Other Questions (Resumed)

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Charlie McConalogue


6. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his discussions with American officials in respect of immigration reform and, in particular, the plight of undocumented Irish citizens in the United States of America; his plans to meet with American officials in the near future to discuss this further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48306/17]

I am sure the Minister is aware of the importance of this issue to many families across the country, and in particular to their loved ones in America. We need to keep the pressure on, particularly in light of increased difficulties arising from the stance President Trump has taken on the issue recently.

I know there are many people from the Deputy's county who are in a very vulnerable position as a result of this, as there are in mine.

The Government remains committed to achieving relief for the undocumented and to facilitating greater pathways for legal migration to the United States. Ireland’s diplomatic representatives in the US are availing of all opportunities to raise the immigration issue in their contacts with the US authorities, including the prospects for immigration reform and the situation of the undocumented, as is the Government’s special envoy to Congress on the undocumented, Deputy John Deasy.

We do not, however, underestimate the size of the challenge. This policy area has been a deeply divisive issue within the US political system for decades with pronounced disagreement, even within the same political parties, on the best way to deal with an issue which directly affects over 11 million people. The Government has consistently engaged with both parties in a bipartisan way to address our longstanding concerns and this continues to be our approach.

During my visit to New York for the UN General Assembly in September, I met representatives of the four Irish immigration centres in the region and a representative of the US-wide coalition of Irish immigration centres.

My colleague, Deputy Cannon, was also at a number of those meetings and also had a series of meetings without me.

In addition, I met with a senior State Department official, and I was able to further emphasise the Government's commitment to this issue when I travelled to Washington DC from 3 to 5 October and met, along with Deputy Deasy, senior members of the US Administration and members of Congress, including the Congressional Friends of Ireland Group. In addition, our ambassador in Washington DC, Dan Mulhall, hosted a roundtable discussion on 25 October on the issue with Irish community key stakeholders, including the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres.

The Government remains wholly committed to working with the US authorities to resolve the plight of the undocumented Irish, while respecting the right of the United States to set its own immigration policies.

I thank the Minister for his response. The political landscape for making progress on immigration reform and achieving some improvement for the undocumented Irish and progress towards legalising their situation has become more difficult since President Trump took office. Certainly he appears to be a very difficult man to talk to and make progress with. It does emphasise, and makes all the more important, the necessity of widening our net and ensuring we continue to engage with both Houses of Congress and parliamentarians who have a genuine interest in achieving progress for the undocumented Irish and other undocumented nationalities.

We have 115,000 Irish nationals living in the United States legally. It is harder to get a quantification of the exact number of undocumented Irish but it has been estimated to be anything up to 50,000. We have all been at funerals where sons or daughters have not been there to bury their mothers and fathers because they are in the United States without the ability to come home and they have not been able to do so for many years. This is crucial for all parties. I know the Minister knows the importance of it. It is important that we re-emphasise and redouble our efforts with the Houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate to try to build a coalition and deal with the threats that are there at present to making progress in this regard.

We got a very warm reception on Capitol Hill on this issue. We met Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, a series of Congressmen and a number of Senators who have been great friends of Ireland for many years. We have been working with Senator Billy Lawless, who is deeply involved in this issue. We are all looking to try to find ways in which we can progress this issue given the political landscape that exists at present in terms of legislative opportunities that may be coming. It is not straightforward, as the Deputy has outlined. Politics in Washington are deeply divided now and it is difficult to get bipartisan agreement on anything, never mind immigration reform. We will continue to look at this issue. Deputy John Deasy is specifically looking at it and nothing else in the context of his work in the US, and he is building contacts and friendships with people who want to help. The question is how to get it across the line in the context of the broader debates on immigration and some of the issues being dealt with on Capitol Hill at present. We will continue to prioritise it, and I am sure I will be back in Washington again in the coming months.

I thank the Minister for his response. It is important that the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, and Deputy Deasy, who has a useful role, look at other options, and work with the committee on foreign affairs in the Oireachtas to try to ensure there is parliamentarian to parliamentarian engagement with politicians in the US and see whether there are other ways this can be done. It would be a very useful way to ensure it is kept on the political agenda and that a wider coalition is built to try to get progress on this back on track. It obviously will not happen with President Trump, but he may not always hold the level of sway he does at present. It is important that we engage and try to ensure there is a broad coalition. I know work is going on and it is important that it is broadened.

