I now call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to move Vote 39 which will be discussed with Vote 40, International Co-operation.
Estimates 1990. - Vote 39: Foreign Affairs (Revised Estimate).
That a sum not exceeding £36,159,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1990, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and of certain services administered by that Office, including grants-in-aid.
With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle I propose to take the Estimates for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation together.
The sum proposed for the Vote for Foreign Affairs is £36,159,000. Most of this provision is required for the salaries of staff at headquarters and at missions and offices abroad. Provision is also made for travelling expenses and communications and post office services, for repatriation and maintenance of Irish citizens who find themselves in difficulties abroad, for cultural and information services and for North-South and Anglo-Irish Co-operation.
We are currently living through a period of enormous change. Ireland, through our recently completed Presidency of the Council of the European Communities, has been privileged to play a prominent role in the evolution of these events. Now, in the aftermath of the Presidency, we are faced, as a sovereign nation, as a member state of the European Community, and as a participant in other international bodies with a number of challenges which will be crucial to our future and to the lives of future generations.
On a global level, there is a need to continue the process of disarmament, to promote the settlement of regional disputes, to counter the afflictions of famine and poverty, to guarantee the freedom of international trade, and to eliminate the threat to the environment. Ireland has sought to act at this level primarily through our full support for the United Nations system, for instance, in respect of its initiative on global disarmament and peacekeeping, and through the action of the European Community in areas such as the environment, the ongoing GATT negotiations, as well as in Twelve co-ordination on most foreign policy issues of general concern.
Under the heading of European Political Co-operation, the Twelve, under the Irish Presidency, set out the framework for their approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East and to developments in Southern Africa, as well as being active on a whole series of international issues from Cambodia to Central America.
Our concern for the developing world is manifested in our development assistance which is provided through both bilateral and multilateral channels, particularly in the later case through the European Community. We have, through our Presidency of the EC Council, been able to make a special contribution to the Community's efforts over the past six months.
Our Presidency priority, successfully fulfilled, was to ensure a smooth and rapid transition to the fourth Lomé Convention, signed last December, while strengthening the Community's relations with other developing countries in Asia and Latin America. Relations with the countries of Central America were also reinforced at the San Jose VI Ministerial Conference in Dublin last April, where an agreement was signed providing Community funding for a Regional Payments System project in Central America.
As the House will know our Bilateral Aid Programme for developing countries is a highly valued, high quality and effective mode of assistance. The allocation of £9.3 million, net, for 1990 represents a slight increase on the 1989 level of £9.0 million, net. Despite budgetary difficulties a basic programme of assistance to our priority and partner countries is being maintained and commitments are being met.
We are also providing £2.5 million for the Agency for Personal Service Overseas — APSO — an increase of 9 per cent over the 1989 provision.
The bilateral aid subhead has been widened to include a new element — £0.65 million for a programme of assistance to Poland and Hungary.
At a European level we are faced with the challenge of the internal integration of the European Community and the construction of an entirely new framework of relations covering the whole of Europe.
As regards the internal development of the Community, there are four areas in which the significant progress achieved during our period of office will need to be carried forward.
The Irish Presidency proved outstandingly successful in overseeing the adoption of Community legislation establishing the Single Market. Much work remains to be done, however, both in processing outstanding legislation at Community level and translating Community rules into national law.
Stage I of Economic and Monetary Union came into force on 1 July. The Intergovernmental Conference which will draw up Treaty changes necessary for the completion of the subsequent stages will open on 13 December. EMU holds out great opportunities for Ireland to share in the benefits of economic progress and monetary stability as part of one of the most powerful economic units in the world. There will, of course, have to be special consideration for the circumstances of peripheral and less prosperous regions in adapting to the demands of the new system. As you know, the recent European Council decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference on Political Union to work alongside that on EMU. This Conference will examine means of strengthening democratic accountability, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Community and its Institutions and achieving unity and coherence in the Community's international action. Ireland will, of course, be making a full contribution to the deliberations.
