Ceisteanna — Questions.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to his Department in respect of the Moriarty tribunal during the first quarter of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12844/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

2 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the total costs of the Moriarty tribunal in respect of the first quarter of 2005 for which his Department has responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14216/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

3 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the costs to his Department of the Moriarty tribunal in the first quarter of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15070/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

4 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to his Department with regard to the Moriarty tribunal in 2005 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15222/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

5 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the costs to date to his Department of the Moriarty tribunal in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16062/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The costs incurred by my Department during the first quarter of 2005 in respect of the Moriarty tribunal amounted to €670,094 and the costs to 30 April 2005 amounted to €976,139. The estimated costs for the tribunal for 2005 amount to €4 million. However, provision for an additional €6.5 million has been made to cover costs, such as report publication and some element of award of legal costs in the event that the tribunal completes its work in 2005. The overall estimate for 2005, therefore, is €10.583 million.

The total cost incurred by my Department since 1997 to 30 April 2005, is €19,619,388. This includes fees paid to counsel for the tribunal and administration costs incurred to date since its establishment. The total payment made to the legal team up to 30 April 2005 was €14,660,792.

These are truly extraordinary figures that the Taoiseach has provided —€14 million in legal fees and costs of €20 million to date. The Moriarty tribunal was established in 1997 by this House with a remit to determine particular facts. It is now in its ninth year but has not produced a report of any kind, including an interim report. The Flood tribunal, now known as the Mahon tribunal, has produced four interim reports, the most recent of which gave an indication of the current state of the tribunal's work-load and projected timescale.

The Moriarty tribunal's terms of reference include the fact that it can make an interim report. It last sat on 15 September 2004.

A question please.

When does the Taoiseach expect the Moriarty tribunal to conclude? Will the Taoiseach comment on the interlocutory injunction secured by Mr. Denis O'Brien in the Supreme Court last week?

Deputy, that matter is not appropriate for Question Time.

It is appropriate.

It does not arise from these questions, which deal exclusively with costs.

It does arise with regard to costs.

It does not arise from these questions.

The Moriarty tribunal now wants to investigate——

We cannot discuss the workings of the tribunal at Question Time.

The cost to the taxpayer of the Moriarty tribunal investigating the sale, purchase or otherwise by Mr. Denis O'Brien of Doncaster Rovers is the subject of an interlocutory injunction, which Mr. O'Brien obtained in the Supreme Court.

Deputy, we cannot discuss those matters on the floor of the House.

I am not going to discuss them.

The Chair has ruled on that many times.

This is about costs. We may well have to wait until the interlocutory injunction in that case is heard before the Moriarty tribunal will be able to continue its work in respect of that element of its remit — if that is deemed to be legal. My question relates to costs. Supposing that case takes 12 months, will lawyers at the Moriarty tribunal be paid exorbitant wages every day for doing nothing while it is being pursued? It is not for me to decide whether the Moriarty tribunal is acting within its terms of reference. That is a matter for the Supreme Court. However, lawyers at the Moriarty tribunal will continue to be paid, at a cost to the taxpayer, for doing absolutely nothing.

We cannot decide these questions here. The Deputy has made his point.

We need a conclusion to this tribunal. Does the Taoiseach have any idea as to when it might actually conclude?

As regards the Deputy's first question, I cannot be certain and I cannot control it totally. However, in the negotiations that were instigated by the previous Minister for Finance on all the tribunals, he set down a new schedule of fees that would take effect subject to negotiations that the Office of the Attorney General would have with the various chairpersons of all the tribunals. In the discussions with the Moriarty tribunal, the date that was agreed before the new arrangements would come into place was 11 January 2006. I accept what the Deputy said about issues that could perhaps delay or extend this date, but my clear understanding is that, one way or another, the new schedule of fees will come into place on 11 January 2006. I assume that chairmen of tribunals can seek extensions, but the previous Minister for Finance was clear that these dates were negotiated and in his view they were final. That should be the arrangement.

Under the new fees arrangement negotiated by the previous Minister, which would come into effect at that stage, the set fee to be paid to a senior counsel will be based on the current annual salary of a High Court counsel, plus 15% in respect of pension contributions. Related payments will be made to other legal staff, including barristers and solicitors. On this basis, the specific annual remuneration packages will be on a senior counsel's rate, a junior counsel's rate and a solicitor's rate, which the previous Minister set out.

I hope the tribunal can complete its work and report by then. If it does not, however, my understanding is that the new rates will apply from 11 January 2006.

