British Supreme Court rules Pat Finucane’s murder inquiry failed to meet human rights standards

Below are the collected public statements of Geraldine Finucane, Peter Madden and Madden & Finucane Solicitors on today’s ruling by the Supreme Court that the British government has not complied with its obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to hold an effective investigation into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Today the Supreme Court has vindicated Geraldine Finucane and her family in their (to use the words in the Judgment) “relentless campaign” for justice by allowing Geraldine Finucane’s appeal. The family would like to thank the Supreme Court Justices for their careful and respectful consideration of the case.

The Court has decided that a paper review held by Sir Desmond de Silva was not an effective investigation into Pat’s murder. The Court has further decided that the Government has not complied with its obligations pursuant to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to hold an effective investigation into the murder.

Two main factors led to the Court’s conclusion. First, all investigations to date have lacked the power to subpoena witnesses and, secondly, no-one has been identified as being responsible for the collusion found by previous investigations and admitted by the Government, i.e. conduct of State Agents who facilitated and furthered the murder.

The decision was unanimous. That is the end of the court process.

The only lawful decision open to the Government that can rectify this state of affairs is a decision to hold a Public Inquiry under the Inquiries Act that has the statutory power to subpoena witnesses and order the disclosure of all relevant documentation.

The following statement was read out by Geraldine Finucane outside the Supreme Court after the Judgment was delivered:

“This is an historic moment. I stand before you today outside the United Kingdom Supreme Court with one simple message: we have won.

“My family and I have endured three private police investigations, two confidential documentary reviews, secret government negotiations and a long and difficult court case. We have had to overcome obstacles the likes of which no other family has faced. And today, we face the world with one simple message: we have won.

“We have campaigned for thirty years, travelled the globe and argued our case all over the world. With all of that help and support and faith and goodwill we can, finally, stand before all of our friends and deliver one simple message: we have won.

“The Supreme Court has given its Judgment on the actions of the British Government. They have been found wanting. They have been found in breach of the most fundamental obligation of all: to protect and vindicate the right to life. The Court has said that they cannot ignore ‘a violation of a convention right has taken place…’

“The public inquiry that my family and I have fought for over three decades has culminated in this great victory today. I would like to thank our legal team – Barry MacDonald QC, Fiona Doherty QC, Fearghal Shiels and my great friend, Peter Madden, for their Herculean efforts on our behalf. We would not have succeeded without them.

“I would also like to pay tribute to all the individuals and organisations worldwide who have supported us in our efforts these many years. Our many friends in Ireland, Britain, Europe, America and beyond have sustained us through many a dark hour. There are too many to thank individually, so I thank them all today.

“Our many friends and supporters know, as we know, that this is a step on the way to our goal: the full truth behind the murder of Pat Finucane. The Judgment of this Court is not the end of that journey, but it represents great progress towards our goal.

“The British Government now knows that it cannot conceal the truth any longer. They have now been told this by the highest Court in the land. It is time for the murder of Pat Finucane to be properly and publicly investigated in a public inquiry. Nothing less will suffice.”

Peter Madden, of Madden & Finucane, the family solicitor, said after the hearing:

“Only a public examination of the relevant documentation and the questioning of the relevant witnesses by the interested parties in a judicial Public Inquiry can deliver the objective, which is to uncover the truth of what actually happened.

“I would like to thank our counsel, Barry Macdonald and Fiona Doherty for their invaluable expertise and advice over all the years of this process.”

“All five justices of The Supreme Court have unanimously stated that in light of its finding that Pat Finucane’s right to life had been violated, that it is now for the British Government to arrive at a mechanism to comply with Article 2.

“We say that the only possible process which can establish the full circumstances of Pat’s murder is by the establishment of a full public judicial inquiry which possesses the full range of powers which the flawed processes such as the paper de Silva Review clearly lacked.

“The Government should move to do so without further delay or prevarication.”

Why unionists should be reclaiming the Irish language

By Linda Ervine.

I always find it interesting when unionists who value the links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK reject the Irish language. As one of the family of Celtic languages, the Irish language connects us to Scotland, the Isle of Man (other Gaelic speaking regions) to Wales and Cornwall as well as other parts of England where a Celtic language was spoken at one time.

It fascinates me that the Gaelic word for river, abhain (pronounced ‘owen’) has links to the River Avon in England as avon is the celtic word for river or that the Gaelic word dobhair (pronounced ‘door’) which means water has links to Dover. The language is a linguistic link between the peoples of these islands.

As someone who grew up with no knowledge of the Gaelic language, I was shocked to discover that it was all around me in place names such as Belfast – ‘mouth of the sandbank ford, Finaghy – ‘the white field’, Lisnasharragh – ‘the fort of the foals’; in surnames, McCullough – ‘son of the hound of Ulster’, McCoy – ‘son of fire’, Campbell – ‘crooked mouth’.

It can be found in our local vocabulary: ‘brogue’, ‘poteen’, ‘dulse’, ‘whiskey’, and ‘banshee’; and also in the structure and syntax of our everyday speech, expressions such as ‘He be’s here’, ‘She’s after doing that’, and ‘I’ve the cold on me’.

I was unaware the that the largest Gaelic-speaking area is not in Ireland but in Scotland where the majority of speakers are Presbyterians, or that the people who came here from Scotland during various times in history were not only Scots speakers but also Gaelic speakers, or that the Scots language contains many Gaelic words.

I didn’t know that in the 1830s the Presbyterian General Assembly termed the language “our sweet and memorable mother tongue”, or that during the 1840s they made it a requirement for all of their trainee ministers to have a knowledge of the language, or that the Church of Ireland Church has its own Irish language group, Cumann Gaelach na Eaglaise.

I was not aware that leading members of the Orange Order, people like Richard Rutledge Kane, Grand Master of Belfast and Canon John Crozier who founded the Holywood Loyal Orange Lodge, were also members of the Gaelic League. Like many people from the Protestant faith, I believed that I had no link to the language and I had no realisation that it was a part of my own cultural heritage.

Over the past few years I have met many Protestant Gaelic speakers from Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. I even went to a Rangers Club in Stornoway and was given an official Rangers T-shirt with the Gaelic motto ‘Sinne na daoine’ – ‘We are the people’ emblazoned on it.

Not a ‘foreign language’

Unfortunately there are people within the unionist community who reject the language and regard it as a ‘foreign language’. I would encourage them to have a look at their British passport. They’ll see that it is written in three languages; English, Welsh and Gaelic. For me Gaelic is a language of the British Isles.

To those who fear that learning the language will somehow change a person’s political viewpoint I would state that it has given me a renewed pride in my Presbyterian heritage and made me more aware of the links between Ulster and Scotland.