President Trump has made recent statements on halving a number of green cards issued every year. There has been talk of him punishing sanctuary cities, which have a very good relationship with undocumented Irish and other undocumented people, by withholding public grants. These are very concerning. We do not have power over it, but all we can do is work on a united front, which I know will be the Minister's approach. I encourage him to look at other options to try to redouble and continue the efforts which I know have been made. It is difficult, but we owe it to the undocumented Irish and their families in our country to do everything we can to try to regularise their situation.

We are probably all on the same page. There are Irish people living in the US who are literally living in the shadows. They are much more concerned and feel a lot more vulnerable and exposed than they have in the past. This is a big issue. We are trying to think imaginatively as to how we can progress it with the current Administration but that is not straightforward. We would not have asked Deputy John Deasy to do the job he is doing at present if we did not think he could make some progress. I am happy to talk to people about how we are doing and what we are doing, but I would not like to raise expectations. This is not straightforward and it is not easy given the current political environment in Washington, but it is something that is at the top of the priority list for us in the context of the Ireland-US relationship and we will continue to try to progress it.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Northern Ireland

Seán Crowe


9. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill had its first reading in the House of Commons on 1 November 2017 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48397/17]

I tabled this question after First Stage of the Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill was taken in the House of Commons. The Bill aims to prevent the prosecution of British soldiers for crimes committed during the conflict in Ireland. It is in direct contravention of the Stormont House Agreement. It is sponsored by two DUP MPs. I understand the British Government has made a statement declaring it will not support the Bill. Has the Minister raised this matter directly with the British Government and will he make a statement on this issue?

We have skipped a few questions. Is this because the Members are not here?

The questions were in the names of Deputies Boyd Barrett and Burton.

That is a shame, particularly the question on Yemen.

Perhaps we might get the permission of the House to take it. We will work on this question first.

I will work with the House. I apologise to Deputy Crowe and I will answer his question now.

The Government has consistently emphasised the urgent need to move ahead with the establishment of the legacy framework provided for under the Stormont House Agreement. Victims and survivors of the Troubles continue to wait for delivery of this, having had to wait for far too long already for a suitable and effective system in Northern Ireland to deal with legacy issues from the Troubles.

There are no amnesties from prosecution provided for in the Good Friday Agreement or any subsequent agreements, including the Stormont House Agreement. The Government has been clear that it would not look favourably on any proposal to introduce such a measure, for state or non-state actors. The Government’s position is that the rule of law, including the requirement under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, for effective investigations of unlawful killings, must be upheld by all responsible authorities.

I am aware of the Private Members' Bill recently introduced in the House of Commons to which the Deputy refers. I note the British Government's response on 13 November to the House of Commons Defence Committee report on investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel. In this response, the British Government confirms that it is "necessary and appropriate that allegations against the UK's Armed Forces are properly investigated". I welcome the reaffirmed commitment of the British Government in this response to the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

The legacy process is not about seeking to find an artificial balance or equivalence in investigations but about ensuring that we have a comprehensive approach. That means effectively investigating all Troubles-related deaths, regardless of the circumstances. That is the approach provided for in the Stormont House Agreement.

The Government will continue to engage with the British Government and the political parties to seek an urgent move forward on legacy issues by establishing a Stormont House framework in a manner which will meet the legitimate needs and expectations of all victims and survivors and contribute to broader societal reconciliation as an integral part of the peace process. I met the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland earlier this week. She is a hugely impressive individual and both Governments need to help her to do her job.

