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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Jun 2008

Vol. 657 No. 1

Other Questions.

Foreign Conflicts.

Jack Wall


67 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the cutting off of diplomatic relations with Chad by Sudan is a matter of concern for the UN mission to Chad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20152/08]

The breaking of diplomatic relations with Chad by Sudan followed an attack on 11 May by rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement, JEM, on the outskirts of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The Sudanese government accused Chad of backing the JEM rebels.

The UN Mission in Chad, MINURCAT, was established under UN Security Council Resolution 1778 and its mandate is to help create the security conditions conducive to a voluntary, secure and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons, inter alia, by contributing to the protection of refugees, displaced persons and civilians in danger, by facilitating the provision of humanitarian assistance in eastern Chad and the north-eastern Central African Republic and by creating favourable conditions for the reconstruction and economic and social development of those areas. MINURCAT provides security and protection for an estimated 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons.

The EU military mission in Chad, EUFOR Tchad/RCA, was established under the same UN resolution and its mandate includes contributing to the protection of UN personnel, refugees and internally displaced persons.

As there is no cross-border dimension with Sudan to the MINURCAT mandate it is not expected that the breaking of diplomatic relations with Chad by Sudan will have an immediate significant adverse effect on the implementation of its mandate. However, the increase in tensions between Sudan and Chad is a matter of serious concern. Further rebel attacks in Chad in recent days have added to the already high tension. As Deputies will be aware, fighting took place over the weekend at Goz Beida near the Sudan-Chad border and Irish troops returned fire after being attacked, although there have been no reports of any Irish casualties.

The European Union has urged both Chad and Sudan to refrain from violent acts and providing support to each others' rebel groups. Diplomatic contact between the EU and both countries is continuing, including through the EU Special Representative for Sudan.

The UN Security Council on Monday last condemned in the strongest terms the attack conducted by Chadian armed groups since 11 June 2008.

In the longer term, the need to find a political settlement is the only hope for lasting peace between Chad and Sudan. Ireland will fully support any new African Union-United Nations mediation efforts to restore diplomatic ties and we will continue to monitor developments very closely.

Before I ask my question, I wish to say I am entirely supportive of what the Irish troops are seeking to do in protecting refugees, displaced persons and those involved in humanitarian relief. However, a serious situation has emerged and there is a problem with the interpretation of UN Resolution 1778 and the nature of the mandate under which the Irish troops and EUFOR are operating in Chad.

The director of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Chad stated that she would have expected Irish troops to prevent looting, the stealing of food and water, the displacement of staff and the closure of its office in Chad. The Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees stated that it was unhappy that the Irish forces were able to offer accommodation to the displaced people from the UNHCR office after the event. This raises a fundamental issue as to what is involved in the mandate that arises under UN Resolution 1778. Is it preventative? The Minister referred to creating a secure environment for the delivery of relief, sustenance and so forth which, according to most international interpretations, would include the protection of those involved in humanitarian relief. I say this to be positive but I believe that the proportionate presence of the Irish troops in relation to the overall French presence presents a further difficulty.

I am glad the Deputy asked this question because it might be opportune to clarify the situation. The Irish contingent with UNFOR is performing an outstanding humanitarian role. I met Javier Solana on Tuesday at the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. He has been to Chad and he came over to me to thank me and to pay warm tribute to the professionalism of Irish soldiers and the role they are playing impartially and objectively. He could not say enough about the quality of the contribution which the Irish contingent is making in difficult and challenging conditions and which is in accordance with its UN mandate.

I am aware of this morning's The Irish Times report and the reported comments of a UNHCR spokeswoman in Chad which were critical of alleged inaction by our troops during clashes last Saturday between Chadian Government troops and rebels. I understand my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, fully responded to these claims in an interview on RTE radio this morning before his journey home from a visit to Chad. As the Minister for Defence said, the senior UNHCR official in the area of operations of the Irish contingent specifically thanked him for the performance of the Irish troops during the incidents over the weekend. The UNHCR official praised the exemplary and professional way in which the Irish troops did everything they were asked to do by his organisation.