I would also ask if I should be denied access to the language because of my religious background. Should I be discriminated against because I am a Protestant? Perhaps it would be better if I denied the existence of the Presbyterian Gaels of Scotland or the Methodist Gaels of the Isle of Man? Instead I have chosen to embrace the language and to share it with others in a way that does not compromise their religious or political viewpoint.

I manage a very successful cross-community Irish language project based in east Belfast by the name of Turas (pictured above), the Gaelic word for journey, and over the past six years in my role as Irish language development officer, I have provided opportunities for people from the Protestant/unionist/loyalist (PUL) community to learn Irish within their own area.

For the people who attend the classes it has turned out to be not just a journey into a language that the majority of people from the unionist community have never had the opportunity to engage with; it has also turned out to be a journey of healing and reconciliation as people sit down together and share the experience of learning a new skill.

The project, which began in 2012, has attracted hundreds of people from all walks of life who have attended classes with us. Of the 255 learners who have registered for classes this year, around 70 per cent are from PUL backgrounds. Five of the learners, all Protestants, have applied this year to do degrees in Irish at both Ulster University and Queen’s University and I have set up a scholarship scheme to help them to fund their journeys into third-level education.

Rather than discouraging people from learning Irish, I think it would be advantageous to both the language and to Northern Ireland to have a diversity of people mixing and working within the Irish language sector. I would like to see qualified Irish speakers from PUL backgrounds applying for and obtaining posts within Irish-language organisations.

My hope is to see integrated Irish-medium schools in neutral and unionist areas where people from all backgrounds can send their children so that they can benefit from a bilingual education. Don’t ask me to tell PUL parents that they should be denied such opportunities because of the tradition they come from. Don’t tell me that Protestants shouldn’t speak Irish because of a statement made by someone from Sinn Féin over 40 years ago.

Instead I would ask those with influence to help me to create as much diversity as possible within the Irish language community by encouraging more Protestants and unionists to learn Irish.

Let us make this our new mantra for the language – every word spoken in Gaelic is another brick in the bridge which unites us as peoples of these islands.

Linda Ervine is an Irish Language Development Officer at Turas, which she founded and directs, at the East Belfast Mission. Follow her on Twitter @ErvineLinda, and follow Cairde Turas @CairdeTuras.

Venezuela’s oil reserves are behind Trump’s sudden ‘humanitarianism’

By Enda Fanning.

US President Donald Trump wants to supply humanitarian aid to Venezuela “to help the millions and millions in need”. While trucks are gathered on the Colombian side of the border with Venezuela, both the Red Cross and the United Nations (UN) have slammed the proposed “politicised” aid.

The head of the Colombian Red Cross stated that “we will not be participating in what is, for us, not humanitarian aid”. A UN spokesperson told reporters that “humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives” – while at the same time the UN has also increased its budgets of current aid programs being carried out alongside the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

So what is going on? Why are so few aware of such comments from organisations like the Red Cross and the UN and why does the US think it is immune from international law and attempts to repeatedly interfere in the internal affairs of other states?

Of course, we have been here before in Venezuela (and indeed in so many other countries). If you have not seen the documentary Hugo Chavez – The Revolution will Not be Televised by Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Brain you should do so. It depicts the failed CIA-inspired 2002 coup against President Chavez and gives the background to what is now little more than a second coup attempt.

In the light of the 2002 coup attempt, Trump’s interest in Venezuela for “humanitarian reasons” and claims the US wants to support “a move to democracy” ring very hollow indeed. If it was true – why Venezuela? Why not, for example, Saudi Arabia, where a totalitarian dictatorship exists and where no political parties or national elections are permitted? I think we know the answer to that.

It is noteworthy that in all the references to the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, little reference is made to the sanctions which have contributed to Venezuelans enduring their current economic hardship. And, let’s face it, Trump has merely followed in Obama’s footsteps when it comes to sanctions against Venezuela. After all it was Obama who signed off on the sanctions which have contributed to the current situation. And yet the US will repeatedly state that the sanctions have had no effect on the people because they are targeted at the government and individuals.

Let us be clear here: the US has most definitely contributed to the current situation in Venezuela and deliberately so. It is part and parcel of a project aimed at ensuring that the recently appointed ‘interim president’, Juan Guaidó, takes power. Guaidó, a man who did not stand in the Presidential Elections, has been anointed by the US and other countries, as their President-in-waiting.

The US has been supported in all of this by its usual allies. Shamefully the Irish government has stepped in, with Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, announcing that he joined with other EU Member States “in acknowledging and supporting, Juan Guaidó, president of the democratically elected National Assembly, as President ad interim of Venezuela”.

Once again Ireland, just as it does in permitting US military aircraft to land at Shannon Airport, has ignored its own neutrality to appease the US. But, as a recent protest at the US embassy in Dublin (pictured above) showed, many disagree with the Irish government’s decision, made without any political discussion here. Sadly it has now become the norm for Irish governments to prioritise following US or EU diktats on foreign policy rather than taking a strong independent stance as a neutral state.

Largest oil reserves in the world

Why has a country like Venezuela, with a population of about 32 million, attracted so much interest from the US? Let’s cut to the chase here – Venezuela’s proven oil reserves are recognised as the largest in the world at over 300 million barrels. Venezuela nationalised its oil industry in 1976, creating a state-run company. After Hugo Chavez won the presidential election for the first time in 1998, he immediately increased state control of the oil industry – needless to say, a move not too popular in the US. Consequently it wasn’t long before the CIA-inspired attempted coup took place in 2002.

The ongoing US interference in Venezuela, disguised as humanitarian in nature, is for one reason only – to grab access to the largest proven oil reserves in the world. This US project is backed by many other states, as well as being cheered on by the main news outlets throughout the world.

Whether knowingly or through laziness and ignorance, most of the mainstream media has shamefully repeated the US narrative concerning Venezuela. Crowd scenes tend to only depict supporters of Guaidó, while little or no coverage of Maduro’s supporters is shown. Likewise, commentary, with a few notable exceptions, has simply echoed the U.S. narrative. As ever it takes a trawl through social media to see and hear the real story as it happens on the ground in Venezuela.

On Saturday February 23, ‘Hands off Venezuela’ protests took place across the globe. The message to the US was quite clear – stay out of Venezuela, do not interfere. As the US’s proxy president Juan Guaidó increases his calls for foreign intervention, it would appear that the early momentum behind this US-inspired coup might be waning for the time being.

However we know from previous military interventions that the US needs little more than a manufactured excuse to invade a country. This is a dangerous time for Venezuela. It is important that citizens across the globe continue to protest in their own countries and continue to contact their own governments to highlight their objections to any intervention by the US.

While many ordinary citizens will indeed protest, it is a disgrace that a neutral country like Ireland refuses to stand up on Venezuela’s behalf. It would appear that the American dollar and the Euro are now the deciding factors when it comes to Ireland’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile American “humanitarian” vehicles continue to gather on the Colombian side of the border with Venezuela…

Enda Fanning is a Dublin Sinn Féin EU political advisor and a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle. Follow him on Twitter @EFFanning.

