'Neo-Nazis' affirm links with Youth Defence
A leading far-right politician in Germany has described the anti-abortion group Youth Defence as "an important part of our international network". Youth Defence is the backbone of the No to Nice Campaign, whose chief spokesman is Mr Justin Barrett.
The campaign is run from Youth Defence headquarters in Capel Street, Dublin. Mr Barrett works full time for the Mother and Child Campaign, the group Youth Defence members join when they reach the age of 28.
Mr Sascha Rossmüller, leader of the Young National Democrats (JN), youth wing of the extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), told The Irish Times: " share many important interests." The German authorities say the JN began to take on neo-nazi characteristics in 1996.
Since 1994 the JN has held an annual "European Youth Congress". Mr Barrett attended two of these conferences in 1999 and 2000 and spoke at one of them.
Reports in The Irish Times about Mr Barrett's contacts with the JN and NPD, especially his attendance at an NPD rally in the Bavarian city of Passau two years ago, brought immediate political reaction. A pro-Nice Treaty group, the Alliance for Europe, said his statement that he had "no links" with the NPD tested the limits of credibility.
However, Mr Barrett was defended by the prominent Eurosceptic, Mr Anthony Coughlan of the National Platform, who said he was "an estimable young man, no racist or fascist in my opinion. I understand he has spoken at many meetings on the pro-life issue. He knows no German.
"I assume he did not know the political nature of this group in Germany. He was invited as a pro-lifer and wasn't aware of the political connotations.
"I don't think it is politically significant. It is really to be seen in the context of hatchet-jobs and mudslinging and attempts to throw mud at particular individuals including myself."
In a stinging rebuke, the Pro-Life Campaign, which shares Mr Barrett's anti-abortion stance, said: "No amount of evasion or spin on Mr Barrett's part can explain away the seriousness of attending such conferences. It is nonsense to contend that speaking at a neo-fascist rally somehow serves the interest of building a more caring pro-life culture or the broader human rights agenda, which he claims to espouse."
"The groups with which Mr Barrett and Youth Defence are reported to be associated have an agenda of social exclusion and political extremism, far removed from the ethos of respect and moderation that should animate the pro-life movement," the campaign spokesman, Mr John Smyth, said.
The Labour Party leader, Mr Ruairí Quinn TD, said: "The public in Ireland is entitled to know the extent and nature of the links between Mr Barrett and this organisation which has been described by the German authorities as having 'Nazi characteristics'.
"I acknowledge that there are many on the No side in the Nice debate who are honourable people who have genuinely held concerns about the Nice Treaty and the future direction of the EU. But I believe that there are also some on the No side who have a different agenda."
The Green Party TD, Mr John Gormley, said the reports should not detract from the validity of the anti-Nice arguments.
"The Green Party has always unequivocally condemned the activities of the far right. It should be obvious to any fair-minded individual that we have very little in common with Mr Barrett politically."
The Irish Green Party Supporters' Group has called on the leadership to consider the potential consequences of a No vote in the light of the Irish Times reports.
The Socialist Party TD, Mr Joe Higgins, said "sections of the media" were using the attendance of Mr Barrett at the NIPD rally "to discredit and smear the entire opposition to the Nice Treaty". He added: "The large majority of active No groups are affiliated to the Alliance Against Nice."