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Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Simon Coveney TD statement in the Dáil on Catalonia

European Union, International Law, International relations, Minister Simon Coveney, Speech, Europe, 2017

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Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, T.D.

Statement in the Dáil on Catalonia

24 October 2017

Ireland's concern at developments in Catalonia is evident and is reflected in today's statements. I know that some Members of this House have also visited Catalonia, including recently, and their perspectives contribute to our consideration of the situation there. Irish people know Spain well. After Britain, it is the country that we travel to most. Cities and towns across Spain are home for many Irish people. In addition, some 1.8 million visits were made to Spain from Ireland during 2016. A growing and welcome element of this traffic is connected with the increasing number of Spaniards visiting and living in Ireland.

What happens in Catalonia and Spain clearly matters to all of us in this House and in the communities that we represent. Tensions are running high but we must not lose sight of the fact that the Spain that we know well is an established democracy where citizens have full rights protected by the rule of law. In any democracy, political developments must take place within a legal framework. This is not a procedural point. This is a fundamental requirement if the rights of all citizens are to be protected. Respecting the rule of law, its possibilities and protections but also its limits, is not a choice but an obligation. The resolution of the current crisis needs to be within Spain's constitutional framework, through Spain's democratic institutions. The freedom to express contesting views is an essential check and balance in any democracy.

However, differences of opinion must be contested with full respect for the law and the rights of all citizens. This is the foundation that underpins and protects modern democratic societies and indeed the functioning of the EU. We can disagree with and work to change the law but we cannot ignore the law as it stands or act beyond it.

We are all familiar with the vote in Catalonia on 1 October. I share the dismay felt by many people in Ireland and elsewhere at the disturbing clashes and injuries. Let me reiterate that violence has no place in politics. In Catalonia, and elsewhere in Spain, as in all our democracies, public representatives and all citizens must work to advance their goals within democratic institutions such as parliaments with full respect for the law. Clearly, any decision on a question as important as independence requires legitimacy. It requires legitimacy both in terms of the broadest possible political consensus and in terms of a sound legal framework. On that basis, the referendum vote of 1 October cannot be accepted as legitimate. I do not believe that it provides the basis for a declaration of independence. The holding of this referendum was ruled illegal by Spain's constitutional court. It is clear, including from the massive gatherings that we have seen in Catalonia,that many there support independence but we also know that there are many others who do not. In early September, a small majority of the regional Catalan Parliament voted through referendum and transition legislation in controversial circumstances. Those in parliament opposed to the measures, who made up nearly half the region's parliamentarians, argued that the legislative process breached the parliament's own procedures and was illegal. Spain's constitutional court later ruled the legislation illegal. It is political dialogue rather than escalating tensions that we all want to see but dialogue needs to respect the constitution of Spain, the rights of all citizens of Spain and the regional and national parliamentary institutions that represent them. Any political action outside of that framework lacks legitimacy and cannot claim to respect the plurality of opinion across Spain.

I am conscious that there have been many calls for external involvement in the resolution of this matter, particularly after the violence that occurred on 1 October. However, the Government's position is that in Spain, as in any other country in the EU, internal political and constitutional arrangements are the prerogative of a country and its people and should be determined by them through the institutions of the country and in accordance with the rule of law. Internal divisions, contesting aspirations and robust debates are to be expected in any democracy but they have to be resolved in keeping with the rule of law. Constitutions can be changed, as we know, but this has to happen in a constitutional way. I, therefore, welcome the cross-party support in the Spanish Parliament for the establishment of a committee to consider the issue of constitutional reform, which may address some of the current concerns.

I am very concerned at the impact on people’s lives that the political uncertainty has given rise to, including the decisions of more than 1,000 companies to transfer their corporate headquarters out of Catalonia. I am also dismayed at reports of fractures within families and communities to which this divisive issue is giving rise. The validity and legitimacy of political effort requires, as I have said, securing the broadest possible consensus within the law. Citizens also deserve the certainty that the rule of law extends to them. This is why I remain of the view that it is for all Spaniards - all Catalans and all Spaniards - to arrive at a shared view on what steps within their laws and their own democratic institutions might best support a process towards a resolution. Clearly, this is proving very difficult. The decision taken by the Spanish Government to apply Article 155 of the constitution marks a significant point. Nonetheless, there still remains an opportunity for engagement. We hope that leaders take the necessary steps to return to the space where differing views are contested through national and regional democratic institutions with full respect always for the law and the rights of citizens. Upholding the constitution and the rule of law in all its aspects is a key underpinning of all democracies. Ireland respects the constitutional and territorial integrity and unity of Spain. The Government's position remains that the constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters to be determined by its own citizens though its own institutions in keeping with its own laws.