Thursday, September 25, 2008

EU seeks to silence Libertas

In a mixed couple of weeks for democrats in Ireland and Europe increasingly concerned by the decline of democracy in Europe, there was much to give rise for concern. On the one hand, the rejection by European Parliament of the original text of the Parliament's Education and Culture Committee that would have effectively set in motion regulation, registration and ultimately censorship of political-blogs gave one brief hope that Brussels was coming to its senses. Such hopes were dashed by the decision by the leaders of the main EP political-groups to tell an EP delegation to ask the US Congress to disclose rumoured-Libertas funding in the US. According to Judith Crosbie in the Irish Times, "The European Parliament is to ask the US Congress about US fundraising for anti-Lisbon Treaty lobby group Libertas and will set up links with the Irish watchdog on referendum spending. The leaders of the parliament's political groups decided to take the action after MEPs raised concerns during a parliament session over alleged US funding regarding Ireland's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs are concerned about the prospect of Libertas launching a campaign across the EU for next year's European parliamentary elections, as suggested by the group's chairman, Declan Ganley. The parliament has yet to decide whether its delegation to the Congress should visit the US to discover any information it may have on US fundraising or exchange letters on the matter. Graham Watson, leader of the parliament's Liberal group, said he supported contacting Congress because such contacts had proved useful when discovering the source of IRA funding in the US. The European Parliament wants to tell Ireland's Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) of information it might have of a European nature on Libertas funding. "We will be establishing links with Sipo. Anything gleaned from Europe, we'll send over to them," said an official. The parliament's leaders would "regularly and closely monitor the situation and return to the issue, in any event, in the light of any conclusion by Sipo or other Irish authorities", said a statement". Brian Crowley, Fianna Fáil MEP for Munster, said he told the other group leaders that Sipo was the appropriate body to examine Libertas's funding. Kathy Sinnott, independent MEP for Munster and leader of the parliament's independence/ Democracy group, said the delegation to the US could do better things than inquire about Libertas funding."

After the humiliation of seeing our politicians cowtow to Europe following our no vote by largely refusing to rule out either a rerun of a referendum on an identical text to the rejected Lisbon Treaty, or (Enda Kenny and Fine Gael being an honorable exception to this rule) parliamentary ratification of parts of Lisbon in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we can at least say that in the matter of Libertas funding, that the fact that not all our elected representatives have associated themselves with this latter-day Inquisition directed at dissent towards the Lisbon-model of European integration will be a source of relief, but the parties here are certainly not united in such a stance. Hardly a day goes by without Europe Minister Dick Roche muttering menacingly about the 'shadowy' origins of Libertas and its supposed links to the US military, most recently with respect to contracts in Alaska. The controversy surrounding Ganley's company, Rivada Networks, began during the Lisbon campaign, with vague accusations from the pro-Treaty side about links to neocons and the US military. What was not mentioned was the nature of these links, which pertained to emergency-disaster relief such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - hardly relevant to the foreign policy of George W Bush. Despite an almost one-dimensional fixation with the finances and activities of Declan Ganley's company and Libertas, Roche and the yes side have failed to make anything stick where he is concerned. The latest from Roche's website refers to what is described as a "loophole" in American Federal Procurement legislation "that allows military contractor's such as Rivada Networks Ltd to get contracts without any form of public competitive tendering, hardly an advertising and for either accountability or transparency. ". Someone should perhaps tell Minister Roche that if something is not illegal then it is not a crime, and that given SIPO has revealed his party to have only disclosed where 13% of its money is coming from, that perhaps his party should cease inhabiting an ethical-glass house before throwing stones. For the disclosure threshold beyond which donations to political-parties must be revealed is itself a loophole, and as such going by Roche's standards is also " hardly an advertising and for either accountability or transparency.". If you're going to talk the talk Minister, then your party should also walk the walk or Dún do bhéal.

But that should not let them off the hook. Having failed to defend Irish sovereignty either in the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty themselves, the subsequent referendum and in the case of most of the "Yes" parties their reaction to the brave Irish rejection of the Treaty on June 12th, they must now show themselves worthy not only in letter but also in spirit of the accolades of being the representatives of the people. For it is debatable whether the current complexion of Dail Éireann would be as now had last year's General Election been held in the aftermath of that no vote. Defenders of the thesis of representative as opposed to direct-democracy, including Irish Times writers Ruth Barrington and Stephen Collins argue that Oireachtas ratification of at least parts of the Treaty despite the rejection of the referendum by the Irish people is not undemocratic, as representative-democracy as embodied by national parliaments is an equally legitimate expression of democracy. But I beg to differ. Each EU member state has its own respective model of democracy. It is the norm across Europe that except in exceptional cases pertaining to national sovereignty and other areas, national parliaments can ratify treaties as they see fit - if in some cases - such as where national constitutions may be impinged on - this requires weighted rather than simple-majorities. But in the Irish context, direct-democracy has been an intrinsic and I believed highly-prized core principle of our democratic-model since 1937. It's detractors would do well to recall the fate of the Scottish Parliament of 1707, the Irish Parliament in 1800, and the French National Assembly in 1940, before recommending handing our politicians the constitutional blank-cheque such an absolutist adherance to "representative democracy" would give to them. For it was the 1937 Constitution that saved the liberties of the Irish people on scores of occasions over the past 71 years. As a constitution that was largely the workmanship of Fianna Fáil, it ill behoves Mary O'Rourke to be advocating circumvention of the result of the referendum that was ultimately a product of that Constitution. It's less surprising to hear such calls coming from Fine Gael figures like Senator Eugene Regan, who called for Oireachtas ratification with the intrument of a referendum being confined to issues such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Indeed it's ironic that it seems to be the leadership of Fianna Fáil, rather than Fine Gael, that seems the more inclined towards legislative ratification. It was, after all, Fine Gael that was the great defender of the 1922 Constitution, with its elitist proviso that constitutional amendments would be the prerogative of the Oireachtas to the exclusion of the prior requirement for binding referenda. In contrast, it is Enda Kenny, rather than Brian Cowen, that is courageously and stoutly defend the prerogative invested in the people by the 1937 Constitution that gives them a veto on constitutional changes or the transfer of sovereignty to supranational institutions. Can it be, following the Varadkar proposals on voluntary repatriation and the more positive proactive positioning of the party in support of the long-overdue reform of the public-sector, that Fine Gael is finally on the long road to making itself electable as a credible alternative party of government? I think so.


kerdasi amaq said...

funding for political parties.

Well we should completely outlaw private donations to political parties. However we should give them a period of time(to continue to accept donations)so that they can think of a way of funding themselves without needing any donations.

If they are unable to do this; then they should closed down totally.

V said...

Kathy is right. It is a bit of a waste of time. Ganley runs companies that supply military hardware to the US gov who pay him for it, he also funds Libertas. Why exactly do you need to ask congress something you already know. Pentagon money funded the 'no' campaign, so what? Would anyone care if you produced a bank statement? Libertas had nothing to do with the result of the vote, but fair fucks to them they can carry on their crusade to turn Europe into a non-secular US neo-conservative satellite state.