IMEACHTAÍ AN CHOMHCHOISTE
PROCEEDINGS OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE
AN CHOMHCHOISTE UM GHNÓTHAÍ EACHTRACHA
JOINT COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
Dé Céadaoin, 25 Márta 1998.
Wednesday, 25 March 1998.
The Joint Committee met at 4 p.m.
* In substitution for Senator P. Mooney.
! Apologies received from Deputy T. Ahearn, Deputy A. Deasy, Senator E. Haughey.
Chairman: I received a letter, which has been circulated to Members, from the Algerian Ambassador indicating that he will not be attending our next meeting on 8 April. It is a matter for the committee to decide who visits or comes before it on particular issues and, therefore, I am not prepared to accede to his request that nobody but himself should be heard at the meeting. We accept that in these circumstances he does not wish to attend. Dr. Brahimi will attend. He was prime minister of Algeria from 1984-8, a period which was not the high point of Algerian democracy. In the past couple of days I had the opportunity of speaking with a representative in Ireland of one of the political parties in Algeria which has 19 deputies elected to the current parliament. He informed me that he could get at least one of these elected deputies to attend a meeting of our committee and that they would be glad to do so. Unfortunately, they cannot attend on 8 April. I propose to invite one of the deputies to attend. Dr. Brahimi was never elected and is not a member of the Algerian Parliament. The party in question is the RCD which is in opposition. It is a non-violent, democratic party. An article in The Sunday Independent at the beginning of March by an Irish journalist who visited the party’s annual conference is fairly glowing. The party has 19 deputies, some of whom are elected by Algerians abroad as there are external constituencies due to the number of Algerians living outside the country. These are recognised under the Algerian constitution. I suggest we proceed with the meeting on 8 April without the Ambassador who refuses to come.
Deputy Proinsias De Rossa: I understand the Algerian Ambassador refused to come if he was to be faced with opposition representatives from Algeria. However, opposition representatives will not be present and surely the meeting with the Ambassador could be rearranged. It would be valuable for the committee to hear from and cross examine the Ambassador. A way should be found to overcome what is clearly a device to avoid talking to us. We should not concede so easily.
Senator Doyle: Did he give a reason why he could not or would not come?
Chairman: The point made by Deputy De Rossa, namely, that he could be heard on his own in the absence of others, was conceded to him. There is no question of him being involved in a debate with people from other parties in Algeria or with other points of view. He found it unacceptable that the committee should invite anybody other than himself. I circulated the letter, dated 19 March, which he sent to me. He had a telephone conversation with the clerk, Mr. Kissane, on that date, and asked whether anybody else was due to appear before the committee on the same day. At this point he had accepted the invitation. Mr. Kissane told him it was expected that others would appear before the committee on that date after the Ambassador has finished his presentation. He stated this would change the nature of his attendance; that while he would be representing a sovereign state the others would be representing nobody but themselves; that he would have to go back to his government regarding attendance and that he would probably not attend if others were attending. Mr. Kissane told him he would let the committee know his views on the matter. He asked to be informed as soon as possible if the committee proposed to meet other people on 8 April subsequent to which he would give a decision on attendance, which was likely to be negative. He was informed that others would be attending and he subsequently wrote the letter as circulated. There was no question of a confrontation between him and them. We were happy to bring him before the committee on his own and speak with the others separately afterwards.
Deputy Proinsias De Rossa: The other people are not now going to be here on 8 April.
Chairman: One set will, but a second and perhaps more desirable group, which constitutes elected deputies of the current Algerian Parliament, cannot come on 8 April. Although some of them represent constituencies abroad, they are able to travel to Algeria for meetings of the Parliament and actively part-take in its deliberations.
Senator Lanigan: Who do those who will attend on 8 April represent?
Chairman: They are the Irish-Algerian solidarity group, who nominated or suggested Dr. Brahini, a former Prime Minister of Algeria who is resident in London. He is not an elected member of the Algerian Parliament, he is in exile from Algeria.
Senator Lanigan: Before we give him the credibility of appearing before this committee, how do we attempt to put into context what he does or does not represent? Will we become a committee to which anyone objecting to any régime or government will have a right of audience? Are we leaving what is supposed to be a prestigious committee of the Oireachtas open to this possibility? Does that mean the druids from Kilkenny, who represent no one, can come here?
Chairman: No, it does not mean that. Since I assumed the Chair of this committee I have always been careful to ensure that those who came before it have some standing.
Senator Lanigan: That is what I am asking - what standing has this man?
Chairman: He at least has the standing of being a former Prime Minister. I have mixed views on former Prime Ministers of different countries and I do not think that having formerly held that office necessarily canonises anyone. In my experience throughout the world, former Prime Ministers are a mixed lot, some are better than others. However, at least he is a former Prime Minister and in that sense he is not insignificant.
Senator Lanigan: Supposing we wanted a person to talk about the current state of Romania, would we invite a former Prime Minister of that state who had served there when the country was controlled by the USSR?
Chairman: The committee was faced with the difficulty in recent months that it was hard to get anyone in a representative or formerly representative capacity in Algeria to meet us. In these circumstances the committee agreed to the suggestion of the Irish-Algeria solidarity group that we might meet Dr. Brahili, which was not unreasonable. I have since made contact with a current political party with 19 elected deputies. As I said, at least one of those deputies is prepared to come here - unfortunately he cannot come on 8 April but can come to a meeting soon after that, hopefully the first meeting after Easter. I do not think this man is totally lacking credibility but I agree he has not held office for some time. It was the best we could do at the time and hopefully we will begin to get more information from Algeria. It is an ongoing and complicated situation and like Kosovo it is hard to get first hand information about what is going on there.
Deputy De Rossa: If we have invited this person on 8 April that should stand but we should still ask the Algerian Ambassador to come on a date of his choosing. We can make our own decisions about whether anyone else from Algeria attends on that date. I do not think we should deny ourselves the opportunity to hear him and to put it up to him to come here. It is too serious an issue for us to stand on ceremony about him coming here - we should hear him and use whatever devices are necessary. If he still does not want to come that is his choice.
Deputy Briscoe: The impression I got from the letter was that the Ambassador thought he would be confronted by other people with different views, when the intention was just to meet him, hear his views and allow Members to ask him questions, nothing more than that.
Chairman: I read Mr. Kissane’s note of his telephone conversation with the Ambassador-which was initiated by the Ambassador - and Mr. Kissane made clear that the other people who the committee would see would meet the committee after the Ambassador had finished his presentation. There would be no question of confrontation between the two.
Deputy Briscoe: That is my understanding but is it the Ambassador’s understanding? In spite of that he still does not want to meet us.
Chairman: His letter makes clear that, if he can so arrange it, he does not want this committee to meet anyone other than himself or people representing the present Government. I do not think the committee can accept that. I think we are entitled to hear both sides of the story or, as in some cases, including Algeria, three or four sides, because it is a complex matter. I have no objection to the Clerk to the Committee conveying to the Ambassador that if he wants to come on a date of his own he can but that will not stop us hearing other people.
Senator Lanigan: We should have the people come here and suggest to him that he comes on a suitable date.
Chairman: The committee is adjourned until 4 p.m. on 8 April.
The Joint Committee adjourned at. 5.50 p.m.