Ceisteanna–Questions. - Official Engagements.

John Bruton


1 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Germany; the meetings and engagements he undertook; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28293/98]

John Bruton


2 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the meetings he will attend at Heads of Government level during the German Presidency of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1057/99]

John Bruton


3 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the Middle East; the official engagements he undertook; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1058/99]

John Bruton


4 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan. [1060/99]

John Bruton


5 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the Middle East. [1214/99]

John Bruton


6 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the EU Heads of Government meetings which he expects to attend in the first half of 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1215/99]

Trevor Sargent


7 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu. [1697/99]

Trevor Sargent


8 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Yasser Arafat. [1698/99]

Trevor Sargent


9 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr. Salim Al-Hoss. [1699/99]

John Bruton


10 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the communications, if any, he has had, orally or in writing, with other EU Heads of Government concerning the situation in Kosovo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1740/99]

Ruairí Quinn


11 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the Lebanon and his meeting with President Arafat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1798/99]

Ruairí Quinn


12 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Israel and his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1799/99]

Ruairí Quinn


13 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach his scheduled foreign visits abroad in the next four months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1800/99]

Ruairí Quinn


14 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Secretary General of the United Nations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1804/99]

Ruairí Quinn


15 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the contact, if any, he has had with the German Chancellor, Mr. Gerhard Schröder, since his meeting on 15 December 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1805/99]

John Gormley


16 Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any discussions he has had with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, on the deteriorating situation in Angola; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1842/99]

John Gormley


17 Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any discussions he has had with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, on the deteriorating situation in Kosovo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1843/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 17 together.

As I outlined in my Dáil statement of 17 December, I travelled to Germany on 15 December to meet with the new German Chancellor, Mr. Gerhard Schröder. We discussed a wide range of issues during our meeting, including bilateral relations, the Northern Ireland peace process, the retention of duty free sales and issues to be addressed during Germany's Presidency of the European Union. The primary focus of our discussions, however, was how the key issues under Agenda 2000, as considered at the Vienna European Council on 11 and 12 December, might be progressed.

Following my meeting with Chancellor Schröder, I wrote to him on 18 December about duty free sales. This letter sought to build on the progress made at the Vienna European Council which re-opened the possibility of an extension for duty free sales. I also wrote on similar terms to Prime Minister Blair, President Chirac, Prime Minister Jospin and Prime Minister Aznar on this matter. In essence, these letters called for a common approach to the President of the European Commission seeking an extension of duty free sales beyond the end of June.

My visit to the Middle East, from 17 to 21 January, had three main objectives: to strengthen our already strong bilateral relations with Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority; to add my voice to those who are supporting peace in the region; and to acknowledge the significant contribution that members of the Irish Defence Forces have made to peace in the area for more than 20 years. I believe the visit was highly successful in all respects.

During the course of my visit, I met the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Mr. Salim Al-Hoss, on Monday, 18 January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the former Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, on Tuesday, 19 January, the Israeli President, Mr. Ezer Weizman, on Wednesday, 20 January, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Yasser Arafat, on Wednesday, 20 January and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza on Thursday, 21 January.

At my meeting with the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Mr. Salim Al-Hoss, we discussed bilateral political and economic relations, Ireland's participation in UNIFIL since its inception in 1978, EU relations with Lebanon and the Middle East peace process.

While in Lebanon, I also travelled to Qana to visit the memorial to the victims of Israeli shelling and visited the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura before travelling to Tibnin and the Irish battalion headquarters, Camp Shamrock. I met many Irish Defence Forces personnel currently on duty in Lebanon and toured some of the UNIFIL outposts with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, where I experienced at first hand the day to day conditions and situations faced by our troops.

My visit to Camp Shamrock afforded an ideal opportunity to see the difference the presence of our soldiers has made to the region and to the people who live there, both in their role as peacekeepers and their contribution to providing humanitarian aid. I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Tibnin orphanage which cares for 70 children and is supported by the Irish battalion. I travelled to Israel on Tuesday, 19 January where I met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We discussed a number of issues during our lengthy meeting, including the Middle East peace process, bilateral relations, EU-Israel relations and the Northern Ireland peace process.