The Community has responded rapidly and coherently to the prospect of German unification and the consequent enlargement of the Community. However, the possibility that political unification could take place before the end of the year will call for even greater efforts to ensure that the simultaneous absorption into the Community of what is now the GDR can take place with the minimum of disruption.
The Irish Presidency of the EC Council was marked by the development of a coherent response to the new situation in Europe as a whole. Particularly important in the Community context was the commencement of negotiations with the EFTA countries on the creation of a European Economic Space, and the implementation of a range of initiatives to develop relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, both bilaterally and within the framework of the Group of 24.
Over the coming months, the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe will have a fundamental role to play as a framework for reform and stability. The CSCE has the notable advantage that it covers the full range of co-operation between peoples and Governments, and that it involves the United States, Canada, and all the States of Europe — except Albania. The Twelve have signalled their determination to play a leading role in the CSCE process. The Summit to be held in Paris, later this year, will mark the starting point for a new, more advanced stage of the CSCE process and will enable German unification to become deeply rooted in an all-European context.
At a national level, the dramatically changing climate in Europe as a whole is an inspiration to all of us on this island to redouble our efforts to break down barriers which have divided us for far too long.
For our part, the Government fully support, and have been as helpful as possible to, the efforts of the British Secretary of State's efforts to explore new ways forward on a basis which does not undermine the progress already achieved. We are encouraged by the acceptance on the part of all involved that lasting progress can only be brought about by a process which addresses the three crucial sets of relationships — within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between the two islands — and it is our hope that the talks can successfully go forward on this basis. It is of course the case that, unless and until a transcending arrangement is in place, the Anglo-Irish Agreement will continue to govern our approach.
The mechanisms established by the Agreement have been crucial to efforts to enhance the confidence of the nationalist community in the security forces and the administration of justice generally. We have worked continually with the British authorities, through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast, to ensure that matters of concern to us is this area are dealt with speedily and effectively. In this regard, the Government will be discussing the recommendations contained in the report of the Stevens Inquiry with the British Government at the next Anglo-Irish Conference where we will be anxious to hear what steps they intend to take to implement them.
Issues affecting Anglo-Irish relationships, of course, also arise in Britain, notably in connection with certain cases there dating from the 1970s. Deputies will have shared my relief and satisfaction at the positive developments in respect of the Guildford Four and the Maguire family and their friends. There still remains, however, the case of the Birmingham Six, who have now spent almost 16 years in prison. Deputies will be aware of the Government's strongly held view that there are urgent and compelling reasons for reopening it. We will continue to avail of all appropriate opportunities to pursue our efforts on the issue, both bilaterally and otherwise.
The last few months have seen an increase in IRA atrocities on the Continent of Europe and in Britain. The Government have condemned these actions in the strongest possible terms and will continue their present full international co-operation to ensure maximum effectiveness in counteracting the terrorist threat.
With the advent of the Single Market in 1992, enhanced economic co-operation between North and South will become increasingly necessary and advantageous. Such co-operation is already in train in respect of preparations for the European Community's cross-Border Structural Fund programme, the North-West Study of the Donegal-Derry-Strabane area, and the administration of the International Fund in Ireland. The Government are also involved in discussions with the British authorities, within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Conference, on means for counteracting the massively high levels of unemployment and social deprivation in West Belfast.
A Cheann Comhairle, while some aspects of today's celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne are testimony to the obduracy of the divisions which afflict us, they surely represent a challenge to all Irish people to rid ourselves of lingering suspicions and mistrust so that we might live together peacefully on this island as part of the new Europe. The causes which led our forefathers to do battle on the Boyne were to a significant extent rooted in a European conflict which has long since been consigned to the history books. The time is surely right to us to once again involve ourselves in the events of our Continent, in the spirit of reconciliation and co-operation which determines the mood of today and gives us hope for the future.
