Denial of the Holocaust: Motion.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs Debate

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Chairman: Information on Michael J. Woods Zoom on Michael J. Woods No. 3 on the agenda is two motions tabled by Deputy Michael D. Higgins for today’s meeting. One motion relates to the denial of the Holocaust and the second to the proposed US/India nuclear agreement. We have received no proposed amendments. Is it agreed that we take the motion on the Holocaust first? Agreed. If the motion is agreed, the committee must make a report on the matter to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I move:

That the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs,

— in expressing its abhorrence of the views of those who deny the Holocaust which took place in Europe before and during the Second World War,

— conscious of the recent conference held in Iran which sought to discuss the supposed veracity of the Holocaust,

— noting that the European Commissioner on Justice and Home Affairs, Franco Frattini, has condemned Iran for hosting a “conference of Holocaust deniers”, saying it constituted “an unacceptable affront” to victims of the World War II genocide,

— noting further the EU’s firm “condemnation of any attempt to deny, trivialise or minimise the Shoah, war crimes and crimes against humanity”,

calls on the Irish Government to make explicit, and if necessary repeat as appropriate, its support of Commissioner Frattini’s views on this recent conference; stresses the need to remember the millions of persons slaughtered across Europe as part of the Holocaust; and to condemn any attempt, such as was attempted in Iran in this fashion, to understate or indeed deny these horrific events.

I am delighted to move the motion. I imagine all members of the committee will be of the view that we should pass it. I was anxious the motion should be tabled as near as possible to Holocaust Memorial Day which was last Sunday. It is important we pass this motion, to indicate the responsibility of humanity in terms of the integrity of memory and its commitment to remember and draw consequences from actions that have taken place. To deny the Holocaust is is an abuse of history. It is a rejection of scholarship and, much more importantly, it is a refusal to learn from an horrific example.

I believe the motion expresses sentiments generally shared by committee members, because different Governments have signed up to the International Criminal Court, for example, which condemns the crime of genocide. Genocide is defined, above all else, in terms of its intention. What was unique and special about the Holocaust was its extension beyond territory and cultures and its structure in a universal way against members of different groups. Many died or were destroyed and families were ruined in different ways by what took place in the camps. The members of the Jewish faith who survived in Europe were just a fraction of their previous number.

We must be clear in identifying accurately and never making a false accusation in regard to anti-Semitism. That is important. Anti-Semitism had preceded what took place in the camps but we should remember also that it was in a dangerous way, as Primo Levi and others would have written, the construction of the “other” as an unacceptable or sub-human person that was at the heart of the Nazi ideology. Therefore, people who died in the camps included communists, homosexuals and people who had particular forms of disability.

Members will agree it is important that after the different declarations made at a European level we should take the first available opportunity to express strongly our abhorrence of those who, by rewriting history, the denial of fact and the distortion of scholarship, would seek to make possible that we would not learn from the nadir to which human behaviour fell in this period.

I am happy to accept any amendments members may offer but I made every effort to make the motion as complete as I could.

Deputy Mulcahy: Information on Michael Mulcahy Zoom on Michael Mulcahy I thank Deputy Michael D. Higgins for tabling this motion, which I fully support. It is carefully and comprehensively drafted and states the kind of things I would wish to say about this subject.

I have been and in some ways still am still one of those pressing for a visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran because I feel engagement with people is extremely important. No matter how heinous a government may be, it is very important that the channels of communication with the people of every country be kept open. We discussed how the issues of nuclear non-proliferation, minorities and human rights in Iran would have been on top of the agenda had we gone there. We would also have raised the issue of the Iranian attitude to the State of Israel. We made it very clear at a private meeting with the chargé d’affaires of the Iranian Embassy that we totally distanced ourselves from the statements of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad, on seeking the destruction of Israel.

When I read about the Holocaust denial conference held in Iran, I immediately contacted the secretary and Chairman of this committee. Notwithstanding members’ very strong desire to travel to Iran, as expressed on many occasions, I felt the proximity of a visit by this committee to the conference on Holocaust denial could well be misinterpreted by the international community and by people living in Ireland. In such circumstances, I and other members of the committee felt a visit would be inappropriate. I do not believe Mr. Ahmadinejad speaks for the entire Iranian population. There are very fine people living throughout Iran with whom we should be in contact and I do not believe in closing the door on them. In that context, the timing of this motion is especially welcome.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins, in his motion, does not refer to the proposal of the German Presidency of the European Union to produce legislation addressing Holocaust denial. Such legislation exists in Germany and Austria. Although my mind is not closed on the subject, I believe such laws have implications for the freedom of speech and therefore require very careful consideration. The display of Nazi emblems or symbols that incite racism or hatred is to be condemned but we should be very careful that we do not close the door on proper academic research on the Holocaust or on genuine artistic expressions dealing with the period in question, of which there have been many. We need to tread very carefully. This committee and the Joint Committee on European Affairs should examine this matter in detail.

While we are all at one on the issue of Holocaust denial, recognising the State of Israel and defending its right to existence, along with that of its neighbouring countries, particularly Palestine, we realise that making legislation to deal with Holocaust denial is extremely tricky. To my knowledge, there is no law on the Irish Statute Book that legislates against denying something. The ramifications of such laws are very serious and I am glad the motion does not deal with this. It would have been premature for it to support such legislation before our examining what it would entail. I support the motion and commend Deputy Michael D. Higgins on tabling it.

