South Korea and Ja­pan raise fears over Hal­li­gan ‘peace’ trip

Week of con­tro­versy for Hal­li­gan: diplo­matic in­ci­dent fol­lowed by sex­ist com­ments rul­ing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - FRONT PAGE - Philip Ryan

SOUTH Korea and Ja­pan raised se­ri­ous con­cerns with the De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs over In­de­pen­dent Al­liance min­is­ter John Hal­li­gan’s ill-fated peace mis­sion to North Korea, the Sun­day

In­de­pen­dent has learned. The rev­e­la­tion that Mr Hal­li­gan’s pro­posed visit to Kim Jong-un’s to­tal­i­tar­ian state sparked an in­ter­na­tional diplo­matic in­ci­dent with two Far East eco­nomic su­per­pow- ers is hugely em­bar­rass­ing for the Gov­ern­ment at a time when it is seek­ing to in­crease its trade links in Asia.

The in­ci­dent is even more dam­ag­ing given that Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture Michael Creed yes­ter­day be­gan a seven-day State visit to Ja­pan and South Korea as part of a drive to boost trade in the wake of Brexit. A se­nior Gov­ern­ment source con­firmed Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs Si­mon Coveney was forced to in­ter­vene af­ter South Korean and Ja­panese of­fi­cials con­tacted Ire­land de­mand­ing to know the rea­son be­hind the In­de­pen­dent Al­liance visit to the nu­clear dic­ta­tor­ship.

“We had some con­tact from em­bassies on the day it was sug­gested that there would be a del­e­ga­tion of min­is­ters go­ing but we made it clear very quickly that the Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion was clear and firm on this and that there would be no del­e­ga­tion go­ing to North Korea,” the source said.

Fine Gael min­is­ters are fu­ri­ous with Mr Hal­li­gan and his In­de­pen­dent Al­liance col­leagues, Min­ster for Trans­port Shane Ross and Min­is­ter for Dis­abil­i­ties Finian McGrath, over the im­pact the pro­posed

visit could have on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions in the Korean Penin­sula.

One Cabi­net min­is­ter in­sisted In­de­pen­dent Al­liance min­is­ters should stick to their own port­fo­lios and said any con­ver­sa­tion be­tween North Korea and Ire­land “will not be hap­pen­ing through John Hal­li­gan”.

In a state­ment re­leased ahead of his visit to South Korea and Ja­pan, Min­is­ter Creed said the trade mis­sion was “crit­i­cally im­por­tant against the back­ground of Brexit”.

For the next seven days, Mr Creed and his of­fi­cials will now seek to limit the dam­age caused by the In­de­pen­dent Al­liance’s pro­posal to visit a dic­ta­tor­ship that poses the great­est threat to se­cu­rity in the re­gion.

North Korea’s nu­clear mis­sile pro­gramme poses the sin­gle great­est threat to the se­cu­rity of South Korean and Ja­panese cit­i­zens.

A spokesman for the South Korean Em­bassy in Ire­land said they would not be com­ment­ing. The Ja­panese Em­bassy did not re­spond to re­quests for a com­ment.

News of the se­ri­ous diplo­matic in­ci­dent comes af­ter a week of con­tro­versy for Mr Hal­li­gan and the In­de­pen­dent Al­liance. Af­ter days of pub­lic back­lash over the North Korea trip, Mr Hal­li­gan found him­self at the cen­tre of a sex­ism row when it was re­vealed he asked a fe­male civil ser­vant if she was mar­ried or had chil­dren dur­ing a job in­ter­view.

The Water­ford TD, who is on a State visit to Thai­land, was forced to de­fend his com­ments and said he would pay the €7,500 com­pen­sa­tion awarded to the woman by the Work­place Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion (WRC).

The sit­u­a­tion was ex­ac­er­bated when the min­is­ter’s brother, Bren­dan Hal­li­gan, took to the air­waves to crit­i­cise the WRC rul­ing as “fun­da­men­tally wrong”. The min­is­ter is un­der­stood to have been un­aware of the in­ter­ven­tion.

Min­is­ter of State Kevin ‘Boxer’ Mo­ran and TD Sean Can­ney are fu­ri­ous with the other mem­bers of the group over the dam­age caused to the Al­liance brand over the planned North Korea visit. Last Thurs­day, the In­de­pen­dent Al­liance held a cri­sis meet­ing to dis­cuss the fall­out from both con­tro­ver­sies.

An Al­liance source said some mem­bers told Shane Ross to “rein in” John Hal­li­gan when he re­turns to Ire­land to­mor­row.

“Boxer and Sean are both fu­ri­ous with John and there has been lots of com­ments about rein­ing him and con­trol­ling him,” a source said.

Mr Ross is un­der­stood to have had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with Mr Hal­li­gan as both con­tro­ver­sies es­ca­lated. Mr Ross sub­se­quently an­nounced the group would not be trav­el­ling to North Korea.

This week, Mr Hal­li­gan will meet with Mr Coveney and his of­fi­cials to dis­cuss North Korea. Yes­ter­day, Mr Hal­li­gan con­firmed the In­de­pen­dent Al­liance would not be trav­el­ling to North Korea.

“There has been too much con­tro­versy over the trip and I don’t want to jeop­ar­dise any­thing for the In­de­pen­dent Al­liance with my per­sonal views,” Mr Hal­li­gan told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent.

How­ever, dur­ing his visit to Thai­land last week Mr Hal­li­gan meet a United Na­tions of­fi­cial who had spent time liv­ing in North Korea.

It is un­der­stood he will meet this of­fi­cial in Ire­land in the com­ing weeks to dis­cuss North Korea. It is un­clear if this will re­sult in a re­newed ef­fort to lead a peace mis­sion to the controversial state.

A De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs source in­sisted Mr Hal­li­gan will be hav­ing no more en­gage­ment with North Korea.

“We have a De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and a Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs for a rea­son. John is a Min­is­ter of State in the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. If he had any is­sues he should raised them with Si­mon Coveney and the de­part­ment can de­cide how to ap­proach things,” the source said.

TRIP STOPPED: John Hal­li­gan

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