Yes. My officials have been taken by surprise because we were due to start at 1.30 p.m. but I am starting in advance of that.
I propose that the Vote for Foreign Affairs and the Vote for International Co-operation be debated together, as is customary.
Most of the sum proposed for the Vote for Foreign Affairs is required for the Department's administrative budget. This covers the salaries of staff at headquarters and at missions abroad as well as travel, accommodation, communications, equipment and supplies. Provision is also made for repatriation and maintenance of Irish citizens who find themselves in difficulties abroad, for services to emigrants, for cultural and information services and for North-South and Anglo-Irish Co-operation.
The debate on the Estimates is one of the relatively few occasions when Members of the Dáil have an opportunity to address the full range of foreign policy issues facing this country. I am very conscious of the fact that our present arrangements do not permit Members of the House to have as full an input in the Foreign Affairs area as I would consider desirable. The proposed Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will provide a valuable and welcome opportunity for more detailed discussion and debate; I hope that when I come before the House to present next year's Estimates we will have a flourishing and productive committee in operation.
At this time of rapid change and readjustment in the international environment, the range and complexity of issues we must confront in the foreign policy area has rarely been greater. As I said, time constraints do not permit me to address the full range of issues in the detail I would wish. I propose, therefore, to focus in particular today on three areas of critical importance: the achievement of lasting peace in Northern Ireland; the development of the European Community; and the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide.
The search for a lasting peace settlement in Northern Ireland is a matter of the highest priority on the Government's agenda. After 23 years of unrest and suffering, the need for a political accommodation between the two traditions which would isolate the men of violence on both sides is greater than ever. The people of Northern Ireland desperately want to see progress made towards a settlement. We owe it to them, and to the cause of constitutional poitics in these islands, that a sustained effort should be made in this direction.
For the past two-and-a-half years, the Government have worked tirelessly to create conditions which would enable a process of dialogue to take place between the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish and British Governments. These efforts bore fruit with the opening of substantive political talks on an agreed basis several weeks ago.
We are now embarked upon a negotiation process of extraordinary complexity, whose outcome cannot yet be predicted. Major obstacles have already been encountered and the Government have no illusions about further difficulties which may lie ahead. But we are aware that these talks offer an historic opportunity for lasting political progress to be made in relation to Northern Ireland.
All of the participants — the Irish and British Governments and the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland — have pledged themselves to the goal of achieving "a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands". This is perhaps the greatest challenge which will ever face the politicians gathered around the conference table. If it is to be met, traditional and inward-looking approaches will not suffice. If we are genuinely to achieve a new beginning, we must each address the fundamental issues involved with imagination, vision and, above all, courage.
This is the hallmark of the Irish Government's approach. We will work steadily to achieve new political structures which will involve, not the domination of one tradition by another, but rather a fair and honourable accommodation between both traditions on this island. We will do all in our power to ensure that the process, which carries with it the hopes of the vast majority of people on both islands, is brought to an early and successful conclusion.
In parallel with our efforts on the political front, we will seek to ensure that progress continues to be made in other areas which are of major concern to the Government, including the promotion of confidence on the part of the Nationalist community in the security forces and in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. We will also continue to pay particular attention to the special problems confronting those communities living close to the Border and we will pursue every opportunity for the enhancement of cross-Border co-operation in the economic and social sectors.
The second major challenge facing us is our relationship with the European Community. On 18 June, the people of Ireland will make a fundamental choice about our future in Europe when they vote in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. I am conscious that the great majority of Deputies share the government's conviction that the people should be encouraged to vote "yes", and have demonstrated this by actively campaigning for this result.
The Government naturally shared in the very widespread disappointment at the outcome of the Danish referendum earlier this week. Yesterday I attended a meeting of Community Foreign Ministers in Oslo to consider the various problems resulting from the Danish vote. The unanimous conclusion of that meeting was that the other 11 member states should proceed with the ratification of the Treaty despite the Danish decision. The other member states saw no need to deprive their electorates, in the case of Ireland and France, or their legislatures of the opportunity to consider the new Treaty.
While showing full understanding of the democratic decision of the Danish people, the Eleven are determined to adhere to the ratification process as scheduled. The Government have concluded that we must press ahead with our arrangements for the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in our referendum on 18 June. I am fully confident that the Irish people will approve this further important stage in European integration and vote "yes" in our referendum by a large majority, undeterred by the experience of another member state for which the circumstances and the issues are of an entirely different order to ours.
