Ireland Republic: Joe Higgins, socialist MP denounces war in Parliament

Last Wednesday and Thursday the Irish parliament (the Dáil) debated a motion on Iraq. The motion was instigated by Joe Higgins and signed by him and a number of independent TD’s, Tony Gregory, Seamus Healy, Gerry Cowley and Finian McGrath. Joe Higgins is a TD (member of the Irish Parliament) for the Socialist Party in Southern Ireland. Joe Higgins, like all the public representatives of the CWI, stood for the general election defending a socialist program and the principle of a workers’ MP living on a workers’ wage. The Socialist Party is affiliated to the CWI.

One of the issues under discussion in the Dail debate was that the government breached its own regulations and turned a blind eye to weapons of war being brought through Shannon Airport by the US military. Representatives from the British and American embassies in Ireland followed the debate from the public gallery. Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach), found himself cornered by the interventions of Joe Higgins and other TD’s. The Irish Independent newspaper gave a vivid account of the debate and the exchange in a piece entitled, ’Higgins scores heavier hits than Green’s paper tigers’

"Then Joe Higgins got stuck into the Taoiseach about the American military landing at Shannon. (…) Bertie muttered away, saying you could refuel and have a nice rest and something to eat in Shannon, and he caused an exasperated Higgins to bring the house down with a description of what it’s like trying to get a straight answer from the Taoiseach. ’It’s like trying to play handball against a haystack. You hear a dull thud and the ball doesn’t come back. It goes all over the world but it doesn’t come back to the person asking the question.’ Everyone laughed, even on the government side – they couldn’t help themselves. Because it’s true. Bertie got annoyed and mixed up as Joe turned the screw, and said the Taoiseach would have the blood of the Iraqi people on his hands if he supported an invasion. ’Sudam, Sudame’ stuttered the Taoiseach…" (30th of January 2003)

Joe received press coverage over three days in major newspapers like the Irish Times, the Examiner and the Independent. His attack on the Irish Prime Minister’s support for a war against Iraq was reported on major radio and TV programmes. In the Irish Times’ ’Dáil Digest – Voices in the House’, Joe was quoted as saying in Parliament: "I have been against Saddam Hussein since before the Taoiseach even knew he existed" (30 January 2003).

Below we print the motion and the transcript of the debate in the Dail on Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 of January.

cwi online

Joe Higgins, socialist MP denounces war in Parliament

Motion for Dáil Debate in Private Members’ Time Wednesday 29 January and Thursday 30 January 2003.

Notes the huge build up of United States and British troops and weapons in the Middle East in preparation for a war against Iraq. Notes the relentless drive by President Bush & Prime Minister Blair for such a war. Notes that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared on Fox News, ’there’s currently a state of war with Iraq that has not ended’(January 19th 2003). Notes the systematic undermining by the U.S. Administration of the work of the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq and the pre-empting by the United States of the provisions of UN Resolution 1441. Notes the statement by Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq during 1991- 1998 and a supporter of the U.S. Republican Party, that 90% to 95% of Iraq’s previous weapons of mass destruction were verifiably put beyond use during that time. Notes a leaked U.N. Report projecting "potentially a large scale and protracted ground offensive, supported by aerial bombardment" giving rise to half million direct or indirect casualties; a chronic situation in south and central Iraq for 4.2 million children under five and one million pregnant and lactating women, two million internally displaced persons and an unknown number of infirm, terminally ill and elderly; and the devastation of all major infrastructure facilities such as bridges, railroads electricity supplies and provision for potable water. Notes that the United Nations sponsored economic sanctions against Iraq have already caused untold suffering among the ordinary people of Iraq and resulting in the premature death of hundreds of thousands of children. Notes the ongoing and regular, little reported, bombing by the United States and British Air Forces in northern and southern Iraq. Notes the sentiments of the Irish people expressed in an Irish Times/ MRBI poll published on 1st October 2002 which found 68% of respondents profoundly opposed to unilateral U.S. action against Iraq and 59% wishing this State to oppose any UN authority for action. Notes the widespread growth of popular opposition against a war in the worldwide protests held on January 18th this year including an anti-war demonstration in Washington with up to 200,000 attending. Condemns the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and its suppression of human rights and national and ethnic rights. Notes the widespread belief that the real motivation for a war on Iraq is the desire of the U.S. Administration to control that country’s oil reserves and increase its presence in the Middle Eastern Region.

