Topical Issue Debate

OSCE Debate

Posted May 11th, 2012

I compliment Deputy Calleary on his thoughtful contribution. This is an island and we must trade or we die. We do not just trade in goods and services but also politically, culturally, academically and in myriad ways. There is an idea in certain quarters that we can resolve our great problems alone. We cannot, and neither can others. There are those who would have us not only burn bondholders and investors but also relationships, credibility and confidence in Ireland’s commitment to the wider world. We have a reputation to rebuild. That means re-engaging with those countries, organisations and issues we ignored in the past during the boom years. It means fulfilling our responsibilities beyond our shores.

I am glad the Tánaiste and the Whips facilitated the time for this debate so the Dáil could discuss the important work of the OSCE. I was privileged to be asked by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to head the Oireachtas delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. While the Minister and other Deputies have given the House a clear picture of the work of the organisation, this is our Parliament and I will speak on the important work being done in the organisation’s Parliamentary Assembly. Initially, however, I commend the Tánaiste and all the diplomatic staff working here in Dublin in the task force headed by Ambassador Frank Cogan and in Vienna headed by Ambassador Eoin O’Leary. They and their staff are a compliment to the Tánaiste and the way he has assumed and directed his chairmanship of the OSCE.

I wish to comment briefly on the recent event in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. As a Member of the Dáil and as an Irish person, I was proud to receive the compliments I received there on behalf of the Government for all the good work the Tánaiste and the diplomatic corps have done in the chairmanship role of the organisation. The aforementioned “Shared Future”conference was on the Northern Ireland peace process and tried to use Irish history as a potential case study for other situations throughout the world. Those who attended, both from Ireland and the dignitaries and diplomats who came from abroad, derived much benefit from it and I certainly did. It stands as a fine example of the excellent work being done by the Government in this sphere. It also is important to recognise this is being done with a reduced budget and with reduced resources.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE is the parliamentary dimension of the organisation’s work, which I have experienced a number of times since my election to the Dáil. We deal with the same issues as the OSCE but as parliamentarians and not as governments. The primary task of the Assembly is to facilitate interparliamentary dialogue in an effort to meet the challenges of democracy throughout the OSCE area. The Assembly comprises 320 parliamentarians from 56 countries who discuss issues that matter to each one of them. In my experience, it is a powerful thing in which to be involved. The six-member Oireachtas delegation to the OSCE includes Deputies Heather Humphreys, Ann Phelan, Arthur Spring and Stephen Donnelly and Senator Jim Walsh. While we have political allegiances here at home, we leave these behind when we attend the Assembly, where we work as a unit. We represent our country and I believe we do so well. One of the delegation’s driving motivations is to represent its country as best it can and to make a meaningful contribution to the Assembly’s work. I believe we are fortunate, in that so many parliamentarians from our partner countries approach it in the same way.

In the course of the meetings we have attended, the delegation has discussed a number of issues, from Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau to cybersecurity and cybercrime, human trafficking, detention of political prisoners in, for example, Ukraine, election monitoring in a number of countries including Tunisia and conflict resolution in areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

As it is the largest regional security organisation in the world, the brief is wide-ranging but I will touch on a few of the issues the Parliamentary Assembly has dealt with to date. One such issue is human trafficking, to which Deputy Ann Phelan already has referred briefly. In February, Ms Maria Grazia Giammarinaro visited Dublin and met our delegation here. Ms Grazia Giammarinaro is the OSCE special representative and co-ordinator for combatting trafficking in human beings. We discussed at length in our meeting the issue of human trafficking and how it relates to forced labour. Subsequently and following on from that meeting, we have engaged with Ms Grazia again, with fellow Assembly members from the United States in particular, as well as other interested partners, in the hope of the Irish delegation organising a side-event at a future meeting to help to try to bring this issue more to the fore in the work of both the Assembly and the OSCE, as well as to help educate other parliamentarians as to the types of laws and measures that could be introduced in their own countries to help with this matter, which also of course affects Ireland. The benefit of this multilateral organisation is demonstrated by working together on such an important issue.

As for Syria, as the conflict there escalated to yet another level of violence and having discussed the issue of Syria at the Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Deputies Spring, Ann Phelan and I raised the crisis in Syria recently as a topical issue. This is a good example of how the work of the Assembly reflects back on individual parliaments and parliamentarians. Had it not been for the discussions in which we had participated previously, I am unsure whether we would have taken such an interest in this conflict. This is a major positive because the more parliamentarians who raise this issue, the more Governments that must pay attention and, one hopes, the more pressure that will be brought to bear on the Syrian Government. It is important to make this point today in particular in light of the most recent events in that country and the terrible things that are happening.

