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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 Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan] That has been pointed out by many people. This free trade agreement will further the process of land-grabbing by multinational companies. It will also destroy the environment through pollution. We know that Colombia has one of the world's most biologically diverse ecosystems. I accept that the peace process is very positive, but there should be no trade-off for concessions in the free trade agreement that benefit corporations and big businesses. More than 400 organisations and individuals in the US urged opposition to the ratification of the US-Colombia free trade agreement because it failed to recognise labour rights, human rights and the indigenous groups in Colombia. Since that agreement was enacted, Colombia's exports to the US have fallen by 15% and imports into Colombia from the US have increased by 15%. We know there is such depth and strength of opposition to this agreement on the part of farmers, women, workers, trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders because it will increase poverty. How can Ireland ratify it? We know it is going to do so. If we were to slow or to delay the process, we would send a signal that we are serious about human rights positions. Ireland is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and has raised issues relating to Colombia at that forum. The Minister can ensure Irish companies working in Colombia are not guilty of human rights abuses of their workers.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this important motion, which relates to the free trade agreement with Colombia. I strongly oppose the motion on the basis of the facts on the ground and my visit to Colombia in 2006. I did not spend my time in Bogota smoking Havana cigars and chilling out in my hotel. I had a good look around the city. I met many people. I visited the prisons and met the prisoners. I visited the voluntary non-governmental organisations. I met the Coca-Cola workers. We met Ministers and we had a good look around. We saw the situation and had a very good and objective view. We learned a lot from that experience. It shaped my views on this agreement. That is why I am strongly opposed to it. I urge my colleagues in this House to stand up for human rights by voting against the ratification of the EU trade agreement with Colombia. I say that on the basis of what I heard on the ground and witnessed at first hand.

Approximately 5.5 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict in Colombia. This is the highest such number in the world. Seventy human rights defenders, including community, indigenous and Afrodescendant leaders, were killed in 2013. The conflict has claimed at least 220,000 since 1958, with more than four in every five victims being civilians. That is the reality on the ground. When I was in Colombia, I met many victims' families, including the wives of lawyers who were gunned down and killed. An average of 54,410 women suffered sexual violence in Colombia each year between 2001 and 2009. That equates to 144 women a day, or six women an hour. Many of these acts of violence took place in the context of the conflict. That is a reality and a fact. Nearly 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in recent decades. I will never forget the fear in the eyes of the Coca-Cola workers the day I met them in Bogota at a secret meeting with a group of Irish politicians and lawyers and American and international human rights people. Some of their colleagues are among the 3,000 trade unionists who have been killed. This makes Colombia the most dangerous country for many trade unions. It is important that we get to know these facts. Many of the people I met in Colombia were very interested in what was going on in Ireland with regard to our peace process.

I urge all Deputies to reject this motion and to stand with the people, the trade unionists and the citizens of Colombia. Last week, the Irish Government disgracefully flew national flags at half mast even though the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has been an absolute scandal in recent years. We have to stand up for human rights and stand against this agreement.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy This is the second parliament in which I have debated this agreement. The European Parliament passed this free trade agreement more than two years ago against my opposition and - it should be noted - the opposition of all the Labour Party MEPs who voted against it. Those who voted in favour of it, particularly other Social Democrat MEPs, were influenced by the fig leaf that was on offer, in the form of a roadmap or action plan on human rights, and by the non-binding Article 2 of the agreement, which refers to human rights. They said that the situation would improve, that the free trade agreement would raise all boats, that the values of human rights, etc., would spread and that the agreement would benefit trade unionists and others in Colombia. There is no longer a need to speculate on whether these things will happen. We have the evidence because the time has passed. The evidence clearly says that these things have not happened. The human rights situation in Colombia has not improved. The free trade agreement, which is being provisionally implemented, has bolstered the Colombian Government as it continues to stand over human rights abuses. In August 2013, at least nine striking activists were murdered by the Colombian police and army during protests against free trade agreements with the United States and Canada. The UN denounced the unfounded accusations made by the Colombian Government to the effect that armed groups were behind these protests.

Colombia remains the most dangerous place on earth for trade unionists. More than 100 human rights defenders and trade unionists have been killed there since the implementation of the free trade agreement. Massive displacement of indigenous people, particularly by extractive industries, is continuing to take place. Justice is an extremely rare commodity in Colombia, with impunity rates remaining at more than 90% after a legacy of conflict. We can read the evidence given by a former police chief, Mr. Santoyo, in the courts in the US when he was convicted of assisting paramilitary organisations. He testified that he helped the Colombian death squads to identify victims to be killed and to escape without getting caught. He was the head of the police for President Uribe at the time this deal was negotiated with the European Commission. Every trade union confederation that has a connection to this issue, including the Central Union of Workers in Colombia, the International Trade Union Confederation, the European Trade Union Confederation and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, has campaigned strongly against the agreement. We have a chance here. We are voting on it in this Parliament because it has been identified by the EU as a mixed agreement. If it was a regular international trade agreement, we would not even have a vote. It is because we have a vote that this Parliament and every other parliament in the EU have the ability to stop it and thereby send a very powerful message. If the Labour Party were to take the same position here that it took in the European Parliament, it would come in here today and vote against this agreement. That would be a powerful signal. We have a choice between putting human rights and workers' rights first and putting the profits of big business first.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The next three speakers are Deputies Eric Byrne, Brendan Smith and Joe Costello. They will have ten minutes each.

Deputy Eric Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne I am delighted this debate is being held in this Chamber. As far as I am aware, such a debate has never been held with the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. One would think that logically, a European agreement would be debated at that committee. It was only after heavy pressure was put on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade that we managed to get a debate going at that level. Issues like foreign affairs, human rights, Irish aid and development aid come through that committee. In a sense, I am a something of an intruder into the committee functioning of the jobs committee.

I want to applaud the work that has been done throughout Colombia by our very respected and highly motivated non-governmental organisations that are active there. If they had not been telling politicians what they experience and see on the ground, this debate would have been a formality. In particular, I applaud the work of the trade unionists in Ireland and particularly in England who, in recognition the abuses of trade union activists by the Colombian authorities and the Colombian Government, have pooled resources to form a very important organisation that is based in England and operates in conjunction with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

When I had the pleasure of being a guest of the Justice for Colombia group, I visited some horrendous parts of that country.

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