I confirmed to the Prime Minister that we, in common with our EU partners and the Israeli and Palestinian people, would like to see a resumption of the implementation by all sides of the Wye River Agreement, without the introduction of new conditions. I reaffirmed the commitment of the Irish Government to support and encourage all those seeking peace. Although there are sig nificant differences between the situation in the Middle East and that in Northern Ireland, I drew parallels with what had been achieved in the Northern Ireland peace process as a result of the willingness of all the participants to talk to, and negotiate with, the parties involved in the dispute.

I also met with the EU Special Envoy Ambassador Moratinos during my visit to east Jerusalem. On Wednesday, 20 January I flew on the Government jet to Gaza for talks with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Yasser Arafat. I am delighted to inform the House that I was the first EU leader to have the opportunity to fly from Israel directly into Gaza Airport.

President Arafat and I had an excellent and in-depth discussion on the progress achieved with the Wye River Agreement and its importance in finding an acceptable and lasting solution to the situation in the Middle East. I congratulated President Arafat on the role he played in the negotiations and he briefed me on the current state of the peace process. I briefed President Arafat on my meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and again reaffirmed the support of the Irish Government to see that the momentum generated by the Wye River Agreement is not lost.

During the course of my Middle East visit I raised our candidature for membership of the United Nations Security Council for the two year term 2001 to 2002 at my political level meetings and this was received positively by all sides.

On Thursday, 22 January I met with United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan. We had a very useful discussion on a wide range of topics, including Ireland's contribution to the work of the UN, human rights issues, disarmament initiatives and UN reform. Foremost in our discussions was peacekeeping. Ireland now ranks seventh among UN nations as a contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping operations. The Secretary General was very appreciative of our contribution and commented favourably on his visit to the UN training school in the Curragh. I acknowledged the serious financial difficulties which the UN is dealing with at present and I noted the improvement in relation to the question of arrears owed by the UN in respect of peacekeeping costs since the Secretary General took office.

Ireland's voluntary contributions in support of UN development and relief activities have increased more than threefold in the past five years. I reiterated my commitment to continue to direct most of our voluntary contributions to the UN agency core programmes, in the knowledge that these funds are directed at the poorest and least developed countries.

We also discussed human rights. Ireland is a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights and our objective is to maintain and, if possible, strengthen our contribution to international efforts to promote and protect human rights. We also discussed disarmament, an area in which Ireland's commitment is long-standing and well known. We spoke about the New Agenda initiative on nuclear disarmament which Ireland, together with seven other nations, launched last June. We shared our views on progress towards the total banning of landmines and work in the EU to control small arms exports.

I commended the Secretary General on his efforts in pursuit of UN reform and sought his views on what might be achieved over the next year. He expressed his appreciation for Ireland's contribution to the search for a consensus on contentious issues of reform of the UN and the Security Council.

I briefed the Secretary General on my visit to the Middle East. I also raised our concerns about Kosovo, in particular about the massacre at Racak. In our discussion about Angola, I paid tribute to the work of the UN there and expressed my concern and regret that the two sides have reverted to civil war, with its unacceptable costs for the civilian population. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has pursued our concerns about Kosovo with EU partners over recent weeks and did so again at last Monday's meeting of the General Affairs Council.

In relation to my diary commitments, I met the Maltese Prime Minister, Dr. Edward Fenech Adami, and Foreign Minister de Marco earlier today. I expect to attend four EU Heads of Government meetings during the German Presidency of the European Union: the informal European Council, devoted primarily to Agenda 2000, provisionally scheduled for 26 February; the special European Council meeting on Agenda 2000 in Berlin on 24 and 25 March; the European Council meeting on the German Presidency on 3 and 4 June in Cologne; and the EU-Latin American Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 28 and 29 June.