Election monitoring comprises another very important element of the work of both the Assembly and the OSCE. Much of the work of the OSCE is conducted through the organisation’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which deals in the main with election monitoring and is headed most capably by Ambassador Lenarcic in his office based in Warsaw. Long and short-term observers, sponsored by governments including the Government of Ireland, are deployed to countries throughout the organisation to monitor their elections and to ensure they are free and fair. There is no discrimination here and this year, election monitors will be deployed in both Russia and the United States to monitor the presidential elections there. An essential component of these missions is the delegation from the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly. As parliamentarians, people who have been through the election process themselves, they add an extra dimension of scrutiny to proceedings, a perhaps more relevant experience in so far as assessing the conduct of elections is concerned. While the work of such delegations cannot be done without the long and short-term observers, the experience they bring on the day, on the ground, in the middle of the seeming chaos that is the democratic election process, is critical.

If I may, I will speak briefly on my personal experience in Russia, because I was fortunate to witness this at first-hand, when the Assembly decided to send an observation mission to the Russian presidential elections in March. Much is happening in Russia on the political front at present and it was the good work of the OSCE, as the only independent external observers of the parliamentary elections to the Duma last December, that was able to legitimately determine the conduct of those elections. We travelled to the presidential elections to continue that good work. As a member organisation of the OSCE, it is important that the Assembly continues in its commitment to its fellow parliamentarians there and the people they represent. This was a fascinating experience for me as a new and young Deputy. Moreover, I believe, every Member of this House should at some stage participate in an observation mission abroad. One learns in a short time the true value of democracy, of strong political and democratic institutions and of the power of giving the franchise, that is, the vote and a voice, to those who may not have exercised it before or who may not be able to exercise it as freely as do people here. This Parliament would be stronger, were each Member to take time to observe the election processes in our OSCE partner countries.

I spent six days in Moscow. We met the election observers the OSCE already had deployed on the ground, visited the Duma and met representatives of the different candidates and parties, as well as one of the candidates, Mr. Prokhorov, who ultimately came third in the election. We were briefed by civic society, including the Golos organisation, the operations of which we viewed and we met State-run and other independent media. On the day itself, I opened and closed a polling station in the Moscow north-central area, which was fascinating. I also visited many others throughout the day, including a polling station in a prison. It was quite something to observe how one administers an election on such a wide scale across nine timezones and a number of regions. I witnessed the count, did my tallies and reported back to my team in the early hours of the morning. Later that morning, there was a debriefing with all the monitoring teams in which reports were taken from all over the country. We held a press conference and then, for the time being at least, our work was done. However, I wish to cite the conclusions of the head of our delegation, Mr. Tonino Picula from Croatia, on that occasion:

There were serious problems from the very start of this election. The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.

This was the truth of the matter and Mr. Picula stated it as it needed to be stated, in stronger terms than others and following our direct experience there. This demonstrates the added value of the Parliamentary Assembly in a very meaningful and demonstrable way. I highlight this statement, while making no criticism of the essential work done by the OSCE observers or the participating governments of the OSCE in election monitoring. My point is only to emphasise the important additional dimension that parliamentarians, answerable only to the people who elect them, can bring to such situations.

In conclusion, our work as parliamentarians is important. This body, the OSCE, is essential. If it did not exist, it would be necessary to create it. I commend the new Secretary General, Ambassador Zannier, on all his good work to date. In so far as the Irish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly is concerned, I thank the IPU here for its excellent support, as well as the Secretariat to the Assembly in Copenhagen, led ably by Secretary General Spencer Oliver, with his staff. Our Assembly President, a Greek parliamentarian and friend, is Petros Efthymiou and I personally congratulate him on serving the Assembly so well for the past two years. I also express my thanks to the diplomats who have assisted the delegation so well abroad and finally to my fellow members of the delegation for all of their hard work to date. Ireland has a reputation to rebuild abroad and the delegation’s work in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is very much a part of that, as is the fine work the Tánaiste is doing in chairing the OSCE this year. It is not all selfish as I believe we are making a difference and we are making a significant contribution to international events.