Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Paul Murphy

Gesture Politics and the European Parliament

A version of this article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Echelon magazine.

 

Parliamentary Privilege to Pry- Members of the European Parliament have little power but have licence to meddle.

 

At the time of writing, I do not know the results of the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament (EP). Writing about the elections for the April 2014 issue of Echelon, my researches showed that, although real power in the EU lies with the European Commission and the European Central Bank, this does not deter the EP as a body, or members as individuals or groups, interfering on a global scale and having an opinion about everything under the sun.

Sri Lanka

Back in October 2011, GOSL refused Paul Murphy, an MEP representing Dublin, a visa to visit Sri Lanka. He wanted to teach Sri Lanka about democracy. “The whole of the working class, poor farmers and poor people, Sinhala and Tamil, are victims of this repressive government in my opinion.” As well as complaining that he was refused a visa, he raised the issue of an Irish citizen, Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram,  whom he said had been held prisoner by the Sri Lankan authorities without charge for four years.

Soon after Paul Murphy’s fulminations against GOSL, I had dinner at the Gallery Café with a delegation from the Irish Development Authority. They were keen to improve business relationships with Sri Lanka in order to further Ireland’s recovery from the economic crisis.

At the time GOSL refused Murphy a visa, he had been an MEP for only eight months and was 28 years old. Murphy was already supporting striking Kazakh oil workers, trade unionists in Columbia, Syrian revolutionaries, Bahraini and Chinese dissidents, oppressed Palestinians (he took part in the flotilla to Gaza); he protested against a high speed rail link in Italy.

Murphy certainly has no mandate from the Irish people to take on the entire world’s problems. Mind you, he does not have a mandate from the Irish people to address domestic issues either. He has no electoral mandate at all. How many people voted for Paul Murphy? None. Joe Higgins of the Irish Socialist Party handed the Dublin EP seat to Murphy when he was elected to the Irish national parliament.

Africa

I read recently in the Somaliland Sun (I read it constantly) that the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EP has scolded the government of Ethiopia accusing it of using humanitarian aid as a political tool. The MEPs said that the EU should use sanctions against Ethiopia to stop human rights abuses against Ethiopian and Ogaden civilians. This may be a worthy cause, but the comment thread in the Somaliland Sun shows that this is a more complex situation than MEPs think.

In April 2014, an EP delegation planned to visit Morocco to assess the human rights situation there but the government refused them entry.

 

Syria

The EP, in its last plenary session before the May 2014 elections, adopted a resolution expressing its concern on the latest developments in Syria. The resolution specifically condemns the attack against the Armenian town of Kessab. The resolution also takes note of the rich diversity of ethnic and religious communities in Syria and expresses concern about the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front capturing a number of Christian and Kurdish villages on the Turkish border. Some MEPs wanted the resolution to mention Turkey’s role in the attack against Kessab and in doing so raise again the issue of the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915. This may not be the best way of handling the complexities of Turkish-EU relationships.

Iran

On April 3, the EP passed a resolution expressing grave concern over the human rights situation in Iran and the “continued, systemic violation of fundamental rights” in the country, and called on the members of the EU to “mainstream human rights in all of its relations with Iran.” The resolution claimed that the presidential election in Iran in July 2013 did not conform to European standards. Whatever about EP opinion, world opinion generally regarded the election of Hassan Rouhani as a positive step.

The Iranian government was not too pleased about this. An Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman described the resolution as “unfounded and unacceptable” and other senior figures accused the EP of “blatant intervention in Iran’s internal affairs” and called on the Iranian government to reject the EP’s idea of establishing an office in Tehran.

Destabilising Influence

Is it sensible for a body that has little democratic legitimacy, no army, and no tax-raising capability to conduct foreign policy through gesture politics? There is no common EU interest when it comes to foreign policy.

European politicians grandstanded on the Ukraine crisis. This was destabilising rather than helpful. The EU won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Nevertheless, it is not a force for peace if it pursues interventions divorced from differing national interests based in different histories, economies, geography and territorial relationships. If Ukraine were in NATO, EU countries and the West would be obliged to go to war over the Crimea. What European would want to die for Sevastopol?’ Many Russians would be prepared to die for the Crimea.

It was bizarre and rather alarming that Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, could blithely admit to Putin’s face that Ukraine’s membership of NATO could be “part of the process”. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO has long been recognised as impossible on geopolitical grounds. Ukraine was considered too close, historically and economically, to Russia, and home to strategically important Russian military bases. Putin told Rompuy that he was playing geopolitics.