With the permission of the House I would like to share my time with Deputy Owen. This debate shows the unsatisfactory nature of a debate on foreign affairs in this House and again underlines the necessity for a foreign affairs committee of this House. I have written to the Taoiseach a couple of times — and he has not replied to me yet — making certain suggestions in that regard. I would be grateful if the Minister would prompt him to take up my suggestions and to consider the points I have put to him.
I hope the Minister appreciates that in the last six months — I do not mean to be patronising by this — we have been co-operative with him because we recognise the heavy burden which his office had during Ireland's Presidency. As a result, matters relating to European affairs, foreign affairs, overseas development aid and Northern Ireland have not arisen as frequently in this House as I would have wished. I would hope that that co-operation on my part — and which I believe holds good in the case of other parties as well — over the last six months will be appeciated and the balance redressed in the autumn.
With regard to Mr. Brian Keenan it would be my hope as I am sure it would be of everybody in this country — that he would be released today or in the very near future from the captivity in which he should never have been placed. He is an Irishman travelling on an Irish passport. The only connection Ireland has with that region has been by way of education or the part we play in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. Kidnapping or hostage-taking can never be an acceptable part of a civilised society. Disputes can be settled in other ways without holding innocent people up to ransom in what might be described as "mega" disputes not involving the individuals concerned, whose only interest was to do good. I hope that today will see the release of Mr. Brian Keenan. Even then we should not relax our efforts to ensure that the other hostages held — who, as far as I know, in most cases are innocent of any crime — are reunited with their families.
I want to voice one word of criticism in that regard. It is entirely commendable that the Iranian Government, with whom we have diplomatic relations, should be a conduit for conveying to those holding hostages our concerns about the safety of Mr. Brian Keenan and the others held. The friendship between this country and Iran is something which we can use to help that process of the release of hostages. However, that friendship should be extended beyond diplomatic relations. Visits on the part of parliamentarians from this country to Iran can help to bring home to the Iranians our desire for that sense of friendship. In that regard the MEP, Deputy and Senator who went out to Iran did commendable work. I commend them and the Government for having arranged their visit. Nonetheless it would have been more beneficial — the nuances of political life in this country being recognised by the Iranian Ambassador here — had that delegation been an all-party one, rather than having been comprised of Members of one party.
I thank Deputy Barry for sharing his time with me. Indeed, the very necessity for sharing time highlights the fact that this debate is so short. I know this is not something the Minister himself would have desired. Perhaps when the Estimate for this Department is next debated in the House he will ensure we have more time.
In the short time available to me I shall concentrate on Overseas Development Aid, our relations with the Third World, countries experiencing such extreme difficulties. Our Overseas Development Aid must be viewed against the background of over one billion people, one-fifth of all mankind, lacking adequate food, clean water, basic education and health care. Let me emphasise what I am talking about: every day a simple disease such as measles kills 8,000 children; even as I speak here hundreds of children are dying; every day diarrhoea kills 7,000 children and pneumonia kills 6,000 or more children. Those are the startling facts of life for one-fifth of the world's population. It is against that background that this Government have chosen to reduce further our Overseas Development Aid budget to developing countries, despite the enormous personal generosity of the Irish people, who were the highest contributors to Band Aid and all the other demands on their generosity by the various agencies involved in this task. Against that background the Government continue to pay hollow lip service to our moral responsibility to those developing countries.
In the course of his introductory remarks today the Minister spoke yet again about the obtaining budgetary constraints, and so on. I do not agree that pleading for an annual increase in our Overseas Development Aid budget, until we reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP, constitutes special pleading. I might add that other countries did not consider it to be special pleading. For example, in France, while their overall fiscal deficit was being reduced in the years 1984 and 1985, they managed to increase their Overseas Development Aid budget from 0.48 per cent in 1983 — way above ours — to 0.54 per cent in 1985. In Canada it was the same — increasing from 0.43 per cent in 1982-83 to 0.5 in 1985 when their overall Government expenditure was being held static. In the Netherlands, despite severe cutbacks on Government expenditure since 1982, their percentage increased from 0.75 per cent in 1981 to 0.83 per cent in 1985 and is now in excess of that in 1990. In Denmark, despite a rapid reduction in their fiscal deficit, they managed to increase their Overseas Development Aid.