In advance of the proposed informal Council meeting on 26 February there are scheduled meetings with Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark on 4 February; President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin in Paris on 15 February; and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr. Wim Kok, in the Hague on 17 February. I will travel to America on 11 March for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. On 15 April I will travel to London for an address to the University of North London.

I could not help noticing the extent of the Taoiseach's schedule. Even his colleague beside him was exhausted by the sound of all he is doing. I hope the Taoiseach is taking his vitamin tablets if he wants to fulfil all that he has outlined.

Because 17 questions are being taken I hope we will be allowed an opportunity to come back to questions. It will be impossible to ask supplementary questions on everything in one go. Has the Taoiseach had replies to the letters he sent to the people he listed with regard to duty free? The letters were sent over a month ago. If he has not had replies, does he intend to follow up the matter in view of the fact that June 1999 is the deadline for the ending of duty free?

On his meeting with Chancellor Schröder, will the Taoiseach agree that the information that Germany was to withdraw its nuclear waste contract with Sellafield would have been very helpful to Ireland? It now appears that contract will be left in place. It would surely shorten the life of Sellafield if Germany withdrew such a large contract. Did the Taoiseach raise this matter and does he intend to raise it again with Mr. Schröder?

I thank the Deputy for her concern. I did not raise the issue with Chancellor Schröder at the last meeting. Withdrawal of the contract would be helpful to Ireland and would be a devastating blow to Sellafield. I will raise that matter in the future. I do not know the position of the Chancellor or his Administration on this matter other than what has been said publicly.

The matter of duty free is being followed up directly. The Minister for Public Enterprise will have a round table meeting in France tomorrow with the French at which the common approach to what we are endeavouring to do will be further pursued.

Apropos the Taoiseach's timetable, which is exhaustive, I hope he gets the opportunity to fulfil it and that events do not intervene between now and the end of June.

With regard to the duty free issue, have the Commission and the ECOFIN Council completed their study of the impact which the abolition of duty free next June would have on employment?

As I understand it, that will not be completed until the end of March.

Do I take it that, until such work is completed, there will be no estimate as to whether the phasing out or postponement of the termination will take place?

I assume no final decision will be made, but discussions are ongoing within the Commission. I do not know what the outcome of those discussions is likely to be. From speaking to President Santer prior to Christmas, I know that his officials are following through on what happened at the meeting on 11 December. Although the Commission will probably follow its more conservative line rather than that urged by certain countries in December, the matter is not over yet. There is growing pressure on the Commission to do something in this area.

What is the relevance of the meeting in France about this?

I tried to abide by the ruling. I would like to have asked a follow up question.

The Deputy has not changed the subject of his question and I will let him follow up on it briefly.

I will be brief. What is the relevance of the meeting in France?

It is a round table meeting which the French Prime Minister and the Transport Minister will attend. Efforts are being made by the Prime Ministers mentioned to reach a common position on what we want the Commission to do.

Would it not help the Minister for Public Enterprise if she knew the replies to the five or six letters sent on 18 December to the Prime Ministers? That is crucial information.

The letters urged that we work together and everyone has agreed to co-operate. Tomorrow's meeting is part of the process. The Germans have been active in the matter. It is a question of reaching a common position to secure the agreement of the Commission.

The Taoiseach said that he did not raise the matter of the German decision on nuclear waste with Chancellor Schröder. Will he raise it, now that the Germans have rowed back from it? In his meeting with Kofi Annan at which he reaffirmed Ireland's commitment to the United Nations, did the Taoiseach raise the matter of the United States' debt to the United Nations which is having a crippling effect on its peacekeeping activities?

I discussed the matter of finances with Kofi Annan and the outstanding debts of the United Nations to this country. The Secretary General outlined what he is seeking to do in this area and the contributions he is seeking to secure from the richer countries. He is well aware of the difficulties being created. It is a question of resources. He has made considerable progress since his appointment two years ago. It is a matter of regret to him that some of the wealthier nations are not contributing to the extent they should. I did not raise the matter of Sellafield with Chancellor Schröder whom I am not due to meet for some time. The relevant Minister and Minister of State will follow up the matter.