The Minister for Defence also referred during his interview to an apology that was made by the UNHCR for the remarks reported in The Irish Times. I hope the position will be clarified further in time to come. While it is important not to exaggerate the extent of the clashes over the weekend, I am advised the Irish contingent responded appropriately and within its mandate to the circumstances it faced, including firing warning shots. Subsequently, a significant number of humanitarian workers, including UNHCR staff, were given refuge at the Irish camp Ciara.

It is important to be clear about the role of our troops in Chad. The Irish contingent and EUFOR as a whole operate under a clear UN mandate to protect refugees and internally displaced persons, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and to protect UN personnel, particularly the UN mission, MINUCRAT, which is deploying to support policing in Chad. It is not part of its mandate to intervene in any way in the conflict between the Chadian Government and rebels or to patrol the border with Sudan.

On the latter point, we are particularly conscious of the sensitivities of the situation and the neutral and impartial nature of EUFOR's mandate is crucial and has rightly been emphasised by the operation commander, Lieutenant General Pat Nash, who has reported on the positive impact the mission is already having in protecting civilians in danger and building positive relationships with the various actors in what is undoubtedly a volatile and difficult environment.

The Irish troops remain the most neutral and impartial component in EUFOR. The proportion is important. It is official French policy to support the President of Chad. We are not required to do so nor am I am alleging that is Irish policy. However, I suggest that, practically, it is a complication.

My fundamental question is about the relationship between Sudan and Chad. I refer to the amassing of troops on the border. There has been allegation and counter-allegation. If the insurrectionary or rebel force reached a particular point in Chad, one would then be dealing with an international conflict and, effectively, a civil war. There would be no peace to be kept so the mandate would be different.

Does the Minister agree UN Resolution 1778 and the EUFOR mandate include the protection of humanitarian workers working for the multilateral agencies, such as the UNHCR? I am entirely sympathetic to, and in admiration of, the sophistication of the Irish component but we cannot afford confusion about the interpretation of the mandate. It must be clarified to demonstrate that it includes the protection of international humanitarian workers.

As I said, it is not only to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid but also to protect UN personnel. I await the return of the Minister for Defence who will have first-hand knowledge, having been to Chad, and who will be able to give us the most up-to-date position. The Deputy hypothesised about a potential deterioration of the situation and a heightening of tensions which could lead to an international conflict. We hope that will not be the case and the UN is making every effort to try to prevent that from happening. However, the situation is very tense. There is a clear mandate in terms of how the troops are operating at present. If the situation changes, that will call for a review.

Nuclear Technology.

Ruairí Quinn


68 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of reports of the international atomic energy association on the development of nuclear technology in Iran. [23530/08]

Ruairí Quinn


81 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the EU-US talks on the issue of Iranian nuclear technology and such reports as have been presented to the General Affairs and External Relations Council. [23531/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 81 together.

The Government strongly shares the widespread international concern about the nature of Iran's nuclear programme. We fully support the continuing efforts of the EU and its international partners to achieve a diplomatic solution.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran's nuclear programme was issued on 26 May, as requested under Security Council Resolution 1803 of 3 March 2008. Although Iran had announced in February that it had completed a work programme with the IAEA to answer all remaining questions about its activities, the agency reported that a number of significant questions remained to be answered. These related to Iran's known uranium enrichment activities, to other actual or possibly undeclared activities and to specific evidence of activities relating to weaponisation. The IAEA also confirmed that Iran continued to ignore the demand of the Security Council in Resolution 1803 and three earlier resolutions to suspend its enrichment activity to allow negotiations to take place.

The European Union and the United States along with Russia and China have acted in a close partnership for a long period to try to achieve a peaceful diplomatic solution to this issue and to persuade Iran to negotiate meaningfully. This regular contact included discussions at the EU-US summit hosted by the Slovenian Presidency on 10 June and attended by President Bush. The summit declaration endorsed the dual approach of supporting the IAEA and Security Council action while at the same time proposing positive measures to encourage Iran to negotiate.