I might remind the Minister that in 1975, in volume 278 of the Official Report, column 1372, the spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, who subsequently became Minister for Foreign Affairs and signed at least one of the Lomé Conventions, said, and I quote:
So far as this side of the House is concerned we commit ourselves to ensuring that, irrespective of our budgetary or balance of payments problems, we shall set aside year after year the appropriate sum to ensure that we reach at least the target set by the Minister — 0.35 per cent of our GNP within five years.
That was Deputy Michael O'Kennedy, then Fianna Fáil spokesman on Foreign Affairs speaking in this House.
I am not contending that everything other Governments have done has brought us to the point at which we can hold our heads high or contend that we have reached the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP; nonetheless there had been a steady, slow annual increase in that aid until 1987 when this Government assumed office. Now we have reverted to the point at which we were in 1973. I do not think that is anything to boast about. I say that particularly when one considers that what we give by way of Overseas Development Aid now represents a mere 2.5p per person daily. The fact that Irish people spend at least 16 times more on tobacco products daily clearly highlights our lack of commitment to the Third World. For every £100 of EC aid we receive we give £4 only to assist the poorest countries of the world.
Let us examine the net effect of some of these cutbacks. In 1986 an office was opened in Sudan — one of our bilateral aid countries — which was closed again in 1988. The budget for Sudan decreased from £900,000 in 1986 to £322,000 in 1989. Therefore, this Minister stands indicted for having engaged in false promises overall in this context.
The Minister must recognise that we are facing into a new post-apartheid phase in South Africa, in the general southern African region, and plan for that transition.
When replying, can he inform me, whether he has made any progress with regard to the Cambodian position at the UN. On 9 May in this House he informed me that at present the Irish delegation to the United Nations General Assembly would work with like-minded countries to bring about a change in the present seating at the United Nations. I hope that he will be able to give some indication today that those discussions have progressed somewhat, that we are reaching circumstances in which the untenable seats of the democratic representatives of Kampuchea — which are nothing of the sort — will no longer be taken to represent the people of Cambodia at the United Nations. I hope that he will be able to inform me that things have changed in that respect.
I join other speakers in paying tribute to the achievements of those who have worked in the foreign affairs field over the period of the Irish Presidency of the EC. Their achievements deserve commendation and recognition.
I support Deputy Peter Barry very much in his reference to the inadequacy of the time allocated for discussion of foreign affairs and foreign policy. My view is now well known. When I was a Member of another House back in 1986 I tried to establish a foreign affairs committee and have continued the effort in this House. Might I say this; it is an insult to the intelligence of elected Members to be asked to stand up and speak for 10 minutes on even the issues that are listed in this speech.
The case for a foreign affairs committee I cannot make now because I am confined to 10 minutes. I want, however, to say this. This speech that I have heard from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Collins, makes reference to a great number of areas, ranging from disarmament and global peace and harmony to overseas development aid. The fact of the matter is that in every other parliamentary assembly in Europe, of which we are a part there are institutional arrangements for discussing foreign policy. This speech invites us to be enthusiastic Europeans at one point, and one way we could be Europeans was by having an equivalence of institutional arrangements for discussing foreign policy. We are uniquely deprived in that regard, set apart by deep suspicion of elected people, to the point of depriving such people of a foreign affairs committee.
Let us not go through it all again, but a foreign affairs committee, for example, was to provide transparency, it was to provide an accountability to the public in terms of the great issues on which the public have expressed concern, for example, that they are far ahead of the Minister and his party and his colleagues in Government on the issue of overseas development aid. All the surveys show that there is a mandate in this country for attempting to get back on course for the achievement of the United Nations target figure. Yet this is not happening.