Did the Taoiseach have an exchange of views with the German Chancellor on the question of corporation tax harmonisation? What steps are being taken by European Heads of Government to prepare for the possibility of further genocide in Kosovo? Has consideration been given to a role for Partnership for Peace in the region? On the weekend the Taoiseach visited the Lebanon the United Nations convention on the protection of UN personnel serving abroad became part of international law when New Zealand became the 22nd country to sign it. Does the Taoiseach agree that it is outrageous that attacks on UNIFIL which he visited can be pursued under international law in 22 states but not in Ireland? What explanation can he offer for the failure to ratify the convention, a matter I have raised week in, week out since the Government took office?

Kosovo was discussed by the General Affairs Council, and there are questions on that matter tabled to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He outlined our position at some length, describing our determination to assist with progress on this matter at EU level. Deputy Mitchell will be aware that this situation is still very grave, and I am not aware of the outcome of Monday's meeting. For the last number of weeks the Minister for Foreign Affairs has kept a close eye on the matter.

I have already answered the Deputy on the ratification of the UNIFIL decision; we intend to ratify it.

The Taoiseach said it was very far off.

I did. It is still some considerable time away, but work is still being done on it. It will be ratified, though it is still some time away. Deputy Mitchell asked me about my meetings with the Germans.

And tax harmonisation.

Yes. I again raised our view of the Commissioner's efforts to harmonise taxes. I put it in the context that we agreed with the examination of what is going on as we work towards a transparent tax system. The idea of integrating towards a single rate is something we oppose, and it was decided to move rapidly away from that following the last European Council meeting. Now, under Commissioner Monti, an examination of different corporate tax regimes in all member states is taking place. The transparency of those systems is also being examined, as different methods are used in different countries for agreements with companies. That matter has been raised by many member states. Ours is a straight line transparent system and we have defended it in all respects. I defended it at my meeting with the Chancellor, Mr. Schröder.

During the Taoiseach's visit to the Middle East did he raise the issue of the demolition by the Israeli authorities of Palestinian homes, which is going on to this day? Did he raise with the Israeli authorities the issue of a safe route between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? That was guaranteed under the peace agreement.

I also congratulate the Taoiseach on using the Palestinian airport, thereby giving international recognition to the Palestinian people.

I thank Deputy De Rossa. I raised the issue of the homes during a long discussion with the Minister for Defence. The discussion was heated as the Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, first declined to accept that it was an issue at all. He finally stated that it covered perhaps 1.5 per cent of the territory. We disputed that. It may be 1.5 per cent of the total territory, but it is a very high percentage of the territory involved. We argued the logic of the situation at that and other meetings, and we got clear explanations of the situation. I feel this is a numbers game in the region regarding who is on what register. Mr. Netanyahu claims he is within his rights, while the Palestinian leader, Mr. Arafat, and other Palestinian leaders I met in east Jerusalem would hotly dispute that. It goes to the centre of the issue and is a matter of huge conflict and enormous disruption. It is everybody's view regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip region that if the Wye River Agreement is to work, those will be the most contentious areas for discussion. I made this view clear to Mr. Netanyahu. However, it is unlikely this matter will progress much this side of their election on 17 May.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach two questions, one of which relates to what he has said. Will he confirm if discussion took place about the oppressive Israeli action at the borders when citizens of Gaza have to cross into Israel daily in the morning and return in the evening? They have to go through an oppressive regime of checking and sometimes are left waiting for hours on end. That does not affect only citizens of Gaza but development aid workers who work in Gaza. Did that issue come up? As a sign of bona fide intent, did the Israeli Government give an assurance that some of that oppressiveness would be lifted from the border posts?