How do we make the tech giants pay their fair share of tax?

By Verónica Grondona.

Examples of massive corporate tax avoidance by multinational technology giants active in the digital economy have been widely covered in the media, prompting outrage among people across the world.

So how do they get away with it? Google, Facebook, Amazon and Uber are all large enough companies for tax authorities to notice them. They are digital, but their activities in the countries we live in are not invisible. We can see their advertising, or we even buy goods or services through them, and we clearly see that they are using our data.

However, for tax authorities, it is not that easy to legally “see” them because most legislation and tax treaties involving EU states say that tax authorities can only tax a “taxable presence”, a tax resident, or a permanent establishment (PE) with physical presence in a country – and we all know that one thing these companies need not have in order to operate in our countries is a physical presence.

This has resulted in different court cases around the world with different, even contradictory results.

To name just a couple of them: In July 2017, France’s “Google Tax” was ruled illegal by a Paris court. The tax authority was not allowed to assume a PE of Google Ireland in France. On the other hand, in June 2018, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of South Dakota vs Wayfair, Inc., ruling that “a business does not need a physical presence in a State to meet the requirements of due process which call for some definite link, some minimum connection, between a state and the person, property or transactions it seeks to tax.”

The most bizarre aspect of this situation is that governments around the world are reluctant to change their treaties and their regulations in order to improve their chances of taxing such companies in the places where they carry out their economic activities, due to – among other things – the lobbying powers of such companies.

Nevertheless, some interesting developments have been taking place in this regard in the international sphere, even though the final direction remains unsatisfactory, particularly for those of us who would like the United Nations to have the leading role in global tax rules instead of the rich-country club, the OECD.

Between 2013 and 2015, the G20/OECD base erosion and profit shifting(BEPS) Action Plan identified as its Action 1 some of the problems of taxing the digital economy. It recognised three possible solutions: to modify tax treaties to allow for a broader definition of PE that considers the existence of a company’s significant economic presence and not only physical presence; to introduce withholding taxes at the source; or to introduce unilateral taxes.

Following such recommendations, several countries around the globe reacted by introducing reforms in their tax systems. On September 21 2017, the European Commission issued a ‘Communication on a fair and efficient tax system for a digital single market’, and on March 21 2018, the Commission presented a short-term and a long-term proposal for new rules to tax the activity of businesses in the digital economy. Though, because these proposals relate to taxation, it is the Council of the European Union who has the last word, and member states do not seem to be reaching an agreement any time soon.

In October 2017, the OECD launched a consultation, to which a lot of individuals, organisations and companies responded, and on March 16 2018, the OECD Inclusive Framework’s Task Force on the Digital Economy (TFDE) published its Interim Report on the “Tax Challenges Arising from Digitalisation”, after monitoring what was going on in the world in respect to actions implemented in different countries.

On the same date of the publication of the interim report, the US warned the OECD about any unilateral move regarding the taxation of tech giants. However, after the ruling in the South Dakota vs Wayfair case, the US seemed more willing to participate in discussions at the OECD level.

In this context, the OECD/G20’s inclusive framework on BEPS Action Plan issued a policy note on “Addressing the Tax Challenges of the Digitalization of the Economy” on January 23 2019, underlining that there is an agreement to examine proposals involving the allocation of taxing rights.

A few days before the policy note was issued, a group of G-24 developing countries advocated for the consideration of a proposal incorporating “a substantial economic presence [permanent establishment] threshold combined with unitary taxation with formulary apportionment.”

The policy note mentions that the solution would require discussing the allocation of taxing rights, though it also notes that the scope of such discussion would be limited, probably because the OECD countries have never been very willing to discuss taxing rights together with developing countries.

Nevertheless, although limited in scope – coming as it does from the OECD – this seems to be a drastic change of direction. Moreover, the OECD is now considering proposals that go beyond the arm’s-length principle, a principle promoted by the OECD since 1973 that has resulted in practice in the legalisation of tax avoidance. (This principle holds that intra-group transactions should be carried out at ‘arm’s-length’ – i.e., that the two parties are acting in their own self-interest and are not subject to any pressure or duress from the other party. In reality, two subsidiaries of the same corporate group rarely act as independent entities.)

Some venture there is a high chance that consensus will be built around a US position, which seems to move around a minimum corporate tax level plus a modest increase in tax allocated to market jurisdictions based on the concept of marketing intangibles, something that would allow all jurisdictions to get a portion of the pie, but always favouring high-income countries the most.

Regarding other base erosion issues being discussed by the inclusive framework, the OECD’s policy note also acknowledges that in the absence of international coordination and the existence of low-tax jurisdictions, a proposal will be discussed around two inter-related rules, an income inclusion rule and a tax on base eroding payments. Coming from the OECD this seems almost revolutionary.

However, before claiming victory, it would make sense to wait for the results of these discussions, which will be concluded in 2020, with some progress being reported at different stages in February, May and June 2019.

Verónica Grondona is a contributing editor for Irish Broad Left.

Now for NI: Fighting for abortion rights in the North

By Emma Campbell.

Just last week Alliance for Choice in Belfast and Derry signed two letters – one was a joint letter from some of the pro-choice groups in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) to health minister Simon Harris TD about the shameful gaps and barriers built in to the current abortion provision.

The second was a joint letter from public figures, women’s groups and politicians in the UK to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Westminster asking them to include Northern Ireland (NI) and migrant women in the Domestic Abuse Bill.

As a campaigning organisation based in Northern Ireland (NI), we are obliged to work towards change in three different jurisdictions.

One struggle is for cultural inclusion and built upon an incredibly strong base of solidarity from years of working with the aforementioned groups in ROI, but fraught with jurisdictional and legal barriers.

The second is within NI, coaxing (understandably) cautious individuals and organisations out into the blinding light of openly supporting abortion rights.

The third is in the UK, where the approach is less about abortion and more about the intricacies of devolution and convincing the MPs and British public that this really is something that people in NI want, despite what is misrepresented by the DUP in Parliament.

Similar to the assertion that neither lobbying or marching alone will deliver the asks of our campaign, our goals cannot ever be met by appealing to one of the jurisdictions without the others. Even if the campaign itself were not so intentionally aimed, we are a cross-community, all-walks group; we need to make sure that we will not leave anyone behind, right down to our #TheNorthIsNext and #AbortionRightsNI hashtags on social media.

It is a delicate balancing act. We have been levelled with many accusations in the course of our work, from “high satanic abortion wizards” (we’ll take it), to “a cabal of nationalist feminists”, to “Brits” and even, believe it or not, “women-haters” when we have dared to be trans* inclusive.  