Quite honestly, when one strips away all the Gothic paint and colour from these kind of speeches, what one is left with is not something very substantial. The truth is, if we want to be doing something courageous, the most courageous and responsible thing we could do would be, first of all, internally, facilitating mechanisms for the discussion of foreign affairs and foreign policy and then, in relation to that policy itself, beginning at the humanitarian end of it, putting ourselves back on course for at some stage, attempting to achieve the United Nations target.
There is another sense as well of course, not only for the rights of Parliamentarians and not only to involve the public in dialogue but in terms of public education and in terms of a number of other things, in which it is very important to link public sentiment with parliamentary expression and policy.
I will summarise what I have to say in this regard by saying that what we have continuing is a high level of unaccountable diplomatic professionalism instead of accountable foreign policy. I continue to pay tribute to the professionals who work in our diplomatic service. They are dedicated people. With the greatest respect in the world, however, it is the whole history of foreign relations, and in the theory and practice of it, that diplomatic professionalism can never be a substitute for accountable foreign policy — and what we have had is unaccountable diplomatic professionalism standing in as a block to publicly accountable foreign policy, and inadequate debate about that foreign policy. We are regarded regularly as lesser people. We are excluded from the debate and I, as a foreign affairs spokesperson for one of the parties in this House, object against that and will continue to do so. A foreign affairs committee could have assisted us in this regard.
There are interesting omissions in the Minister's speech. I did not find any reference to Africa and I find this extraordinary. Some of the most exciting events that will take place in the next 12 months will be undoubtedly changes in Africa at a general level, certainly in relation to southern Africa. It is to the credit of the Government that they have had a strong line in relation to sanctions, but perhaps the most significant policy event of this last period was the visit of Nelson Mandela to this House and his gratitude to the Irish Government for maintaining the case for keeping sanctions in place.
Of those matters which are mentioned in the speech itself, I am afraid I find the reference to the Single Market entirely unsatisfactory. As Chairman of the Social Environmental Miscellaneous Matters Sub-committee of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on a Secondary Legislation, which is a kind of an Irish mouthful——
The Deputy gave no suggestion for a new name.
Deputy Barry has made the case for a more felicitious title to this body. I might say that on the one occasion that I have been in Brussels I was seriously embarrassed by the views which, for example, our sub-committee put forward and which were accepted by all parties in this House in relation to the co-terminus nature of the social dimension to the Community, very particularly, the Social Action Programme and the Social Charter and the completion of the Internal Market. In fact, the debate at European and Irish level has been interesting because it has been on the dimensions of time and space with the Federation of Irish Employers arguing that, for example, to use a really dreadful phrase, the playing pitch had to be levelled first in relation to European competition, and then after that that one could consider matters in relation to the social charter.
I want to say to the Minister very directly that the dialogue with the Irish people that gave a mandate for the new integrated Europe put the social charter and the completion of the internal market as co-terminus events. There was no suggestion that the Social Charter or the Social Action Programme could be consigned to the level of residual social policy, if economic moves and economic integration had not taken place. It is actually a breach of that mandate with the people if there is any erosion of the Social Charter. I have to say as well that the Irish Government's position in relation to the Social Charter was perceived by the Commissioner in charge as being a half step back from the position that was taken by Mrs. Thatcher.
There is reference here to the whole question of European political co-operation. In relation to that, many people in this country are very worried about the unaccountable way in which negotiations for the next phase of European union are now being conducted without adequate debate in this House. I have to say this, that at my age, I simply cannot accept statements from the Taoiseach, more or less descriptions of his latest phase of feeling Presidential, in this House, as a substitute for debate. Statements are not an adequate substitute for debate, and there has been no debate of an adequate kind on European political union. There are many issues raised by it. I would go much further and say that the implications of German unification have never being adequately debated in this House. They have been referred to. There are very serious matters involved there, not only in relation to the whole question of a united Germany within NATO but also in relation to the whole economic structure of Europe. There was, in addition to that, the question of Germany's decision to go ahead with unification virtually excluding discussion by the European Community with Chancellor Kohl rather arrogantly telling the Irish Presidency that they would be informed of developments, more or less saying he will write them a letter to tell them how it is getting on. That is the involvement we have had. We have not discussed these things.
