Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
1. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he plans to attend the proposed EU-US leaders’ meeting in Brussels on 22 February 2005; his priorities for the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4635/05]
7. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of Hungary, Mr. Ferenc Madl, in Dublin on 21 February 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6759/05]
10. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the recent EU-US summit in Brussels; and if he had bilateral talks with President Bush or any other leader during the summit. [6764/05]
I, along with the other EU Heads of State or Government, met with President Bush in Brussels on 22 February. In addition, EU Foreign Ministers, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, had separate meetings with the Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
A strong partnership between the EU and the US is vital if we are to find durable solutions to the many global challenges facing us and, in that context, a strong Europe is a good partner for the United States. We can achieve much more working together than we can working separately. Our discussions focused on international issues of common concern such as European integration, the Ukraine, the Middle East, Iraq and Iran. A key interest for Ireland was that this meeting would strengthen further transatlantic relations and build on the success of the EU-US summit at Dromoland Castle during Ireland’s EU Presidency.
EU-US co-operation is essential if we are to make progress in the Middle East peace process. The recent signals of increased US engagement are most welcome. Also in the Middle East, we must look to the future and work together to build a secure, stable and prosperous Iraq. During the meeting, I spoke on the issue of relations with Russia. I stressed the need for the EU and the US to engage fully with Russia while continuing to press for Russian compliance with international standards. I did not hold any bilateral meetings on the margins of this meeting.
I visited Bulgaria and Poland on 11 and 12 February. In Bulgaria, I was pleased to accept the highest official distinction of the Bulgarian State, the Stara Planina, on behalf of the Irish people, from President Parvanov. The award is in recognition of the role played by Ireland in securing the successful completion of Bulgaria’s EU accession negotiations during Ireland’s EU Presidency and the close and friendly relations that exist between Ireland and Bulgaria. During my visit to Bulgaria on 11 February, I had discussions with Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg about Bulgaria’s preparations for accession to the European Union. Ireland has been supporting Bulgaria’s reform efforts, including the training of Bulgarian officials in Dublin.
On 12 February, I travelled to Warsaw where I was honoured to accept the special award of the Golden Statuette from the Polish Business Club, the representative body of employers, at a Grand Gala attended by the Polish Prime Minister and members of the Polish Government and the leaders of Polish industry. The award was in recognition of the success of the Irish EU Presidency and the development of Poland’s relations with Ireland. While in Warsaw, I had discussions with Polish Prime Minister, Marek Belka, about current issues on the EU agenda, including the negotiations on the financial perspectives and the EU’s relations with the Ukraine.
I met with Prime Minister Mosisili of Lesotho on 16 February. We both agreed that bilateral relations were excellent and we welcomed the establishment of a resident embassy in Dublin, which the Prime Minister officially opened that day. I congratulated the Prime Minister on the ongoing political, economic and social progress in Lesotho, especially the successful general elections of 2002, and on preparations for its first ever local government elections to be held next April. We discussed Lesotho’s important role as a member of the Southern Africa Development Community in regard to developments in Africa and the wider global development agenda. The Prime Minister briefed me on the current situation in Zimbabwe and the prospects for a political settlement to the current crisis there.
With regard to our development programme in Lesotho, I am proud that Ireland is the biggest bilateral donor in Lesotho with a budget of almost €11 million this year. I told the Prime Minister that we would continue to work closely with the Government of Lesotho and with civil society to ensure that our programme is fully in line with its developmental needs. In this context, we discussed the challenges facing Lesotho in creating employment opportunities, improving infrastructure and expanding free primary education provision. We also recognised the critical importance of having a comprehensive programme in place to address the enormous challenges posed by HIV-AIDS, which is currently a major crisis for Lesotho.
During his three day state visit to Ireland, I met with Mr. Ferenc Madl, President of the Republic of Hungary, on 21 February. I congratulated the President on Hungary’s early ratification of the European Constitution. We discussed the positive bilateral relations that already exist between Ireland and Hungary. I told the President that I looked forward to a further deepening of the economic, trade, cultural and tourism relations between our two countries in the years ahead.
Mr. Rabbitte: I congratulate the Taoiseach on the gong he received in Poland, which was well deserved. It is a very heavy schedule to maintain, travelling across the world while also focusing on anti-social behaviour in Dublin Central.
