Ceisteanna – Questions. - Official Engagements.

Enda Kenny


2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if a date has been fixed for his forthcoming visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27086/02]

Enda Kenny


3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will convene a meeting of the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board during his forthcoming visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27087/02]

Enda Kenny


4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place within his Department for maintaining contact with the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27088/02]

Joe Higgins


5 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the President of the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27111/02]

Joe Higgins


6 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the United States Administration. [27112/02]

Pat Rabbitte


7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his plans to visit the United States around St. Patrick's Day; the programme agreed for such a visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1232/03]

Pat Rabbitte


8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach when he last had telephone contact with the President of the United States, George Bush; his plans to meet President Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1233/03]

Trevor Sargent


9 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet United States President Bush over the coming months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1285/03]

Trevor Sargent


10 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his plans to visit the United States over the St. Patrick's holiday; the itinerary for such a visit; the discussions he will be holding with the Bush Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1286/03]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


11 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with the President of the United States since 18 December 2002. [1632/03]

Joe Higgins


12 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the President of the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1699/03]

Joe Higgins


13 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the United States Administration. [1700/03]

Trevor Sargent


14 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach when the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2414/03]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


15 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will arrange his visit to the United States to coincide with events around St. Patrick's Day; and if he will meet the US President during his visit. [2772/03]

Enda Kenny


16 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 4 February 2003 with the United States special envoy, Mr. Richard Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3257/03]

Pat Rabbitte


17 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the US special ambassador, Richard Haass, on 4 February 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3388/03]

Trevor Sargent


18 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with President Bush's special envoy, Mr. Richard Haass, in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3443/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 18, inclusive, together.

The programme for my visit to the United States has not yet been finalised. However, I expect to depart for Washington on Wednesday, 12 March. In the course of my visit, I expect to address the World Bank as part of its lecture series. Arrangements for other possible meetings and engagements have not yet been finalised and will not be finalised until closer to the time.

I intend to meet the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board in the course of my visit. My Department liaises with the board through our embassy in Washington, particularly in putting arrangements in place for meetings during my visits to the United States. I have not been in contact with President Bush's office in recent months. However, I hope to meet him in the course of my visit to Washington. I expect that our discussions will focus on the Northern Ireland peace process as well as a number of current international issues, including the war on terrorism.

I met Ambassador Richard Haass on Tuesday, 4 February when we discussed matters mainly relating to Northern Ireland and the prospects for making progress over the coming weeks. I expressed my appreciation to Ambassador Haass for his continued involvement in the process and I also expressed my sympathy and the sympathy of the Government and the Irish people on the loss of the Columbia and the tragic deaths of the seven astronauts on board.

Has the Taoiseach and the Cabinet given consideration to the growing opposition among European members of NATO to a war on Iraq, which may or may not have United Nations approval? Has he considered the effect this may have on pressure for a stronger European Union security and foreign policy?

Has the Taoiseach arranged for a presentation to the Cabinet of the possible consequences for the economy if war breaks out in Iraq, with or without a United Nations mandate? Has the Cabinet given consideration to the possible effects in terms of external investment in the country and the difficulties that may arise?

We have held a series of discussions on this issue. The Deputy will be aware that in 2001, worldwide foreign direct investment fell from $1.7 trillion to $700 billion. The drop last year was even greater and while we continue to get a proportionally higher share of this investment, the position at the start of this year has not improved.

We have also undertaken an analysis of tourism. The experience of 12 years ago indicates that if war takes place, with or without United Nations agreement, it will impact on tourism. In view of this the resources for marketing would have to be looked at. Over the past few months we have provided for contingency arrangements.

The Department of Foreign Affairs asked our embassies across the world to analyse the figures for the last quarter of last year. Practically all countries had very low or negative economic growth and most are predicting similar results for this quarter. Some countries have enormous difficulties. While this is not all related to talk of war or conflict, it does not help because in times of uncertainty investors balk from taking action. That has a serious effect. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have redoubled their efforts and all aspects of the tourism sector have been busy since last September to ward off difficulties. However, the situation is a cause of major concern.

In four weeks the Taoiseach will present himself on the White House lawn with President Bush. He indicated he hopes to discuss with the President the war on terrorism, but he made no reference to the Iraqi crisis. Is the Taoiseach subscribing to the cynical propaganda, which is being massively and hysterically disseminated by the United States Government and media, that the Saddam Hussein dictatorship was somehow responsible for the atrocities on 11 September 2001 when the world knows that, vile as is his dictatorship, he and al-Qaeda are opposites from many points of view?