I did not catch all of the Taoiseach's reply. Is he saying that this diminution of cost will commence from a particular date, irrespective of where we are by that date? It seems unlikely that between now and 11 January 2006, the date when the reduction in fees comes into effect, a great deal more progress will be made. Is it not possible for this House to give a direction to the Moriarty tribunal and others to cause them to focus on the core business?

On the face of it, it is extraordinary that one could read in the newspapers last week about a matter being decided by the Supreme Court whereby, apparently, it was proposed to inquire into the purchase of a football club, which was not even anticipated at the time the tribunal was established. Am I losing the plot here? This House established the tribunal to examine certain matters of public interest, but it is difficult to understand how a decision that was not even contemplated at the time, but which presumably was made subsequently, based on normal commercial criteria, now ends up being inquired into by that tribunal. Many taxpayers who are paying for this tribunal would have some difficulty with that conclusion. Does the Taoiseach agree that when history is written and his many fine qualities are set out it is likely that historians will conclude that the setting up of the tribunals was his best political stroke ever and the best judged and most brilliant political kick to touch in the history of politics——

The matter does not arise from Questions Nos. 1 to 5.

——because it means the matters into which the six or seven tribunals are inquiring cannot be discussed or debated in the House without, at any rate, doing great damage to the Ceann Comhairle as he would get very upset policing the rules of the House?

For the benefit of the Deputy, the Chair has ruled on a number of occasions that issues currently before a tribunal are not a matter for the Dáil, which may not run a parallel tribunal.

That is precisely my point.

The fact that the House decided by resolution to establish the Moriarty tribunal does not give it the right to attempt to interfere in any way with its proceedings. The resolution of this House establishing the tribunal was pursuant to the statute, the Tribunals of Inquiry Acts, whereby the judicial proceedings and the conduct of the hearings held thereunder are clearly the sole responsibility of its judicial chairman.

I am upset that even when I rise to support the Ceann Comhairle, he seems to expect that I am in contention with him. I support him entirely.

The Deputy is not in contention with the Chair. I am merely refreshing his mind on the decision the House made.

I accept the House cannot discuss issues which are before the tribunal. It was in respect of that precise matter that I complimented the Taoiseach on his foresight because if Deputies had been able to discuss the issues before the tribunals, it might have been a different story.

All Members, including the Chair, are bound by the legislation passed by the House, namely, the Tribunals of Inquiry Acts.

I accept that. If a cut-off date is applied, should the tribunals not restrict themselves to their core business? The Taoiseach expressed his hope that this particular tribunal would conclude its business. How can one reasonably expect it to do so? I do not envisage that senior counsel and other lawyers will continue to work for the tribunals when the cut in pay takes effect. Does the Taoiseach believe they will do so?

Deputy Rabbitte makes a valid point about the tribunals. I assure him this was not my intention — as anybody who looked at the record would also conclude — when I participated with others in setting them up, although obviously I had responsibility as Taoiseach. As some of my staff have shown me a number of times, at that stage all of us indicated that two years seemed to be an awful long time for a tribunal to come to a conclusion. On one occasion in 1999 Deputies agreed that if the tribunal went to the summer of 2000, we could live with that. We are in the summer of 2005 and the total cost of the tribunals is, I believe, more than €200 million based on the figure of €197 million I saw some months ago. This was not my intention.

While I do not wish to be contentious, when one looks back at the costs for different years and compares the rates paid currently to the new rates negotiated by the Minister, the enormous difference in the figures will certainly create many difficulties for the individuals concerned. The new rate will be €213,000 as against the current rate, a multiple of that figure, negotiated for all the tribunals. The previous Minister for Finance was tough in that respect. He reached a position on the Ferns and Neary inquiries and the Barr, Moriarty, Morris and Mahon tribunals and arrived at dates for each, most of which are this year, with some early next year. The exceptions are the Morris tribunal which has a date of September 2006 and the Mahon tribunal which has a date of March 2007. I understand that under the agreement the new rates will apply from the specified dates. If the tribunals make a case that this should be otherwise, the matter will have to be brought to the House.

On the terms of reference, Deputies Rabbitte, Kenny and other party leaders, including Deputy Sargent, and I endeavoured in the legislation passed last year to keep to the issues because the question which would otherwise arise would not be whether the tribunals would conclude during my time as Taoiseach but whether they would do so during my lifetime. I hope to be alive for another few years but the difficulty is that if we do not keep to the issues, the tribunals will go on forever. A further difficulty is the relevance of issues dating back to 1997. They are important but if one does not bring them to a conclusion, they will go on and on. I cannot honestly tell Deputy Rabbitte what will happen when the position changes.