Nearly 20 years ago, the people of Ireland by an overwhelming majority chose to become members of a European Community committed to creating a more prosperous future for all the people of Europe in a framework of ever-closer integration. Successive Governments have done their best to see that Ireland brought its own contribution, informed by our particular history and culture, to the process of European construction. While the process of adjustment to membership has not been painless, there is little doubt that the Irish people have benefited enormously from Community membership.
Over the past 20 years, Ireland has changed from having a closed, protectionist economy to an extremely open one. The principal engine driving this has been our membership of the European Community. Membership has allowed Ireland to attract industry to establish itself here. It has also created the conditions whereby we have developed a substantial export-based industry with the benefits this brings. The Common Agricultural Policy has brought huge benefits to Irish farmers and the major reform package recently adopted means that it will continue to provide a suitable framework for the future development of our agriculture and food industry.
The Community provides a vital market for our exports; it also provides crucial support for our economic development programmes. The cohesion proposals in the Delors package envisage a very considerable increase in the Structural Funds, in particular for the Objective 1 regions, which includes the whole of Ireland. In addition, a new Cohesion Fund was agreed at Maastricht for the benefit of environment and transport infrastructure measures in the four least prosperous member states, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Apart from the actual amounts involved, Maastricht saw agreement on the more flexible operation of these funds which is of great importance to us.
Membership of the European Community has also given us an opportunity to participate with our partners in the formulation of common policies on important international issues, through the process of European political co-operation. Under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, the Common Foreign and Security Policy will become one of the three pillars of the European Union.
The purpose of the Common Foreign and Security Policy is to strengthen the ability of the European Union to co-operate and act on international issues. Events in recent years such as the changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the crisis in Yugoslavia and the Middle East peace negotiations have shown the need for the European Community to play a fuller and more coherent part in international affairs. Other countries are looking to the Community for assistance on such matters as the promotion of peace, human rights and development. The provisions of foreign and security policy will enable the union to do this.
The provisions of the Maastricht Treaty on the Common Foreign and Security policy do not establish a common defence policy or a common defence for the union. Neither do they establish a military alliance or require Ireland to join one. The Treaty specifically recognises that the policy of the union will not prejudice the specific character of Ireland's security and defence policies.
The Treaty provisions foresee future negotiations on the eventual framing of a common defence policy. But discussions and decisions on the scope and content of a common defence policy are left to that future negotiation and to another Intergovernmental Conference in 1996. The outsome of any future negotiations would require unanimous agreement of all member states including Ireland. Moreover, the Irish people will be consulted and will have an opportunity to say "yes" or "no" to any future treaty establishing a common defence policy or common defence for the union —vide the decision in the Crotty case.
When matters having defence implications arise, these may be referred by unanimity to the Western European Union for elaboration and implementation. Because the Western European Union can be so requested by the European Union to elaborate and implement issues with defence implications, the Government believe that there would be advantages in Ireland's attending meetings of the Western European Union as an observer, as we did last year in relation to the crisis in Yugoslavia. Attendance as an observer would not require Ireland to join the Western European Union, to take up an obligations under the Western European Union, or to subscribe to Western European Union policies.
I believe that, far from being any way hesitant, we should look at the CFSP as giving Ireland a rich and valuable opportunity to play a full and constructive part in the formulation of EC policies which, more than ever, have a significant impact on the international stage. It will allow us to promote values, concerns and priorities which are important for us in Ireland.
One of the most heartening results of the end of cold-war rivalries has been the impetus given to the work of the United Nations. Ireland's long standing commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN remains firm. We welcome the renewed vigour and effectiveness of the organisation, which stems from greater international recognition of their full potential. Global action is needed to preserve international peace, maintain the rule of international law, promote respect for fundamental human rights, protect the environment and combat hunger and disease in the world. The United Nations provides an irreplacable framework for the common efforts of mankind in these and other areas.