What will be the Taoiseach's position in his discussions with President Bush on a range of options concerning the Iraqi crisis? If at the time of his visit, the United States is engaged in inflicting weapons of mass destruction on the unfortunate people of Iraq with or without United Nations sanction, what steps will he take to mark the huge opposition of the public to such a development?

What will be the Taoiseach's position if the United States acts unilaterally? He says he supports collective action in the United Nations. If there is a unilateral attack will he boycott the White House or will he go there and tell President Bush that he is immediately withdrawing the facilities he is affording his war machine at Shannon Airport?

In what other way would the Taoiseach bring the views of the majority of our people to bear in the United States Administration? Does he agree that the best thing to do would be to boycott his visit as a protest against the huge and almost unstoppable drive by the United States and Britain towards an attack on Iraq?

I will not engage in hypothesis or mere speculation about what might happen. The Deputy should not read into what I said about the war on terrorism that I would justify anything. Perhaps he should read into it that I had hoped that all these matters would be resolved peacefully, that Saddam Hussein would comply with what the inspectors ask of him and that everyone could go home and deal with more pressing issues affecting ordinary people, such as the creation of jobs and security. The Deputy should read no more into it than that.

I have already answered Deputy Kenny. As things move on we will see what the inspectors have to say. We will see what happens on Friday and Monday and what the response is. Our position, which remains the same, is that we would like to see a peaceful resolution to this problem. We worked hard to achieve this by way of Resolution 1441, as we did on many issues. Nobody worked harder on the Security Council in a two year period than we did to try assist the people of Iraq in respect of the sanctions. We made some progress, not as much as we would have liked, but our diplomats and Minister worked very hard. We will continue to do so. We will have to see how events take shape elsewhere. Our position is well known and I reiterated it when I met Ambassador Haass last week, as did the Minister, Deputy Cowen.

Deputy Rabbitte.

May I defer to my colleague, Deputy Michael Higgins?

The Taoiseach is reported as having been disappointed that he was not asked to sign the letter of the eight European countries. Why was he disappointed? Was he not asked because his position could be taken for granted? If so, what does he think it is? If he was not asked—

To which of the 17 questions is the Deputy referring?

It relates to the Taoiseach's visit to the President of the United States. This huff would want to be got out of the way before the visit. What does the Taoiseach mean when he says that he was not asked to sign the letter?

I made reference to the fact that I thought there was an inconsistency regarding eight countries signing a letter giving out about the view of two countries when they did not bother to ask any other countries.

That is a little Jesuitical.

It is very simple.

The Taoiseach will have to write a letter himself, a card outlining his views—

Allow Deputy Sargent.

The Taoiseach has hinted that he would not approve of every measure that could be considered war on terrorism. Where would he draw the line? Would he, for example, tell the President of the US that he is not prepared to back the use of nuclear weapons, for which the Pentagon has planned, not as retaliation for the use of chemical, biological or other weaponry but to penetrate a bunker? Would he tell the President that this is a bridge too far and that he cannot support the use of weapons of mass destruction in getting rid of mass destruction?

Will the Taoiseach state if the Government is prepared to continue to pay for the overflight charges of US military aircraft for which the Irish Aviation Authority charges? The bill for this is picked up by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Will that continue when the civilian reserve airforce of 47 passenger aeroplanes and 11 cargo aeroplanes hired by the military comes through Shannon as predicted? Will the Government say it is not participating in this aggression and, at the same time, help to fund it? What is the line of the Taoiseach on this matter?

Our line is to see what the Security Council will do by way of a second resolution. If there is no resolution we will have to consider the matter, and if there is one we will have to consider it. If there is a war without a resolution we will also have to consider that. We are committed and we follow Kofi Annan. If the Deputy wants to disagree with him, he may do so, but—

Kofi Annan says it has not worked.

The Deputy should not misquote him. He has been very clear and believes that the acts of build-up and the threat of action have been important features in making progress that the Security Council has not been able to make for 12 years because the Iraqi regime has totally ignored all action. He said frequently that he will not consider a war situation until the matter is dealt with in a second resolution. Asking me what I will say on 13 and 14 March, given that there are so many changes from day to day, is irrelevant and we are only wasting the time of the House.

When the Taoiseach meets the US President, will he impress on him the importance of dialogue and negotiation in the resolution of conflicts, both in Ireland and globally, not least in the Gulf and the Middle East? Does the Taoiseach agree with the point I tried to make yesterday evening that it is entirely consistent to uphold an independent Irish foreign policy and, at the same time, advance the peace process here in Ireland with the positive involvement of the US Administration where appropriate?

