Páraic Gallagher on Jun 19, 2013
Deputy Clare Daly: It is important to take this opportunity to bring some balance into the discussion surrounding the visit of the US President and his wife, given the almost unprecedented slobbering over the Obama family to which the nation has been exposed in recent days. It is difficult to decide which is worse, the outpourings of President Obama and his wife or the sycophantic fawning over them by the political establishment and sections of the media. While we had separate and special news bulletins by the State broadcaster to tell us what Michelle Obama and her daughters had for lunch in Dublin, there was very little questioning of the fact that they were having lunch with Mr. tax exile himself. The statement that Mrs. Obama was glad to be home was barely challenged even though “home” is a country she has been in for less than one week and to which her husband has only tenuous links.
The greatest irony of the visit was the protestations of President Obama in his speech about peace to children in Northern Ireland, in which he stated the following:
To those who choose the path of peace, I promise you, the United States of America will support you every step of the way. We will always be a wind at your back.
Is the US President seeking the hypocrite of the century award? We must call things by their right names. The reality is that by any serious examination, this man is a war criminal. He has just announced his decision to supply arms to the Syrian opposition, including jihadists, which will fuel the destabilisation of the region, continue to undermine secularism and set back conditions for women. President Obama is, in essence, stalling the Geneva peace talks by trying to broker enhanced leverage for the Syrian opposition by supplying it with arms and to hell with the thousands more Syrians who will lose their lives and the tens of thousands who will be displaced as the war continues. This is the man who facilitated a 200% increase in the use of drones which have killed thousands, including hundreds of children.
The Taoiseach has turned a blind eye to these activities. He spoke of the G8 summit being an opportunity to showcase Ireland. Is it not the case that he has showcased us a nation of pimps prostituting ourselves in return for a pat on the head? We were speculating this morning about whether the Taoiseach would deck out the Cabinet in leprechaun hats decorated with stars and stripes to mark our abject humiliation.
Deputy Tom Hayes: Bring back Mattie.
Deputy Clare Daly: What steps will the Taoiseach take to follow the correct decision made by his colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to vote against a proposal to lift the arms embargo on Syria? What steps will he take to ensure no weapons destined for Syria will be transported through Shannon Airport in breach of our international duties as a neutral State? What steps will he take to showcase this country, not as a lapdog of US imperialism but as an independent nation with an independent foreign policy, one which takes a lead in international diplomacy to outlaw the use of drones, the favourite method of extermination of the Taoiseach’s friend, President Obama?
Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Madame Putin.
The Taoiseach: Let me first confirm to Deputy Daly that President Obama did not inquire about her whereabouts or well-being. The Deputy’s comments are disgraceful and do down the pride of Irish people all over the world who were more than happy to see Ireland host the G8 summit of the leaders of the most industrialised nations of the world. For the Deputy to criticise the American President for offering his continued support for the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland where more than 3,000 people lost their lives in 30 years is a disgraceful doing down. If she represents the Deputies on the back row of the benches opposite, the comments she made were beneath her. Even the comments made by her colleagues, in their brilliance, have never matched what the Deputy has said here.
I remind Deputy Daly that communities in Northern Ireland, various Irish and British Governments and politicians from Northern Ireland have put together a very fragile peace. Far be it for her to criticise somebody who wants to support this process visibly, personally and by providing the assistance of the United States. Some 35 million Irish Americans want the peace process to continue. The young student who introduced President Obama in Belfast put her finger on the matter when she stated that Northern Ireland has both a past and a future. That future is one where peace should abound in and across communities. It is beneath the Deputy to state the American President should not be a party to keeping the peace process alive and visible.
