Visit to Paris: Statement by Taoiseach.

I would like with your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, to make a statement about my recent visit to Paris.

In response to an invitation from Prime Minister Barre, I made a working visit to Paris on Thursday 13 March accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lenihan. During the visit President Giscard d'Estaing hosted a working lunch in my honour.

The main matters discussed with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Francois-Poncet and other Cabinet Ministers were matters affecting the European Community, including political co-operation items, Northern Ireland, cultural relations and a contract for the supply of telecommunications equipment by Telectron Limited, Tallaght, in co-operation with the French firm CIT/Alcatel.

As Deputies will be aware, the next European Council is due to be held in Brussels on 31 March and 1 April. Our Paris discussions covered issues likely to arise at the Council, including convergence and the British contribution to the Community budget, the working of the European Monetary System, the possibility of a Community tax on energy, agricultural prices and surpluses, sheepmeat and, in particular, the proposed super-levy on milk production to which we expressed our total opposition.

I made our position clear on the question of the British budgetary contribution, namely, that we were anxious for a solution but could not accept one which would be detrimental to our interests or to the common agricultural policy.

Developments in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which the French President visited recently, and East-West relations generally were also discussed.

I took the opportunity of outlining for the President and Prime Minister our policy on Northern Ireland and my view of the urgent need for a just and lasting solution. The President and Prime Minister listened with understanding and sympathy to what I had to say.

There were exchanges about cultural relations and it was agreed that the possibility should be actively pursued of having an exhibition held in Paris in about two years time on the lines of the Treasures of Ireland Exhibition which recently toured the United States. I mentioned a proposal of the Royal Irish Academy to hold a colloquium in the Irish College in Paris in 1981 which the French side noted with interest. There was some discussion of the possibilities of more university exchanges between the two countries.

Deputies will have seen the announcement of the decision to order exchanges designed by the French firm, CIT/Alcatel, the telecommunications subsidiary of Compagnie Generale d'Electricite. The exchanges will be supplied through the Irish firm Telectron and will form an important part of the network to be provided under the accelerated telephone development programme. In consequence of the contract the French Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications will provide extensive training and technical assistance; finance will be provided under an extension of the bilateral aid facility arising out of Ireland's participation in the European Monetary System; and two new industrial projects will be established in Ireland to manufacture telephone switching equipment and advanced transmission equipment. These projects will involve the creation of about 1,000 new jobs and investment of over £7 million. The Prime Minister and I agreed on the usefulness of these exchanges of views and it was decided that they should become a regular feature of the relations between our two countries.

This was my first visit abroad as Taoiseach. I regard it as having been highly satisfactory in the understanding we reached with the President and Prime Minister and in its confirmation of the value of the long-standing relationship between Ireland and France. The arrangements made for our visit were superb and I would like to take this opportunity publicly of thanking again the President and Prime Minister for the cordiality of their reception and the hospitality they so graciously extended to us during the visit.

We will have a brief statement from each leader in the Opposition.

I thank the Taoiseach for his brief statement on his visit to Prime Minister Barre and his lunch with President Giscard d'Estaing. He has confirmed in his statement the long-standing relationship and cordiality with France which is more than a cliché. I know from my own period as Minister for Foreign Affairs that it is a reality based both on common interests, which within the EEC are strong and binding, and a genuine kind of sympathy. It is a good thing that the visit the Taoiseach paid was to this neighbour of ours with whom we have such close bonds. I am glad that such visits are to be a regular feature in future and they will be a useful development of our relationship with France.

The Taoiseach in these discussions naturally raised, and had raised with him, questions affecting the EEC and in particular the problems arising from the British requirement for a second renegotiation effectively of the Treaty of Accession. The Taoiseach has not said much on this subject and it may be that it is not possible to say much on it at present. In view of the fact that the British claim is based on being the third poorest country in the EEC and was made despite the favourable balance of payments situation of the UK, I would trust that the Taoiseach in his discussions sought to ensure that, in so far as measures are taken to reduce the burden on the UK as the third poorest member and despite their favourable balance of payments situation, equivalent appropriate measures will be taken in relation to this country also, which of course is the least well off member country with a balance of payments deficit probably the worst in relation to its GNP of any member country.