Does the Taoiseach agree that the Irish people's welcome for US involvement in our peace process does not entail, as some have tried to suggest, an unquestioning, passive acceptance of the foreign policy position presented by the Bush Administration, very specifically in relation to President Bush's preparations for war on Iraq? Will the Taoiseach impress effectively on President Bush the opposition of the vast majority of the Irish people? It is unquestionable that that majority has consistently demonstrated its opposition to President Bush's amassing of weapons and the modalities of war in the Gulf region.

Reference was made to the Taoiseach's having been upset at not having been invited to partici pate in the preparation of a letter and to append his signature to it. Has he read The Irish Times today and noted the letter from the former Consul General in New York and former Irish ambassador to Iraq, Gearóid Ó Clérigh? He states very clearly and unequivocally that Ireland should not participate in any action—

I am not sure to which question the Deputy is referring.

I am asking the Taoiseach if he is aware of this—

It does not cover any of the 17 questions.

As the author of the letter is the former Irish Consul General to New York and the former Irish ambassador to Iraq, it is absolutely relevant to the matter. Will the Taoiseach take on board the former ambassador's views in his preparation for contact with President Bush? The former ambassador to Iraq is speaking unquestionably for the overwhelming body of Irish public opinion in the comments he offers in The Irish Times today.

I saw that letter, which was signed. I always take account of people who give their names when they make comments in The Irish Times.

Maybe the Taoiseach should write a similar letter himself tomorrow.

I might do that. We have consistently drawn attention to the risks involved in military action and we will comply with Deputy Ó Caoláin's request that we continue to do so. Last year when discussing the war on terrorism we spoke about the difficulties in the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had spoken at that stage to Yasser Arafat about the suffering of his people, which feeds into this. Once you embark on military action there is loss of life, material destruction and the danger of further destabilising in a volatile region with a deepening of the misunderstanding between the people of Islam and the rest of the world.

It is for those reasons the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, has stated time and again that our efforts should be directed at supporting Resolution 1441. He has recorded the logic behind the resolution time and again, but I will do so once more since people keep missing the point. The Government wants to see the present differences between Iraq and the international community resolved peacefully through the United Nations. We want to avoid recourse to unilateral action.

In November when discussion of this matter began, the Irish representative at the UN worked hard to secure Resolution 1441. We included mechanisms intended to avoid war by seeking to maintain the central role of the Security Council in deciding whether Iraq has met its obligations. The resolution provides that the Security Council will meet to consider the situation if the inspectors report non-compliance, decide what further steps are required to bring about Iraqi compliance and compel Iraq to meet its obligations by giving the authorities a final chance to comply with obligations to divest themselves of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi leadership has refused for more than a decade to meet UN demands, inflicting further wilful suffering on the people. It is obvious to all that one way or other the Iraqi leadership will no longer be able to evade its disarmament obligations. Saddam Hussein could end this confrontation tomorrow by simply ordering his regime to co-operate fully and proactively with UN inspectors.

This has been the Irish Government position since the first week of November which is why we worked so hard on and supported Resolution 1441. The position is the same today. If Saddam Hussein complies with the inspectors now rather than in another 12 years and, as Deputy Cowen said last night, agrees to provide them with what they want, the current impasse could be resolved. I hope when the inspectors report on Friday they will have got somewhere and will be in a position to convince the Security Council that the situation is satisfactory.

There have been conflicting reports from the inspectors during the week and it is difficult to know whether sufficient progress has been made in the process. They have said they do not believe the need is for more inspectors, rather it is for greater co-operation from the Iraqi authorities. Iraq is five times larger than the island of Ireland and it is not easy to find the materials which means the real question is the willingness of Saddam Hussein to comply. It is useless to ask hypothetical questions when what is needed to make progress are answers to the practical questions that are being asked internationally. Friday might answer them.

Will the Taoiseach raise with President Bush and his Administration the fatal flaws of the food for oil programme? The sanctions committee refuses to approve the use of certain medical equipment in Iraq on the basis that it might have a dual purpose. Items which are approved are sometimes useless without unapproved equipment. This is very serious for hospitals from a humanitarian perspective. While the response of the Department of Foreign Affairs would be that the Iraqi Government has never ordered medical equipment under the food for oil programme—

There are 17 questions. The Deputy should refer specifically to the Taoiseach's Department.