The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights highlight the importance of fundamental human rights and the dignity of each human being. We will continue to work within the Commission on Human Rights to highlight violations and to encourage wider acceptance and implementation of fundamental instruments designed to promote universal human rights. We are participating actively in the current preparations for the World Conference on Human Rights to take place in mid-1993 — the first occasion since 1968 on which Governments will gather at ministerial level to discuss human rights issues. We consider that the conference should reaffirm the universality and indivisability of fundamental human rights, should suggest improvements in the mechanisms to promote these rights and should examine the link between human rights, responsible government and sustainable development.
At the European level, Ireland and our partners in the Community keep under close and regular scrutiny the human rights situation in specific countries and regions. There is a growing understanding and appreciation of the active role of the Community and its member states in monitoring observance of human rights, in condemning gross violations wherever and whenever they occur and in promoting universal adherence to these basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the context of the Conference on Security and Co-operation (CSCS), the development of effective mechanisms to ensure greater recognition of the human dimension is under way.
With the ending of the Cold War era, the protection and promotion of human rights, often inhibited in the past by the ideological divide, is rapidly assuming its pre-eminent place on the international political agenda. Ireland has a long tradition, in the United Nations and in its bilateral relations, of concern for the dignity and worth of the individual. We will continue to treat human rights issues as a central part of our foreign policy and I will make that a major plank in my platform as long as I remain Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The creation of peace-keeping and observer forces is another of the critically important activities undertaken by the United Nations. Ireland has a long and proud record of involvement in UN peace-keeping. The men and women of the Defence Forces and of the Garda Síochána have made an outstanding contribution to peace-keeping operations over many years. In the past year, we have contributed personnel to two new missions, those in Yugoslavia and Cambodia, and for the first time to the United Nations mission in Angola.
Much of the resources of the Department of Foreign Affairs at home and abroad are devoted to our participation in the European Community and in international organisations. However, there remain significant areas of activity which will have a primarily bilateral focus for the foreseeable future. Protection of the welfare of our citizens abroad, especially of our recent emigrants, remains a key concern of my Department and of our missions abroad. I have charged the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs specifically with responsibility for the cause and care of emigrants wherever they are. In the United States and Britain in particular our missions play a major role in helping to co-ordinate the activities of the various voluntary bodies and in offering practical assistance, especially to newly arrived Irish emigrants.
I cannot express my appreciation in deeper terms than to say that since my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs I have met with many emigrant organisations in the United States and particularly in the United Kingdom. All these organisations are based on the voluntary ideal. The people in those organisations cannot be thanked deeply enough and long enough on behalf of this nation. I place on record my deep appreciation of all those voluntary organisations who in one way or other assist our emigrants, whether in the United States, the United Kingdom or else where. They are the unsung heroes of this country who do not receive sufficient praise from us.
I have already mentioned the vital importance of exports to our national economy. I would like to emphasise my strong commitment to further strengthening the role of the Department in the foreign earnings area in order to more effectively contribute to the Government's economic policy, including in the area of job creation. I am particularly anxious that all our diplomats should play the fullest possible role in promoting trade and investment and I would like to encourage a greater awareness of the Department and our missions abroad as a resource to be used by Irish exporters.
The plight of the many in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world who are the helpless victims of drought and civil strife evokes a deep response from the Irish people. Their generous contributions to organisations involved in assisting the Third World are evidence of this. It is the Government's duty to reflect this public concern, both directly through their ODA programme and indirectly through the stance they adopt in the EC and other fora when the interests of developing countries are in question.
This year, total ODA will amount to almost £43 million or 0.17 per cent of GNP — £22.48 million will come from the Vote for International Co-operation, the balance from other departmental Votes and from the central fund. As in past years, the bulk of our bilateral aid will go to our four priority countries: Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia and Sudan. Multilateral aid amounting to over £27 million will be channelled through the European Community and other international agencies.
Our programme of assistance to developing countries is an important part of the Department's activities. Through it, we give official recognition to our duty of solidarity with countries that are struggling to provide for the most basic needs of their peoples. I know that there is widespread support in the House for this effort and for the Government's commitment to undertake a planned programme of increases in our official development assistance leading to a higher ODA/GNP ratio by the end of 1944.
There are major challenges facing us on this island and in our relations with Europe. Without underestimating the difficulties, we must pursue the opportunities that exist for bringing reconciliation to all the people of this island and for providing a secure and prosperous future for them. We must also contribute towards a world order in which the cries of the weak for basic justice and human rights are heeded and the resources of the planet are used wisely for the benefit of all mankind and for future generations.