Russia has effectively integrated Europe into its system of crony capitalism and corruption. Most European capitals, especially London, depend on vast amounts of Russian money for their financial systems to thrive. Ukrainian membership of NATO and sanctions against Russia would not be good news for the City of London.

 

Conclusion

In a non-binding resolution (aren’t they all?), the EP called on the EU authorities to impose immediate sanctions on Russian energy providers in the European market. The EP called for a freeze on the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, which serves to ensure the supply of Russian gas to Europe, bypassing Ukraine. All the countries along its line – Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy – want South Stream because they know that it is the best way of guaranteeing cheap gas supplies.

At a time when a new president of Iran is thawing relations between his country and the US, is it wise for a powerless body to irritate the Iranians? Iran has the world’s second largest natural gas reserves after Russia – about 15.8% of world’s total reserves. Iran is one of the few countries capable of supplying much larger amounts of natural gas in the future. Iran’s overall gas exports in 2009/10 reached a record high of 6.8 billion cubic meters, increasing 44% over the previous year. Is this a good time to be annoying Iran as well as Russia?

I am against sin. I would not argue that the EP should ignore human rights violations but there is a danger that the EP’s meddling could be counter-productive and destabilising. Doing business with dodgy regimes might be more effective than isolating them through

Paul Murphy MEP

This was my first article for The Nation newspaper, published on October 23 2011. It has disappeared from their website.

My compatriot, Paul Murphy MEP, an Irish member of the EU Parliament,  wants to visit Sri Lanka to lecture the government about democracy.

He is  a prematurely balding twitchy 28 years old, (There are many videos on You Tube showing Murphy ranting to an empty hall  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjToY8jULCY and demonstrating that he cannot pronounce “Sinhala”).

He has never had a proper job and has been an MEP for around eight months. No-one ever voted for him to be an MEP.

He  has been complaining about Sri Lanka in several media outlets.

“The idea to travel to Sri Lanka came from the meeting I hosted in the Parliament a few months ago about the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka. My wish to go was strengthened by the many meetings I have had with the Tamil Diaspora, and others active on the issue of Tamil rights, in the recent period.”

“I will continue to highlight and speak out against what I consider to be war crimes of the Rajapaksa regime and to defend the right to self determination by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. I will also continue to speak out against the ongoing militarisation of Sri Lankan society and against the repression used against any opposition to the Sri Lankan regime. The whole of the working class, poor farmers and poor people, Sinhala and Tamil, are victims of this repressive government in my opinion.”

As well as complaining that he was refused a visa to visit Sri Lanka, he is raising the issue of an Irish citizen, Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram,  whom he says has been held prisoner by the Sri Lankan authorities without charge for four years.

Other than the assertions of Murphy himself. I have been unable to find much  information about Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram. All I know is that the man studied polymers at Queen Mary College in the 1970s.

I asked the Irish Ambassador in New Delhi, Kenneth Thompson, if any representations  had been made to him about this case.  I was  fobbed off by one of His Excellency’s minions. The press office of the Foreign Ministry in Dublin told me: “The Department is aware of this case and all possible consular assistance is being provided to Mr. Gunasundaram Jayasunderam’s wife and family through the Consular Assistance section in Dublin, the Embassy of Ireland in New Delhi and the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Sri Lanka.”

I have asked Paul Murphy himself for more information. He has not responded.

I would greatly appreciate it if  any readers  point me in the direction of some information about Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram. (I can be contacted at spikeyriter@gmail.com.)  Is he in custody in Sri Lanka? If so what has he done?

I was sorry to hear that Paul Murphy was  unable to get a visa to visit Sri Lanka. I understand that he  wished to visit the north of the country. It will be  a pity if he does  not get an opportunity to do so. I do not think he has  visited Sri Lanka before. If he  had, he should  be impressed by the changes that have occurred all over the country since the Tamil Tigers were defeated.

Paul Murphy wants to teach Sri Lanka about democracy. How many people voted for Paul Murphy? President Rajapaksa, despite a strong  animosity expressed in some papers, notably the Sunday Leader, and despite anxieties about the economy and worker unrest,  has  generally won the confidence of voters and he currently seems unassailable. A recent Gallup found that more than nine out of ten Sri Lankans approved of the president. Mainly, Sri Lankans of all ethnicities are grateful to President Rajapaksa that their children can go to school without fear of being blown to giblets.

Joe Higgins of the Irish Socialist Party won the Dublin EP seat in 2009 but gave it up when he was elected to the Irish national parliament on the wave of voter disgust with mainstream Irish parties.