And calls on the Government:

To explain why it is facilitating the precipitation of a war in Iraq by allowing U.S. military planes to land and refuel at Shannon Airport. To explain why it is allowing a flagrant breach of the 1954 Defence Act and the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and dangerous Goods) Order, 1973. To explain why it is in apparent breach of Article 5 of the Hague Convention (v) respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers whereby "belligerents are forbidden to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral powers". To explain why it is in apparent breach of Article 28.3.1 of Bunreacht na hEireann, the Irish Constitution, which directs that the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Eireann.

Further calls on the Government:

To apply all possible pressure open to it to prevent an attack on Iraq by the United States or Britain. To immediately withdraw all landing and refuelling facilities in Shannon Airport for U.S. military planes and any other aircraft carrying U.S. military personnel, arms or munitions that may be used in a war in Iraq; and calls for: the future of the peoples and resources of Iraq and the Middle East generally to be determined by the people there, based on the principles of freedom, justice, democracy and human rights, free from both locals dictatorships and imperialist or corporate interference.

The debate takes place this Wednesday, January 29th from 7.00 – 8.30 PM and on Thursday morning after the Order of Business.

The motion was defeated by 74 against 56 votes.

The verbatim report of the debate on Wednesday:

Mr. J. Higgins: Why has the Taoiseach, as leader of the Government, and not primarily the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Transport, colluded in flagrant and persistent breaches of the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, 1973, which expressly prohibits weapons of destruction or munitions of war to pass through our airports without permission? Does the Taoiseach realise the anger among ordinary citizens over the blatant dishonesty of his Government in respect of the way Shannon Airport has been allowed to be used by the US military?

Last night the Department of Transport admitted that, in the eight days up to Monday, 19 aircraft carrying weapons or munitions of war sought and were given permission to land at Shannon Airport. For the whole of last year, one single aircraft notified that it was carrying weapons and was given permission to land. Were the other 552 military aircraft – mainly US aircraft – that used Shannon Airport last year carrying only soggy lollipops or did the Government recklessly allow the US military to flout, persistently and with contempt, the regulations governing the transport of munitions of war through our airports?

Does the Taoiseach know what weapons were carried through Shannon in those planes? He is very much in favour of inspecting the weapons or alleged weapons of destruction of the horrific dictator Saddam Hussein. Why did he not carry out an inspection of the planes using Shannon? Did a single inspection take place or is it the case that a blind eye was deliberately turned to the hundreds of aircraft which were undoubtedly carrying huge quantities of arms without permission and in breach of regulations?

The Taoiseach: The Deputy stated that one aeroplane went through last year, but my information is that 30 aircraft were given permission to carry weapons or munitions last year. I do not agree with the Deputy’s assertions. The arrangements whereby Shannon is used as a refuelling stop by the US military have been in place for many years under successive Governments. As the Deputy knows – I told him before Christmas – we do not board the aircraft of friendly countries to check precisely what is on them. There has been a working arrangement for 40 years which has operated well. The United States of America knows what the regulations are and the Minister for Foreign Affairs reiterated them some weeks ago. The airlines involved were reminded of their legal requirements and they go through a procedure which we have always followed.

