Wednesday 21 March 2018

Alliance at war over plan for talks with North Korea

Halligan defends peace mission while Canney distances himself from Kim Jong-un meeting

NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-un
NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-un
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Major divisions are emerging in the Independent Alliance over a proposal to travel to North Korea and broker peace talks with the country's dictator Kim Jong-un.

Independent Alliance Junior Minister John Halligan plans to travel to the totalitarian state to dissuade the country's unpredictable leader of engaging in nuclear war with US President Donald Trump.

Transport Minister Shane Ross and Disability Minister Finian McGrath are also planning to accompany their colleague on the peace mission.

However, Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney yesterday said he wanted to publicly distance himself from the other members of the political grouping who were hoping to travel to North Korea.

Mr Canney insisted the visit to a country condemned internationally for human rights abuses was not an Independent Alliance initiative and he wanted to state clearly the project did not have his backing.

"I don't agree with what the three lads want to do. Independently they can do what they want, but I want to distance myself from it. It is not an Independent Alliance project," Mr Canney said.

"My priorities are to keep on implementing the Programme for Government. I have bigger issues in my constituency such as Athenry and Apple which is a major concern at the moment," he added. Kevin 'Boxer' Moran is also opposed to the visit.

Last night, Mr Halligan said he would speak with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and decide whether he would accept an invite to travel to the North Korean embassy in London to discuss the proposed visit. The junior minister also robustly defended his plan to engage in talks with the despot.

"I have never denied the fact I have contact with North Korea and I have friends that have travelled to North Korea," he told the Sunday Independent.

"I have a right as TD and a minister to have my own view on world affairs and international affairs without being ridiculed for them. I have made it quite clear I don't agree with the North Korean leader's ideology," he said.

Mr Halligan also noted RTE previously travelled to North Korea with Irish culture organisation Comhaltas in the 1990s. He also highlighted that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"If it were three members in the French or Spanish parliament travelling to North Korea for peace talks we wouldn't rubbish them," he said.

Independent Alliance members have said they have been criticised by constituents over the planned journey to the Korean peninsula and have been warned it is damaging the political grouping's reputation.

However, senior Independent Alliance sources yesterday said the group was "perfectly relaxed" about their views on issues among members.

The source also said the Alliance would not do anything which would breach Government policy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement last week saying it opposed any parliamentary visit to North Korea.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs outlined its opposition to a parliamentary visit by the three government members.

"Minister Coveney has spoken with Minister of State Halligan and they have agreed that Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials will provide the Minister of State with a full briefing on North Korea next week," it stated.

"The Government position remains that we do not support any parliamentary delegation visiting North Korea at this time, given the sensitivities involved."

Minister Coveney rang all three ministers expressing his concern with their proposed visit to North Korea.

He has also arranged a briefing for Mr Halligan and Mr Ross on the country which has been locked in dangerous missile stand-off with the US over recent months.

Sunday Independent

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