In so far as Syria is concerned, there was a serious discussion among members of the G8 at the summit. I am not sure whether Deputy Daly favours the Russian intervention or the position put forward by the European Union. While there was division among the countries of Europe about the lifting of the arms embargo on Syria, Ireland took a very clear position on the matter, one which was articulated by the Tánaiste, namely, that the embargo should not be lifted. The conclusion of the G8 summit was that the Geneva peace talks should proceed. Nobody wants to see wanton slaughter and the exodus from Syria of hundreds of thousands of people. Far from a warmongering discussion, the question is what can be done to bring about discussions and negotiations that will restore peace and a structure to allow Syria to continue in the time ahead without the obscenities and humanitarian crisis we have witnessed in the past two years.
Deputy John Halligan: The Americans are warmongering in Afghanistan, Iraq and South America. Hezbollah is using American arms.
Deputy Clare Daly: I did not say anything about the Northern Ireland peace process. While everyone supports the peace process, that does not give one a licence to do whatever one likes anywhere else around the globe. There is not much peace in Iraq where 26 people lost their lives yesterday, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. My position on Syria is one of agreement with Oxfam, which issued the following statement on the issue:
Sending arms to the Syrian opposition won’t create a level playing field. Instead, it risks further fuelling an arms free-for-all where the victims are the civilians of Syria. Our experience from other conflict zones tells us that this crisis will only drag on for far longer if more and more arms are poured into the country.
This is essentially what the Americans have done in Syria. I can only assume from the Taoiseach’s failure to answer my question that he will not take steps to ensure arms are not sent through Shannon Airport in breach of our neutrality.
Deputy Clare Daly: He said here last week that no arms ever came through Shannon Airport. How does he know that given that no investigations take place? In 2012, 548 US planes landed in Shannon Airport. How does he know what was on them if they were never examined? In reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport revealed that 239 civilian planes that landed in Shannon Airport sought permission because they were carrying munitions of war or dangerous goods on civilian aircraft. What steps will the Taoiseach take to intervene in this situation?
People in this country are very fond of our American brothers and sisters. We stand far more shoulder to shoulder with them by making valid criticisms of their President who has broken his election promises rather than just pimping this nation as a tax haven for their corporations. I am sure the Americans would far prefer their multinationals to pay their taxes at home rather than offshore here so that they could develop their health care and would not be wasting money on arms being sent to slaughter people in other countries.
The Taoiseach: As the Deputy is aware, 100,000 American people are employed by Irish-owned firms across 50 states, and it is something similar here from American invested corporates in this country. The American Government – I obviously do not speak for it – has taken a view in terms of withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. There was not any intervention in terms of troops in Libya and there has not been any intervention in terms of troops in Syria. We have never supported rendition flights through Shannon Airport and it ill-behoves the Deputy to make comments that are not true.
The Taoiseach: Out of the middle of that rant, she seemed to support the Government position as articulated by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade that this country did not and does not support the lifting of the arms embargo in Syria. Clearly, with an opposition comprising very diverse factions, these are very vexed questions. The decision of the European Council not to agree in terms of the embargo means that that opportunity presents itself. Everybody at the G8 summit, as I understand it, was focused on getting the peace talks in Geneva under way which might bring about some sense of solution here.
Clearly, the Deputy has not condemned the Iranians, Hizbollah or the Russians for supplying arms to the regime of President Assad. She has not commented on the atrocities carried out under President Assad in Syria.
Deputy John Halligan: The arms Hizbollah is using are American arms.
The Taoiseach: She seems to have a very biased view of the wanton slaughter of the Syrian people. Everybody on this side, in so far as we are party to the European Union, wants to see a structure that will bring about the removal of President Assad and peace restored to that country and its troubled people, including the hundreds of thousands involved in the exodus across the border with nothing but their families and belongings with them.
Deputy Finian McGrath: The Taoiseach did not answer the drone question. He ducked it.
The Taoiseach: In that sense I hope – it is the hope of the Government – that the peace talks in Geneva can actually take place and that something comes from them. While I was not party to the discussion about Syria at the G8 summit, I understand there was a very frank disclosure about the various views here and that it is hoped something beneficial will come from that.