North Korean embassy to discuss visit with Independent Alliance

Taoiseach says he does not envisage trip to ‘dangerous place’ going ahead

Ministers John Halligan, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath sought permission for a parliamentary visit to North Korea through the embassy. Photograph: RollingNews.ie

Ministers John Halligan, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath sought permission for a parliamentary visit to North Korea through the embassy. Photograph: RollingNews.ie

 

Members of the Independent Alliance have been invited to visit the North Korean embassy to discuss a possible trip to the country.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Minister of State at the Department of Business John Halligan and Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath sought permission for a parliamentary visit to North Korea through the embassy.

Mr Halligan confirmed to The Irish Times that the embassy had agreed to a meeting to discuss a potential trip.

However, the Alliance members have not yet decided if they will attend after Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney contacted them to express the Government’s disappointment with their approach.

Mr Coveney spoke to Mr Ross and Mr Halligan yesterday and asked them to attend a meeting next week to brief them on the ongoing situation in North Korea.

Increasing tension

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes have led to increasing tension with US President Donald Trump, and an international sanctions regime against the country is in place.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in San Francisco on Friday, described Mr Halligan as “sincere” but said he did not envisage the trip going ahead.

“I am sure that it is motivated from good intentions on his part. It is of course a dangerous place to go and I certainly wouldn’t want anything beastly happening to any Minister of State or member of Government,” Mr Varadkar said.

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

It added: “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.

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

Pay their own way

The three members of the Independent Alliance said they intended to pay their own way and visit outside of Dáil sitting time.

Mr Halligan stressed it would heed the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs but said no decision would be taken until a meeting had taken place with Mr Coveney.

This was not a question of participating in a military parade but seeking to try to engage with people, the Minister said.

Mr Halligan added the greatest threat to peace at present were the nuclear threats being issued by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and that he would hope to ask him to engage in democracy.

“I still think what is wrong with developing cultural contacts? Why are we not as good as other politicians around the world or other parliamentarians? Why can’t we talk peace and cultural exchange?

“I do not know why people are making a hullabaloo about it.”