Martin says Klaus comments on Lisbon 'inappropriate'

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has described comments made by the president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus on a visit to Dublin as "an inappropriate intervention" and an Opposition party described his actions as "an act of unprecedented diplomatic discourtesy".

Mr Klaus held a joint press conference with the founder of the anti-Lisbon Treaty group Libertas, Declan Ganley, ahead of a private dinner in honour of Mr Klaus in the Shelbourne hotel last night.

He warned of a shift towards "supranationalism" in Europe, and that the Lisbon Treaty, which was rejected by Irish voters at a referendum in June, would not enhance freedom and democracy.

Mr Klaus also said he was "not happy" with what he saw as attempts by Europe to "forget the Irish referendum and to change the result".

Speaking on RTE's Morning Irelandtoday, Mr Martin said the comments were inappropriate but that it was already widely known that Mr Klaus held what he described as "controversial views" on a lot of issues.

"I think the press conference last night and the very clear political comments made made by President Klaus, we would regard as an inappropriate intervention in the context of such a State visit, particularly at a time when the Irish Government is engaged in discussions with our partners in the European Unions on behalf of the Irish people," he said.

Plans for Mr Klaus to attend the private dinner hosted by Mr Ganley had generated controversy in recent days.

Mr Martin said Department of Foreign Affairs officials would have explained normal protocol attaching to a state visit. However, he said the Government had not made any formal protest or objection to the meeting between Mr Ganley and the Czech president.

Mr Klaus shrugged off Mr Martin’s description of his comments as being an “inappropriate intervention” when he was questioned about it by reporters during a tour of Cork city centre.

Irish media had been refused access to Mr Klaus during a courtesy call to Cork City Hall but when questioned on Patrick Street about Mr Martin’s remarks, Mr Klaus said he hadn’t heard Mr Martin’s interview.

“I didn’t hear anything like that - I don’t want to exaggerate the reaction and counter reactions,” said Mr Klaus as he was shepherded towards the English Market by members of his entourage flanked by gardaí.

Asked repeatedly what he thought of Mr Martin’s comments, Mr Klaus responded: “Inappropriate as regards to what, as regards to the freedom - excuse me, I didn’t visit someone who is against the State, I visited someone who is just opposing the Government.”

Mr Klaus had planned to give a short media briefing to Czech journalists during his visit to the English Market but he opted not to and instead simply posed for some photos with stallholders during his 15-minute tour.

Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche said Mr Klaus's remarks were "unusual and disappointing".

"A visiting head of state is perfectly entitled to pursue private interests during their free time in the course of a state visit to Ireland. We made no objection to President Klaus having private engagements during his visit. However, his public comments on an issue of ongoing domestic political debate are unusual and disappointing during a state visit," Mr Roche said.

He said Mr Klaus's description of Mr Ganley as a dissident and the comparison with pre-1989 Czechoslovakia were "clearly misguided". He said Ireland enjoys "excellent relations" with the Czech Republic and looked forward to continuing its cooperation with that country when it takes on the EU presidency in January.

"I would not expect President Klaus's particular personal views to affect either the very good relations between our two countries or the efficient conduct of the Czech presidency."

Fine Gael's foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins last night called on Mr Martin to lodge a formal complaint with his Czech counterpart.

Labour Party spokesman on European affairs Joe Costello today said Mr Klaus's remarks were an "act of unprecedented diplomatic courtesy" by a visiting head of state.

"Mr Klaus's decision to promote the political ambitions of Libertas, the limited company established by Declan Ganley to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty, was particularly regrettable. This was effectively a political endorsement by the Czech Republic of Mr. Ganley's plans to turn his company into a 'European political party'," Mr Costello said.

About 80 people attended the dinner including the Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin; Independent Munster MEP Kathy Sinnott; former MEP Patricia McKenna of the Green Party; Anthony Coughlan of the National Platform; newspaper columnist Bruce Arnold and Libertas spokeswoman Caroline Simons. Reporters were excluded from the dinner.