I hope that if any part of a solution that may be proposed at the forthcoming European Council—or more probably at a later one—involves special measures such as financing a channel tunnel, an equivalent and parallel arrangement will be made for similar projects in this country whether they be cross-Border or other projects. It is important that we should not allow British diplomacy to create an impression that Britain has a special problem greater and worse than that of countries less well off than themselves and whose external payments position is worse. The nature of the campaign waged by British politicians on behalf of their country, as is appropriate for them to do, calls on our part for a presentation of our position realistically and factually so that in any solution we should not be left at a disadvantage. It would be very ironic indeed for a country less well off than Britain—although we have caught up with Britain to a degree over the last 20 years—because of the nature of our historical relationship with that country, if we were called upon to provide subsidies to aid a country significantly better off than we are. There would be no logic or justice in that, and a degree of charity beyond what is called for even between friendly neighbours such as we are, with Great Britain next door to us.

The Taoiseach referred to the proposed super levy on milk production and he said that this was something "to which we expressed our total opposition". I was a little disturbed by this phrase because it is a unilateral expression of our opposition and I would have hoped that the Taoiseach would have been able to say that this was a matter on which the French Government and ourselves jointly expressed total opposition. One of the primary purposes of this visit should have been to secure from the French Government a clear commitment that they would oppose any form of super levy, which is the equivalent in its effects of a quota restriction on the output of Irish dairy products and which would run against and undermine the most basic principles of the Community—the principle of comparative advantage based on fair and free trade—and would prevent our agriculture from making up the leeway lost over several centuries of an essentially exploitationary relationship with a neighbouring island.

The expression here does not suggest that the Taoiseach on this issue secured complete support from the French Government. I hope that my interpretation of his words is incorrect and that on this issue we will have the complete support which we thought to have, not because of any special claims that we wish to make by special pleading on our behalf, but because of the fundamental principle involved here of allowing comparative advantage to operate. We have allowed it to operate in regard to industrial products with the result that the EEC countries on the Continent have increased their exports to this country much more than twice in volume terms since we joined and they will continue to do so with no restrictions of quota, controls or super levies on them. By definition we on our side should not be inhibited or impeded from developing our natural advantages here. We should ensure that there is no question of a freezing of the present pattern of milk production with in the Community, which is distorted by historical factors, with a much lower output in this country than would be the case if free competition were allowed to operate within the Community over an adequate number of years for us to overcome the disadvantages of our history.

I note what the Taoiseach has said about taking the opportunity of outlining to the President and the Prime Minister of France our policy on Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach's view of the urgent need for a just and lasting solution. I note that he said that they listened with understanding and sympathy to what he had to say, but he does not suggest that they made any comment on it. It has, of course, been the universal practice, certainly in my experience of such visits to other countries, whether on a Prime Minister level or a Foreign Minister level, to inform the other member countries of our position and our concern as they are, at the moment in time, as regards Northern Ireland. This has been done on all occasions that I have been aware of, since the period when I was in Government, in any event, and it has been an important feature of our diplomacy to use these opportunities to inform our partners in the Community and other countries abroad of our view of the situation and ensure that they understand fully the problem of Northern Ireland as we see it. It has not, however, been our practice in the past to highlight particularly this aspect of the diplomatic exchanges which have been a part of quiet diplomacy carried out with a view to producing the most effective results. I would have some fear lest the heightening publicity attaching to them—however beneficial that might appear to be in terms of domestic opinion—might prove counter-productive and perhaps especially at a time when, very belatedly, after five years of almost total inertia, the United Kingdom Government are seeking to make some progress in this area, in the first instance through negotiations taking place in Northern Ireland and, ultimately, through the decision which they propose to take after these negotiations, whatever their outcome. Nothing we do at this stage should be such as to arouse in the United Kingdom any feelings that might be counter-productive to a constructive outcome to the reconsideration of the Northern Ireland problem at present under way. I shall leave the matter at that point, without further comment, but I feel that that much needs to be said.

