The Soma mining disaster which claimed 301 lives was the worst mining accident in Turkish history. The Tánaiste has written to the Turkish Government to convey our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy.
Health and safety standards in Turkey's mines are an issue which the European Union has consistently raised with the Turkish authorities. Ireland joined a number of other member states in requesting that the issue be raised once again at the forthcoming meeting of the EU-Turkey association committee, which is scheduled to take place on 3 June in Brussels. At this meeting the European Union will stress the need for Turkey to make progress in meeting EU standards and the standards of the International Labour Organization, ILO. The Union will stress that progress on this issue remains essential in the interests of Turkish workers and society.
Since 2002 the European Union has allocated €21 million to support the improvement of occupational health and safety standards in Turkey. This funding has been used, for example, to support the work of health and safety inspectors, provide training for them and set up laboratories for testing workplace standards. The European Union has focused, in particular, on standards in the mining sector, providing training and expertise for occupational health and safety inspectors.
Ireland remains a supporter of Turkey's EU accession process through which the European Union assists Turkey in meeting EU standards and laws in preparation for eventual membership. During our EU Presidency last year we succeeded in securing agreement on the opening of a new chapter in the negotiations. This was the first chapter to be opened in three years.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
We hope this momentum can be maintained and that new chapters opened for negotiation in the future. In particular, we hope we can open negotiations on the issues of health and safety standards, which would be dealt with through chapter 19 on social policy and employment. At the association committee's meeting on 3 June the European Union will once again call on Turkey to take the necessary steps in order that we can start negotiations on these important questions.