It's timely, of course, because of the announcement this week that Irish has become an official and working language of the European Union. Like most people here, I welcomed this news. Some of the naysayers have derided it as merely symbolic, which isn't entirely true (it will create jobs for Irish speakers), while others have called it a waste of money (at less than one penny per EU resident per year!). These criticisms deserve no more space than I've just given them, if that much, even.
The one criticism with some validity is that it will do little to promote the actual use of Irish among the population, which really should be the focus of the Government's efforts. I don't think this is an argument against Stádas, though; just an argument that more is needed as well. And the same can be said for the Government's other achievements in this area, such as making the Gaeltacht road signs Irish only - well and good in and of itself, but not enough. Nowhere near enough.
I'm not an expert on the subject, but it seems to me that there are a number of things that could be done that would go much further in preserving Irish as a living language. For example:
1. The method by which children are taught Irish in schools needs to be completely scrapped. If children can study something for 12 years and not really learn it, it's obviously not working. And it's not because Irish is too complicated. It isn't too complicated for children to learn. Children have an amazing capacity for learning languages. Perhaps the methods by which Scandinavian or Dutch children are taught English should be adopted. Do you know any Scandinavian or Dutch people under 30 who aren't fluent in English? Thought not.
2. Gaelscoileanna need to be better resourced. There aren't enough of them and some of them are absolute kips. I've known people who would like to send their children to a Gaelscoil but there isn't one accessible - or if there is, it's made up of 30 year old prefabs, or the ceilings are falling in.
3. The Government should subsidise Irish learning for adults who didn't master the language at school (or never learned it to begin with). There are organisations, such as Gael Linn, who offer classes, but at a cost that puts them out of reach of many working class people. I honestly believe there is sufficient interest nowadays that a lot of adults would take these classes if they were available and affordable.
On the TG4 programme one of the interviewees noted that the Civil Rights Movement only won a small percent of what they were looking for. It's a terrible shame, really. Had they been more successful, maybe I wouldn't be posting this today.
Credit where it's due: Joe Higgins, Tony Gregory, Jerry Cowley, Catherine Murphy and all six of the Greens joined the five Sinn Féin TDs in voting Níl, while Finian McGrath spoke against the motion during the debate although he was unable to be present for the vote. That is a 100% increase over last year, when we could only muster eight in opposition. Maybe next year Labour will find the courage to put their (supposed) support for justice and human rights ahead of their hatred for republicans. But I won't hold my breath.
I've copied the Sinn Féin TDs' contributions to the debate below, because I really can't say it any better myself.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Every year Deputies have the opportunity to vote on whether to continue to use repressive legislation in this State. That opportunity presents again despite the past decade of the peace process, the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. Every year the Minister publishes a slim report at the last minute, which no one has a chance to read, as has been stated here. Despite this, every year this House rubber-stamps the continuing operation of these laws, which suspend not only the ordinary rules of evidence but fundamental rights, including the right to silence.
Every year my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh or I argue the Government's obligations regarding progressive security normalisation under the Good Friday Agreement. Every year we ask what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is planning to do with the Hederman recommendations on which he has been sitting since 2002. Every year only a few join the Sinn Féin Deputies in speaking out against this coercion of democracy and human rights, and I commend all those who do.
Those in what I view as the political establishment are still locked in denial about the fact that more than 60 years of emergency law has only helped perpetuate the conflict on and between these islands. It is a contributory factor. Equally, seven years of the 1998 amendment Act powers have not stopped dissident republicans. The only thing that can have this effect - I ask the Minister of State to note it - is to make democracy really and truly work. This means making the peace process work, demonstrating that the Good Friday Agreement is not dead, as the DUP leader claims, and proving that profound political and social change can be achieved by other means. That is the commitment we have made and the challenge Sinn Féin has embraced.