Doncaster Rovers may have overtaken Manchester United at that stage.

That is very likely given the way things are going. I can only give the Deputy an answer based on the current position. As I stated in my reply, I have optimistically provided €6.5 million this year to cover the costs of publication and the award of legal fees on the basis that we will get to the new position. Obviously, however, I cannot promise Deputies that we will do so.

The Taoiseach stated in February that the expected completion date for the Moriarty tribunal was January 2006. Is that still his expectation? Will he clarify the position which would apply if the tribunal were to continue beyond January 2006? Would the new fees payable to the legal profession come into effect as of that month or would the current exorbitant rates the legal profession is currently drawing down continue to be paid?

I have checked the responses given by the Taoiseach in February when he stated the cost to the Exchequer of legal fees for all sitting and completed tribunals at that date was €138.92 million. I note he cited a higher figure in his response to Deputy Rabbitte.

The figure refers to total costs; legal fees are not the only costs.

Will the Taoiseach clarify whether the figure he cited of in excess of €200 million referred not only to legal fees but also to other costs involved because it runs contrary to the information he gave in February? Does he appreciate that almost every citizen views the fees paid to the legal profession as a massive rip-off? Will he clarify when, if ever, the new fee regime will kick in for the Moriarty tribunal and all other sitting tribunals?

On the previous occasion that I answered questions on this issue I had not asked my Department to update the costs. The figure of €142.38 million I cited in February was in respect of legal costs. A further €54.48 million related to other costs, giving a total cost of €196.86 million. The figure for legal costs includes some €60.7 million in respect of third party legal costs awarded to date. As regards tribunals of inquiry and public inquiries which are sitting at present, the total cost to the end of February was €159.22 million, of which €110.66 million is in respect of legal costs and €35.18 million relates to third party legal costs. To clarify what I said to Deputy Rabbitte, as the figure is now three months old, it is safe to say it will have increased to well over €200 million. The dates agreed by Government on which the new schedule of fees would be applied to most of the tribunals are: for the Ferns tribunal on child abuse, March 2005; for the Neary inquiry into events at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, March 2005; for the Barr tribunal into events at Abbeylara, June 2005; for the Moriarty tribunal, 11 January 2006; for the Morris tribunal into complaints about Donegal gardaí, 30 September 2006; and for the Mahon tribunal March 2007. The completion date for that was further away but when we brought in the legislation, it brought it back from 2012.

The Government set different dates for different tribunals of inquiry having regard to the individual circumstances of each of the tribunals of inquiry and after communication with each of the chairpersons. We determined not to set dates that were unrealistically early and that would involve extensive disruption of the tribunals and inquiries by reason of changes in the legal personnel involved. The delays and costs that such changes would have entailed could have added to rather than reduced the costs of tribunals of inquiry.

Deputy Rabbitte asked what happens when we come to these dates. The figures for senior counsel will be €213,000, for junior counsel €142,000 and for solicitors €176,000 but that is small compared to what they are currently getting.

It is like a community employment scheme.

They would probably qualify for family income supplement.

That issue arises but I can just give the House the agreement that was reached.

I am not sure I heard the Taoiseach give a definitive answer regarding whether he feels the 11 January 2006 completion date will be the end of that tribunal.

With 2005 in mind, the Taoiseach mentioned €10,583,000 on the assumption that there would be a report. Is he confident we will get a report before long, given there has not been an interim report to date? On the basis of the escalating costs, would he care to include the Moriarty tribunal and other tribunals in the category of overruns earmarked for other projects the Government is bankrolling?

Does the Taoiseach have figures for the staff numbers working on the Moriarty tribunal? In November 2004, the Taoiseach said there would be no new staff. What did he mean when he said in February that new staff had been appointed presumably to some tribunal? Can the Taoiseach clarify if that was the Moriarty tribunal and outline the current position?

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing these questions because it is difficult to keep within the bounds of the House given that we are not supposed to discuss tribunals here.

The only date that I have for the Moriarty tribunal is 11 January 2006.

Is the Taoiseach confident about that date?

I have literally no control over it, I have no idea.