The Taoiseach was in Bulgaria a few days before it became known that the country facilitated an international money laundering operation. Did the matter arise, or did the Taoiseach have any knowledge of it before he went there? Was the matter touched on during his discussions with the Bulgarian authorities? What is the current position with regard to the matter? Is there any basis for this or is it part of the ongoing investigation?
With regard to the EU-US meeting, did the Taoiseach have a bilateral meeting with President Bush? Can he tell us what was discussed at that meeting? Was the reported US threat to Iran on the basis of its supposed nuclear programme discussed with President Bush during the EU-US or bilateral meetings?
The Taoiseach: The story regarding money laundering occurred before I had any knowledge of involvement by Bulgarian authorities, so the matter was not discussed. However, the authorities have been helpful and have been working in co-operation with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda. There is an ongoing investigation into the matter and the Bulgarian authorities have been very forthcoming in co-operating and endeavouring to assist. They were not pleased that a bank associated with their country could have been involved with some of the proceeds of the Northern Bank raid on 20 December 2004. I have not received a briefing in the past few weeks. I assume I would hear of any new developments. However, the Bulgarian authorities are co-operating fully and have been helpful in this regard.
I did not have a bilateral meeting with President Bush, although I spoke to him for four or five minutes on some of our own issues at that particular time. I also spoke to him about Russia, as I was nominated to speak on the Russian issue in the division of issues in the European Council. The issue of Iran was discussed. President Bush, and in meetings with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Ahern, Condoleezza Rice, have been at pains to say that the US believes diplomacy is the best way to try to ensure the Iranian authorities co-operate and listen to the voice of the world and, in our case, of European Union leaders to facilitate all tests and related matters. Nothing was said to indicate that some of the hype after Christmas regarding action being taken was true. Indications were to the contrary, namely that there should be a diplomatic effort to try to ensure the Iranians fully comply with international rules in respect of nuclear issues. There is much concern regarding exactly what the Iranians are up to. However, I left the meeting in February convinced that these issues would be dealt with diplomatically.
Mr. Sargent: Poland has approximately 2,000 troops currently in Iraq, although the Polish people oppose the war and want the troops brought home. Was the issue raised with regard to Ireland’s participation in the war?
Some 50,000 Polish people currently work in Ireland. Did the Taoiseach receive any assurances about conditions for Polish workers in this country? There have been similar reports of dismissals and complaints of exploitation and visa-related problems with regard to Turkish workers. Did the Taoiseach have any reassurances for the Polish authorities in terms of the Labour Inspectorate and whether there will be a redress of the serious staff shortages and inadequate resources?
President Bush is quoted as saying that the notion of the US getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous but that all options are on the table. Did the Taoiseach press President Bush or seek an explanation as to the exact position with regard to Iran and the reassurance given to EU states?
Has the Taoiseach corrected the Minister for Foreign Affairs over his statement regarding China in which he said that we do not “do” arms in this country? Did Ireland not export €26.7 million of military products in 2004 and €1.3 billion of dual use goods? Is it not more correct to state that we do export military arms, but not much?
Why is the Taoiseach so impressed with China that he wants to lift the arms embargo, given that the US does not? Are there not still very considerable unresolved matters in terms of human rights? How is the Taoiseach convinced that all is well in this area?
I have one final question, because the Ceann Comhairle sometimes does not allow me to speak again. In 2003, Lesotho had the fourth highest rate of HIV-AIDS in the world. When speaking to the President of Lesotho, did the Taoiseach promise any additional funding or programmes to provide necessary training for medical professionals to help deal with this crisis?
The Taoiseach: I will attempt to answer them all. Both the Polish Government and opposition are very pro-US and supportive of the action taken in Iraq. They have had troops there from the start of the war. They strongly follow the US line at all meetings of the European Council, so any remarks made were in support of the US stance on Iraq. Marek Belka’s political position is extremely supportive of the US President and NATO.
All accession countries are extremely grateful to Ireland for opening our markets to their workers on 1 May 2004. They thank and praise us for that and are critical of other countries. Except for a few minor complaints, they are happy with all of the evidence. I do not want to give any other impression. We should look after individual cases, but all of these countries are very grateful for Ireland’s position and the lead we have taken. There are issues which cause problems and investigations and some of these people get involved in crime and disorderly behaviour. I have to raise some of these issues. A number of such incidents have occurred in my area which were brought to my attention. It is a matter of keeping a balance on these issues. With the large number of such immigrants here there are very few problems and they are very grateful to us.
