Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Visit of Nicaraguan President.

1.

asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the matters covered in his discussions with President Daniel Ortega; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

2.

asked the Taoiseach the commitment of support, financially and politically, if any, which he made to the Nicaraguan President during his recent visit; and the official status of the visit.

3.

asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his working meeting with President Ortega and any commitments made to him and the people and Government of Nicaragua.

4.

asked the Taoiseach if, during the visit of President Daniel Ortega and a Nicaraguan delegation to this country, the possible establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries was raised; if any request was made to provide direct financial or technical aid to Nicaragua; if so, the Government's response to the request; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

5.

asked the Taoiseach if the EC has an official policy towards the present Nicaraguan Government; and, if so, if it is in line with the recently expressed support for that régime by the Irish Government.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

President Ortega was in Ireland on a working visit from 10 to 14 May. The President had a meeting with me and was my guest at lunch on 11 May. He was received by President Hillery on 12 May.

During our meeting we discussed the political and economic situation in Nicaragua and in the central American region generally. The President described Nicaragua's serious economic situation and the remedial measures his Government were taking. The President referred to the positive role Ireland could play in the EC. Direct bilateral financial or technical aid from Ireland was not requested.

I expressed understanding for Nicaragua's and Central America's need for support and assistance. I told President Ortega that while Ireland was not in a position to provide bilateral economic assistance to Nicaragua, we believed that the best way to assist the Central American States was through the EC and that we would continue to support proposals to that end within the European Community. I also told him that the Irish Government welcomed the progress that had been made towards internal reconciliation in Nicaragua and the positive steps towards peace in the region which the recent agreements constituted. We also hoped that progress towards full democracy would continue.

The well established policy towards Central America of the European Community is that the problems of the region can best be resolved through the efforts of the Central American countries themselves, supported by other countries with links to and interests in the region. Those efforts, supported by the Community and its member states including Ireland, are aimed at achieving lasting peace, genuine pluralist democracies, respect for international law, stability and social and economic progress in the region. My discussions with President Ortega were in line with that approach.

The possible establishment of formal diplomatic links between the two countries did not arise in the discussions.

I thank the Taoiseach for his positive response to President Ortega's visit. Let me put it to him that in discussions with other representatives in this House President Ortega raised the question of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Nicaragua. Will the Taoiseach indicate what progress, if any, or what consideration, if any, has been given to establishing such relationships initially at least on a nonresidential basis?

As I said in my reply, that issue was not raised by the President with me. No particular action is contemplated at present in that regard. Our problem with regard to all aspects of diplomatic representation is the scarcity of resources available, and we have to be very prudent and careful in undertaking any additional representational offices abroad, because unless we are in a position to fully service all such offices it is better not to establish them.

A Cheann Comhairle——

I am sorry, I am calling Deputy Mary Flaherty who has a question tabled on this subject.

Was the issue of monitoring next year's elections raised with the Taoiseach? In particular with regard to the anxiety that they be seen to be fair and free and that EC monitoring groups are involved? Did he make any response to that?

Yes, that matter was raised and there was a great deal of discussion about it. President Ortega indicated that he and his Government were very anxious that there would be as many outside observers as possible. He was anxious that there would be a delegation from the European Parliament and he invited us to send a deputation from here. He was at pains to point out that they would wish to have the observers present not just for the election itself but for the run up to the election. He indicated that any observers who wished to come would be welcome from an early date. As the Deputy knows, the elections are to be next February.

I do not know if in his reply the Taoiseach has answered Question No. 5 which is to ask him what policy, if any, the EC has towards the Nicaraguan Government or regime and how that compares with our own attitude.

As I said in my reply, our attitude would be in line with the general approach of the EC. The EC has a positive attitude. It believes the Community has an obligation to help in the Central American situation. It supports the agreement which has been entered into and is prepared to provide economic assistance. Indeed, the Community view might be held to be that the key to the problem in the whole Central American region is economic progress and development.

In relation to Questions Nos. 1 and 4, I acknowledge the point made by the Taoiseach with regard to costs. Would he not see the establishment of relationships on a nonresidential basis as one way round that problem? Does he see any difficulties other than the question of cost preventing the establishment of these relationships? Would he not hold the view that establishing these relationships with Nicaragua would find a well of positive support in Ireland and would be an acknowledgement of the titanic struggle which the Nicaraguan people have had to bear in the past ten years to maintain their independence?

What the Deputy says about Nicaragua would apply to many other countries. We are a small country with limited resources and we are circumscribed in what we can undertake in the area of establishing diplomatic relations. At the moment we have only one embassy, one representational office, in the whole of South America. It is always difficult to decide between respective priorities. There are a lot of countries, particularly small countries, in which we would like to have diplomatic representation but we have to be careful about opening the floodgates, as it were. If we maintain an attitude that we have not the resources to service many offices abroad and then break that in particular cases, it weakens our case. We have to be reasonably circumspect in this regard. It is not that we would not wish to have diplomatic relations with this country or that; it is just that we have to curtail our activities in this area.

Did the Taoiseach's discussions with President Ortega include a detailed presentation by President Ortega as to how Nicaragua has complied with the conditions required of the peace process? Is it not a fact that the Community, during the Irish Presidency, by including Nicaragua in their scheme of aid defined a clear Community policy towards Nicaragua and the Central American region?

There is a clear Community policy towards Central America, a policy of general sympathy and support. We in Ireland fully support and participate in that policy. The President in our discussions spoke at length about the general situation in Nicaragua and the developments there. He dwelt particularly on the very serious economic difficulties, how they are responding to those difficulties and the action they are taking, particularly in regard to inflation. He also spoke at some length about the progress they are making towards full democratic freedom in Nicaragua.

Would the Taoiseach agree, notwithstanding the substantial steps which have been taken on the road to democratisation in Nicaragua, that there is still need for a great deal of progress? Would he not also agree that it is a cause for concern that opposition to the present régime, whether it comes from the left, the centre or the right, frequently runs the risk of being labelled "contra" and being dealt with in a very harsh manner? In view of this, would the Taoiseach agree that it would be essential that in any European Community programme for Nicaragua in particular — and this would have a general application in the Central American area — that the Community should have particular regard for conditions and objections they would set in relation to further progress towards democratisation?

They should check their facts. It is pure propaganda.

Some of the régimes should check their facts too.

My discussions with the President and his replies were very open and frank in that regard. I do not think the President would claim that democracy as we know it in this part of the world would reign supreme in Nicaragua at present, but he would also argue that they are making every effort to work towards it. He would, I think, make the point that when a country is under threat it has to take actions to defend itself and its interests which might not be taken if a country were fully at peace with its neighbours and with the world.

On a point of clarification——

I have given the Deputy some latitude.

I appreciate that, but we are dealing with five questions. I wish clarification on a point.

Would the Taoiseach clarify that he has no political or policy problem with regard to establishing relationships and that it is purely a matter of whatever costs might accrue?

We have heard that question before.

I am seeking clarification from the Taoiseach on that point.

We do not. Countries have diplomatic relations with other countries, very often without due regard to the situation in those other countries or the régimes there. We are not moralistic in our attitude but we must have our priorities and try to spread our scarce resources as beneficially as we can.