Priority Questions. - Official Engagements.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

32 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on her recent official visit to Japan. [8017/01]

I visited Japan from 10 to 14 March last in place of the Taoiseach, who was unable to travel because of developments in relation to the peace process.

On the visit, I led a trade mission on which 64 companies were represented, one of the largest trade missions ever to travel from Ireland. The IT and telecommunications sector was the single largest sector represented, with the engineering services, education, food ingredients and clothing sectors also well represented.

My schedule during the visit included the following: performing the official opening of a seminar on mobile Internet solutions, which brought together 15 of the companies in the trade delegation with 120 of the key players in the corresponding Japanese sector; opening the new trade and technology centre established by Enterprise Ireland in Tokyo, which will allow Irish companies to establish themselves in Japan without having to bear the additional and relatively heavy burden of setting up an independent office in Tokyo from the outset – Enterprise Ireland expects to have at least eight companies installed in this new facility by the end of the year; holding a number of meetings at the request of the IDA, including one at which Sumicem Opto-Electronics (Ireland) Ltd. announced an increase in its Limerick investment to establish a new research and development facility there; an address to a lunch organised by Bord Fáilte for the board of the Japan Association of Travel Agents. In recent years Bord Fáilte has worked hard to increase the number of tourists coming to Ireland from Japan. The figure currently stands at 30,000 per annum and it is hoped to increase that to 100,000 per annum over the next four years.

In a series of political meetings, I met Prime Minister Mori, the Minister for the Economy, Trade and Industry, Mr. Takeo Hiranuma and Mr. Kenjo Kosaka, Vice-Minister for Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications. I also met the leader of the Opposition, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama and former Prime Minister Tsutomo Hata. I delivered a keynote address to the 300 members of the Japan Ireland Economic Association.

On Sunday, 11 March, I was delighted to lead the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which took place in downtown Tokyo. This is the only parade of its kind permitted in Tokyo, and I wish to place on record my admiration of and appreciation to those in Tokyo who organise it each year.

I had the great pleasure of doing that myself a few years ago. The Tánaiste appears to have had a busy schedule. She also seems to be under the mistaken impression that it is only in Japan that governments fall as a result of meetings between heads of state of the two countries. My memory is that it is not only in Japan it has happened.

Will the Tánaiste comment on one aspect of the visit which she omitted from her reply, her declaration from Tokyo that she is in favour of capping financial contributions at £4,000 or less? Does she not agree her statement is quite unbalanced in that it refers only to financial contributions while she is silent on the issue of electoral spending or did I not receive, on this side of the world, her views on electoral spending?

That question is not relevant.

I am not certain the trade mission I led has anything to do with the funding of elections or political activities in Ireland. I was accompanied on the visit by a number of Irish journalists, who always keep their eyes on political issues at home, and I gave my views on certain matters. I am not sure this is the place to reiterate those views.

Wait for the next trip.

The Deputy's visit to Japan was well remembered and I met some people who had met the Deputy on that occasion. The parade has taken place for ten years now. Despite the economic difficulties in Japan, which are extremely serious, it is a market of 126 million people and there are enormous opportunities for Irish business to do more business there, particularly in the technology and education sectors.

The Tánaiste thinks this is not the appropriate place to comment on the matter I raised. Why is it not the appropriate place?

The Minister's statement is not appropriate to this question.

The question asks the Minister to report on her official visit to Japan. It was in the course of that official visit she made this statement. It is an over-restrictive ruling on the part of the Chair. I am aware the Tánaiste looked at the Chair beseechingly but she should answer the question. What is her view on the matter I raised?

If the Ceann Comhairle has no problem with me replying, I believe we should cap the amounts that can be given to individuals and parties from either corporations or individuals – I see no distinction between the two – to more modest amounts.

More modest amounts. I have no wish to pin my colours to a particular amount. They should be reasonably modest amounts. In relation to electoral spending, the increases proposed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government are the levels introduced by the Deputy's party in Government plus inflation in the intervening period.

That is not true.

It is true.

It is not true. Can I take it the Tánaiste is not demurring from the new levels proposed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government?

The Tánaiste is not responsible to the Dáil for statements she made in Japan.

It is that level plus inflation.

That is quite wrong. Can I take it the Tánaiste would be satisfied with the Howlin limits plus inflation?

We should discuss it in the committee.

The Deputy should come to the committee.

We should move to the next question.

I cannot hear the Tánaiste; I can only hear the ventriloquists.

The sound of silence.

What about a freagra? I put some questions to the Tánaiste. I realise she has been around the world once but could she do me the courtesy of addressing them?

We are half a minute over time on that question.

In the course of my official duties, nobody raised the issue of electoral funding. The Irish media travelling with me availed of the occasion to ask me for my views on an article which appeared in a Sunday newspaper in Ireland. I gave my views and I have reiterated them here. I have nothing else to say. Electoral funding is not relevant to my ministry and is not one of my responsibilities.