I might say that I agree with other people as well in relation to some of the other points that are raised. I do not know what this rather exotic reference to the Battle of the Boyne is at the end of the speech. I certainly would have welcomed a few other things. I would have liked to see some references to the Irish foreign policy attitude in relation to the great issues of aid, trade and debt. There is a reference at the beginning of the speech to that, but where does Ireland stand in relation to the continuing and deepening indebtedness of the countries to the south of the world? Where does Ireland stand in relation to the re-negotiation of market shares? What has happened the legacy of the Brandt report? Then in relation to the other question of international debt institutions, what is our policy on that?
I am sorry to say — and I say it with no disrespect to the Minister whom I praise for what he has done; I join with Deputy Barry in hoping that Brian Keenan will be released, and there are a number of practical things for which I can congratulate the Minister — but I have to conclude by saying, that I think we are drifting along in an atmosphere in which there are no opportunities, no institutional arrangements and very little evidence of real thinking on the fundamentals of foreign policy and even aid. That fills me with deep regret.
In the Estimates before us, it is clear that Ireland's commitment to Third World development is a disgrace. The allocation for bilateral and other aid of just £10.25 million is the equivalent of offering a half penny to each of the estimated two billion people living in dire poverty in the developing world. The Minister may claim that the allocation is 13 per cent up on last years figure. That is true, but last year's allocation of £9.1 million represented a shameful low, compared with a figure of £14.5 million in 1987. Furthermore, within this year's allocation there is a new category of aid for eastern Europe, with a total of £650,000 allocated for Hungary and Poland. When this is deducted and inflation is taken into account, there is effectively no real increase on last year.
It is totally dishonest for the Government to attempt to pass off moneys allocated for the situation which has arisen in Eastern Europe as part of their contribution to tackling the endemic and chronic problems of poverty, starvation and under-development in the Third World. The facts are that Ireland's contribution to overseas development is currently down to the level of around 0.18 per cent of our gross national product, or just one-quarter of the modest target figure set by the UN. This figure has shown a steady overall decline under both the current Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition and the previous Fianna Fáil administration. This situation is particularly reprehensible when one considers that Ireland is benefiting financially from its contacts with developing countries. Statistics available for 1987 show that Irish semi-State companies alone earned consultancy fees and technical assistance contracts worth £86 million. Figures for the private sector are not available, but are probably of the same order. In other words Ireland is a net beneficiary of its contacts with some of the world's poorest countries, a reprehensible situation which this year's Estimates does nothing to rectify. The consistent support shown by the Irish public for the plight of people in the Third World, whether through events like "Live Aid" or the regular collections and activities by agencies such as Trócaire, Concern, Goal and Oxfam, is not being matched by the Government.
Last May a survey published by the Advisory Council on Development Co-Operation showed 91 per cent of respondents saying Ireland has a responsibility to the people of the Third World. The Government should alter their pennypinching policies and move progressively towards the modest UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP for development aid over the next five years.
Turning to foreign policy, it is particularly disappointing that the Government sought to downplay Ireland's neutrality to such an unprecedented extent during the recent Irish Presidency of the European Council. Implications by the Taoiseach that neutrality is somehow redundant miss the point that it is military blocs and the dizzying array of nuclear weaponry which are redundant in the new Europe. The Government should push for a demilitarised Europe, and take up the proposal of new Czechoslovak President, Vaclav Havel, in his call for a single European security system to replace the Warsaw Pact and NATO. We should actively seek to have Austria's application for Community membership taken off the shelf. The Austrian application has been pending for over one year now. It seems that Ireland should be anxious to obtain Austrian entry to the Community as quickly as possible to strengthen those forces which are committed to a non-militarist policy for Europe.