On the question of Iran, the United States and everybody else wants Iran to comply with the international order. Nobody wants to become involved in more conflict in that region or in a conflict with the Iranians. They simply want the Iranian authorities to comply with the inspectors and not to be involved in conflict. That is the strong message from everyone concerned. During our Presidency of the EU last year I had an opportunity to meet the Iranian Foreign Minister and we stressed that was the message we wanted to get across. If everyone could work on that we would avoid such conflicts. Hopefully, that will happen.
On the question of arms exports and if there are some components of arms in our exports — I am no expert on this — I will accept the figures Deputy Sargent has given and I do not have information to the contrary. We are not an arms exporter in the sense of being an arms country or having an arms industry, which is the context to which the Deputy referred.
In relation to China, Deputy Sargent is correct in saying that there are still difficulties in China. There are many problems there in respect of which reforms are necessary. My view is that the best way to do that is to use the EU-China human rights body to influence China and to encourage them, as they are now doing, to look to and engage with Europe. I have tried to get people here to do this as well and to examine the rule of law. They are examining the models of law in European countries, including Ireland, and will move over time — it will not happen over five year or perhaps even over a generation — to start to use European models for the rule of law. They are open to doing that. There is no doubt there are many difficulties and much suppression of people’s freedoms. We regularly get letters from members of the Chinese community here about such issues and we make representations on their behalf, but at least there is a process in place. Our view is that it is best to use that process to get the new charter agreed — it is to be agreed within Europe in June — and to try to get that to be the model.
The Taoiseach: : It is North Korea. It is unfair to China when it is trying to co-operate in every other way to associate it with Zimbabwe and North Korea. It is a point of principle with the Chinese and it not about trying to get freedom or to open up, so to speak. However, representatives in the United States take a contrary view. When I was in the United States I was lobbied by every senator and congressman there not to give an inch, to give absolutely nothing to China. Having been involved deeply with this issue during our Presidency of the EU, I am aware that the view of the United States is that it knows there is technology that China cannot get that it has and it does not want China to get it. That is the message I received; I do not believe the message is other than that. The Republicans and Democrats totally agree there should be absolutely no change in this regard and that we should not even be talking to China on these issues. I believe that is an unfair position. I stated that to the President, who did not like to hear it. It is an unfair position and I have said that to China and I will not say something to the contrary.
Deputy Rabbitte asked me about this issue during Question Time some weeks ago. A head of steam has built up on this issue in the United States. I advised the Deputy that I thought the British Presidency would probably roll over on this one, but since then I heard Jack Straw indicate that if the Luxembourgers do not resolve it and if the same party is in government in Britain after the election, or even if it is not, they probably will not do so. The British are taking their lead on this from the United States. That is the way it is falling. If we expect China to engage in dialogue, such a position is unfair. America is opposed to that position and I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future. I could find nobody in America who was open to that position. That gives Members a fair overview.
On the question on Lesotho, we have been supportive of it for a long time. It has been the country to which we have given the largest amount of aid. It has an enormous problem with HIV-AIDS. Its Prime Minister gave me some stark figures, which I am sure gave him no pleasure. In 80% of families there, the father or mother of children under ten, or both, are dead. It is a horrendous problem. There are many programmes being run to help them. Deputy Sargent gave a good example. We send technical people out there, many of whom are working in laboratories there.
Lesotho is not the only country that suffers in this way. We are close to it and try to help it in many ways. There is a strong regional approach in that respect, but the scale of the disease is frightening. Lesotho is very grateful for the resources and people we are providing. The people there are making strides and developments.
A sad development in Lesotho, which I saw five years ago when I was there but unfortunately the situation has got worse rather than better, is that in the mountain regions where traditionally the men go to work in the goldmines and then return home, the situation has got worse. The spread of HIV-AIDS is rampant in the most rural of places. It is a sorry picture. The Deputy and I discussed this at length. We will do whatever we can to help. We are running many programmes there and many developments are taking place. One would like to think that they would change things dramatically, but one would obviously have concerns.