I do not know if clerical staff are involved but the only record I have for the Moriarty tribunal states that it has two senior counsel, one junior counsel, four research counsel and a solicitor. Those are the up-to-date figures, including additional staff, agreed when the Attorney General and Minister for Finance were dealing with this issue and working towards those dates to assist the tribunals to bring their work to completion.

Official Engagements.

Enda Kenny

Question:

6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he intends to undertake during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12845/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the official trips he plans to make abroad up to the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14215/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

8 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his official visit to Spain on 28 April 2005. [14825/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

9 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Prime Minister Mr. Zapatero of Spain on 28 April 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14826/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

10 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Madrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14832/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

11 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Madrid with the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Zapatero; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14833/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister on 28 April 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14953/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

13 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he plans to make up to the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15069/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

14 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for his upcoming meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Jean Claude Juncker; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15205/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

15 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he plans to make during the current Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15224/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

16 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the role he envisages the National Forum of Europe playing in regard to the proposed new EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15229/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

17 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the Victory in Europe celebrations in Moscow. [15895/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

18 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the meeting of the European Council in June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15898/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

19 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he plans to hold on the margins of the EU summit of June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15899/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

20 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Russia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15905/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

21 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Emperor of Japan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15967/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

22 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of VE day in Moscow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15968/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

23 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Moscow and any discussions he had with other political leaders while there. [15977/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

24 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the EU summit of June 2005; if he has plans for meetings with other EU leaders in advance of the summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15979/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

25 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposed work of the Forum on Europe for the rest of 2005; if he envisages it playing any role in regard to informing members of the public on the proposed new EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15980/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

26 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he intends to take during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16063/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

27 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Moscow to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16064/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

28 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agenda for the June EU summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16065/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

29 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Jean Claude Juncker; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16066/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

30 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the role of the National Forum of Europe in regard to the proposed EU constitution referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16067/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

31 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the role which the National Forum on Europe will play during the referendum on the proposed EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16174/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 31, inclusive, together.

I travelled to Madrid on 28 April last to have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero. The meeting provided the opportunity to discuss various issues on the EU agenda, including the European constitution, the financial perspectives and UN reform. While in Madrid, I also had the opportunity to lay a wreath at the memorial for the victims of the Madrid bombings in Retiro Park.

On 9 May, I visited Moscow to attend the ceremony to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The ceremony was most moving. The events comprised a military parade followed by a lunch for heads of state or government. I did not have any meetings or discussions with other leaders in the course of the visit.

I also attended the third Council of Europe summit in Warsaw yesterday. At the summit, I stressed the continuing importance of the Council of Europe and the particular importance of the European Court of Human Rights. In the margins of the summit, I had a short meeting with Prime Minister Belka of Poland, where we discussed the current EU agenda, and with Prime Minister Sanader of Croatia, where we discussed Croatia's application for membership of the European Union.

With regard to foreign visits, I will undertake a number of engagements outside of Ireland over the remaining months of the year. This Friday, 20 May, I will travel to the Isle of Man to attend the British Irish Council. On 2 June, I will travel to both Luxembourg and Germany. In Luxembourg, it is intended that I will meet with Prime Minister Juncker as part of a series of bilateral meetings in the context of the negotiations on the European Union's financial perspectives for the period 2007-13. In Germany, I will have discussions with Chancellor Schröder on the European agenda and I will also deliver a lecture at Humboldt University.

I will visit the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Belgium, for an ecumenical service on 7 June. I will attend the European Council meetings in Brussels on 16-17 June, 27-28 October and on 15-16 December. I also intend to make a visit to Newfoundland and will attend the UN high level meeting to review the millennium goals in New York in September.

The June European Council will take place on 16-17 June. The Luxembourg Presidency recently issued a draft agenda for the European Council which includes the future financial perspectives, the Growth and Stability Pact, the proposed integrated guidelines for growth and jobs, the Hague programme on freedom, justice and security, enlargement and external relations. The Government's priority at the European Council is to have a successful outcome to the negotiations on the financial perspectives which meets the interests of Ireland. I have no plans at present to hold any bilateral meetings on the margins of the June European Council.

As an independent body, it is a matter for the National Forum on Europe to decide the role it intends to play in stimulating debate on the proposed European constitution. The National Forum on Europe has played a valuable role in facilitating open and independent debate on the work of the European convention and the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference that agreed the European constitution. The forum has already had a number of meetings, including regional meetings, on various aspects of the European constitution which are contributing to public debate on the issue.