Indeed Ireland should promote greater co-operation between all the neutral and non-aligned states on the Continent. That could best be done through a strengthening and expansion of the CSCE process, as an alternative to the "political" role which is now being promoted for NATO. The CSCE is already an all-European structure and is committed to the process of easing tension and promoting co-operation. In addition it provides the framework for bringing the United States and Canada into the debate on how European security should develop in future.
It is also regrettable that the tradition that either the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister of the country holding the EC Presidency should arrange a formal visit to the Soviet Union, which has been in place since President Gorbachev came to power there, was broken for the first time under the Irish Presidency. Our foreign policy must be more clearly committed to ensuring we play a full and meaningful role at European and international level.
To develop on the Taoiseach's recent comment "who have we to be neutral against" I would ask the question "who have we to be armed against?" Whether we adopt Mikhail Gorbachev's call for a "common European home" or George Bush's slogan of a "Europe whole and free". Ireland as a neutral country must grasp the unique opportunity to lead the battle to, once and for all, rid the Continent of the military bloc mentality.
I was very surprised, therefore, to read reports in this morning's papers, attributed to the Taoiseach in his address to the European Parliament on Wednesday, that NATO would remain the "proper framework" for defence questions. While he may have been in part referring to the old issue of whether military matters should be discussed at EC level, there is a need now to urgently look beyond the old ground rules and promote discussion on security in an all-European context.
While the Government's efforts to ensure maintenance of economic sanctions against South Africa, at least in the short term, is to be welcomed, the low level of initiatives on other areas of international concern, such as the Palestine and Middle East issue, is to be regretted. Indeed the situation pertaining to the possible release of Irish hostage, Brian Keenan — I would like to join with colleagues in hoping Mr. Keenan will soon be released — draws particular attention to Israeli policy in the area. Israeli raids into south Lebanon, resulting in the deaths of a large number of people, seem to have been deliberately designed to frustrate efforts to win release of both Keenan and the other hostages. It is very interesting indeed that the last such Israeli raids, in April, occurred just a fews days before US hostage, Robert Polhill, was released by his captors. It would appear that Israel is unhappy to see progress towards a resolution of the hostages crisis. Every release of a hostage by the Hezbollah or other group in Lebanon draws increased attention to the Israeli policy of holding hundreds of Palestinians without trial in south Lebanon. The conditions and treatment of prisoners in the notorious Khiyan prison in Israeli-controlled Lebanon should be raised more forcibly by the Department of Foreign Affairs. To all intents and purposes these prisoners — many held for years without trial — are no different from the hostages in Beirut.
I would be interested to hear a response from the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the proposal by Deputy Proinsias de Rossa for monitoring by EC states of human rights violations in the Israeli occupied territories. The European Parliament last month also proposed an international commission to investigate the situation in the occupied territories and raised the question of UN peace-keeping troops in the region. These are among the specific issues which should be taken up urgently by the Government.
The Deputy should conclude as the Minister has only a few minutes to reply.
The question of Cambodia should be addresed very urgently by the Government. We have debated this matter in the House previously. In conclusion — in order to co-operate with the Chair — I would simply join with my colleagues in calling on the Government to establish a foreign affairs committee so that there will be a more satisfactory procedure for debating foreign policy issues.
I share with the Deputy a sense of frustration that no opportunity has been provided by the Whips to have a longer debate on this matter. I hope an offer I made in this House some time ago when these questions were being discussed will be taken up — and I would repeat that offer now — that the Minister of State or I will be prepared to come into this House whenever arrangements can be made by the Whips for discussions on any issue relating to foreign policy matters. I think that would be more than adequate to meet any situation that would be envisaged.