There was criticism that Higgins was being less than transparent: “He deliberately kept people in the dark about the fact that if he got elected to Europe he would throw in the towel at the first smell of a general election and that in truth people were not electing him but some unknown entity”. There was a great deal of high-minded debate about how the Socialist Party would choose a successor to Higgins but none of this seemed to involve consulting  the electorate.

Paul Murphy worked for Higgins and took over Higgins’s EP seat. The above comment is from the website politics.ie. Here are some more:  “He [Murphy] is known to nobody outside of his small party and has never sought election…This appointment of Higgins’s assistant is complete cronyism despite the tripe being written by the hard-line socialists.” “The people voted for a list that named Ruth Coppinger as the replacement for Joe Higgins, in the present circumstances. For the Socialist Party to instead appoint a crony of Joe Higgins is a sign of contempt for democracy.”

How many votes did Paul Murphy get? None! How many votes did President Rajapaksa get?

Paul Murphy, in his infinite compassion,  wants to get involved in everyone’s problems and spreads himself thin. The British satirical magazine Private Eye has been bursting bubbles of pomposity since the early 60s. One of the Eye’s great comic creations is the all-purpose lefty agitator Dave Spart. Spartism has entered the English language. The Urban Dictionary defines a Spartist as: “An individual who observes Marxist theory to the exclusion of all else. Often condemns most things in society and the world with meaningless far left-wing dogma, and often ends up in logical cycles and jumping to conclusions in the process. Such people claim to be progressive, but are as backward thinking, unimaginative, hare-brained and colourless as the leaders of the former Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe.”

There is a lot of Spartism on Paul Murphy’s website: http://www.paulmurphymep.eu/

Paul is a feisty little fellow. His tireless ecumenical activism tempts me to rename him  Daibhéid Ó Speartáin. Murphy is supporting striking Kazakh oil workers, unionists in Columbia, Syrian revolutionaries, Bahraini and Chinese dissidents, oppressed Palestinians (he took part in the flotilla to Gaza), he protested against a high speed rail link in Italy, he feels for the homeless all over the world. The Chinese government must be trembling to know that Daibhéid Ó Speartáin has them sussed.

There are many problems to be solved in Ireland.

Ireland has a reasonable international image when it comes to human rights and global charitable works. However, it has to be noted that the Irish government (not the current one) allowed Shannon Airport to be used by the CIA for extraordinary rendition flights. That means anonymous people held without charge were being flown all over the world to be tortured with the complicity of the Irish government.

This was not Paul Murphy’s fault, of course. He was not a member of the Irish government. He has never been elected by anyone. He has no power or influence. Murphy certainly has no mandate from the Irish people to take on the entire world’s problems.

Lest we accuse Paul of neglecting problems back home in dear old Ireland, it should be noted that he is suing the Irish police for assaulting him when he was protesting at the Shell gas plant at Corrib. He protested  against cutbacks at Tallaght Hospital. He is active in Free Education for Everyone. In 2009, he was working on a PhD thesis titled “Does socialist law exist?” In Ireland,  he has been prominent in campaigning for young workers rights, holding a series of public meetings throughout Dublin as part of the “Jobs not Dole” campaign. Paul Murphy has also been vocal in opposition to the EU/IMF bailout of Ireland and austerity measures being carried out by the government including the proposed “Household Tax”.

Mind you,  he has not got a mandate from the Irish people to address those issues either. He has no electoral mandate at all.

Writing in the October 2011 issue of Lanka Monthly Digest, Amantha Perera reminisces about his grim visits to Vavuniya during the war. He finds the North as a whole transformed for the better, with Vavuniya a particular revelation. The Tampa hotel is providing better facilities for journalists than five-stars in Bangkok and a boisterous crowd gets drunk around the pool. The next morning Perera chats to some students one of whom says he is sleepy because he studies late into the night. “I am not scared to study alone at night, there are no more loud noises”.

This reminded me of something my friend the Reverend Harold Good said in 2008 when receiving his  award from the Gandhi Foundation for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process. A child wrote: “I want to grow up in a Northern Ireland where you can look at a sunset without wondering what they are bombing tonight.” Harold commented: “Today our children see sunsets instead of bombs. As a community we have faced and accepted realities; engaged in dialogue; achieved consensus; accepted compromise and witnessed the signs and symbols of peace.”

Is amnesia more conducive to reconciliation than truth? Do we need a young Dublin jackeen who has never set foot on Sri Lankan soil  and has very little experience of life in general to remind us that horrors have occurred in this land?

Don’t be a begrudger,  Paul. Let Sri Lanka continue to enjoy the peace we have had for over two years.

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