We can handle the slurs, it comes with the territory, but what we can never do is change the locus of power. The control held over us and our bodies is relationally very different according to jurisdiction. Usurping that power therefore requires varying approaches.

Few would argue against the notion that the cultural stranglehold over the ideas, myths and stigmas that surround abortion are shared most closely with the rest of ROI. The deep religiosity and its influence on our gender norms and expectations are the same, even if the type of Christianity isn’t as homogenous. Our food, language, music and craic is all more similar to each other than it is to Great Britain’s.

The relief and joy of the result of the recent abortion referendum, one which we involved ourselves in to canvass, was of course about the incredible victory for our siblings but also it offered us hope that we are not far behind. This vital cultural power has already swayed more to our favour as a result; however, legislatively we cannot invoke direct change from Dáil Éireann.

What we are up against in the 2019 version of NI is a place that is twice a country but no country at all. As citizens, we are tethered physically to this island and legislatively to another. The so-called ‘narcissism of small differences’ plays out so exactly in these six counties; the primacy of national identity above all else supposes that everyone places it at the forefront of their daily existence.

Aside from obfuscating those who identify with neither a unionist or nationalist mindset, this insistence on flag-bearer above all else subsumes the many other important identities any one person may inhabit. Survivors of abuse, children, people with disabilities, BAME people, LGBT+ people, women, working and jobless class, and so on are all encompassed by people simultaneously.

Having no sitting assembly is a blessing and a curse: on the one hand it opens a path to a greater source of power (England’s difficulty could be our opportunity…); on the other it could mean a never-ending delay on rights. Consequently, our job on home turf is consciousness-raising from the grassroots up and recognising the experience of abortion is a universal one and one that should not be exiled.

The final and most complicated locus of control is the British government at Westminster. Alliance for Choice was disappointed that the Assembly failed to be able to move past its latest controversy; however, whilst Stormont was burning, we were working with the United Nations to host the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for their inquiry into abortion in NI.

Our current position with Westminster, as pronounced by CEDAW – that devolution is no barrier to human rights – clearly positions Westminster as the seat of our current oppression. The DUP loom large as the main protagonists in standing over our wombs and sexuality like creepy sentinels, but they have had a hand from the UK government, in the shape of a confidence and supply deal with the Tories.

By painting themselves as a truly representative voice for all of NI in the UK Parliament (with only one sitting moderate MP in the shape of Lady Sylvia Hermon) and with no sitting MPs from any other party present to disrupt their Caleb Foundation-directed position, the real voice of the people in NI is never heard. Even though Sinn Féin don’t take their seats, they signed this letter requesting action from Westminster.

We are faced with a riddle; the ROI wants to help, and has offered the most meaningful solidarity from all quarters, but is unable to assist us significantly. NI’s six counties would be afraid to do anything on its own even if it currently could – civil servants will not make such a controversial decision and have not been given the powers to by the Secretary of State.

Ultimately, the UK government can do something, has been told by a UN body that it should do something, and is even holding its own inquiry about how to do something and yet… the mess that is Brexit has guaranteed the anti-abortion DUP unprecedented influence on the Tory party who currently need them for government.

For progress to occur, Westminster must end our oppression, remove their colonial stranglehold on our reproduction and grant us recognition as equal to all abortion seekers in the UK.

Emma Campbell is the Co-Chair of Alliance for Choice, Belfast. Visit Alliance for Choice’s website here. Follow Alliance for Choice on Twitter @All4Choice.

Captured states: When EU governments act as middlemen for corporate interests

By Vicky Cann.

Do you know why the banks got their way after the financial crisis, while you shouldered the impacts of austerity? Or why our food will still be exposed to the dangerous pesticide glyphosate in the coming years? Or why the EU’s climate targets are much weaker than originally planned?

Corporate lobbies are actively influencing decision-making to ensure that EU laws and policies suit them, including via national ministers and officials. In fact, member states are the missing part of the jigsaw, alongside the European Commission, elements within the European Parliament, and the EU treaties, which explain the pro-corporate bias of too many EU laws and policies.

Many of the ways in which member states feed into EU decision-making are shrouded in secrecy and not commonly studied, but now a report by Corporate Europe Observatory, Captured states: When EU governments are a channel for corporate interests, breaks new ground by providing an overview of how member states act as EU middlemen for corporate interests. And whether it is on climate change, finance, chemicals, data privacy, austerity, or many other issues, when corporate interests win, the public interest loses out.

The influence of the car industry on the German political establishment, and the negative impact of this on EU climate and emissions’ regulation; the power of the state-owned coal industry which has led the Polish Government to be such a climate pariah; or the iconic status of the City of London, which can count on the UK government to back its demands for the lowest possible financial regulation – these are all examples of how member states and national corporate lobbies have developed a symbiotic relationship. In these examples, the national corporate interest has – wholly wrongly – become synonymous with the national public interest as presented by the relevant government in EU fora.

Privileged access

Meanwhile, elite corporate lobbies have access to EU leaders that NGOs and trade unions simply cannot match. Take, for example, the regular meetings of the European Round Table of Industrialists, which brings together 50 bosses of major European multinational companies such as Telefónica, Siemens, Total, and BMW, with the leaders of France and Germany. Or the cosy cocktails between member states’ trade officials and the European Services forum which represents Vodafone, HSBC, and Deutsche Telekom.

This kind of privileged access, and massive lobby spending power, means that the corporate sector significantly outguns civil society when it comes to influencing complex and opaque EU decision-making processes involving national governments. This is then reflected in the progress and outcomes of a wide range of EU dossiers, from ePrivacy to the Robin Hood tax; from climate change to chemicals regulation.

Additionally, and beyond specific rules and laws agreed at the EU level, member states have collectively absorbed some corporate agendas and adopted them as part of the EU political agenda, such as on economic governance (strict fiscal rules and austerity), the so-called ‘innovation principle’ (undermining precautionary approaches to regulation), and investors’ protection in trade treaties (allowing corporations to sue states for billions in compensation when governments act to protect their people and the planet).

Irish government not immune

The Irish government is not immune to this corporate influence. While the Irish Permanent Representation (its official base in Brussels) is one of only a handful to provide some transparency about the lobbying it receives, corporate interests dominated the data, withIrish business lobby Ibec, Google, and the finance sector all featuring prominently. In addition to its meetings, Ibec sent numerous emails and letters to Ireland’s chief Brussels official over the year.

Meanwhile, Phil Hogan, nominated by Ireland to be an EU Commissioner and who is responsible for EU agriculture policy, is clearly a major target of Irish corporate lobbies. Among numerous meetings with the Irish Farmers’ Association and Ibec, Hogan has also found time for meetings with Ryanair, the Bank of Ireland, and Google.

