Harney defies concern over Bush visit

Mainstream Irish political parties have clashed over the visit of US President George Bush to the west of Ireland next month.

The Dublin government has been urged to abandon a meeting at Dromoland Castle in County Clare following evidence of US abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The meeting, and nearby Shannon Airport, where US forces make stop-overs en route to the war in Iraq, could become targets for angry protests by anti-war activists.

Emphasising that it is an EU/US meeting, not just one between her gvernment and Mr Bush, Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney acknowledged that Mr Bush’s visit was likely to provoke major protests. “It doesn’t have to take place in Ireland, but it would be very cowardly to say that we are prepared to go ahead with the summit but that we are not prepared to have it in our own country. I think that would be the worst-case scenario.

“There is no doubt that there are huge security implications. The Americans are bringing a large, large contingent of security back-up. I have no doubt that there will be protests, and that is no bad thing.”

The Dublin government has already been “very strong” in its criticisms of the treatment meted out to Iraqi prisoners, Harney claimed.

The leader of Ireland’s largest opposition party, the right-wing Fine Gael party, suggested the meeting could be moved to Brussels.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Enda Kenny questioned whether there was an an obligation to have the summit in Ireland.

“I will be raising the issue in the Dail to see what the opinion there is. A lot of meetings have been held in Brussels before, irrespective of the presidency.”

However, a party spokesman said the remarks should be understood in the context of fears that it could provoke major demonstrations.

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