I am glad to hear of the proposal to consider having an exhibition in Paris in about two years' time, on the lines of the Treasures of Ireland Exhibition which recently toured the United States. Anyone who has had occasion to visit the French capital over the years will be aware of the immense impact made there by exhibitions of this kind from various parts of the world. The effect on French opinion, which is, one could say, very highly culturally-orientated, of having an exhibition of that kind from this country could be very considerable and has been in relation to other similar exhibitions. This seems to be an extremely constructive and useful initiative, which I warmly welcome.

Naturally, we are pleased about anything which is going to help to improve our telephone system, even if somewhat belatedly, and the project involving additional employment is particularly welcomed.

I thank the Taoiseach for his statement, following a precedent in this matter, and am glad that the conversations appear to have been successful. I hope that, in working out a solution to the British problem, the Irish and French Governments will work closely together to ensure both the protection of our interests and the successful outcome that will enable the United Kingdom to get out of the difficulties which they have got into partly through over-stating their claims and raising the ante too high. We must try to help the United Kingdom out of their, to some degree, self-imposed difficulties, but help the United Kingdom in a way which does no damage to our interests and ensures their full protection. I am sure that the Taoiseach's visit to Paris will have been helpful in ensuring that outcome.

I welcome this opportunity to comment on the recent meeting between the Taoiseach and the French President and Prime Minister. Despite the impression conveyed prior to the meeting it is clear that the discussions which took place in Paris were primarily concerned with matters preparatory to the forthcoming European Council meeting. As far as the French Government are concerned, this certainly was their intention and in this connection I welcome the accord reached between the Taoiseach and the French President that any modification which might take place in the European budget in the future would not take place at the expense of the weaker regions of the Community. We have experienced, over recent years, the gradual widening of the gap between the more prosperous and the less developed regions of the Community and it is imperative that this already serious gap would not be further reinforced by any adjustment which may prove necessary in the financial arrangements of the Community in the future.

While it is clear that the contribution of the United Kingdom Government to the Community is a matter of concern to them and, indeed, is a matter which clearly must be resolved in some fashion in the future, it is also clear that it cannot be solved overnight, nor can it be solved in the rather crude way in which the British Government have approached the problem. I agree also that the United Kingdom's budgetary contribution problem cannot be seen in isolation from a wide range of policy differences which exist within the European Community and which were referred to by the French President in the course of last week's discussions. In this connection it is clear that, apart from the British contribution problem, matters related to sheepmeat policy, fisheries policy, oil and, in my view, the under-financing of the European Regional and Social Funds, are matters which all require urgent attention. It is clearly not practical for the Community to adopt the approach pursued by the British, of isolating their particular problem and dealing with it on its own.

At a time when all of these and other issues require urgent attention by the Community I must repeat a point which I have made on several occasions concerning the way in which the Community go about their work. In recent years a growing importance in the working of the Community has been given to the European Council meetings. In my view, the growth in importance and frequency of these meetings has not been beneficial to the Community.

Hear, hear.

While they had been significant in terms of public relations and media coverage, it is true to say that they have not led to the solution of many of the problems which I have mentioned and which, indeed, have persisted over a considerable period. I repeat that the growth of these Council meetings has distracted attention away from the previously existing diplomatic efforts towards solving Community problems and has unbalanced the normal working relations within the Community. The forthcoming European Council meeting will, once again prove to be little more than a useful public relations exercise.

I do not intend to comment at any length on the conclusion of the bilateral arrangements for telecommunications which were part of the agreement reached on our entry into the European Monetary System. It is quite clear that anything which contributes to the remedying of our appalling telecommunication system is to be welcomed. The job creation which will ensue from that agreement might go some way towards counteracting the effects of the cut-back in public expenditure and the subsequent loss of employment that will result from that.

In the Taoiseach's statement I note that he gives one short paragraph of four-and-a-half lines to the question of Northern Ireland. What was described by the Taoiseach as a major diplomatic initiative to be undertaken worldwide on finding a lasting permanent solution to Northern Ireland was highlighted in the Irish newspapers, on television and radio prior to the Taoiseach's visit to France as one of the first steps in what was described as a major diplomatic initiative. Its success as a PRO job was far more substantial than its success in solving or even bringing nearer a solution the problems of Northern Ireland. If one is going to undertake a major diplomatic effort one must do so with credibility in order to have any prospect of success. In order to obtain credibility one has to be very careful of one own's actions, their timing and one's utterances in domestic circumstances which are very closely followed by other countries particularly those who have diplomatic missions established here and those who are members of the EEC.

