Dáil Éireann - Volume 286 - 11 December, 1975

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Withdrawal of Ambassador.

22. Dr. Thornley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs why, alone amongst the ambassadors of the EEC Member nations, the Irish Ambassador was not withdrawn over the recent issue of the execution of five Basque nationalists.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Dr. FitzGerald): The Deputy, I take it, is referring to executions which took place in Spain on 27th September, 1975, when two members of the Basque ETA organisation were executed in Burgos and three members of the FRAP, a Maoist group, were executed in Barcelona.

[1526] On 9th September, the Irish Ambassador in Madrid, on my instructions, made representations to the Spanish Government asking them, on humanitarian grounds, not to proceed with the executions. Ireland, as one of the Nine, was also associated with representations in a similar sense which Italy, as the country holding the Presidency, made on 25th September on behalf of the member States of the European Communities.

Notwithstanding these representations, the Spanish Government carried out the executions on 27th September and over the following days a number of European countries, including six of our partners in the EEC, recalled their ambassadors from Madrid to their capitals for consultations. The member States of the EEC informed each other of their decisions in this regard but the decision in each case was an individual one by the Government concerned and there was no proposal at any stage for concerted action by the Nine as such.

In this situation, the Government, having considered the position, decided not to withdraw the Irish Ambassador. They took this decision. in the first place, because they considered that consultation with the ambassador in person was not necessary since he had been in Dublin a short time previously; and in the second place, because they considered that his recall, as a symbolic gesture, would not have been the most appropriate or useful response, in the current situation in Spain.

I think it should be clear from the appeals for clemency which Ireland has made earlier and from the fact that we joined with our EEC partners in further representations before the executions that this decision of the Government did not indicate any lack of concern on our part. In considering what it was right for us to do after the executions, the Government had in mind rather the strong possibility that recall of the Ambassadors as a symbolic gesture might not only be ineffective but could indeed be counter-productive since it would arouse resentment in Spain and could help to consolidate support within the [1527] country for a more hardline attitude during this transitional period.

A further consideration was that an ambassador, once recalled, must either be retained indefinitely at headquarters for consultations or returned to his post within a short time. To retain an ambassador at headquarters indefinitely for consultations is regarded, in diplomatic practice, as an indication of a major breach in relations and in this instance would have deprived us of contacts in Spain during a crucial transitional period; on the other hand to return an ambassador within a short time of his withdrawal could be taken as an expression of approval of developments in the country concerned. The view of the Government is that neither of these courses would have been justified in the situation which obtained in Spain in late September and the period immediately following the executions.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Will the Minister state if the length of his reply indicates he is not so happy with the position? This matter was discussed when we were debating the Supplementary Estimate. Will he indicate how many of the other members of the Community who withdrew their ambassadors have restored their representation? Secondly, will he indicate if, in their case, the gesture was harmful and counter-productive, as he implied?

Dr. FitzGerald: The length of my reply indicates my desire to keep the House fully informed. I am perfectly happy with the situation in regard to this matter.

Mr. O'Kennedy: We went into this matter in some detail on the Supplementary Estimate.

Dr. FitzGerald: Deputy Thornley put down a question and I have endeavoured to reply to it fully. It was discussed on the Supplementary Estimate but I thought it proper that the House should have a full reply. On the other point raised by the Deputy, the ambassadors returned very shortly afterwards. I think the representatives [1528] of the United Kingdom and Germany returned on 8th October, Denmark and Belgium on 10th October, the Dutch representative on 11th October and the French on 13th October. Of course, the French ambassador had not been withdrawn. He was on holiday at the time.

Mr. O'Kennedy: In the course of the debate on the Supplementary Estimate the Minister said that the French ambassador was not withdrawn. It appears that he was conveniently on holiday at the time. Now the Minister has indicated that he has returned.

Dr. FitzGerald: The Deputy asked when the ambassadors returned and I am answering the question.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I asked who had returned of those who were withdrawn.

Dr. FitzGerald: The question referred to the nine countries. The position is that the French ambassador was on holiday in the ordinary way and returned on 13th October. I am sorry if I gave the Deputy more information that he asked but I like to reply fully to questions. I have not the date on which the Italian ambassador returned but I think it was around the same time.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I also asked the Minister if he considers their gesture was harmful and counter-productive. Does he consider that was the case?

Dr. FitzGerald: Yes. I might add that this view is privately shared by a number of them at this stage.

Mr. O'Kennedy: They have come around to the Minister's view?

Dr. FitzGerald: Yes.

Mr. Moore: Will the Minister inform the House if the Government have a common policy for the withdrawal or otherwise of representatives? Is it easier to withdraw a representative from a western European country than from an eastern European country? Will the Minister state what guidelines are used?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is raising a major issue now. Question No. 23.

[1529] Dr. FitzGerald: The guideline is what result the action is likely to produce and as our concern is with helping a situation in a given set of circumstances we make that the criterion rather than any ideological considerations or general principles. It is the actual application in a particular case that matters.

Mr. Moore: The Minister means he makes it up as he goes along?

An Ceann Comhairle: I have already called the next question.

Dr. FitzGerald: We deal with each situation as it arises.