US military aircraft have been granted permission to land at Shannon according to the requirements of the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952, for a number of decades. It has been the practice for commercial charter aircraft carrying US service men between the USA and overseas bases to refuel at Shannon. Refuelling aircraft which travel all over the world constitute about 40% of the activity at Shannon Airport. Such activity has always gone on. The regulations are set down and I do not see anything wrong with them. If a war arose, the Government would review the matter, but no additional facilities have been requested by the USA over and above the standing arrangements. If I believed the Americans were storing weapons of mass destruction at Shannon Airport and hiding them from the United Nations inspectors, I would take a different view. That is why I am very concerned about the fact that Saddam Hussein has held such weapons for many years which he has used against the people of his own country, as well as against Iranians and the Kurds whom he tortured and caused to suffer. I am sure Deputy Joe Higgins would join with me in hoping he complies fully with Dr. Hans Blix and others.

Mr. J. Higgins: It was the United Nations that gave him those weapons in the first place.

The Taoiseach: He has used them against his people and all we are trying to do is get him to comply with international law. It is a good thing to help to force him into that.

Mr. J. Higgins: I am reminded of what a farmer said recently about a different member of the Government. Asking the Taoiseach a question is like trying to play handball against a haystack. You hear a dull thud and the ball does not come back to you. It goes all over the world, but it certainly does not come back to the person asking the question.

I would like a specific answer from the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach knows that President Bush, the fundamentalists who surround him and his fellow fundamentalist, Prime Minister Blair, intend to attack Iraq no matter what. He should be very clear that they have made up their minds. He knows that doing so will wreak havoc on the peoples of Iraq and has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but is about oil, power and influence in the world. By colluding with that by facilitating the US military build-up, the Taoiseach will have on his hands the blood of the innocent Iraqi people who will undoubtedly be slaughtered.

The Taoiseach now says that 30 aircraft passing through our airports, mainly Shannon, notified that they were carrying munitions of war and were given permission to land. The other 532 aircraft neither sought nor received permission to carry munitions of war. Will the Taoiseach tell the Dáil that those aeroplanes, whether freight or passenger craft, did not have any weapons on board or munitions designed to wreak havoc on people or property?

The Taoiseach: I am satisfied the regulations were followed.

Mr. J. Higgins: What changed last week?

The Taoiseach: Due to a recent increase in the number of aircraft, the Minister reiterated the message. What might have changed is that there is a more difficult state of affairs where they are going now. The Deputy says I will not answer his first question. If Saddam Hussein changes the regulations, complies with the inspectors, international law and the UN mandate, we will not have this problem.

Mr. J. Higgins: It is not about weapons of mass destruction.

The Taoiseach: We will not have this problem if he complies in a very friendly way with the inspectors who stated that he has been helpful in process but not in substance. They have urged the Security Council, the USA and the UK to hold back. If he complies with them fully, none of us will have a problem—–

Mr. J. Higgins: The Taoiseach knows what this is about.

The Taoiseach: —–and the Deputy will not have to get excited about it. The Deputy is totally against the United States of America in every regard.

Mr. J. Higgins: I am not against the United States.

Mr. Gogarty: We are against the Bush Administration.

The Taoiseach: I am against Saddam Hussein and both of us will get our way.

Mr. J. Higgins: I have been against Saddam Hussein since before the Taoiseach even knew he existed.

Mr. Gogarty: The majority of Americans are against this war.

The Taoiseach: We will not have a war and we will have no difficulties if Saddam Hussein complies with UN Resolution 1441 of 8 November which was passed by all 14 members of the Security Council. The entire world cannot be wrong. One dictator is wrong and he is a man who has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and who has lost 6,500 chemical bombs. Let us be realistic. The Deputy should not stand up in this House to defend the indefensible.

Mr. J. Higgins: Who is defending the indefensible?

Mr. M. Smith: The Deputy is.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy should use his energy in the same way as everybody else in the world to see that the UN resolution is complied with. That is what we should be trying to do.

Mr. Gogarty: The Taoiseach is worse than the Vichy Government.

