Written Answers. - Basque Problem.


63 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the Basque peace process. [22067/98]

On 12 September this year, representatives of some 20 bodies from the Basque country met in what was called the Ireland Forum and issued a statement known as the Declaration of Lizarra. The Ireland Forum included representatives of the PNV, the moderate Basque nationalist party which leads the Basque country regional government, and Herri Batasuna, the political party closest to ETA. The purpose of the declaration was to set out a framework for a comprehensive dialogue aimed at resolution of the Basque question, which would include ETA. The declaration was made in the perspective of a forthcoming ETA truce, which would allow transition to a definitive phase of the peace process.

On 16 September, ETA announced its first ever ceasefire beginning on 18 September. The ceasefire was described as total and indefinite. ETA said that it would not hand over arms but would retain them for defensive purposes. ETA also said that the Declaration of Lizarra opened the door for Basque society to take the initiative in determining its future. ETA favours breaking the Basque country links with Spain and France and concentrating political forces to achieve a unique and sovereign institution for the whole of the Basque country. The initial reaction of the Spanish Government was cautious. Prime Minister Aznar gave the announcement a guarded welcome and said that ETA could not be readily given the benefit of the doubt. The Spanish Government was determined to continue working for peace and he initiated a series of consultations with all democratic parties with a view to drawing up a common position.
On 2 October, Prime Minister Aznar announced the conditions under which the Spanish Government would enter a peace process in which Herri Batasuna and ETA could participate. The process of dialogue would involve the State and those who have abandoned violence and would lead to the discussion of political questions among elected political representatives. The Government indicated that, if ETA truce continued, it would be prepared to talk to Herri Batasuna. However, ETA had to demonstrate a clear will to put an end to violence and unequivocal actions to promote this conviction including respect for the Basque elections of 25 October. The Government envisaged introducing a new policy of consensus, flexibility and a dynamic in regard to prisoner release which would evolve as peace became more assured.
The results of the Basque regional elections on 25 October were a gain for Euskal Herritarrok, which represented for all practical purposes, the replacement of Herri Batasuna, and also for the Popular Party headed by Prime Minister Aznar. The moderate Basque nationalist party, the PNV, continues to be the largest party; the second largest party is the Popular Party while the third is Euskal Herritarrok. At the present time, there are negotiations among the parties on the formation of the new Basque regional government.
Against the background of a continuing cease-fire and in the light of the Basque election outcome, Prime Minister Aznar announced on 3 November the setting up of contacts with those close to ETA with a view to establishing ETA's willingness to open a peace process involving the definitive abandoning of weapons. These contacts have been described by official sources as "exploratory".
The Irish Government naturally supports efforts to secure peace. We would hope that the peace process in Ireland can be a source of inspiration to all.