As the latest step in this continuing positive engagement the EU High Representative, Mr. Javier Solana, visited Teheran on 14 June accompanied by the political directors of the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. He delivered a letter signed by the foreign ministers of these countries and US Secretary of State Rice. It restated their willingness and that of the European Union to engage positively with Iran and to recognise Iran's right to a civil nuclear power programme. The letter was accompanied by an expansion of the wide-ranging package of incentives presented to Iran in the summer of 2006. Iran rejected the proposals at the time without serious discussion.

Mr. Solana reported to the EU external relations council on Monday that his discussions in Teheran had gone well and that the Iranian side had promised to study this communication and respond to it. I hope Iran will give serious consideration to this generous and open offer, which has been delivered with such authoritative backing. It provides a real opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue and to develop a new and more constructive relationship between Iran and the rest of the international community.

Several issues arise from the Minister's reply. I have concerns, which I hope the Minister shares, about the bellicose statements being made by those of us examining the position of Iran. For example, there was a statement by one of the candidates for the US Presidency suggesting that if Iran proceeded to acquire nuclear capacity it would be obliterated. There are continual statements from Israel suggesting, more or less, the capacity of Iran to maintain nuclear military stock is imminent and none of this is helpful. I accept the Minister's comments regarding Mr. Javier Solana and his most recent report. In the case of the IAEA statement on 22 February 2008 the director general reported to the board of governors and, in summary, Iran is co-operating but has not implemented all elements.

The Minister will be pleased to know that I will not have to pursue him as I had to pursue his predecessor about the US-India agreement which is now as dead as a doornail, but was in clear breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. In the case of Mr. Javier Solana's approach and the report to the General Affairs and External Relations Council in the European Union there has been no demonstrable proof that Iran has contravened any aspect of the non-proliferation treaty. I support the suggestion that Iran should be encouraged in the direction of civilian usage of nuclear power and that it should not develop capability in a military direction. I share the view that it would be destabilising for the region. Does the Minister, Deputy Martin, share my view that the deliberate exaggeration of the Iranian threat is quite dangerous? Does the Minister have confidence, as his predecessor in Government did, in the impartiality of the group that acts for the European Union in the negotiations, all of whom are nuclear powers?

The IAEA, to which Deputy Higgins referred, is not satisfied that Iran has answered all remaining questions about its activities and it reported that several significant questions remain. These include questions relating to Iran's known uranium enrichment activities, other actual or possible undeclared activities and to specific evidence of activities relating to weaponisation. The agency also confirmed that Iran continued to ignore the demand of Security Council resolution 1803 and three earlier resolutions to suspend its enrichment activity to allow negotiations take place. My sense of the briefing we received from Mr. Solana is that there is a genuine effort to effect a diplomatic resolution of this issue. The package offered to Iran, which included technical assistance and co-operation to build a modern civil nuclear power programme which would be superior to that planned by the Iranian authorities, along with the other set of proposals signed by all six groups is indicative of a genuine attempt to take the diplomatic approach, notwithstanding some of the public comments to which the Deputy has referred in the context of the US presidential election. The ball is very much in the Iranian court and it is for it to respond meaningfully to the package presented. Next week I will meet the Iranian deputy foreign minister Mr. Mehdi Safari who will visit Ireland. We will discuss the issue and emphasise the need for a positive engagement on the issue. This has been a very lengthy diplomatic engagement and people are learning as they go and are anxious to advance it. I do not get a sense from the EU side of the negotiations of anything but a genuine attempt to broker an acceptable deal that would dovetail with, or be in accordance with, our long-held desire for a nuclear-free Middle East and the non-proliferation treaty objectives.