The timing of the Taoiseach's speech on Northern Ireland in the middle of the Northern Ireland constitutional conference and the venue, the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, did not add to the credibility. It showed a total disregard for the vague, possibly even remote, prospects of major agreement at the conference but whatever the prospects were the Taoiseach's speech at the Ard-Fheis in the middle of it did nothing to enhance the possibility of agreement. In his speech the Taoiseach, although speaking to his own party, did not mention the words "British withdrawal" and that took away considerably from his credibility in the commencement of this major diplomatic initiative. The initiative itself was nothing new. It was under taken by his predecessor and also the now President of Ireland, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Hillery, many years ago. It, unfortunately, did not meet with much success although the credibility of that Taoiseach was somewhat greater in this area.

The Deputy is expanding the scope of what can arise under this statement at this stage.

I do not think so.

The Chair must decide. We cannot have a whole political debate arising out of one paragraph in a statement of this kind.

We must distinguish, in fairness to the House, between the fact that if the Taoiseach wishes to confine his remarks to statements to the media, short interviews with the media——

Briefings to the media.

The Deputy will get an opportunity to raise all these matters on another occasion.

If the Taoiseach makes the decision, which he is entitled to make, to confine his remarks on Northern Ireland in this report to the House on his meeting with the French President and Prime Minister to one paragraph that does not necessarily confine me to one paragraph.

It does not and will not.

The Chair must point out the precedent on matters of this kind, that the Leaders of the two Opposition parties make brief statements dealing with the matter before the House.

With respect, that is none of your business.

If Deputy Desmond wishes to take over the Chair he can do so.

That is a dangerous offer.

It may be but Deputy Desmond is very fond of taking over the role of the Chair.

You should not push it too far.

Although the Taoiseach raised this matter, according to himself, with the President and Prime Minister of France, his Minister for Foreign Affairs is also raising it with various Governments at his own level. The Taoiseach as yet, as far as I am aware, has not sought a meeting with the person primarily concerned, the head of the UK Government. That also, in the eyes of the French, and of other member states, would take away from the Taoiseach's credibility in the serious pursuance of this initiative.

When he was interviewed in Paris by RTE the Taoiseach was at great pains to try to convey that something concrete had happened although it was quite clear even to the casual viewer that nothing had emerged. He said that he was listened to with sympathy and understanding by the French authority at the highest level but all we got from the French as far as I could ascertain, was the fact that the talks on Northern Ireland were not on the official agenda of talks. If I am wrong the Taoiseach can correct me now. As far as the French were concerned they did not form part of the official talks although the Taoiseach tried, with some success, to convey to the Irish people that it was a question of the Taoiseach, as a guest in a foreign country, having an agreed agenda. Northern Ireland did not appear and the Taoiseach raised it outside the official talks, probably to the embarrassment of his host, who listened in silence as far as we know. The Taoiseach might have felt free to interpret that silence as sympathy and understanding. However, I doubt if it will be beneficial in resolving the tragedy of Northern Ireland.

Since the Taoiseach assumed that high office as far as Northern Ireland is concerned there has been no change in policy except in one respect. He reverted back to the Fiannà Fáil 1940-1950 rhetoric, stuff to raise the emotions of the Fianna Fáil faithful but the more peaceful members of his own party realise what is happening. The only two groups who are taking the Taoiseach's major initiative as far as Northern Ireland is concerned seriously are some of the old time Fianna Fáil people who respond to that type of rhetoric which the Taoiseach has been playing like an orchestra since he assumed leadership of the party and, more tragically and seriously, the Protestant people of Northern Ireland. They are starting to take the nonsense the Taoiseach has been engaged in seriously and that could have very damaging effects on this island and push back the day of reconciliation and unity by agreement by decades.

If the Taoiseach is serious about Northern Ireland he should do something serious about it; he should go and talk to Mrs. Thatcher. Let us put an end to the nonsense of going around talking to people who really have clearly indicated—as the French did by saying it was not part of the official talks—not alone to the Taoiseach but to the British that they do not intend to become involved in that issue. Go where it counts.