Australian PM to be snubbed by up to six Irish MPs

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Leinster House in Dublin, location of Dáil Éireann.

When Australian Prime Minister John Howard speaks to Ireland's Dail (lower house) later today Irish Time up to six members will not be in attendance to protest Australia's involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

Joe Higgins, one of the members who will dissent from parliament for Mr Howard's speech called him a xenophobe and warmonger. "I would describe him as xenophobic, as a warmonger, as an anti-trade union representative of Australian and indeed world big business," he said.

Mr Howard said that the boycott plans were an example of democracy at work. "Well, I would say to them, isn't it terrific to celebrate the joy of democracy? And part of the joy of democracy is the right to peaceful and lawful dissent," Mr Howard said.

"The Irish brought many things to Australia and one of them was dissent. So they are living exemplars of that Irish spirit, God bless them," Mr Howard said.

It is the first time Mr Howard has visited Ireland as Australia's Prime Minister. Mr Howard was last in Ireland in 1986, when he was leader of the opposition.

Mr Howard's visit has also encouraged predictions about the 2007 Australian general election.

Two community leaders in Ireland have said they expect Mr Howard to secure a fifth term in office when Australia goes to the polls in 2007. University College Dublin president Hugh Brady said that he had been told by his sources that Mr Howard was expected to return to office next year.

Eugene McCague, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce president, followed Mr Brady's comments, telling a group of business people that Mr Howard could share some advice with Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern. There will also be an election next year in Ireland and Mr Ahern will be seeking a third term in office.

"I hope if you have a few moments, the Taoiseach could take an opportunity to ask and learn from you what are the secrets of winning three general elections in a row, or indeed in your case four general elections in a row" Mr McCague said.

"And I also suspect he might like to understand what the secret is of somebody whose party members are clamouring for him to lead them into a fifth general election in a row."