This is a question of life and death and of the view the Iraqi people have of west erners. It is a matter which the Taoiseach could very usefully raise with the United States Administration.

Many of these matters might be better discussed when the Taoiseach comes back from the USA.

The Ceann Comhairle has let other speakers in. I am never much out of line and I want to raise this and two other points. It is very clear that the Turkish and Syrian economies will collapse completely because they depend on open borders and the black market trade in oil. Is the Taoiseach aware of that? Will he take up the matter in America?

Is there room for Irish-led, EU-sponsored medical and humanitarian teams to visit Iraqi hospitals to ensure that medicines and equipment are made available for children in particular who are dying at a rate of thousands per month? This would demonstrate to the Iraqi people that western communities and countries are interested in the preservation of human life. There are 8,000 primary schools in Iraq and nothing has been spent on them in 13 years. It is absolutely disgraceful. Given our traditions, the Taoiseach could very usefully promote an Irish-led, EU-sponsored humanitarian programme in Iraq.

I will raise the issues the Deputy mentioned. We have allocated assistance. Last year we channelled funds through the NGO Trócaire which targeted emergency nutrition at children and mothers. We also provided €467,000 in bilateral humanitarian assistance in the previous period. During our short, two-year tenure on the Security Council we were very active in developing Resolution 1409 which was adopted in May last year. That resolution sought to target sanctions against the Iraqi regime while minimising their impact on the civilian population. We promised during our campaign to sit on the Security Council that we would take an interest in that and we did. The provisions of Resolution 1409 were intended to ensure the continued availability of medical supplies in the most vulnerable sectors of the Iraqi population, including mothers and children, to whom Deputy Kenny rightly points. Iraqi Government requests to purchase foods and medicines under the food for oil programme were given priority under the resolution.

Deputy Kenny mentioned the difficulty with the goods review list. Requests are referred to the appropriate UN Security Council sanctions committee with the aim of ensuring that humanitarian goods and medicines are made available and that no materials are imported that could be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Resolution 1409 was designed to address the conflicts in this area that had arisen in preceding years, but the most effective way of easing the humanitarian crisis faced by the Iraqi people and avoiding its escalation would be immediate compliance by the Government there with its UN obligations. I am afraid there is no way of getting away from that.

Does the Taoiseach accept that his spokesperson is quoted accurately in The Irish Times this morning when he says that the Government fears it will have to make its attitude clear? It is ironic that the NATO countries of France, Germany and Belgium are taking a more assertive anti-war position than Ireland, a formal neutral country. Does the Taoiseach accept that it is time he got off the fence and supported the Franco-German stance? Is the Taoiseach influenced by the very strong anti-war position of the Vatican?

I will take a brief question from Deputy James Breen who has been waiting patiently.

As an Independent Member of the House, I wish to support fully the Taoiseach's visit to the United States as a friendly nation. If the Taoiseach's visit to the United States brings business to this country—

A question, Deputy.

I just want to make my position clear, as an Independent. I am supporting the Taoiseach's visit to the United States.

Making one's position clear is not a question.

He is a Clare man.

I support the Taoiseach's visit because it can bring business to this country when some places are closing.

I do not intend to argue with any of my colleagues on the European Council. The Government has stuck faithfully with the United Nations' Security Council, which is what we should do. We should not be taking different views. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, stated last night, one of our colleagues called this week for UN troops to go into Iraq with more inspectors. A few months ago, however, the same colleague was saying the last thing we should do is put UN troops in with the inspectors. Rather than changing with every passing month, we have stuck firmly to the one consistent line which I have put on the record here today. We played an active role in formulating UN Resolution 1441 and that has been acknowledged by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the United States and others. Our position will remain consistent with that.

Deputy Rabbitte has been trying to turn things around by saying that it was a spokesman. I do not know who gave that interview last night but, obviously, the effects of the drink were getting too much for them in some pub in the area. However, it does not account for any of the things that were being said here at the same time by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen. In my view, what he said in the debate yesterday should have made the headlines this morning, not what somebody said in a local hostelry under the influence of drink.

I am not sure that is a fair way to refer to any of the Government's 74 spin doctors.

We are now moving on to the Order of Business. In fairness to Deputies Joe Higgins and Ó Caoláin who wanted to submit further supplementaries, I cannot take another supplementary question from you, Deputy Rabbitte.

I asked whether the Taoiseach agreed with the Pope.

The Deputy is being mischievous.

We must move on to the Order of Business.

I am glad to see the Deputy is quoting him, anyway.