Contemporary right-wing nationalist rhetoric argues that a strong EU is imposing rules and regulations on nation states, and sometimes it suits member states to play up to this narrative and blame the EU for decisions which are unpopular at home. However, blaming the EU ‘apparatus’ alone is far too simplistic: after all, governments set the EU’s strategic direction, are closely involved in both the drafting and implementation of EU rules, and have the final sign-off on all EU legislation.

Civil society and decision-makers need to wake up to the threat that corporate lobbies, influencing member states, have on EU decision-making. To start to reverse this, action will be needed by governments, national and regional parliaments, and the EU institutions. In particular, we urgently need new models for citizens to both find out more about, and have a say on, the EU matters with which member states are tasked with deciding.

2019 will be a really significant year for the EU with Brexit looming, the European Parliamentary elections due in May, and a new European Commission to be appointed in the autumn. Domestic debates on the role of the EU will only intensify. What better time to discuss the role our governments play, in our name, at the EU level?

The new report, ‘Captured states: When EU governments are a channel for corporate interests’ is available here.

Vicky Cann is a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory. CEO is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making. Follow her on Twitter @vicky_cann.

EU endorses corporate power grab through secret investment courts

By Emma Clancy.

This week the European Parliament voted to ratify the EU-Singapore free trade agreement, and voted separately to ratify the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement. The investment agreement includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which is why it was voted on separately. Irish MEPs from Fine Gael were among those who voted to endorse the introduction of an ISDS with Singapore.

The ISDS mechanism, in its current form, will allow private companies to sue national governments for compensation for loss of expected future profits in response to government actions that impact on the company’s activities – in private offshore tribunals that comprise three lawyers with the power to award damages.

The action by tobacco giant Philip Morris against the Australian government over its introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes in 2010 has become the most infamous and emblematic example of the ISDS in action, though the company lost the case in 2017.

The vote on the Singapore agreement marked the second time that the European Parliament has endorsed the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in an EU-wide free trade agreement. While MEPs voted to reject an ISDS mechanism in the – now stalled – Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US in 2015, the Parliament later voted to ratify the investment court system included in the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA) in 2017.

However, two landmark rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have slowed the implementation of the ISDS mechanism in the so-called new generation of free trade agreements, which aim to remove ‘non-tariff barriers’ to trade.

In an opinion of the full court on the Singapore agreement in May 2017, the ECJ found that the ISDS mechanism was not solely a competence of the EU Commission and, as a result, any EU agreement including such a mechanism also needed to be ratified individually by each national parliament of EU member states, in addition to being ratified by the European Parliament.

As a result, both CETA and the investment protection agreement with Singapore will be required to be ratified by the national parliaments of all EU member states before they can come fully into force. The EU Commission has dealt with this setback by ‘provisionally applying’ the overwhelming majority of the provisions in CETA while the ratification process is ongoing, and by splitting the Singapore free trade agreement into two separate treaties.

Following the ECJ opinion on Singapore, the court issued a further opinion in March 2018, which found that the ISDS mechanism in the bilateral investment agreement between Slovakia and the Netherlands “has an adverse effect on the autonomy of EU law, and is therefore incompatible with EU law”. The opinion stated that ISDS “remove[s] from the jurisdiction of their own court, and hence from the system of judicial remedies” disputes that may concern the application of EU law, and that the trade dispute tribunals may not ensure “the full effectiveness of EU law”.

Now we are in the bizarre situation of ISDS mechanisms included in agreements between two member states of the EU being deemed to be incompatible with EU law by the ECJ, but being legal in treaties struck by the EU with third parties.

In September 2017, the Belgian government sought an opinion of the ECJ on CETA, which has not been fully concluded yet. The decision to seek a court opinion was a compromise struck between the central Belgian government the regional government of Wallonia, which threatened to block the ratification of CETA and therefore prevent it from coming into force.

But in a bad sign for opponents of the use of secret corporate courts, the ECJ’s Advocate General issued a non-binding opinion on 29 January, which argued that the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in CETA was compatible with EU law. The opinion of the full court has not yet been issued, so it remains possible (but unlikely) that the final opinion will be that the inclusion of ISDS mechanisms in EU free trade agreements is incompatible with EU law.

Challenging legislation made in the public interest

The investor-state dispute settlement mechanism was first introduced into trade agreements and treaties in the 1950s, ostensibly to protect investors from outright government expropriation of their land or factories. It was rarely used until the 1990s when the US-led surge in free trade agreements made it a more readily accessible option for multinational corporations. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), there has been more than a ten-fold rise in reported cases 2000.

By the start of 2018, the number of publicly known ISDS claims had reached a total of 855; but the real figure could be far higher as some cases may be kept entirely secret, with no record whatsoever of the existence of a claim or dispute. In 2017, 65 new cases were initiated by corporations against 48 states under bilateral investment treaties. Of these, the damages awarded to corporations (in the cases where these details have been reported), range from US$15 million to $1.5 billion.

An ISDS mechanism is now included in more than 3,000 trade agreements around the world, around 2,700 of which are bilateral investment agreements and the remainder of which are trade treaties.

Canada, which entered into an ISDS agreement with the US through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), expected that its investors would be enabled to sue the US and Mexican governments, but was unprepared for the series of cases brought against it by US corporations, which have led it to pay out at least $219 million in compensation or settlements and incur unrecoverable legal costs of $95 million. Outstanding cases against Canada include damages claims of $6 billion.

The mechanism has repeatedly been used to directly challenge legislation by democratic governments made in the public interest. After NAFTA, the Canadian government banned a fuel additive, MMT, due to it having been found to be a risk to human health and the environment. It was sued by US MMT manufacturer Ethyl for a loss of expected future profits and settled the case for $13 million. The settlement included not only a payout but an obligation on the Canadian government to rescind the ban and publicly declare that MMT was safe.

In an intellectual property case, US drug corporation Eli Lilly sued Canada under NAFTA over its laws that require the patentability of a medicine to be proved before a patent is granted – a law with the public policy goal of ensuring accessibility to affordable medicines.

In another case under NAFTA, Canada is being sued by US company Lone Pine Resources for $230 million for the declaration by the Quebec government of a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in 2011. The moratorium resulted in the revocation of Lone Pine’s permit to frack gas from underneath the St Lawrence River, which was an essential source of drinking water in Quebec.

Under NAFTA, Canadian companies made 19 claims against the US in total, while US companies brought 39 cases against the Canadian government. This ISDS mechanism between the US and Canada is to be eliminated in the new NAFTA (US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, signed in November 2018), while the ISDS with Mexico will be replaced with a new process that requires the exhaustion of remedies in the normal domestic courts before corporate arbitration can begin.

Despite the fact that the Canadian government has been sued 41 times under NAFTA, and lost several significant cases brought against it by US companies, it was Canada that ardently supported the retention of the ISDS between the US and Canada in the USMCA negotiations.

