irish-Americans from across the US will be out in force in the American capital next Wednesday, 12 March, lobbying for immigration reform during a rally organised by the ILIR. This is specifically aimed at Republican members of the House not in favour of reforming US immigration laws.

It is interesting to note that prior to 1965, the Irish could immigrate to the US freely, with approximately 17,000 doing so on an annual basis. As the House knows, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are important in celebrating and consolidating links with the United States, and we have been offered that opportunity over many decades. It is also an opportunity to raise the issue of the undocumented Irish at the highest levels of influence in Washington DC. I am glad I have been given the opportunity to raise this issue to establish what progress has been made on advancing the cause of the undocumented Irish in the US. I would like the Minister of State to reassure us this evening that every ministerial visit to the United States would have this on the agenda with different interest groups, members of the US Administration and members in Congress. We must advocate the need to progress the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill, as it is critical for so many individuals. There are probably more than 50,000 people and their families affected. 

Minister of State Alex White:  I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore. Immigration reform in the US is an issue to which the Government accords very high priority. We are very conscious of the difficulties experienced by Irish citizens who are undocumented in the United States, and the Tánaiste has met and spoken to many of them during his working visits there, and also with the various groups who lobby on their behalf.

The Tánaiste has maintained contact, both directly and through our embassy in Washington DC, with many key players in Congress who are influential in steering the process of US immigration reform. Over the past six months, both he and embassy officials have had direct contact with some 70 members of the House of Representatives and their staff. These have included Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budgetary Committee and former vice presidential nominee, Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee and several other leading Republican members of that committee, including immigration sub-committee chairman, Trey Gowdy, Minority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi, chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, and their staffs. The Tánaiste has also maintained contact with key figures in the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. Throughout all these contacts the Tánaiste has reiterated the Government’s interest in all aspects of immigration reform and in particular our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.

I wish to confirm that the issue is one which will again be raised as a priority by the Taoiseach during his forthcoming St Patrick’s Day visit to the US and his meetings with President Obama, Vice President Biden and key members of Congress. Other members of Government visiting the US will also raise the issue as appropriate during their contacts. This is particularly important in light of the most recent developments, which indicate that the prospects for passage of immigration reform legislation by Congress this year are not good. The Deputy will be aware that following passage last June of the US Senate Bill – the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill – the issue has been under consideration in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Public comments and private conversations which the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and our embassy officials in Washington DC had with leaders of the House Republican caucus had given rise to expectations that the House would take up consideration of a series of immigration reform bills last autumn. Unfortunately that did not come to pass, as Deputy Smith indicated. Earlier this year, further public comments from House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, and Chief Whip, Kevin McCarthy, again raised hopes that the Republican leadership in the House saw the need to proceed with immigration reform. To that end, the leadership prepared a set of draft principles that would guide action on immigration in the House and presented them to the members of their caucus for consideration at a meeting on 30 January. Informed by that discussion, House Speaker Boehner gave a press conference on 6 February in which he expressed doubts that the House would pass immigration reform legislation this year. He did reassert that immigration reform is something that needs to get done and that he would continue to consult his members. 

Given that expectations had again been raised, these and other comments are disappointing. However, it is important we keep our focus on the end game. The Government, through our ambassador in Washington DC and her team, is continuing an extensive outreach and engagement with members of Congress and with the Irish groups and organisations lobbying for immigration reform. We are monitoring the ongoing discussions within the Republican Party and continuing to press the case for addressing the concerns of our undocumented and to provide for a future legal flow for Irish immigrants to the United States. As I noted earlier, the forthcoming St. Patrick’s Day visits to the United States will provide a further important opportunity to engage with US leaders in support of our immigration objectives and assess the prospects for the weeks and months ahead.

The Government remains fully committed to the effort to achieve an outcome that addresses the needs of our undocumented and creates a legal path for the future. 

Brendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fáil):  I am glad that the Minister of State has given us a firm assurance that the Taoiseach and other members of the Government who will be in the United States will take every opportunity to raise at political and official level the need to have this immigration reform passed by the House of Representatives. We must try to ensure this is the year of immigration reform. We all encounter families who have family members in the United States whose position has not been regularised. We need to reassure the undocumented and their family members at home that every effort will be made to find a satisfactory solution. It is not only the emigrants who want their position to be regularised but many employer organisations have spoken out strongly in favour of the proposed legislation. If the Bill was passed, it would provide a path to permanent residency for more than 50,000 Irish people. The proposed E3 visa would provide for future flows of legal migrants between Ireland and the United States. We all know of individuals who have been unable to travel from the United States for family events, celebratory or sad. My constituency has suffered from heavy emigration for many decades. Many speak to me about their concern about a family member whose position has not been regularised in the United States. It is extremely difficult to see elderly parents come to one’s clinic concerned that their son or daughter may not be able to visit when the parents are not able, through infirmity or ill health, to travel to the United States. The Minister of State’s visit to Philadelphia last year was very successful. I spoke to some of the people he met who told him about the real situation in the United States and the need to advance this important measure.

Minister of State Alex White : I thank the Deputy for his insights and input into this important issue. Everything he has said about its importance is correct. In addition to the various contacts the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach, other Ministers and the embassy have had, the Government keeps a close eye on developments and makes its own assessment of the prospects for developments. While the exact shape and form of any movement remains to be seen, House contacts have spoken about a possible “convoy” of Bills on a range of issues such as US border security; individuals brought illegally to the United States as children; visas for agricultural and other temporary workers and, crucially, from Ireland’s perspective, the legalisation of undocumented migrants in a manner that would enable them to work in and travel to and from America. The timing and sequencing of such a “convoy” of Bills would be crucial if any overall deal was to be reached. In addition, their handling vis-à-vis upcoming Republican primary contests and-or the November Congressional elections will also be important and could yet determine the ultimate outcome. Congressional contacts have referred to the period from late May onwards as the likely time in which Bills could be taken on the floor of the House.