However, I do not wish to get drawn into any debate on how the forum will conduct its business in the coming months. As I have said, the forum is an independent body and it is a matter for it to decide how best to continue facilitating debate on matters of importance on the European agenda.

I met his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Japan at Farmleigh on 7 May. I was honoured to welcome him back to Ireland and referred to his visit here as Crown Prince in 1985. I also referred to my meeting with him in Tokyo last year during the EU-Japan Summit. The Emperor and I noted the excellent bilateral relations between Ireland and Japan and in particular the continued strengthening of bilateral trade and investment over the past few years. Japan is currently Ireland's largest trading partner in Asia.

The Emperor and I discussed our developing cultural relations. We welcomed the growing numbers of tourists in both directions. I informed him that Ireland is proposing to further increase our educational services as well as our tourism trade as we recognise the importance to Ireland of attracting Japanese students and visitors. We agreed that Expo 2005 and the EU-Japan year of people to people exchanges are very useful in enhancing Japan Ireland links, particularly for young people. Ireland is participating in Expo 2005 and our pavilion is displaying the Celtic heritage of Ireland through art and music. I congratulated the Emperor on the very successful Special Olympics Winter Games, which took place in Nagano in March this year.

I am exhausted listening to that list. Does the Taoiseach intend to meet President Bush either on the regulation of illegal Irish emigrants in the United States or on the resumption of discussions on the peace process in Northern Ireland? The President's special envoy is due to arrive today or tomorrow. Will there be an opportunity this year to meet President Bush in regard to those matters?

Does the Taoiseach believe the proposed lifting of the arms embargo against China will be a subject for discussion at the June meeting of the European Council? What is the Government's view on lifting the arms embargo?

I note the comment from the head of the Iranian parliamentary national security and foreign policy commission on Iran lifting its voluntary ban on uranium processing and enrichment. He said the continuation of negotiations with the EU will have no results except the loss of time. This is a serious development with Iran involving itself again in uranium processing and enrichment. It is a matter that the Taoiseach must bring to the attention of the European Council because of the delicate and sensitive nature of the region and the seriousness of what is involved.

I have no other meeting scheduled for this year with President Bush. I will meet Mitchell B. Reiss on Northern Ireland issues. There is ongoing contact with him, which we appreciate. He has been very active on issues over several months and particularly in recent weeks. Over the next few days, he will have a series of meetings in London, Belfast and Dublin.

Last month, following the St. Patrick's Day meeting with President Bush, I reported to the House that I had raised with him the issue of Irish illegal emigrants in the US. Since then the US ambassador has visited me and I have followed through on those discussions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has worked with our contacts in Capitol Hill to find support for this issue. President Bush is supportive but it is not just a case for Ireland as there is a problem with the Mexicans. However, we have to win support in the US Houses. There are two Bills being taken there and we are trying to feed this issue into the debates. We have been actively doing this since meeting President Bush in March.

I recently reported to Deputy Rabbitte on the changed position on the Chinese arms embargo. Recently, Mr. Javier Solana visited Capitol Hill in an attempt to put forward the EU and our position that there should be some changes on this matter. To the best of my knowledge and subject to updated reports, Capitol Hill has a closed mind on this issue, which President Bush has no intention of going against. Since Mr. Jack Straw has been re-appointed as British foreign secretary, I do not believe he will change his position either. This will greatly annoy and disappoint the Chinese authorities. I dealt with them directly on this issue during our EU Presidency term. It will have its own repercussions but it is not for me to go through these. I would rather another approach in dealing with this issue. I do not agree with the Americans' fears but I cannot influence them.

These new developments in the Iranian nuclear programme are a big change and it is a serious issue. Last year the Iranian authorities co-operated with the UN organisations on the matter. However, they now seem to have changed their position. It will probably be discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 13 June before the European Council meeting. I am not aware of why the Iranians have changed their position. Late last year it was a positive one. However, the Iranians have now changed and this will require attention. We will wait to see what happens at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 13 June.

A statement was issued on the Taoiseach's behalf stating that he intended to meet the Prime Minister Mr. Blair in Moscow during the recent VE Day commemorations. In the event, Mr. Blair did not go to Moscow. Has the Taoiseach any immediate plans to meet Mr. Blair? Has he had telephone or other communications with the Prime Minister Mr. Blair on the present circumstances in Northern Ireland?

The Taoiseach recently met the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero. The Spanish people have already made their decision on the EU constitution. What are the Taoiseach's plans for the National Forum on Europe coming up to the time the Irish people will be asked to decide on the EU constitution?