Mr. Kenny: I wish to return to the issue of China in respect of the arms embargo. The Taoiseach will be aware that the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to maintain the embargo. He said that the Irish Government has no beneficial interest in having the embargo lifted. He will also be aware the EU code of conduct for arms exports was adopted in June 1998, which placed human rights before trade. There have been serious changes in China in terms of legislation and movement in that direction, but political freedom there still lags behind many other countries. What is the Government’s view on the arms embargo against China being lifted? The United States is very much opposed. The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to maintain the embargo until there is transparent and visible progress in the area of human rights. I, no more than probably other Deputies, have received correspondence regarding people being arrested for the practise of Falun Gong, which the Taoiseach raised with the President of China on a number of occasions. The Taoiseach might answer my question on this.
As the Taoiseach is aware, the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 141 countries, with notable exceptions being the United States and Australia. The Russian Federation recently became a signatory to it. That prompted the European Council to send congratulations to the Federation at the March meeting. The United States has still not become a signatory to the protocol. At the recent EU-US Summit was there any discussion with the US President about the Kyoto Protocol. He made remarks previously that it was not working, it would not work and that an alternative should be put place, but the Taoiseach said that there appeared to be a marked change in the way the President was approaching this issue and that he appeared to be in a much stronger listening mode in view of the concerns expressed worldwide about climate change and the necessity to have the Kyoto Protocol implemented. Will the Taoiseach bring us up to the date on discussions at that conference about the Kyoto Protocol?
The Taoiseach: There is not an Irish position but it is the position of the European Council that we should not remove the arms embargo against China until we get the code of practice finished and ratified, and then we should try to deal with China. I remember the position in Myanmar and I also mentioned Zimbabwe. It is not fair that China is in the same category — I do not think anybody is arguing about that. The code of practice would represent a way of making further progress. The British Prime Minister, President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder have led and we have followed this line. I believe this will be difficult to achieve because the United States is totally opposed and has made it clear to me that it does not want to see China getting this access. As I do not believe this will be resolved under the Luxembourg Presidency or the UK Presidency, we will see it maintain its position. However, China will continue to feel very aggrieved about this matter and it will not help EU-China relations. When we were dealing with this last year we recognised it is a very sensitive issue for them. I had three opportunities to meet the Chinese. I do not believe it is a question of getting the arms or technology; it is an issue of principle for them. It is unfortunate that it will continue to be an issue. I also recognise that what has happened recently with Taiwan, with which the United States has a particular constitutional connection in terms of its protection, has soured the position. This is the reality of where the issue stands.
Four years earlier there was quite a difference between the European Council and the US President on the issue of Kyoto. This time he was far more forthcoming. He wanted to be helpful and to move forward. He did not say he would sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, but he emphasised that in his second term he and his Administration would work with Europe on the concerns over environmental issues. Obviously people will want to see how this happens. However, he had a very different attitude to that shown previously. I hope there will be far more constructive engagement in the second term and I believe there will be. He mentioned this again when we had the opportunity of meeting. These are issues on which he wants to work with Europe. He has taken a very positive attitude to Europe. He came here at the very beginning of his second term. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was here at the outset. All the signals are that the US President wants to work on the matter. We had a very successful summit last year. All these issues were discussed. We agreed many of them and I believe we can build on that. I have a very deep interest in making sure we can build on these issues.
Mr. Ferris: In his discussions with members of the US Administration at the EU summit and in Washington, did the Taoiseach call for a timetable for the withdrawal of American and other occupying troops from Iraq? Did the Taoiseach receive thanks for allowing Shannon Airport to be used as a staging post for war? What is the difference between the status of Shannon Airport now and the treaty ports, which his predecessor, Mr. Eamon de Valera, had returned from the British so that they could not be used at a time of war?
Mr. Ferris: I refer to an earlier question from Deputy Rabbitte. On 26 March, the Irish Examiner reported the Bulgarian finance intelligence agency as stating that country had no link with any alleged money laundering. Can the Taoiseach confirm this is the case?
The Taoiseach: I did not ask for a timetable for the withdrawal of American and other coalition forces from Iraq. We were given a briefing on current matters in Iraq, including the elections, the new Administration, the recent successes and of course the ongoing dangerous military situation faced by the coalition forces. The issue of Shannon Airport did not arise. It now fully complies with the UN resolution that exists and all countries have been co-operating on that issue. There was no discussion on the matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: Some minutes remain for questions to the Taoiseach. However, as the next series of questions deal with Northern Ireland, with the agreement of the House we will move on to the next business and take questions on Northern Ireland on the next day.
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