Argentina was sued by more than 40 corporations after it took action to devalue its currency and freeze energy and water bills in the wake of its 2001 financial crisis. Compensation orders against Argentina for these actions reached $1.15 billion by 2008. In Ecuador, after the government cancelled Occidental Petroleum contracts for illegally breaching contractual terms, the US oil company was awarded $1.77 billion. Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela have now withdrawn from the World Bank’s investor dispute mechanism and withdrawn from many bilateral investment treaties that contain an ISDS mechanism.

In response to the Arab Spring in 2011, the then Egyptian government conceded an increase in the minimum monthly wage from $56 to $99 – only to be sued in June 2012 for almost $100 million by French corporation Veolia, which objected to having to pay its Alexandria bus station workers more.

In 2011, Swedish energy corporation Vattenfall claimed €1.4 billion in damages from Germany for placing environmental restrictions on a coal-fired power plant the company was building in Hamburg. The government settled – lifting the restrictions. After the Fukishima nuclear disaster, the German government made a decision to phase out nuclear energy. The same Swedish company, Vattenfall, sued under ISDS again in 2012 – this time for €3.7 billion for the loss of profits in its two nuclear power plants.

The examples go on.

If successful, the EU-led drive to apply ISDS provisions to the new-generation free trade agreements it strikes with third parties will result in an exponential rise in ISDS claims, where taxpayers are forced to shoulder the cost of the risks associated with foreign direct investment.

Regulatory ‘chill’

As objectionable as the socialisation of risk taken by powerful multinational corporations is, the direct power these corporations are seizing over public policy is far more disturbing.

A 2013 ‘fact sheet’ on TTIP from the European Commission declares: “Including an ISDS mechanism in an investment agreement will not make it more difficult for the EU or its Member States to pass laws or regulations.” It states that the EU is working to ensure that “genuine regulations and laws are consistent with investment agreements”, a statement that begs the question – what exactly is a genuine regulation or law? Does the Commission get to decide on behalf of member states which laws passed by democratic governments can be maintained and which can be discarded in the interests of multinational investors?

In an attempt to convince EU citizens that member states would retain the right to regulate under TTIP, the fact sheet continued: “A country cannot be compelled to repeal a measure: it always has the option of paying compensation instead.”

Well – that’s reassuring.

Discussing the impact of NAFTA, a former Canadian government official was quoted in The Nation as saying: “I’ve seen the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years.” These included pharmaceuticals, chemicals, patents and pesticides. “Virtually all of the new initiatives were targeted and most of them never saw the light of day.”

World-leading ISDS lawyer and Essex Court Chambers barrister Toby Landau QC said that this so-called regulatory chill exists “without doubt”, adding that in his role as counsel, “on a number of occasions now I’ve actually been instructed by governments to advise on possible adverse implications or consequences of a particular policy in terms of investor-state cases”.

As to achieving ‘regulatory coherence’ in the new generation of free trade agreements, business associations believe it would save everyone time if they were allowed to just write regulations for governments. In the lead-up to the opening of TTIP negotiations in 2013, the US Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope demanded a seat at the table with regulators “to essentially co-write regulation” in an October 2012 joint statement.

The ISDS provisions that offer the highest success rate for multinationals are the “fair and equitable treatment” commitment and the “minimum standard treatment” guarantee. According to Public Citizen, in 74 per cent of cases where US investors were successful, the fair and equitable treatment provision was used.

UNCTAD has calculated that of all known investor-state disputes, 42 per cent were won by the state, 31 per cent were won by the investor, and 27 per cent were settled – typically regarded as a win by the investor in terms of a financial or legislative reward. There is no limit on the amount that can be awarded to a corporation, and the average cost of running a case is $8 million.

So how do these tribunals actually work?

They are ad-hoc tribunals convened by the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) or the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) dispute mechanism. Three private lawyers are selected from a roster to arbitrate – one appointed by the investor, one by the state, and one that is agreed by both parties.

They meet in hotels or conference centres for a few days or a week, according to leading US ISDS lawyer – and fierce critic of the system – George Kahale. The proceedings are often kept secret and there are no public disclosure requirements.

Many lawyers alternate between representing major corporations in cases against governments and being ‘judges’ in ISDS tribunals. They do not earn a flat salary, as judges do in most countries, but rather earn more money the more tribunals they sit on. Incredibly, there is no requirement to follow precedent – the findings and the sum awarded are entirely at the discretion of the panel of corporate lawyers.

In its analysis of the Investment chapter of the Trans Pacific Partnership leaked by Wikileaks in 2015, Public Citizen outlines this extreme conflict of interest: “Since only foreign investors can launch cases and also select one of the three tribunalists, ISDS tribunalists have a structural incentive to concoct fanciful interpretations of foreign investors’ rights and order that they be compensated for breaches of obligations to which signatory governments never agreed.” An investor-friendly tribunalist clearly has a higher chance of being selected by corporations to sit on future tribunals.

Resistance to corporate courts

In response to the mass movement across the EU against the TTIP and CETA agreements, the EU Commission has proposed to develop a ‘multilateral investment court’ at the United Nations level, with an appeal mechanism and full-time adjudicator, which it argues would improve the transparency and reliability of the rulings of the ad-hoc tribunals.

But no matter how the Commission tries to re-package, spin and sell the investor-state dispute settlement clause, the fact remains that this provision will give multinational corporations the right to make claims against elected governments for enacting policies they don’t like.
 
However they dress it up, such a mechanism still provides corporations with the power to sue governments that implement policies that may impact on their expected future profits, and be awarded damages; it still amounts to corporate justice and socialised risk.
 
In any case, the Singapore investment agreement includes a traditional ISDS mechanism, and a commitment that if such a multilateral investment court is established in the future, the parties will use it to resolve disputes.

The popular movement that responded to the prospect of the TTIP agreement opening up EU governments to claims by US corporations has receded somewhat, as the likelihood of reaching agreement on TTIP with the Trump administration is slim to nil. But mass opposition to secret corporate courts, and many of the other negative aspects of the EU’s free trade agreements, remains.

Demonstrations against CETA have mobilised millions of people across Europe. More than half a million people have signed a WeMove.EU petition against provisions for secret corporate courts being included in the EU’s trade agreements.

In the Irish state, the Seanad adopted a cross-party resolution rejecting CETA in October 2016, with Fine Gael voting in support of adopting CETA, and Fianna Fáil abstaining.

The Irish state is one of the few states around the world that has never included an ISDS mechanism in any of its bilateral investment treaties to date, making the Fine Gael position of supporting the EU’s free trade agreements that include an ISDS all the worse, because it marks a fundamental departure from decades of foreign and investment policy for the state.

Ratification of these agreements will mean that this, and any future Irish government, will have to take into consideration the potential impact of all new legislation on foreign corporations. Any new law that may impact on an investor’s profits can be challenged in one of the above-described tribunals, and damages awarded or the legislation scrapped.

