Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 05 March, 1998
Adjournment Matters. - Persecution of Turkish Teachers.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this matter because it is of huge concern to me and will have resonance for Irish people everywhere. The executive of the main teachers' union in Turkey, known as Egitim Sen, was found guilty of anti-state propaganda. Its crime was to respect the rights and culture of minority groups in Turkey. These so-called minorities are made up of many millions of Kurds, Assyrians, Syrcassians and many others.
The union supported and defended the rights of pupils to be taught in their mother tongue and the right of teachers to teach them in that tongue. This is a well established right and many international treaties respect it. We saw huge demonstrations last Sunday night in Kosovo — 18 months ago in the House I mentioned a similar  event in Kosovo when it was brought to my attention by teaching colleagues there.
I have been in close contact with members of the Turkish teachers' union in the last few months. The union supported the right of pupils to be taught and of teachers to teach in the children's mother tongue and its actions were found to be seditious and undermining of the State. The union executive has been sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for defending these rights — many people in Ireland might say it was a good way of dealing with them.
This is not taking a stand for Kurdish children only but for all children. In the trial, which took place on 20 November last, the national board members of the teachers' union stated that the right to be educated in one's mother tongue is laid down in international treaties which Turkey has signed, and that this right is established throughout the world. The union also stated that its main concern was education, the right was a matter of teaching and professionalism, nothing to do with the fragmentation of the country, and defending this right was one of principles of the union.
It is hard to believe that in the Europe of today teachers and their union can be found guilty of treason or sedition because they teach children. In Ireland we experienced similarly repressive legislation some centuries ago; we call them the Penal Laws and tell our children how unacceptable they were because they were an attempt to suppress and trample on our culture. In as much as they attempted to kill the language of a people, the Penal Laws were unacceptable then and are unacceptable now.
The Turkish teachers' union has appealed the sentence but has not been told when or if the case will be heard. It is said to be pending but that is the way the Turkish authorities have always worked against the trade union movement. The appeal could be heard tomorrow or it could be hanging over them for months — it is a strategy to keep the executive living on its nerves. The executive's members have been told that if it continues to support the right of pupils to be taught in their own language, or the right of teachers to teach them in that language, they will be imprisoned for 18 months. It is not even clear whether the union will be allowed to appeal, for if the appeal is referred to the State security court it will be turned down.
I raise this matter for a number of reasons. The EU has always been too much of a Christian club and it would be good for it if an outside country was involved. However, it is clear that the Turkish authorities are far from ready to join the EU. At the moment they are last in the queue and there is little evidence they should be moved up the list. Their appalling human rights record continues to be of enormous concern. The official attitude towards the Kurdish community, the unacceptable prison regime, and the oppressive and repressive body of legislation are a constant  reminder of the true nature of that so-called modern Government.
I have raised this matter with the Turkish Ambassador to Ireland, as I have raised other matters with him over the years. His view is that we should be supportive of Turkey's attempts to be part of Europe and he does not seem to recognise that one must conform to normal rules and legislation. I have also raised this informally with the Minister, Deputy Andrews, who I have found supportive on this and similar issues. He was the first Minister to respond on the question of Kosovo and that has been reported to my European colleagues and to those in Kosovo. The Turkish teachers' union and human rights organisations are aware that this issue has been raised in different European parliaments and I ask that the Minister make a positive response.
I also ask that the Irish Government make clear to the Turkish authorities that they cannot expect to be welcomed into the EU while they seek to implement what is clearly a form of ethnic cleansing. Ireland should oppose Turkish entry to the Community until such time as it recognises basic democratic and civil rights. The right to language and culture must be fundamental to democracy and to the rights of citizens in a democracy.
This is not a question of undermining the political authority of a state or participating in an attempt to fragment or separate a state; it is a question of professionals responding to the needs of their pupils. As I said earlier, people have called the EU a Christian club and the inclusion of a non-Christian country such as Turkey would be welcome and would add to its variety and diversity. However, until Turkey finds room for its own diversity there should be no room for it in the EU. The only thing which will make Turkey move on these issues internally is if it is pressurised and embarrassed by an external debate.
In Turkey, teachers and their union are being imprisoned for teaching pupils in their native language. The EU supports the principle of teaching children in their native language and many countries have sought to address this issue. In this country we have attempted to teach Bosnian children in their own language as far as possible and we have tried to do the same for other nationalities. I ask the Irish Government to show its displeasure at this development, to raise with the Turkish Government the sentencing of teachers and the desirability of changing its ways so that it would be more acceptable for it to join the EU.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace) Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace)
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace): I thank Senator O'Toole for raising this issue. The Minister, Deputy Andrews, was here earlier but he had to leave before the matter could be taken.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: I appreciate that.
Miss M. Wallace Miss M. Wallace
 Miss M. Wallace: He has asked me to reply; he is sorry he could not do so himself. With our EU partners he has made clear to Turkey that the Kurdish issue should have a political solution. This continues to be the position of Ireland and our EU partners.
Senator O'Toole raised the prospect of Turkey's accession to the European Union. The European Council, meeting on 12-13 December 1997, confirmed Turkey's eligibility for accession to the European Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to the other applicant states. These criteria, as outlined by the Copenhagen European Council, include, inter alia, stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. The Luxembourg European Council also outlined the main elements of an enhanced European Strategy for Turkey. This strategy is intended to prepare Turkey for accession by bringing it closer to the EU in every field through a process of dialogue in a range of areas, including human rights. The EU will continue to raise its concerns with Turkey on the issue of human rights and the Minister, Deputy Andrews, shares Senator O'Toole's concerns that the present developments can only be disruptive.
In seeking to agree a framework for the enhancement of EU-Turkey relations, however, Ireland and her EU partners also recalled that strengthening Turkey's links with the EU also depends on Turkey's pursuit of the political and economic reforms on which it has embarked, including the alignment of human rights standards and practices with those in force in the EU, respect for and protection of minorities, the establishment of satisfactory and stable relations with Greece, the settlement of disputes by legal process, including the International Court of Justice, and support for negotiations under the aegis of the UN on a political settlement in Cyprus on the basis of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
The Minister has asked me to assure Senator O'Toole that he is sorry he could not be here and that the EU will continue to raise its concerns with Turkey on these issues of human rights.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. I appreciate on a busy day of the inter-governmental conference that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, was available earlier but our previous business went on for too long. I ask that the Minister raise directly with the Turkish authorities the question of the potential imprisonment of the teaching union.
Seanad Éireann 154 Adjournment Matters. Persecution of Turkish Teachers.