The Prime Minister Mr. Blair did not go to Moscow that weekend because that was when he appointed his Cabinet and other Ministers. I have spoken to him by telephone and he has reiterated his commitment to making progress on the North and to give time and effort to it. He has a series of meetings this week and next week with the Northern Ireland parties. That engagement has been re-established. Now on the other side of the British general election, all parties are back into a series of meetings and actions. Nothing extraordinary has happened yet. I hope we will back into dialogue. The Government is anxious to make progress before the summer. The summer in Northern Ireland comes early as July and August are always dead months for negotiations.

We hope to bring legislation on the EU constitution to the House shortly. This will help in making the information process on the constitution and the Referendum Commission operational. I am anxious to do this with the co-operation of all party leaders. I have not made any decision on the date but we are working on it. The explanatory memorandum has already been circulated. The constitution is available on several websites and also on demand from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission offices. A White Paper is being prepared which it is hoped to have ready for next month. It will be circulated to every household. We have not finalised the date on this.

When will the legislation on the referendum be put before the Dáil? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the proposed referendum wording will allow the Government with Oireachtas approval to join the EU's new permanent structured co-operation——

Deputy, this is going well outside the questions.

I will leave it for another day.

There are 26 questions and I do not believe we can squeeze in that one.

I may have been trying my luck there. However, the Ceann Comhairle is wide awake and on to me.

Will the Taoiseach clarify where he sees the European Court of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights having a role and where there should not be a conflict or confusion arising between each? In Warsaw, the Council of Europe opened several conventions for signing. These included conventions on the prevention of terrorism, money laundering, search, seizure and confiscation of proceeds from crime, financing terrorism and the action against trafficking in human beings. Will the Government sign up to these conventions immediately or will there be a delay? Amnesty International has asked that all 46 members of the Council sign the convention on the action against trafficking in human beings without delay. Will Ireland be one of those signing without delay?

Prior to his meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero, the Taoiseach told us that he intended to discuss, among other issues, the proposals regarding the status of the Irish language in the European Union. This is the first opportunity the Taoiseach has had to report back to the House on the matter. Can he tell us the outcome of those talks and the current state of play regarding the status of Gaeilge san Aontas Eorpaigh?

The Taoiseach has pointed out that there were concerns in the Spanish Administration regarding other language interests. Will he join me in expressing support for different national languages in Spain such as Catalan and Euskara and indeed for all minority languages throughout the EU, so that there is some level of formal recognition for them? My primary concern relates to the Irish language and I would appreciate if the Taoiseach would advise us exactly where we now stand following his meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero.

Regarding Deputy Sargent's question on legislation for the referendum, I had hoped to bring it forward. I have listened to the points made by party leaders in discussions and speeches and I have been trying to ensure we will have legislation which will have the support of the House. That is what I wish for.

Regarding the Council of Europe, I do not know precisely how quickly we can ratify the various conventions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs attended the full sessions and working sessions on Sunday and remains in attendance today. We have agreement on certain issues and there is a process for ratification. I agree that such ratification should ensue as quickly as possible.

I believe the charter of fundamental rights helps the position. When first prepared, that document did not have EU legislative status but was there as a guide some four or five years ago. It subsequently became part of the European constitution treaty, so it gives an even stronger position, and protection, to the issues now in the Council of Europe guidelines. That was warmly welcomed yesterday by many speakers and seen as a positive move. It applies to the 25 EU countries but those outside the EU are not bound by the charter. The Council of Europe would like to see all these issues of human rights and the rule of law in the broader picture, with every country signed up to the agreements in the convention. While the EU signs up by means of the constitution, the broader Council of Europe is not covered.

Does confusion arise with regard to the European Court of Human Rights?

I do not think so. That court answers to the Council of Europe, which will probably enshrine in its own constitution the commitments of the charter. It has probably done much of that already. The bigger issue of the court is a different question, with so many new cases coming to it, which is causing difficulties.

In reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin, I took part in the discussions referred to. I referred only to some matters in my reply but I asked in particular for support on the Irish language issue. We now have a clearer understanding in that area. I am supportive of what the Spanish Government is trying to do, but a different emphasis is involved and I did not want that issue to delay our argument. We made that clear. I will support Prime Minister Zapatero in terms of the regional languages, but I did not want Ireland to become bogged down in that. We have now cleared that issue, which will help us to make progress. The next COREPER meeting is in June. There are some other issues to resolve with other countries but we are narrowing them down.