Ó Caoláin - Power to cancel elections must end
Concluding the debate on Sinn Féin's Private Members motion before the Dáil tonight Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said that the 'dictatorial' power to cancel elections in the Six County and to suspend the institutions must be taken away from the British Government. He went on to say:
"The Irish Government and this Dáil must give leadership. We must stand united in opposition to the decision of the British government to cancel democratic elections in Ireland. The Irish Government must act not as a subordinate party in an unequal relationship - the way the British Government too often has treated it - but as a co-equal partner in an international Agreement, and it must vindicate the rights of all Irish citizens."
Full text to follow:
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach Teachta a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht ar rún Sinn Féin. B'fhiú an díospóireacht é agus tá súil agam go bhfuil tuiscint níos fearr againn uile mar thoradh air.
Cuirim fáilte ar leith anocht roimh Teachtaí Sinn Féin ó na Sé Chontae atá linn sa Dáil. In áiléar na gcuairteoirí tá an Teachta Gerry Adams ó Bhéal Feirste Thiar, an Teachta Michelle Gildernew ó Fear Manach agus Tír Eoghain Theas, an Teachta Pat Doherty ó Tír Eoghain Thiar agus an Teachta Martin McGuiness as Lár-Uladh. Cuirim fáilte chomh maith lenár dTeachtaí ón Tionól atá linn san áiléar poiblí.
I regret that Sinn Féin MPs Gerry Adams, Michelle Gildernew and Martin McGuinness who are with us here tonight in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery cannot join in this debate. The same applies to the 18 MPs of all parties in the Six Counties. I welcome them and I believe the day is fast approaching when they will be speaking here. I acknowledge the Government's agreement in its amendment to our motion that the issue of Northern representation in the Oireachtas should be taken forward by agreement in the Dáil and Seanad. That should happen before the end of this session and I ask the Government to adopt the motion in our name to amend Standing Orders to allow for speaking rights for Six-County MPs here.
I welcome also the Sinn Féin Assembly members who are present in the Public Gallery. Tomorrow is a very significant day for them and indeed for all democrats in Ireland.
Thursday the 29th of May 2003 should have been polling day in the Assembly election in the Six Counties. But not for the first time the British government intervened and violated the democratic rights of the Irish people. There is cross-party agreement in this Oireachtas, as reflected in our debate last night and tonight, that this decision was wrong. The election should be rescheduled for the end of June. The Government amendment expresses the view that the election should take place, regardless of any other considerations, no later than the Autumn. Either way, the overwhelming opinion throughout this island is that the British government has intervened in an unacceptable and a unilateral way and that those elections must take place as soon as practically possible.
When he addressed the issue of the election in his speech last night the Minister for Foreign Affairs Deputy Brian Cowen stated that if the Irish Government had been legally required under the Good Friday Agreement to sign for elections to be cancelled, it would not have done so. "We can only do what is within our power," he stated. That was a very revealing statement. It shows the Irish Government being placed in a totally unacceptable situation by the British Government. The logical political conclusion is that the power to unilaterally cancel Assembly elections and to collapse the institutions should be taken away from the British government once and for all. That is something Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for. I hope the Irish Government has learnt the lesson of the four suspensions of the institutions and the two cancellations of the Assembly election by the British government. I urge the Irish Government to push for the removal of these dictatorial powers from Westminster.
The Irish Government and this Dáil must give leadership. We must stand united in opposition to the decision of the British government to cancel democratic elections in Ireland. The Irish Government must act not as a subordinate party in an unequal relationship - the way the British Government too often has treated it - but as a co-equal partner in an international Agreement, and it must vindicate the rights of all Irish citizens.
There is much common ground in the Sinn Féin motion and the amendments tabled by the Government, Fine Gael and Labour. Support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process is reaffirmed. The essential role of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the All-Ireland bodies is affirmed. Very importantly there is a growing recognition of the role of systematic collusion between British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries in the conflict and the need for truth and justice. That systematic collusion has never been confined to the Six Counties and there is evidence of the hand of British state forces in all the attacks by loyalists in the 26 Counties since the early 1970s. The purpose was clear. It was not to target republicans but to intimidate the Irish people in general and the Irish government in particular and to deter them from fulfilling their proper role in vindicating the rights of nationalists throughout the island.
The vote tonight will be on the Government amendment. I have welcomed the predominantly positive tone and content of that amendment, reflecting as it does the issues raised in the Sinn Féin motion. However the Sinn Féin TDs cannot accept the Government amendment. In drafting our motion we sought to present a common ground approach realising full well the importance of a united House on this issue. Regrettably, while the Government amendment recalls the progress made in recent talks it also recalls what it says was "the disappointing failure to achieve the required clarity on the completion of the transition from paramilitarism to exclusively peaceful means". This is a claim that the Government drafters of their amendment know full well that we neither accept nor can agree to. The question arises "Clarity required by whom?" I believe there was sufficient clarity and that the initiative on the part of the IRA was unprecedented. The IRA leadership made it clear in its statement that it is determined that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict. As the President of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams made clear, the IRA leadership is determined that there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.
We in Sinn Féin have fulfilled all our obligations under the Agreement. We will not accept special strictures on our party over and above those of other parties as set out in that Agreement. The people we are proud to represent have never accepted the status of second-class citizens and they never will. Our central role in the peace process, our place in the Assembly, in this Dáil, in the Executive and in the All-Ireland Ministerial Council is based on our electoral mandate. Nothing more and nothing less.
I believe the current very serious impasse in the process will be overcome. That can only be done on the basis of equality. The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement represent the way forward for all our people. Let us embrace that future and go forward together.