At the meetings the Taoiseach had with EU Heads of State, did he raise the problem that has arisen for Ireland with regard to tax designation for the International Financial Services Centre at the Custom House Docks? When he was Minister for Finance it appeared the EU did not approve of such a designation. Did he raise that question during his discussions with other Prime Ministers in order to gain support for such approval at EU level? If not, does he intend to raise it at future meetings with his counterparts?

In relation to tax matters, they are all being pursued under various categories by the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance and this has been ongoing for the past 12 months. There has been progress in some areas, but there are ongoing investigations and action has been taken by the Commission in other areas. It will be some months before they are all resolved. Some matters have been resolved and others will be resolved fairly quickly.

Deputy Owen is correct in stating there are major difficulties in relation to border stops between Gaza and Israel. There has been no resolution of this issue. Gaza residents crossing the border to go to work are delayed for hours every day. Sometimes they get through without difficulty, but other times they do not. I called to the offices of the UN staff where I met development aid workers. The position has improved for them, but they feel rather guilty about that. They are segregated from the other citizens and let through fairly quickly. This position is not satisfactory because they are living and working with those citizens and such segregation is occurring every day. We raised this issue. I hope all these matters will be part of an overall settlement. There was no indication that anything other than a hard line will be taken in the short term to deal with these issues.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach two questions on EU matters arising from his replies. Did the German Chancellor, Mr. Schröder, raise with him the question of German unhappiness about the scale of their contribution to the EU budget? If so, what response, if any, did he give?

The German contribution?

Yes. The Taoiseach indicated in his reply he will attend four EU Heads of Government meetings, the first of which will take place on 26 February and which could be correctly described as a dress rehearsal for the March meeting on Agenda 2000. Will the Taoiseach indicate what preparations have been made by the Government for that meeting and whether it is intended to submit to Brussels prior to 26 February a position on what the Government is seeking? Will the House have an opportunity to debate or have sight of the Government's position prior to 26 February?

I did not raise that issue with the German Chancellor.

I asked if he raised that issue with the Taoiseach.

The UN Secretary General?

I will repeat my question. This is part of the problem that arises from taking 17 diverse questions together. On EU matters, during his meeting with the German Chancellor, did the German Chancellor raise with the Taoiseach German concerns about the scale of their contribution towards the European Union budget?

Yes. He made it very clear, as he has in all interviews, that there must be a change in the contribution mechanism because Germany will not continue to pay the scale of contribution it has paid in the past.

He is adamant that the 1.27 per cent of GNP rate of contribution is adequate for enlargement – the "pre-ins" and the "ins"– over the next couple of years. He also believes the present rate of take-up of the contribution, which is approximately 1.01 per cent of GNP, is adequate. I do not think there is a possibility of the Chancellor changing his view that there will be a reduction in the over all German contribution. There are two reasons for that – first, it is his domestic agenda, as he made clear in his election campaign and since and, second, like Ireland, he is in favour of enlargement and wants to ensure that as new member states go through the accession process there will be adequate resources for them. He will not change from that position and we will have to negotiate around that.

That leads to the second question. In the last number of weeks we have been actively involved, both in the Government and in the Ministers and Secretaries group, in preparing for the first meeting at the end of February. We also have a Cabinet subcommittee working with technical people from key Departments – one person from each Department – to ensure we put our case together. I do not see this House debating the first round of submissions because at that stage everyone will be sounding out positions to determine the parameters. I do not think people will show their hands at the February meeting, the idea will be to get an indication of the negotiating strategy. Everyone is being asked by the Germans not to continue asking for everything they want, but to prioritise and we will have to do that.

Is it true, as I heard the Taoiseach say, that he is keen the Germans understand Ireland's position on nuclear storage at Sellafield? Given his good working relationship with Herr Schröder will he, as leader of our Government, make clear to the German Government our position and our wish that it follows through on its policy commitment on storage of nuclear waste, rather than send it to Sellafield?

Are the Greens changing their tune?

I accept the Ministers are doing their jobs but I ask him to take that step also.