Every year when this law is renewed, those Deputies who support it take it on faith that the Garda will not abuse the powers it confers. They take it on faith that no garda will fabricate the evidence used to convict in the Special Criminal Court. I put it to Deputies that the findings of the Morris tribunal to date must force them to re-examine that blind faith on this occasion. This Government is asking Deputies, even in the wake of the Morris tribunal reports, to renew legislation that will continue to allow people to be convicted on the word of a garda. As supporters of this motion, they must ask themselves, what if they are complicit in perpetuating miscarriages of justice by the suspension of the ordinary rules of evidence in order to secure convictions, especially when there continues to be no effective oversight of the Garda and knowing this situation will continue even after the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's fundamentally flawed Garda legislation passes. I put it to Deputies and the Minister of State that the renewal of this Offences Against the State Act is not at all in the interests of democracy and justice.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh: History will judge this House harshly for failing to assert that the key to security is human rights and not human rights abuses. Year in, year out Deputies vote for the renewal of this legislation which is the envy of repressive regimes around the world. Only a few people in this House have the moral courage to speak out against it and fewer still have the guts to back that up when there is a vote. Surely the Morris tribunal report, which will be briefly discussed tomorrow, and particularly the revelations in the first report, the McGlinchey module, must give them pause for thought that people can be convicted in the Special Criminal Court under special laws on the word of the Garda special branch man.
History will judge harshly all those Deputies with their heads in the sand about the abuses perpetrated by the State against citizens on their watch. They are so consumed and blinded by anti-republicanism, they are failing in their duty to protect the public interest. It is incumbent on them to consider their responsibility carefully and to consider what we now know. We know the gardaí fabricated evidence of arms finds in Donegal, that the Murphy conviction in the Omagh case was overturned because of Garda fabrication, that the gardaí planted a gun on James Sheehan in north Kerry and that the father of four, Niall Binead, had no presumption of innocence as he was tried by the media and convicted of membership of an illegal organisation on the basis of exercising his right to silence. Despite media misrepresentation, he was not convicted of spying allegations. He was not convicted of unlawful collection of information under section 8. In fact, according to the Minister, no one has been charged under section 8. Does this not raise questions for Deputies about the conviction? Earlier this week, five Limerick men face up to five years in prison on the word of a senior garda. Most of the evidence against them seems to be that they laid a wreath.
Can Deputies be confident that the powers they are about to reconfirm have not been abused in nearly 700 arrests in the past year alone? Are they absolutely certain about the soundness of each of the 60 plus convictions? Do they firmly believe all the 102 awaiting trial will receive a fair one? If not, I ask them to vote against this motion.
This, of course, is nonsense. High GP costs result in more people seeking routine treatment in A&E wards, as well as sometimes causing minor and easily-treatable illnesses to become serious and thus require hospital care. If Mary Harney honestly does not believe that this is her department's concern, she's in the wrong department.
At the time of the cabinet reshuffle I said that it was absolutely insane for her to be given this post. After all, two of the issues which most energised the electorate to vote against the Government in 2004 were the PDs and health care. So putting a PD in charge of health care was probably the Government's least logical response. Judging from the latest polls, it appears I may have been right.
The number for text messages to Newstalk 106 is 0866000106. You know what to do.
Ironically, this has only come to light thanks to Jeffrey Donaldson, who'd tabled questions on the progress of the case. It appears that the NIO and PSNI were hoping it had been forgotten about and would quietly disappear.
The cover story this week is speculation that Bertie plans to call the general election next year, rather than wait for the May 2007 deadline. This will no doubt be replied to with a denial from the Taoiseach's office, but it's actually what I have suspected for several months now. Open disagreements between the coalition partners have been increasing, most recently on the building of a new terminal at Dublin Airport and Michael McDowell's proposal for a new "café-bar" licence. In addition, there are a few FF backbenchers who are very strongly opposed to McDowell's planned introduction of Anti Social Behaviour Orders - listening to the Dáil debate last week one could have been forgiven for thinking Pat Carey and John McGuinness were actually members of the opposition. McGuinness, especially; I cannot recall ever seeing a member of a Government party speak out so strongly against a Government proposition. Frankly, this doesn't look like a coalition that has two years left in it.
So what does it mean? Hard to say at this point. Obviously, one of the most important things is getting the PDs out of Government. The damage they have done is immense. I would not be in favour of Sinn Féin going into coalition with FF this time around - we will have around 10 TDs at most and I doubt FF would be as generous to us with key Ministries as they have been to the PDs. And I'm not sure there would be the numbers for FF to coalesce with those independents who'd be willing to do so. I can't see FF and FG going in together, even though you couldn't slide an envelope between their political philosophies (including the one their grandparents went to war over), and Labour have ruled out going in with FF, but there don't appear to be the numbers for them to go in with FG, or even with FG and the Greens. So it's all to play for, really.