Senator Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney I fully support the motion. When I received it, I asked myself why I did not think of tabling it. Deputy Michael D. Higgins’s timing in doing so is commendable. It is vital that this Parliament and its constituent committees pass a motion of this nature, especially as the generation that survived the concentration camps is dying out. As a result, the memory of survivors will fade into the written and recorded word and there will be no direct link with the atrocities in the camps. Therefore, it is incumbent on this and following generations to constantly remind themselves of what happened. We in Ireland have a particular obligation in that regard. Because of our neutrality during the war and the censorship at the time and in spite of the revelations that emerged in the latter part of the war, we did not connect with the horrors of the Holocaust in the same way as other European countries in the theatre of war. That is not to diminish the compassion of the Irish people but historically we did not connect. Consequently, this generation must be more acutely reminded than those in other countries of what happened.

What is happening in Iran is an exact parallel of what happened with Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s. They initially separated a group of people in their country, denigrated them and created an environment in which the majority saw them as a threat. The gentleman now running Iran, admittedly with a popular mandate, although Hitler was also elected, has referred to wiping Israel off the map. That is a challenge to those of us who believe in freedom, democracy and the right to exist. These are basic human rights but there is little point in talking at this remove about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks or actions. The people of Iran will have an opportunity to express their opinion about his tenure in office and one hopes they will send a powerful message.

I fully support the motion. The Houses should join in supporting such a motion annually in perpetuity because of the danger presented by conferences of this nature and the opportunity they allow those who deny what happened in the camps.

Senator Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I was aware of the preparation of the motions by Deputy Higgins and indicated that I would be happy to second them if such a formality was necessary. Everyone else doubtless feels the same.

The motion is appropriate in its timing. Ireland was a signatory of the Stockholm Declaration in 1998 which committed countries to an annual commemoration of the Holocaust. A number of committee members attended the commemoration at the Mansion House at the weekend. I was asked to read at the event.

None of our hands is clean. Ireland closed its doors, even to the children of the Holocaust, despite the appeals of people such as Deputy Briscoe who was close to Mr. de Valera. The piece I was asked to read was similarly shocking; it was about a boat that had left Hamburg in 1939 and travelled to Cuba, where people were to await the processing of visas to the United States. Agitation was raised by the owners of the principal newspapers and the President refused landing rights to those passengers, except for a couple of American citizens. They sailed so close to the coast of America that they could see the lights of Miami but the boat was turned back, despite appeals to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and returned to Hamburg. Most of the passengers perished subsequently in the death camps.

Senator Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney A film, “The SS St. Louis”, was made about that event.

Senator Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It was shocking.

It is important that we pass the motion and I commend Deputy Higgins for tabling it. It is particularly important in view of the highly provocative conference held in Tehran. In the note we received it is stated no historian of any repute attended. That is true but I wonder if it might not have been better if every decent, reputable scholar had attended and swamped it with information on the Holocaust which is utterly incontrovertible and shamed those responsible for organising the conference. I salute those wonderful and courageous students of Tehran University who protested at great risk to themselves outside the conference. That takes guts. It is comparatively easy for us to pass resolutions but it is not easy to be in such a closed and dangerous society and publicly protest against this blasphemy. It was blasphemy to hold an exhibition of cartoons with the collected works of David Irving labelled “Truth” and Auschwitz labelled “Myth”. It is also instructive that representatives of all the EU member states were invited to the opening but boycotted it.

I have just received an invitation from the Iranian ambassador to Ireland to a cocktail party in his residence. I intend this afternoon to return it with an accompanying note that I hope he will read. I hope other members will follow the spirit of the EU ambassadors and not attend this jollification. It is not appropriate to party with these people, although like Deputy Mulcahy, I have no difficulty with people travelling to Iran. It is important to go and meet the people there. A real indicator of our moral disapproval of the regime and its attitudes should be shown by a refusal to attend the party.

There is a motion on the Order Paper for the Seanad in my name and that of Senator Ross similar to this one, to which I am confident there will be no opposition. I commend Deputy Higgins for tabling the motion and add my voice to it. It appears it will be passed unanimously, which will be a good day’s work.

Senator Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I apologise for being late. I am deputising for Senator Bradford. I add my voice on his behalf to support fully everything that has been said by Deputies Higgins and Mulcahy and Senators Mooney and Norris.

Chairman: Information on Michael J. Woods Zoom on Michael J. Woods It is clear that there is total agreement on the motion. We must never forget man’s inhumanity to man, as so savagely illustrated by the Holocaust. The proceedings at the conference were unbelievable.

Senator Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Did something happen since, whereby the Supreme Ayatollah checked the president, although it may not have been in respect of the conference? Is there a shift in Iran?

Deputy M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins While I appreciate the generous support from all sides for the motion, I also take Deputy Mulcahy’s point that we should still visit Iran and discuss the issues he mentions with the Iranians. That is the way to go. We must also respect the diversity of opinion within Iran. A statement was made from the religious side that differed from that of President Ahmadinejad. There is also the issue of the propaganda abuse involved in mistranslation — for example, wiping a country off the face of the earth and removing the present administration from the page of history. When I was a child, one of the most distinguished people ever elected and who featured on the front page of Time magazine was Dr. Moussadek who insisted on parliament being established there. He was a pluralist and one of the most distinguished figures of the century but was later overthrown. Iran is a complex society and I respect the country but it is important that conferences such as this be commented on immediately. It is necessary on every possible occasion to repeat the views expressed in the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Chairman: Information on Michael J. Woods Zoom on Michael J. Woods I must now seek the agreement of the committee to make a report to both Houses. Is that agreed? Agreed.

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