asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the continued growth in trade with South Africa, revealed in the recently published trade figures, the Government intend to take any measures to restrict trade with South Africa as long as apartheid remains in place; if, in particular, the Government will follow the example set by a number of international countries by imposing trade sanctions and in particular by banning imports of coal; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Trade with South Africa.
As the Deputy will be aware, a number of measures restricting trade with South Africa are already in force in Ireland and the other member states of the Twelve. The Government's attitude to unilateral measures has been stated on several occasions and remains unchanged. It continues to be the view of the Government that common action by the Twelve will always be more effective as a means of exerting pressure on South Africa to abolish apartheid than any unilateral ban Ireland might introduce. As well as this, a unilateral ban would be contrary to the common commercial policy of the EC. Accordingly, there are no plans to take unilateral action to ban imports of coal from South Africa. However, I would like to point out to the Deputy that, in accordance with Government policy, and the policies of former Governments, neither Government nor State agencies import coal supplies from that country.
Is the Minister of State aware that exports to South Africa from Ireland increased each year for the last four years to a point where they now amount to £58 million? Is he aware also that, despite the restrictions introduced some years ago in regard to the importation of fruit and vegetables, they continue to arrive here through third countries? Will the Minister of State indicate the type of investigations carried out by his Department about the way the restrictions are being circumvented and will he not agree that a step by Ireland as a neutral country to ban trade with South Africa could have a significant impact on other members of the Community and, perhaps, get them to come down off the fence as far as South Africa is concerned?
I do not agree with the Deputy's comments. We made a symbolic gesture by banning fruit and vegetables. We were able to do that because prison labour was being used in agricultural production in South Africa. In taking that step we hoped we would be able to influence our partners in the Community by our example. However, that did not prove to be the case. Our preference is for action to be taken by the Twelve. I should like to tell the Deputy that I am aware that there has been a growth in exports to South Africa in recent years but I should like to reiterate that State agencies, in accordance with Government policy, do not promote trade with South Africa.
I should like to ask the Minister of State if the companies, particularly meat companies, who are exporting Irish meat to South Africa receive any assistance from the State. Will the Minister of State indicate what specific measures or proposals the Government have put forward at Community level with regard to introducing sanctions against South Africa?
We have consistently put forward the view that Community action is necessary to try to end the deplorable situation in regard to apartheid in South Africa. I am not aware of any assistance being provided; certainly, it is not being provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Will the Minister of State investigate that?
Have the Government been successful in convincing the Twelve to take an initiative on South Africa? Does the Minister of State expect an initiative?
I regret to say that the Government have not been successful in promoting an initiative despite our best efforts to call for joint action by the Twelve.
When was the last occasion that this issue was discussed at EC level? When did our Government initiate a discussion on this topic?
I am unable to answer the Deputy's question because I do not have the information at my disposal. However, when I obtain the information I will communicate with the Deputy.