I do think it's hilarious that Labour are willing to coalesce with the (slightly) further right of the two main parties, though. A fortnight ago in the Dáil SF introduced a Private Members motion against the privatisation of Aer Lingus. FG, predictably, opposed it; Labour supported it. What would they have done if they were in Government together when we introduced it? Or when we introduced our bill to enshrine neutrality into the Constitution, which Labour also supported and FG opposed? Over the past few years Labour have already moved further right than many in their traditional base would like; their former chief strategist Fergus Finlay openly admitted that they were courting the middle class vote because they think the trade unions, etc., aren't relevant anymore. In Government with Fine Gael they're only going to move even further right. And Sinn Féin will be there, nipping at their heels, on their left.
Incidentally, I'm somewhat neutral on the café-bar thing. I think there are a lot of bogus arguments being thrown around by both sides. Nobody in Ireland limits their drinking (during normal hours) because they can't find a place to get a drink, after all. Nor are many people going to say "Well, I could stay in this pub the whole night, but now that there's a café-bar next door I'll just go there and have a meal with my pint instead". I'm all for the idea of café-bars, actually, because I really quite like them, but I think it would be more sensible to provide incentives for existing pubs to convert, rather than opening additional establishments. I haven't thought out how you'd do that though, so please don't ask me!
The Trib was surprisingly short this week of things-to-make-me-throw-the-paper-across-the-room. My greatest outrage was at a letter to the editor suggesting that the FAI should withdraw from the Champions League next year and nominate Liverpool instead. The day they do that is the day I stop giving any money to anything having to do with Irish soccer. Fortunately it's not going to happen, but it absolutely disgusts me that an Irish person would suggest it in any case. Sure, why don't we just let England have Roy Keane and Damien Duff as well? We're probably not going to need them next year.
Mr. Ferris: Like previous speakers, I welcome the second report of the Morris tribunal. The belief that what happened in Donegal was as a result of a small number of gardaí effectively being out of control is something that needs to be examined. If that were the case, one would assume there was never a heavy gang in the State. While a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison in the 1970s, I witnessed at first hand Nicky Kelly, a colleague of Deputy Rabbitte, being helped up the stairs after being brutally assaulted and beaten by members of the special branch. Not one member of this heavy gang was held accountable for their brutal actions.
This also calls into question the sacrosanct evidence accepted by the Special Criminal Court, where the word of a special branch man as against a defendant is taken as absolute, even to the extent that verbal admission, regardless of how it is extracted, is accepted as evidence to secure convictions. As elected representatives, we must ensure that what took place in Donegal and what is taking place in many other areas does not happen again. Since becoming a Member of this House, I have been trying to get the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examine the planting of a gun in a man's car, but to no avail. The gun was subsequently destroyed on the orders of the Minister. This speaks volumes about this man who opposed the setting up of this inquiry. He has resisted it from the beginning. As Deputy Gormley said, he is now saying he delivered on this.
We must also examine the convictions secured on evidence produced by the senior gardaí mentioned in this report. Where do the victims stand in all of this? It is likely that many innocent people in many counties were convicted on verbal admissions or signed statements, regardless of how they were extracted. I attended meetings with Joe Costello in the 1970s and 1980s when there was an attempt to raise this issue, but the State stopped it. I recall the Fianna Fáil Party in Opposition speaking out against the heavy gang, but when it went into Government it did nothing about it.
There are many issues to be examined in this regard. I suggest that the Morris tribunal should include in its terms of reference the collusion in the assassination of Donegal county councillor, Eddie Fullerton. He was shot dead in his home and nothing has been done about it. The investigation has been hindered because elements in control of the British forces were involved in the case. We must also examine the use of informers - people who would sell their soul for money. These people were being used without any accountability.
An Ceann Comhairle: As I pointed out to Deputy Rabbitte, a brief comment is in order this morning on the Morris tribunal report and a more detailed comment may be made in the debate which has been promised in coming weeks.Mr. Ferris: With respect, I would be failing in my responsibility as a public representative if I did not bring to the notice of the House today the use of Garda informants in the Donegal matter, which was very evident in the report. I welcome the fact that this issue will be debated. The debate must take into account all the aspects I have raised, including issues that were hidden by this House and the State in the past. People were never held accountable for the wrongs and injustices they perpetrated against victims inside Garda barracks. Members of the special branch were given the freedom to do what they wished. I look forward to the debate to which I will contribute in due course.