But a single ‘no’ vote in any EU state parliament will be enough to scupper these plans. It will be up to civil society, left parties, environmentalists and the trade union movement to demand a vote against ISDS in the Dáil on the CETA and Singapore agreements.

Emma Clancy is editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow her on Twitter @emmaclancy123.

Europe’s silence on Catalan show trial is inexcusable

By Matt Carthy MEP.

The leaders of the EU Commission and member states, along with the majority of MEPs, remain totally silent in the face of the political trial of 12 Catalan social and political leaders in Spain’s Supreme Court, which began today.

Some of the defendants face up to 25 years in jail for the alleged offences of disobedience, rebellion, sedition, criminal conspiracy and misuse of public funds – all for organising a democratic vote on Catalonia’s independence from Spain in October 2017.

This is the first of three political trials, and nine of these 12 defendants – government ministers (including two former MEPs), Catalan parliamentarians and social movement leaders – have been in preventive detention for more than a year. I visited several of the prisoners in jail in November last year.

The former head of the Catalan police force José Lluís Trapero will face a future trial in Spain’s National High Court, while the Catalan MPs who facilitated the parliamentary discussion and vote on the declaration of independence on October 2017 will face trial in the Catalan High Court. The 12 currently on trial have charges brought against them by three prosecution teams – the prosecutor-general, the solicitor-general and the ultra-right neo-Francoist party, Vox.

Every month the European Parliament votes on resolutions condemning governments for alleged human rights violations in far-flung places on the other side of the world. But when it comes to the serious breaches of the fundamental rights of people in Catalonia, the EU leaders and institutions are deathly silent. This hypocrisy is just sickening.

If what is happening in Spain today was instead occurring in a South American country the condemnation of EU leaders would be deafening.  Their silence as political and social leaders in Europe face up to 25 years in jail for organising a democratic vote is shameful and inexcusable.

Every time he is questioned on Catalonia, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says this is an internal matter for Spain. He even goes beyond that and threatens the Catalan people that a new independent state would find itself outside of the EU.

In response to the vicious attacks on defenceless people in a member state of the EU on the day of the referendum, Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans appeared before the Parliament to label the vote illegal, and to justify the brutal violence by saying, “It is a duty for any government to uphold the law, and this sometimes does require the proportionate use of force”.

When the Catalan government declared independence in accordance with the results of the referendum, and the mandate on which it was elected, the Spanish state responded by jailing the members of the government, dissolving the elected parliament and pursuing the elected President of Catalonia, who had sought refuge in Belgium, for extradition.

These are the not the actions of a democratic, legitimate government in an EU that is supposed to be based on the values of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression; these are the actions of an authoritarian regime.

The steamrolling of the elected Catalan government was met by the EU’s defence of the Spanish government, and deference to the Spanish position.

Now as the show trials begin, we have yet more silence from Europe. The fact that the majority of MEPs are silent when it comes to the potential political jailing of two former members of the European Parliament – Oriol Junqueras and Raül Romeva, facing 25 years and 16 years in prison respectively – is shocking.

This is a failure of leadership by the EU Commission and the European Parliament on an unprecedented scale, and it undermines the legitimacy and credibility of the entire European Union.

People from across Ireland and Europe need to stand in solidarity with the people of Catalonia in this struggle. In the face of such indefensible silence from the EU, we will make our voices heard throughout these sham show trials and demand that those in power in Brussels and Madrid take note.

Matt Carthy is a Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West constituency. You can visit his website here and follow him on Twitter @mattcarthy.

More information on who is facing trial and what charges have been laid is available here.

A live blog in English covering the trial, ‘Catalonia on Trial: The Spanish State vs. the Catalan 12’, is available here.

#MeToo: Women get organised against sexual harassment in the workplace

Guest post by Amelia Martínez Lobo.

Over the past several months, workers in the European Parliament have organised a campaign against the sexist harassment and violence that we experience in the absence of guarantees and protection of actionable protocols.

The #MeToo movement in the European Parliament has as its fundamental objective combating sexist violence with the creation of safe spaces, where sorority is a central element of empowerment. We want to break with the culture of silence that is imposed on the women and people who are outside the privileges of the heteropatriarchy, and address the fear, shame, and guilt that many of those who have suffered some type of violence, harassment, abuse or sexist aggression commonly experience.

The #MeToo movement, which was born in Hollywood a little more than a year ago, was criticised by some feminist organisations who considered it to be an exclusive movement, lacking a class perspective and being made visible in large part by a very determined socio-economic elite.

Of course, the #MeToo movement in Brussels is not exempt from that class component. When I am asked if the European Parliament is a safe place for women, the answer is firm: let’s put things in context. We cannot forget that we are a group of women with a certain socio-economic status – mostly white and working in the European bubble, earning well above the average income (even those with a salary limit imposed by my party, Podemos).

However, being aware of our position, I have always believed that we have to intervene in the spaces in which we operate – in this case, ending the silence and advancing a feminist agenda in the bureaucratic monster of the European Union.

The data is striking: a recent study conducted by the Council of Europe revealed that 50 per cent of women working in parliamentary politics in Europe – parliamentarians, advisors, administrators and technical experts – have received violent threats of death, rape or physical harm. Sixty per cent of the interviewees had experienced sexual harassment; 25 per cent suffered sexual violence and almost 15 per cent were victims of physical violence.

And yet, the percentage of complaints is still very low – with 24 per cent of the elected representatives and only six per cent of the women workers in the parliaments reporting this abuse. This last fact also reveals a class and hierarchical component, innate to the institutional power structures, which makes the workers more vulnerable.

This is because socio-economic structures and power dynamics are reproduced in parliamentary institutions in the same way as they are in any other space. Therefore, our questioning must be radical and structural. Feminists point out that misogynist aggression, such as harassment, abuse, rape and murder, are the product of a patriarchal system that has no boundaries of age, class, culture or race. That is why movements of self-organisation and empowerment like this are essential to be able to change the material conditions in which women work.

It is about transforming a workplace that has hyper-bureaucratised reporting mechanisms, with a total absence of a gender perspective and without dissuasive measures to end the impunity of aggressors. The result is an absence of protection for victims of harassment and aggression within the European Parliament, which employs more than 7,000 people – around 55 per cent of whom are women.

Without forgetting the limits of the institution itself, this struggle, and the advances that can be achieved within the Parliament, would not be possible without a feminist movement that crosses all of society. In the same way, any feminist struggle should try to weave inter-institutional and inter-parliamentary ties, create broad platforms, build networks and mutual support with the women’s movements of organised civil society.

There are many difficulties that we will encounter along the way, but we can overcome them. We will continue fighting from within and, above all, from outside the institutions to dismantle the structures of power and privilege.

