Written Answers. - Intergovernmental Conference.

Mary Flaherty

Question:

40 Miss Flaherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will consider an NGO forum in conjunction with the major intergovernmental conferences in the early stages of the Intergovernmental Conference in order to commence ongoing liaison. [5996/96]

Colm M. Hilliard

Question:

41 Mr. Hilliard asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the nature and extent of the discussions which took place at the Intergovernmental Conference in Turin at the end of March 1996; and his views regarding the progress and timeframe for the completion of the Intergovernmental Conference. [8283/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 41 together.

Chapter 3 of the White Paper on Foreign Policy sets out Ireland's broad approach to the main issues that are likely to arise at the Intergovernmental Conference which opened in Turin on 29 March. There was extensive public consultation in the context of the preparation of the White Paper. In addition to a series of public seminars, I specifically invited written submissions on any aspect of foreign policy from over 70 non-governmental organisations. I also invited any person or organisation to make such a submission. A total of 64 submissions were received and have been lodged in the National Archives where they are available for consultation.
The Government attaches great importance to transparency and openness in the conduct of the Intergovernmental Conference. We will continue to listen carefully to the views and contributions of non-governmental organisations and, indeed, any other interested persons or bodies in relation to the issues which will be discussed during the Intergovernmental Conference.
The Intergovernmental Conference process is, of course, intergovernmental in nature. It consists of a series of meetings at official and ministerial level. The Government does not consider that it would be appropriate to set up an NGO forum in conjunction with the conference.
As regards the nature and extent of the discussions which took place at the opening of the intergovernmental conference in Turin last month, I would refer Deputy Hilliard to the statements made in this House by both the Taoiseach and me on 2 April 1996 which dealt with the Turin European Council and the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference on that occasion.
The conclusions of the European Council, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House, are intended to help focus the work of the Intergovernmental Conference but are not intended to limit the scope for member states to bring forward proposals. The main topics to be considered by the Intergovernmental Conference fall into three categories: first, making the Union more relevant to its citizens; secondly, enabling the Union to work better and preparing it for enlargement; and thirdly, giving the Union greater capacity for external action.
The Turin European Council confirmed that the agenda will include,inter alia, a number of topics of direct concern to citizens such as employment, environment and the fight against international crime including drug trafficking.
Negotiations of the Intergovernmental Conference at Foreign Minister level are taking place once a month. The work of Foreign Ministers is being prepared by a working party of personal representatives meeting more frequently. The Italian Presidency is expected to make a first interim report to the European Council in Florence in June.
Chairing the Intergovernmental Conference will be a major priority for the Irish Presidency in the second half of the year and we will seek to advance its work as expeditiously and constructively as possible.
While the duration of the Intergovernmental Conference will depend on the substance of negotiations, it is expected to run well into the Dutch Presidency in the first half of 1997.