Would the Minister agree there is considerable merit in keeping the European Union approach European? This is precisely the issue and there is more traction to the European Union approach than there is from the mediated approach of the United States, through Israeli comments. If the balance or the composition of the team that negotiates with Iran drifted towards the north-American version, it would be quite dangerous. I have difficulty with the Security Council resolution 1803, which is at a significant distance from the European negotiating position. The resolution has heavy United States and Chinese influences, whereas the European Union position is more pragmatic. This is revealed in the remarks on Mr. Solana's talks and report contained in the Minister's answer.

The engagement must be credible. The three plus three approach, notwithstanding Deputy Higgins's reservations, offers potential. The fact that all six groups signed the communication to Iran is significant and is probably more significant than the general rhetoric on this issue.

World Trade Negotiations.

Jim O'Keeffe


69 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way he will deal with the World Trade Organisation talks in the aftermath of the Lisbon Treaty Referendum.[23155/08]

The Government's approach to the WTO negotiations remains unchanged following the Lisbon treaty ratification.

A Freudian slip.

A Freudian slip, it is a word that is all over.

The Minister should change his script writer.

He should do this before Friday.

We will continue to focus our efforts on securing a balanced outcome which takes account of the particular circumstances and challenges facing the agriculture sector, the opportunities presented for exports of our goods and services, and our commitment to promoting the interests of the world's poorest countries.

We want to see a successful outcome to the negotiations that is fair to all sides. However, we remain concerned at the clear lack of balance in the negotiations at this critical stage in the process. Our view is that a disproportionate burden is being placed on European agriculture.

Intensive activity continues at ministerial and official levels aimed at ensuring Ireland's concerns are brought to the attention of key figures in the negotiations. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, together with the Minister of State with responsibility for trade and commerce, have overall responsibility for co-ordinating Ireland's policy with regard to the WTO talks and are very engaged in promoting our interests. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for his part, is active in putting forward Irish views on the negotiations related to agriculture. The Taoiseach and I also make strong interventions in support of Irish interests in contacts with European counterparts and with the Commission. This level of intense engagement will continue in the future. The Government will emphasise Ireland's concerns and insist that the negotiations provide an agreement that is fair and balanced to all sides. We will spare no effort in our defence of Ireland's interests.

As I represent many farmers in my constituency, I want to see a balanced outcome that treats farmers and other interests fairly. I am more interested in this issue as it pertains to Lisbon. Can the Minister confirm that Ireland has used its veto just once, in 1983, since it joined the European Union? Does he agree that the way to do business in Europe is to establish alliances and build relationships? That support can be used when one is in a tight corner. It seems to me that people were deliberately confusing the World Trade Organisation talks and the Lisbon treaty. I understand that the Lisbon treaty strengthens the Irish position in that it does not affect our veto in any way but does provide for an additional measure whereby any agreement will require the oversight and approval of the European Parliament. Why was that not clarified at an early stage? Is it not important, in the context of the future developments which we all want to be brought to a sensible conclusion, for us to get that issue clarified fully? We need to make the facts of the matter clear, regardless of whether a new agreement is reached. It may be called Lisbon 1, Lisbon 2 or something else. Our position will remain the same as long as we do not lose every friend we have in Europe as we try to get the best deal we can.

I broadly agree with the Deputy. He is right that Ireland's engagement with, and performance in, the European Union has been based on brain power. I do not mean to sound arrogant when I say that. We have built alliances with key countries on specific issues. We have been involved in all issues and taken a genuine interest in them. We have shared the concerns of other member states when they may not have been our concerns. Dr. Garret FitzGerald put it well in an article about the definition of goodwill in The Irish Times over a fortnight ago. He said that a “No” vote would put at risk 35 years of accumulated goodwill. Ultimately, that accumulation of goodwill and mutual respect should strengthen Ireland’s ability to negotiate well and effectively. Ireland has had a strong alliance with France in the area of agriculture for quite a long time. We have had good relationships with various Commissioners, including Commissioners from Germany. Personal friendships and relationships of some quality have been developed over the years between Irish Ministers and Commissioners from other countries in various areas, particularly agriculture.