Briefly I want to thank the Members for their comments. In particular I appreciate what Deputy Barry said with regard to the hostage, Brian Keenan. I have been very deliberately silent, and very wisely and sensibly so, on this matter in recent days. I do not propose to go into detail on this issue except to say that we all hope that he and all the other hostages will be released safely and speedily. I would also say to Deputy Barry that I too have a very strong commitment to work as best I can for the release of all hostages. There will be a sadness and a happiness with regard to any release that might take place — happiness for one or two families at the most and sadness for others whose near and dear ones are still in captivity.
With regard to Cambodia, I have stated in this House on a number of occasions that we find the present position with regard to the seating of the Cambodian delegation in the Untied Nations highly unsatisfactory, and that continues to be my position. Negotiations on a settlement of this tragic conflict are still under way with a view to obtaining a comprehensive, peaceful and just settlement of the problem. As the House knows, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are involved in the process and I do not want to anticipate the results. I hope, as I said in this Chamber on 9 May, a supreme national council, representative of the Cambodian people as a whole, can nominate a delegation to the United Nations. If this is not possible before the General Assembly meets in September, I will support a position whereby the Cambodian seat is left temporarily vacant. I have said that not only in this House but in other fora dealing with European political co-operation, and I have convinced quite a number of my colleagues in the Twelve in this regard. I will form part of a troika to meet the ASEAN group, who, as Deputies know, are very active in this area, at the end of July or in the first few days of August in Jakarta where we will have further discussions, together with the Australians and the Japanese who are also very much involved. I will use whatever influence I have there to try to gain support for that position.
Deputy Barry referred to the parliamentary delegation that went to Iran, but neither I nor my office was involved in this in any way. I understand that one Member from this House, one Member from the Seanad and one Member from the European Parliament were invited by the Iranian authorities to go there. As I said I was not involved, but if delegations from the parliament were to go to Iran my wish would be that it should comprise an all-party delegation. I think we would all agree on that. That is as much as I know about that visit at this time.
On the question of German unification, members of this House and everybody else recognise that German unity is a matter for the German people within the framework of the two plus four arrangements. The integration of the former GDR territory into the European Communtiy is the subject of full negotiations within the Community. Very shortly — I think it will be at our meeting of the General Affairs Council on Monday and Tuesday of next week — we will have a report from the Commission on the effects of German unification on the Community. That will be the start of the first public discussion on the subject. There will be a great deal of discussion on it within Europe as a whole because it is not going to be an easy matter to resolve. Deputy Barry said, and rightly so, that German unification will have a cost——
Will the Minister tell that to the Taoiseach because he does not appear to think it will involve a cost.
The Taoiseach says there will be no cost.
Let us be fair. Everybody recognises that there has to be a cost, it would be unwise to think otherwise, but then one asks the next question: what cost do you put on the principle of unification? Are we to run from the unification concept, to which we aspire so strongly ourselves, because it involves a cost? There is a cost in everything.
I am in favour, but let us not pretend there is no cost involved.
Will Deputies allow me the minute or two I have?
I will send the Minister the reference numbers of the Taoiseach's remarks.
I recognise the importance, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins said, of having a debate on the important issue of political union. We will have plenty of time to have a debate on it because, as the Deputy knows the intergovernmental conference, that has been agreed, to discuss this issue will not get under way until December, and it is then that discussion on what people mean with regard to Europe takes place. That is when it will start, not when it will conclude. There is plenty of time for a debate. I would ask the Deputy to be a little patient because he will have plenty of time to be heard, and I have no doubt we will all welcome the Deputy's contribution.
The social dimension has been made subsidiary.
Thank you Minister, I will now adjourn the House.
Can we put the questions now?
I understand that they will all be taken at 7.45 p.m.
The Chair can put the questions now but we will vote on them later. We will be opposing the section dealing with Overseas Development Aid.
The Deputy wishes to keep the Department of Foreign Affairs functioning——
We want to keep the dinners up to quality.
We will vote on the ODA Estimate, but the other Estimate will be agreed.