The Taoiseach acknowledges that Mr. Kofi Annan has done a lot of work to resolve the UN's funding problems. Has he established the deadlines by which Ireland will be repaid money owing for peacekeeping or is there joint action, which he or others have suggested to the Secretary-General, by which the United States can begin to repay, even on a phased basis? When might that be done so that UN peacekeeping work can proceed?

On the first question, I will do that but it will be some time before I am likely to have an opportunity because the February meeting is about only Agenda 2000. However, if I do get the opportunity I will take it.

Some £7.2 million is owed to Ireland in respect of peacekeeping costs, but under the reign of the current Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, the position has improved dramatically – more than £5 million in arrears has been paid over the last 18 months. As I said earlier, the Secretary-General assured me he is endeavouring to reach a res olution with those countries which are not making significant payments. He is acutely conscious that the problem lies there and he is making his best efforts to tackle it. The difficulty for him is that what people say and do are often different.

(Dublin West): On the Taoiseach's meeting with Herr Gerhard Schröder and his future meetings with the EU leaders, has he discussed with them, or is it on the agenda for discussion, the prospects for the European economy in 1999 against widespread forecasts of a recession developing in the EU? Growth in Germany is projected at 1.4 per cent and a miserable 1.25 per cent in the euro zone as a whole. That brings the danger of more unemployment and pressure to cut public spending. Is there concern among EU leaders, including the Taoiseach, about where this would lead the whole EU project, which was about employment and economic stability?

With the prospect of a developing recession, when both political and economic conditions will begin to diverge very markedly within the EU, do the Taoiseach and the EU leaders with whom he has been discussing this see a real problem with a "one size fits all" monetary policy? There is a question mark over changing to a one currency economy within the EU.

Discussions of that nature are fundamental to the meetings of the European Council, at which economic growth and employment performance is always discussed. Everything that has happened on the employment pact has been relatively positive. It is not always as good in all European countries as it has been in this country in recent years, but the work of member states is always directed at trying to remove the barriers, obstacles and impediments and to allow economic growth to increase, particularly employment growth. Ten years ago not as much direct action was taken at European Council meetings as is taken now in trying to generate employment policies to ensure the citizens of the Community are facilitated and their situations improved.

In terms of our contribution, our employment policy and input were well received in other countries. Many of the mechanisms we have tried have gained support and interest in other countries. I continue, wherever I can, to put forward our policies to the other EU leaders.

I return to the meeting on Agenda 2000 on 26 February. Is the Government's approach to that initial meeting, prior to the proposed definitive meeting in March based on the regionalisation structure that it proposed to EUROSTAT? When will EUROSTAT indicate whether that regionalisation structure is acceptable? Can the Taoiseach indicate if, after 26 February, the indications from all the member states with regard to Agenda 2000 will become avail able, or will it still be a question of shadow boxing right up to March?

I think countries will be asked to produce their bottom lines at that meeting and not to continue to raise an enormous number of issues. I hope there will be some understanding on CAP reform and that the issue of own resources will, at least, become a bit clearer than at present. That will not finalise the discussions but it will certainly help.

There are other very important issues, such as those concerning Cohesion Fund countries. The Germans are still resisting any opportunity to agree to resources for Cohesion Funds for countries in the euro zone. That is a very important issue for us and there has been no movement on it. There is also the issue of the phase-in period for Structural Funds and the question of how long the transitional period will be and whether there will be a mid-term review. I hope those questions will be resolved, which would allow us to get into more substantive discussions.

There are still very fundamental issues in the Agriculture Council which will affect us greatly, and also the Spanish and the French. The cofinancing of the Common Agriculture Policy is a major issue and it would be enormously costly if it were to be changed. There is some indication that countries are moving on that.

Matters have been firming up since the beginning of the year. I would like to be able to tell Deputy Quinn that matters will be finalised in February to the extent that would allow orderly discussions to take place in March which would wrap it up. However—

What about regionalisation?

It is hoped that EUROSTAT will report approximately four weeks from now.

I presume the Government's position is based on EUROSTAT approving regionalisation. Given that the Government is running to the wire on this issue, is there a contingency plan if it does not approve?