We had a similar argument about qualified majority voting. It was suggested that the new modality under the Lisbon treaty would be less advantageous to Ireland. That ignored the fact that, under the proposed new system, it would take 55% of member states to approve a proposal. Under the old regime, we constituted 2% of the Union. We were not depending on our size to be of influence when proposals were being considered and changed. We were getting in much earlier to make our views known. Deputy O'Keeffe is right in this respect. While I agree with him that clarification was required, I remind him that clarification was provided by the European Commission and the independent Referendum Commission. We thought we had clarified these matters. As I said in response to questions asked by Deputy Timmins about the referendum, the nature of referendum debates is that a person on one side of the argument speaks for five minutes, saying that something is black, before a person on the other side of the argument speaks for five minutes, saying that the same thing is white. It is difficult for punters — voters — to arbitrate between the two points of view.

The farming and fisheries lobbies are two of the most significant lobbies in Ireland. The votes of farmers and fishermen were instrumental in deciding the outcome of the Lisbon treaty referendum. Fishermen were worried about issues like decriminalisation, quotas and the dumping of fish at sea. I am pleased that the Minister, Deputy Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, have met representatives of the fishing federation. We need to admit that we have been misrepresenting an entire industry at local level — not just at EU level. I respect the groups in question. Although the farming lobby secured a last-minute deal, I believe most farmers did not vote "Yes" in the Lisbon treaty referendum. Many farmers will say that. Should we not try to spread out the workload of the Ministers and Ministers of State who are working on behalf of the farming and fisheries lobbies? It is not right that a single Minister — the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith — is trying to fight the case for fishermen and farmers at two separate tables.

The Deputy is going beyond the question before the House.

Do we have an opportunity to offer the Minister some extra assistance?

I am not sure that is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Fine Gael, before last year's general election, called for the establishment of a single Department of the marine. I would like to hear the Minister's opinion on that proposal.

There is a Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries. The existing model is potentially an effective way of representing this country's fishing and farming interests. Ultimately, we need to continue our collective dialogue with the two domestic interest groups mentioned by Deputy McHugh on the issues they have raised. Continuing dialogue and engagement is equally important in the context of the European Union. As Deputy O'Keeffe said, we need to build friendships and alliances if we are to encourage others to understand our case. That is one of the significant challenges this country faces in the context of its membership of the European Union. Notwithstanding recent events, we need to try to maintain those alliances and preserve the goodwill that exists, in the interests of the farming and fisheries industries. The result of last week's referendum does not alter this country's requirement to engage with the EU's institutions and personnel, including Commissioners, on these specific issues and policies.

I would like some clarification. We have to face the fact that we are entering difficult times in terms of Ireland's place at the heart of Europe. A great deal could have been done to inform people. In particular, we should have ensured that farmers understood the implications of a "No" vote. I do not believe that was done. I wonder why we did not hear from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food during the debate on the Lisbon treaty. If I understand it correctly, the mandate given by the EU to Commissioner Mandelson for the WTO talks is based on the 2003 CAP reforms. We are due to have a CAP health check later this year. That will ultimately form the basis of the final deal that is done at WTO level, which will affect the farming industry in this country. My most significant fear is that the interests of Irish farmers have been exposed, as a result of the rejection of the treaty in last Friday's referendum. How do the Minister and his Government colleagues plan to deal with the exposure of the Irish farming industry, in the context of the WTO talks?

If we are to go back to the people, I want the farmers to be on board. They have always been strongly pro-Europe. I get the feeling that the WTO talks are running into the sands.

Is that the case? I do not expect the Doha round to be concluded in the foreseeable future.

Deputy Creighton referred to the CAP health check as a precursor to what will emerge from the WTO talks. She is right to suggest that we face a significant challenge in this regard. As I said earlier in response to Deputy O'Keeffe, we can negotiate from a position of strength if we build alliances and ensure that we are at the heart of things. We face significant challenges in terms of negotiating well. We are committed to that. It is important that we secure the best deal we can for Irish agriculture. We will work on that basis with our European Union colleagues.