The #MeToo campaign in Brussels has set up a blog to record testimonies from workers who have experienced harassment, abuse and violence. The campaign, which involves workers from across the political spectrum, is campaigning for a taskforce of independent experts to examine the prevalence of sexual harassment in the institutions; mandatory training warning against sexual harassment for MEPs; and an anti-harassment committee which should also be tasked with providing appropriate medical support to victims.

Amelia Martínez Lobo is a policy advisor for the Podemos delegation in the European Parliament, and a leading organiser of the #MeToo movement (pictured third from left in photo above). Follow the #MeToo Brussels campaign on Twitter @MeTooEP. 

Boycott Eurovision 2019: ‘Dare to Dream’ of freedom and justice in Palestine

By Zoë Lawlor.

Last May, Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel in Lisbon. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to congratulate the winner, calling her “Israel’s greatest ambassador”.

Just two days later, as Barzilai took to the stage at a victory concert in Tel Aviv, a few miles down the road in Gaza the Israeli military – under the command of this same prime minister – was mowing down non-violent Palestinian marchers, killing 62 and injuring thousands more.

Their ‘crime’ was protesting for their legally guaranteed right of return to their homeland. Three days after this slaughter, Barzilai was an honoured guest at Netanyahu’s residence where they ‘chicken danced’ for the world’s media.

The two things might at first seem unrelated, but in fact they are closely intertwined: the Israeli state brazenly uses culture to whitewash its war crimes and human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, who have lived under its apartheid system for decades.

It is a policy that was openly declared as far back as 2005 by the former head of the Foreign Ministry, who said Israel promotes “culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank” and does “not differentiate between propaganda and culture”. This culture/propaganda relationship highlights how crucial it is to refuse to normalise Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians with a ‘culture-washing’ event such as Eurovision.

It is for this reason that as soon as the Eurovision result was announced, Palestinian civil society called for an international campaign to boycott the competition scheduled to be held in Israel in 2019.

Support from Ireland’s artists and musicians

Responding to this call, we in Ireland were quick to establish a national campaign, initiated by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), PalFest Ireland and Trade Union Friends of Palestine (TUFP).

The campaign was officially launched in June, with the support of scores of celebrities, artists, human rights activists and public figures including former Eurovision winner Charlie McGettigan; Irish broadcaster and former Eurovision commentator Mike Murphy; and former Eurovision presenters Carrie Crowley and Doireann Ni Bhriain.

Also supporting the campaign are musical legends Christy Moore, Mary Black, Paul Brady, Mary Coughlan, Andy Irvine, Luka Bloom, Kíla, Frances Black, Donal Lunny, Honor Heffernan, Cormac Breatnach, Gráinne Holland and Steve Wall; actors Stephen Rea, Sorcha Fox and Donal O’Kelly; artists Robert Ballagh, Jim Fitzpatrick and Felim Egan; comedians Barry Murphy and Kevin Gildea; composers Raymond Deane and Trevor Knight; media personalities Ellen Cranitch and Betty Purcell; and poet Catherine Ann Cullen.

Considering the special role that Eurovision plays within Ireland’s LGBTQIA community, it is also important to note the support from veteran LGBTQIA activists and allies such as Ailbhe Smith, Senator David Norris, Max Krzyzanowski, Senator Ivana Bacik, Kieran Rose and Cathal Kerrigan, and Ireland’s first two openly gay mayors Cian O’Callaghan and Fintan Warfield.

Also quick to endorse the campaign were the Musicians’ Union of Ireland (MUI) and the actors’ and dancers’ union Irish Equity, along with Mandate General Secretary John Douglas. On 29 January this year the National Union of Journalists Dublin Broadcasting Branch committed to supporting members refusing to cover the Eurovision contest due to Israel’s “continued attacks on journalists and on freedom of expression”.

To date some 15,000 members of the public have signed a petition calling on RTÉ and potential participants to refuse to attend the contest. Last September the petition was presented to Director General of RTÉ Dee Forbes, and at that meeting RTÉ’s representatives committed to refusing to sanction any worker who does not wish travel on conscientious grounds.

RTÉ’s representatives also noted that they were “well aware that the Irish people are very concerned about and supportive of Palestinians” and that they will not merely be covering it as an entertainment event.

While this obviously falls far short of the call for a boycott of coverage of the Eurovision, it nevertheless represents an important acknowledgement by Ireland’s national broadcaster that there is broad Irish support for, and empathy with, the Palestinian struggle for freedom; that any international event held in Israel is not to be treated as ‘normal’; and that working on it presents an ethical difficulty for people of conscience.

As the competition date nears, the campaign momentum continues to grow. Last month more than 60 queer and trans liberation organisations from across Europe and beyond called on global LGBTQIA communities to take a stand for Palestinian human rights by joining the boycott.

In Britain stellar names such as Peter Gabriel, Vivienne Westwood, Roger Waters, Wolf Alice and Mike Leigh have recently called for Eurovision not to be held in Israel. As performers are announced, appeals and protests will be stepped up and the call for a boycott will become louder and stronger.  Alternative Eurovision parties in solidarity with the Palestinian people enduring their 71st year of dispossession and apartheid will be held across Europe.

In what is a huge embarrassment, and should really lead to Israel being disqualified from holding the competition this year, a plagiarism settlement has given musician Jack White a songwriting credit for Barzilai’s competition winning song ‘Toy, with the track deemed to be a rip-off of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army – yet another theft by the apartheid state.

Built on ethnically cleansed land

Last week we learned that the 2019 Eurovision Village is set to be built on the ruins of the Al-Manshiyya quarter of Jaffa, ethnically cleansed of its roughly 12,000 Palestinian inhabitants in 1948 by Zionist paramilitaries.

Following the dispossession – known in Arabic as ‘al Nakba’ (the Catastrophe) – large parts of the quarter were ultimately demolished and turned into a public park. Now, to facilitate this exercise in culture-washing, it will be turned into a site where contestants and their entourages lounge around on ethnically cleansed land, which once consisted of the homes and businesses of Palestinians families that remain refugees to this day.

We in the Irish campaign to boycott the Eurovision in apartheid Israel reiterate our call for RTÉ, all workers and performers, and all who care for human rights to seize this moment, to stand on the right side of history and to listen to the cry for solidarity from the Palestinian people.

We must refuse to take part in any pink-washing or art-washing of Israel’s decades of oppression of the Palestinian people. The slogan for this year’s Eurovision is ‘Dare To Dream’, and daring to dream of their own freedom, justice and equality, Palestinians have asked for our solidarity. We call on all people to heed their call to boycott the 2019 Eurovision – it is the very least we can do!  

Zoë Lawlor is the Cultural Liaison of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and is also a member of Gaza Action Ireland. Follow the IPSC on Twitter @ipsc48.