A key term in both U.S. candidates has been “Change;” and even before the votes are counted the Irish government has changed a controversial policy linked to the Bush administration.
A new cabinet sub-committee has been set up to focus on international human rights and one of its first actions is to strengthen legislation to ensure that the Gardai are sufficiently empowered to search and stop any suspected rendition flights from passing through Irish airspace.
It is widely believed that rendition flights have been an integral part of the Bush administrations “war on terror”. They involve transporting a suspected terrorist from one state to another where the destination state is likely to ignore the use of torture or harsh interrogation techniques.
The new sub-committee is composed of Green Party Ministers Eamon Ryan and John Gormley, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey.
This committee has also asked the government to get a commitment from the new administration in the US that they will close Guantánamo Bay and abandon the use of all torture techniques.
While the Labour Party say in principle that they support the governments symbolic action of setting up a high profile committee consisting of cabinet members they question how effective the committee will be.
The labour party spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Michael D. Higgins said, “While any progress of engaging with other Governments with a view to ending extraordinary rendition flights through Ireland is to be welcomed, it is not at all clear what setting up a new Government Committee as reported today, will precisely achieve in this regard.”
Mr Higgins is finalising legislation to tighten Irish law regarding the use of Irish airports in rendition flights and is encouraging the government to give constructive feedback and support the bill if they are serious about the matter.
Mr Higgins said, “If the Government parties are anxious to resolve this matter, I would invite them to give their full support to my Bill when it is introduced into the Oireachtas. If they accept the bill in principle I would welcome any constructive suggestions towards strengthening it, that they may have. ”
Amnesty International has called government plans to tighten laws against rendition and establish a cabinet sub-committee focused on human rights a “massive victory for human rights”.
Amnesty International Ireland Executive Director Colm O’Gorman said: “We are happy to be in a position to commend our Government for showing political and moral leadership on this issue.”
“The kind of gross human rights violations that are the result of extraordinary rendition or the so called ‘war on terror’ are only possible in a world where states stay silent when they ought to challenge such violations.”
Mr O' Gorman said that Amnesty members and others have maintained a constant presence at Shannon airport monitoring the activity of suspected rendition flights.
He said, “Thousands of people all over Ireland have marched, protested and lobbied politicians to this end. Amnesty members and other activists have maintained a constant presence at Shannon Airport monitoring the activity of suspected rendition flights. Most recently we saw the momentum of the campaign continue to build with local authorities around Ireland, including Shannon and Limerick, declaring their areas to be rendition free zones.”
Ireland's human rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has cautiously welcomed the governments plans.
ICCL Director Mr Mark Kelly said, “The ICCL welcomes the fact that the Government has finally heeded its call to distance itself from the unlawful practices of the Bush administration. However, far more action will be needed before the ICCL is convinced that the Government’s renewed interest in the protection of human rights is driven by principle as opposed to political expediency” he said.
“A Government that is genuinely committed to respecting human rights at home and abroad would not be inflicting swingeing budgetary cuts on its own Human Rights Commission and Equality Authority, nor would it have deleted human rights as a charitable purpose from legislation currently before the Dáil” he added.