I assure Deputy O'Keeffe that some momentum is coming from the WTO itself. Pascal Lamy is trying to arrange a ministerial conference. It was meant to happen in June but as far as I am aware that is now unlikely. Commissioner Mandelson appeared clear in his mind during the last meeting held in May that the conditions were ripe for a ministerial conference.

I hope the Minister told him to dream on.

I offered the strong opinion, as did other countries, that we did not believe the conditions were ripe for a ministerial conference and that the package presented was not acceptable under any heading be it NAMA, emerging economies and so on. Several countries stated there that was no point in agreeing a deal simply to meet a particular timetable such as the conclusion of the presidential elections. In other words, that we had better move now before the new president is elected as he or she may have a different perspective on protectionism or free trade issues.

There is no point in rushing into an unacceptable deal knowing a new president may take a different approach to this. It would make far better sense for us to stand back and re-evaluate where we are. The world is changing fast in terms of food security and what are now termed as emerging economies. The next decade will bring much more than emerging economies from what I can see. We need to be careful in terms of how we proceed. From our perspective very little progress has been on the NAMA issues. Also, the agricultural deal is unacceptable to us.

As there is not enough time to move on to the next question, I invite Deputy Timmins to ask a supplementary question in regard to the WTO round and its consequences for Lisbon.

I have no further questions for the Minister.

Overseas Development Aid.

Fergus O'Dowd


70 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the aid he has given to assist in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23645/08]

Joan Burton


113 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the degree of access and freedom of movement that is available to humanitarian aid organisations seeking to come to the aid of the Burmese people following the recent cyclone in the area. [23506/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 113 together.

Even now, the full extent of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis is not known. Estimates suggest that more than two million people were affected. Official figures put the death toll at 78,000 people, while a further 56,000 are reported missing. Unofficial estimates suggest that the death toll may be higher.

The initial reaction of the ruling military regime was to refuse access to UN and NGO international humanitarian experts. Ireland was to the fore in calling for full and free access to the affected areas of relief supplies and workers. Irish embassies in neighbouring countries made representations seeking their assistance in gaining access for the international relief effort.

The EU Presidency convened a special emergency meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, at which the Council expressed its deep concern at the situation; its full support for the work of the UN Secretary General and his special representative and appealed for free and unfettered access for international humanitarian experts. The Council also expressed support for the visit to the region by the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel.

The intervention of the UN Secretary General, which had the full support of the EU, coupled with pressure from neighbouring countries, which form part of the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, resulted in some softening in the attitude of the regime. At a Donor Conference in Yangon on 25 May, where Ireland was represented by our Ambassador to Malaysia, a tripartite core group, composed of representatives of the Government of Burma, ASEAN and the UN, was established to oversee the co-ordination of relief assistance.

Subsequent to that agreement, access for UN officials appears to have improved although access for international NGOs continues to be restricted, particularly in the case of those NGOs which had not previously operated in Burma. It is now estimated that some 1.3 million people have been reached by the UN, Red Cross and NGOs. Ireland pledged an initial €1 million for the emergency relief effort. We also provided two airlifts of essential humanitarian supplies from our pre-positioned emergency stockpiles in Brindisi, Italy and, most recently, from our stockpile in the Curragh. The funding has been disbursed among established NGO partners of Irish Aid each of which had operations in Burma-Myanmar prior to the cyclone. In addition, we are providing a small grant for the transmission in local languages of essential health messages.

Have personnel from the rapid response unit been deployed to Burma? If the Minister of State does not have the information with him now he can foward it to me later. Did the supplies we dispatched from Brindisi and the Curragh go to the Burmese authorities or to NGOs?

I will communicate with the Deputy on the question regarding the rapid response unit. The supplies were given to our NGOs and we are confident they went deep into the townships in the delta region. We have been tracking the supplies as we are conscious of the difficulties on the ground.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.