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Free Trade Agreements between the European Union and Columbia and Peru: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 865 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] They have provided greedy corporations with a carte blanche to disregard the living standards of the Colombian people. They are polluting the environment. They are evicting people from their lands, which is leading to the further impoverishment of the population.

  The Government has a democratic right to refuse to ratify this agreement but, as usual, it is standing submissively by in the hope that the Commission apparatus might kick into action where human rights abuses inevitably occur. The Minister has said that if breaches do occur, that will give rise to the adoption of the appropriate measures but he knows full well that the measures he refers to are not set out in any agreement and the effect will invalidate his own position.

  If it is the Minister's intention to go ahead with this trade agreement, will he at least bring the joint committee's political contribution statements before the Dáil as a motion or resolution as provided for under existing Standing Orders? This is the first time in my four years as a Deputy that I have been part of a committee that has issued an all-party position that is directly at odds with that of the Government. It is a serious development where Fine Gael and Labour Deputies-----

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Very serious.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín -----in a committee would come to the view that this particular agreement should be voted down against the views of the Government.

Sinn Féin does not support this motion. We do not believe that the Irish Government should ratify the EU-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. To quote representatives of the people of the Putumayo province: "We are opposed to the EU's Free Trade Agreement with Colombia because it will only serve to create more violence, more displacements and it will further destroy communities and the natural environment."

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Sinn Féin opposes the timing, the content and the lack of viable human rights safeguards and mechanisms within this agreement. The human rights provisions are not strong enough, and an oversight mechanism will not deliver the necessary safeguards needed in that country.

Anti-trade union violence has directly led to the deaths of almost 3,000 trade union activists over the past 25 years. The murderers have 95% impunity due to the inadequate or complete failure to investigate those deaths. Two hundred trade unionists have been murdered since President Santos came to power; 20 were killed last year, and 26 were murdered in 2013. Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist or a human rights activist. Colombia is a world leader in ignoring regulations regarding human rights that it has signed up to in international agreements.

The new, hardly dry foreign policy document the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade launched last week rightly places human rights at the core of Ireland's foreign policy. Passing this agreement flies directly in the face of that policy provision. Supporters of this agreement point to a human rights provision in the agreement but no impact assessment around the implementation of the agreement on human rights has ever been done. A recent Senate report on the United States free trade agreement with Colombia states clearly that labour rights have actually deteriorated since the passing of that agreement and warns others in trade agreements to carefully consider how human rights can be enhanced and protected. It is clear that the EU has ignored that advice and failed to deliver on sufficient safeguards in this agreement.

For all the talk of human rights provisions being far-reaching, the agreement provides no means of compellability to parties in respect of those rights. We see the same pattern with the EU-Israel FTA which supposedly has human rights provisions and which at the time was also described as far-reaching, yet Israel flattened Gaza last summer and killed over 2,000 people in a couple of weeks, and the EU continues to be its largest trading partner. The Government refuses to back calls to suspend that agreement despite the calls of over 300 organisations, including some of Europe's biggest trade unions, political parties and non-governmental organisations for that agreement to be suspended.

The backdrop to this agreement is happening at a crucial time in the peace process in Colombia. Collectively in this House, we wish all those who are taking part in those discussions all the best in the coming weeks and months.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Hear, hear.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Colombia must regulate and transform society in favour of its civilian population if it is to be able to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has bedevilled the people in that country. Approximately 6 million people have been displaced. The key to the conflict is land rights, but it is also about human rights. Anyone who has visited the courts in Colombia can articulate at first hand the pressure judges are under within the court system.

The Government could easily collapse the talks if it wanted to do so. This FTA is already signed and locked in with the EU. That is one of the concerns of those who are supportive of the process. Rather than supporting the process, some people are of the view that this will strengthen the hand of those who are opposed to peace, dialogue and change in Colombia.

The Dáil has a real chance today to stand up for human rights. This FTA must be passed by all national parliaments of the EU member states. If it rejected by one, it will collapse. I appeal to all those present to reconsider on what we are voting. The Government should stand on the side of human rights, justice, equality and fairness and reject this FTA. The appeal we are making is for it to think again because it is not strong enough. It will not deliver for the people in Colombia and the lack of viable human rights safeguards and mechanisms within the agreement will not deliver what the Minister suggested in his contribution.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan who proposes to share her ten minutes with Deputies Finian McGrath and Paul Murphy on the basis of four, three and three minutes, respectively.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan In 2010, President Michael D. Higgins, then a Deputy, made a powerful intervention about the economic partnership agreements with African countries because they were threatening the lives of millions of African people, and we something similar here today with what is being proposed.

Over the past four to six years, individually and through the foreign affairs committee, I have met Colombian farmers, trade unionists and women community leaders, many linked to the Patriotic March. We met Judge Vargas, who is Vice President of the Constitutional Court of Colombia, and Dr. Lozano, and the concerns were all the same, namely, the forced displacement, the evictions, the imprisonment, the torture, the assassinations and the murder. This FTA will exacerbate that further.

We have the figures. We know that Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. We know the numbers of trade unionists, farmers and community leaders who are in jail, including Huber Ballesteros. Their crime was speaking out on behalf of their communities for violations of the human rights of those communities. Those rights are the right to cultivate land, the right to look for better conditions, better money for their crops, and the right to meet and protest. We will have a pathetic one hour and 15 minute debate on this FTA, an agreement that should not be ratified because it is not protecting the workers, the poor and the rural Colombian and Peruvian communities.

I will give the House some examples. There has been massive expansion in the port of Buenaventura but tens of thousands of farmers were forced off their land outside the city to make way for the corporations. The port has been described as a place of misery and fear for mainly Afro-Colombian workers. There has been massive destruction of farmland for oil exploration in Putumayo and the protesting farmers and trade unions have been abducted, tortured and shot. The farmer protests in Catatumbo claimed many lives. In the hamlets of San Luis Arriba and Corinto, the peasants mobilised against plans to build a new military base on their land. The farming community in Pitalito, which has fertile land and water, were displaced, brought back and displaced again, all with the support of the Colombian army. That was done because the land was needed by a few major farmers in the area to cultivate palm trees for biofuels. This continues in spite of the land restitution law and the victims law. Last September was called Black September in Colombia when there were over 150 death threats against human rights, farmers, journalists, etc.

When the Colombian women I met were forced off their land, they made the point that on the land they had the ability to grow food for themselves and their communities. They were forced off the land into shanties in the towns and cities where they had to try to get money to buy food, which they had been producing. We know that it is through land, particularly smallholder agriculture, that the best hope for the future lies in terms of reducing poverty within those communities.

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