Wednesday, 14 February 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: I plan to visit Washington from 13 to 15 March, 1996. My proposed programme includes meetings with President Clinton, Speaker Gingrich and the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board.
Mr. M. McDowell: Does the Taoiseach agree the state of Irish relations with America is of prime importance in the peace process? Therefore, does he also agree that it is a priority that every statement made at diplomatic and ministerial levels be co-ordinated in a common strategy in so far as such is possible? Furthermore, will he agree it is desirable that the US State Department and the Irish Government work very closely on any public pronouncements in the media on matters of domestic Irish political concern?
Mr. Dempsey: Will the Taoiseach agree that this year more than ever bearing in mind the current position vis-à-vis Northern Ireland — while appreciating that his travel arrangements may have been made prior to last Friday's atrocious event — it is even more important for him to spend longer in the United States, that he should be there for St. Patrick's Day and afterwards? Has he any proposals to amend his travel arrangements in the light of last Friday's tragic event?
The Taoiseach: During the course of my visit to Washington DC I will meet all the major political leaders at Federal level in the United States. It is always difficult to strike a balance in terms of how much time to spend out of the country and how much in the country.
The Taoiseach: As the House will be aware, I had to curtail my visit to Canada on the occasion of the postponed Summit last autumn. In view of the very strong Irish connection with Newfoundland, and since I believe I will be the first Taoiseach to visit Newfoundland, I am anxious to make that visit.
Mr. Dempsey: I appreciate the Taoiseach's comments and would not want anybody in Newfoundland to think we thought any less of them than of people in other parts, but will the Taoiseach, because of what happened last weekend and since it is crucial for trade, tourism, political and other reasons, consider spending a longer period in the United States, meeting a broader range of people including business people and not merely political people in America?
The Taoiseach: I would not like Deputy Dempsey to think I am neglecting contacts with the United States of America. I paid three visits to the United States last year and will travel there next month. I had meetings with senior American figures almost daily and on Friday last I met some very important American people. I meet people in American economic and political life almost weekly. While a visit by me to the United States obviously constitutes the best possible way of maintaining contact, there are other means of doing so. There are considerable pressures on my time because of our forthcoming Presidency of the European Union in the second half of the year. There has to be greater focus on  Europe. Unfortunately, one must balance that against the very great requirement of maintaining close contact with American opinion but we are doing the best we can. As the House will be aware, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs was in the United States last week and other Ministers will visit America on St. Patrick's Day. It goes without saying I will keep under review the possibility of further visits during the year, as and when the opportunity and necessity arises.
Mr. R. Burke: While fully acknowledging the importance of such visits by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and other members of the Government, the office of Taoiseach is of particular importance. I realise there are pressures on the Taoiseach's time in Europe and elsewhere, but will he reconsider leaving for the United States a few days earlier and availing of the opportunity to visit some other cities? Arising out of his comment that he has spoken to the United States President and others in recent days, has he raised the issue of former Senator George Mitchell being appointed a peace envoy? Does he intend pursuing that issue?
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