I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 18, 21, 25, 29, 40, 117 and 124 together.
I welcome the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from her arbitrary house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained, in one form or another, by the Burmese authorities since leading her political party, the National League for Democracy, to victory in the 1990 elections. During that time, she has come to symbolise the desire of the Burmese people for democracy and freedom. Despite the repeated infringements of her human and political rights by the regime, she has responded with dignity and remains unflinching in her commitment to non-violence, insisting on the use of political means to achieve positive change.
In welcoming the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, I join the many people in Burma and throughout the world, including here in Ireland, who have campaigned for her release from unfair and unwarranted detention. The Irish people hold a particular affection for Aung San Suu Kyi and her campaign has received strong support across Ireland. Some 11 years ago she was awarded the freedom of the city of Dublin.
There have been no reports to date of any conditions attached to her release. Based on past experience, we must remain cautious. I am reminded of her previous releases in 1995 and 2002 which merely led to her being re-arrested after her popularity was perceived as a threat by the Burmese authorities. Only the continued full and unconditional freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi is acceptable to Ireland, our partners in the European Union and the broader international community.
Unfortunately, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi does not, of itself, ensure real reform or change in Burma. We must not forget that more than 2,000 other political prisoners are still detained. The release without delay of all political prisoners would allow for the initiation of an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue aimed at national reconciliation, a dialogue which must involve all opposition and ethnic groups. Burma's ethnic minorities continue to suffer appalling human rights abuses and discrimination perpetrated by the regime.
The welcome news of Aung San Suu Kyi's release should not distract the international community from the flawed parliamentary elections which were held in Burma on 7 November. It is deeply regrettable that the Burmese authorities failed to avail of this opportunity to take a genuine step on the path towards a representative and democratically elected civilian government. Instead of a free, fair and inclusive process, the elections lacked any real credibility. From the outset, the restrictive electoral laws enacted by the authorities made it inevitable that the regime would control every aspect of the election's preparation and outcome.
The continued detention of political prisoners during the election period significantly impaired the ability of Opposition political parties to contest the elections. Notwithstanding this, some ethnic groups participated in the electoral process to try to take advantage of the possible opportunity afforded by the elections to secure representation in local and national legislatures. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Opposition candidates, reports of the election results indicate that, as expected, the regime has ensured the vast majority of seats have been won by its supporters.
At the Asia-Europe summit in October, which the Taoiseach attended, there was an agreed statement on Burma. In that statement, the Asia-Europe Meeting, ASEM, leaders encouraged the Burmese Government to take the necessary measures to ensure the November elections would be free, fair and inclusive and mark a step towards a legitimate, constitutional, civilian system of Government. They also sought the release of political prisoners and expressed their support for the United Nations good offices mission. The statement was a significant, positive step forward for this particular forum, which includes Burma and its regional neighbours. Unfortunately, the Burmese authorities chose to ignore not only the wider international community represented at the summit but also their closest neighbours, and pushed ahead with the deeply flawed elections.
Ireland continues to support the good offices mission of the UN Secretary General and I once again call on the Burmese authorities to co-operate constructively with the mission and with the special rapporteur for human rights. Ireland and its European Union partners will continue to engage closely with the problem of Burma. European Union foreign ministers are scheduled to have a full discussion on Burma at the foreign affairs council next Monday. This occasion will provide an opportunity to assess the election's outcome, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and potential political developments. A meeting between ambassadors and representatives of the European Union and Aung San Suu Kyi took place in Rangoon on Tuesday, 16 November. The report of the meeting will be helpful to Ministers at our discussions next Monday.
Despite my continued misgivings about the motivations of the Burmese authorities, I hope the release of Aung San Suu Kyi can provide a catalyst for genuine political change in Burma. I believe that while maintaining sanctions and restrictions against the Burmese regime, we should also stand ready to respond positively to genuine progress towards democratisation and respect for human rights. The European Union can make an important contribution to the evolution of a democratic and free society in Burma.