Mr. M. Smith: The Deputy should tell that to the Iranian war veterans

Verbatim report of Joe Higgins summing up the debate:

Mr. J. Higgins: In wrapping up the debate, I thank my colleagues from the Independent group and Technical Group for their considered speeches in the course of the debate. Last night’s speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, by contrast, was a despicable performance and, if analysed, was a lightly embroidered repetition of the Bush and Blair arguments for an attack on Iraq. The game was given away when there was a point blank refusal by the Government to say that it would break ranks with the warmongers in the case of a unilateral attack on Iraq by the United States. The explanation by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of procedures governing the facilities given over to the US military at Shannon was a totally dishonest attempt to cover up the truth.

Last year over 500 military planes landed at Shannon in building up the US war machine in the Middle East and not a single one had permission to carry weapons or munitions of war in flagrant breach of Government regulations. The Government cravenly and deliberately turned a blind eye to the weapons and munitions that such aeroplanes were, undoubtedly, carrying and which will, undoubtedly, be used in the event of a war to slaughter innocent Iraqi people.

Mr. Cowen: Untrue.

Mr. J. Higgins: Only now when its connivance with the US military has been flushed out by the anti-war movement is there a scramble to give some cloak of legality to it. We need a serious, sober and considered debate—–

Mr. Cowen: Hear,hear.

Mr. J. Higgins: —–on the critical issues that a war against Iraq raises about the very future of our planet. Radio Telefís Éireann, our national broadcasting authority, has a crucial role in that regard and I have no doubt that many within it will discharge that role well. However, that belief was not vindicated by the disgraceful pro-war snow job on the Marian Finucane radio programme this morning which lined up a well meaning but hapless peace activist in Shannon against a sneering Sunday Independent journalist, a obscurantist cold warrior and the presenter herself in a disgracefully unbalanced discussion.

The Governments of the United States and Britain, slavishly echoed by substantial sections of the western and Irish media, are attempting to shroud their imminent war in a grotesque deception that it is about weapons of mass destruction allegedly held in Iraq. They know the bulk of such weapons were destroyed by 1998 and that it is impossible for the Iraqi dictatorship to develop nuclear weapons. The Saddam Hussein dictatorship knows that if it explodes as much as a single hand grenade outside its borders, it will invite an attack by the massively more destructive weapons of the United States, Britain and others.

The media know that the obscurantist and grotesque relic of Stalinism in North Korea has incomparably more destructive power than the Iraqi dictatorship but an entirely different strategy will be adopted in that case. The monstrous hypocrisy of the Government, as well as Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, must be exposed. They decry the heinous nature of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. So do we. The difference is that we always did.

It is too bad Fianna Fáil did not realise how heinous a regime the Iraqi dictatorship was in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s army committed unspeakable atrocities against the Iranians, marching on stomachs filled with Irish beef sent to Saddam Hussein by a Government in which the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was a senior Minister, which exports were underwritten by him with funds provided by the taxpayer. The US Defence Secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld, is also well qualified to speak about Saddam Hussein. He visited him in the mid-1980s in Baghdad to bring the full support of the United States Government for the terrible war against Iran when Iraq was, on a daily basis at that very time, using chemical weapons against the Iranians in total defiance of international conventions. A few weeks ago The Washington Post published a review of thousands of declassified US documents which showed that in the 1980s the United States sent numerous items to Iraq, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses such as anthrax and bubonic plague. What hypocrisy?

This war is about control of Iraqi oil and to send a signal to the world that the United States is an imperial power and armed colossus that will bestride the world and dictate its terms. Let no one attempt to gainsay this. The motion stands against the rotten dictatorship and war. We stand with the people and the millions of Americans and British who oppose it. On 15 February tens of thousands of people who oppose the Government’s policy and the war will join us in the anti-war mass demonstrations to send a signal to the Government that it must stop its connivance.

Report compiled by CWI online

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February 2003