Yes. Given that a decision has not been made, we have costed the figures on the basis of both alternatives. Everybody else has done likewise to ensure that matters will be in order.

With regard to what will happen at the meeting next March, Deputy Quinn is aware that I attended similar meetings on the last two occasions, in 1989 and 1993. Both meetings went to the wire. That will probably happen again.

Did the Taoiseach in his meeting with the Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Kofi Annan, raise the unilateral bombing of Iraq by the US and the UK? Did he also raise the issue of the continued bombing, which has now resulted in acknowledged civilian casualties? Will he express his serious concern to the UN, the US and the UK about this continued aggression against Iraq? Given that we are presiding over what is essentially infanticide in Iraq, did the Taoiseach in his meeting with Mr. Annan raise the issue of how the UN sanctions are impacting on the civilian population, especially on the children?

Both those issues were discussed. Mr. Kofi Annan gave a detailed account of his assessment of the Iraqi situation, especially his concern about the issue of sanctions. The Deputy is aware that there has been considerable discussion on this at the UN. There has not been a resolution. The issue boils down to two groups, one which believes there should be no change and the other, which reflects the views of Deputy De Rossa and others, which believes that a more humanitarian way of addressing the issue should be developed. When I asked Mr. Annan about the success of an initiative in this regard he advised that he was endeavouring to move. However, despite the agreements he believed he had reached last year, where he thought he could move such issues forward, he has not had much success. He is still trying and is very conscious of the humanitarian aspects, especially with regard to health and the position of children.

Did the Taoiseach indicate the Irish position on these matters? Are we arguing for a more humanitarian approach to the application of these sanctions and to stopping the bombing?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has put forward that view without success since before the round of bombings that was cancelled last spring. At the meeting Mr. Annan said that while attempts at progress were being made he did not see an early breakthrough.

We have three minutes remaining on Taoiseach's Question Time. There are 20 questions in the next group.

If the Taoiseach reads his reply we will not have the opportunity to ask supplementary questions.

It is agreed to postpone them.

I had not finished on the first group.

We have a couple of minutes to finish on the first group.

While we have agreed to postpone these questions, I take the opportunity to ask the Taoiseach and the House to join me in sending our good wishes to the Ulster rugby team in its match against Coloniers Saturday. There is little enough good news from the North and we should join in sending good wishes to them for the European rugby final.

In his meeting with Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, did the Taoiseach discuss with him the fact that the United States owes IR£1 billion to that body? Did Mr. Kofi Annan ask him to use his good offices with the United States President and Congress – it is a problem for Congress rather than the President – to try to get some movement on that? Did he discuss with the Secretary General Ireland's attitude to the necessity for the reform of the Security Council of the United Nations which is dominated by the Anglo-American axis?

Regarding the Security Council, I have been briefed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had a long meeting with Mr. Kofi Annan the night before I met him. I reiterated the views of the Minister and the Department on this matter. There is considerable frustration within the UN because many people are making suggestions for useful reforms but are not living up to them. This is making it difficult for the Secretary General to push his reform package. This might not be true in respect of everybody, but Mr. Kofi Annan has completed his reform package, following an internal agenda. That has been a difficult process because he has faced huge financial reductions and many obstacles. On the other side, more powerful states have not moved an inch on issues for which they are responsible. That has made the situation very difficult for the Secretary General.

In terms of resources, he did not ask us for help with Congress but every opportunity should be taken to raise the issue. Last week, with development aid workers, I saw the extraordinary plight of refugees in one of the camps in Gaza, and there are several camps there – refugees have been living in these camps since 1948. Because of lack of resources at the UN the health, education and aid budgets are all being drastically cut. Whatever arguments we have about development aid, it seems fair that a country like ours should do its utmost, as it has done over the years, to continue to increase aid. However, some very wealthy countries are not giving proportionately substantial resources. The money owed by the United States is also an issue, but the United States is not the only country creating problems.