I welcome the Minister's declaration. I think the Bill is unwelcome and a clear contravention of the Stormont House Agreement. It is extremely worrying that Tory and DUP MPs, and even some Labour Party MPs, want to apply a statute of limitations to crimes committed by the British military during the conflict in Ireland, including collusion with unionist death squads, the killing of non-combatants in incidents like the Ballymurphy massacre and the Miami Showband murders and involvement in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. These are just some of the many actions masterminded or aided by British intelligence. During the Stormont House talks, the DUP was adamant that there would be no amnesties. The final agreement clearly ruled out any amnesties and instead provided for a range of mechanisms to deal with the past. I do not know whether the tabling of this Bill was a solo run but it reinforces the idea that there is a hierarchy of victims. I do not know what the Minister's views are on the wider implications of this type of Bill, including its impact on victims and on society. Is the Minister concerned about the direction in which this type of legislation would bring us?

I have discussed legacy issues at length with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire. I believe the British Government is deeply committed to moving ahead with the legacy framework that was outlined in the Stormont House Agreement. Both Governments will take a unified approach to try to ensure that framework works. I hope the consultation process that must take place initially will take place in the context of the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive, which is something that everybody wants to happen. That would allow us to try to deal with some of the legacy issues that are still deeply divisive in Northern Ireland. I want the Irish Government to play a constructive role in that regard. I expect that legislation will be introduced to ensure the Irish Government can assist with legacy inquests, thereby helping to answer some of the questions that people want to see answered. We will do everything we can to try to be constructive and positive in this regard. In the context of Deputy Crowe's question, I do not think it is helpful for people to be promoting the concept of amnesties at this stage because that creates unnecessary division.

As I have said, agreement on the way to move this on was reached at Stormont House. It is clear that legacy issues are still outstanding. I welcome the Minister's statement that "a unified approach" will be taken in this respect. I ask him to expand on the approach that is being taken to legacy issues. The British Government will have the huge responsibility of funding legacy cases and dealing with the difficulties faced by many families. Some families have been waiting for 41 or 42 years for inquests into the deaths of their loved ones to take place. I ask the Minister to expand on his suggestion that legislation will need to be introduced in this jurisdiction. How does he feel that will complement this process?

One thing we can do as a Government to assist in legacy inquests is to allow for evidence that is relevant to inquests in Northern Ireland to be heard in Dublin. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, understands these issues really well, having previously served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is committed to the introduction of the legislation in question, on which we have been working for a while. We are committed to the establishment of a unique structure to facilitate the hearing of evidence in a jurisdiction that is outside the jurisdiction where the inquest is taking place. I hope that gives a signal to all of the communities which are going to find the legacy issues difficult that the Irish Government wants to support fully all efforts to establish the truth in these inquests. I do not think money will be a barrier but that is a matter for the British Government in conversation with the political parties in Northern Ireland. I know that conversation has already taken place.

We will revert to Question No. 7. It is in the name of Deputy Boyd Barrett, but permission has been given to Deputy Gino Kenny to introduce it.

I apologise for the earlier confusion.

Foreign Conflicts

Richard Boyd Barrett


7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the issue of the famine in Yemen with his counterparts across Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48400/17]

Has the Minister raised the ongoing famine in Yemen with his counterparts in Europe?

I am extremely concerned about the current situation in Yemen, particularly as the humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate. The war has entered into its third year, the political process has stalled and the fighting is having devastating consequences for civilians. Yemen is also facing the world's fastest-growing cholera epidemic. EU Foreign Ministers last discussed the situation in Yemen at the Foreign Affairs Council in April. The Council called on all parties to start negotiating a peace agreement and committed to increasing its engagement with Yemen when a political solution to the conflict has been agreed.

The EU is the largest humanitarian donor to Yemen and has provided over €170 million in aid since the conflict began. Ireland contributes to this via the EU development budget. We have also contributed over €10 million in humanitarian assistance from our aid programme since 2015. Ireland takes the issue of humanitarian access extremely seriously. The closure of land, air and sea ports earlier this month following a missile attack on Riyadh was an alarming development, especially given the impact on humanitarian aid. When my officials met officials from the Saudi Embassy in Dublin last week, they relayed my request that all parties to the conflict should do everything possible to facilitate the delivery of aid. There have also been EU contacts with Saudi Arabia on this issue.

I note the announcement by Saudi Arabia that it intends to allow the reopening of some ports and border crossings. This must proceed urgently. Yemen has no resilience to the suspension of humanitarian assistance, as locally held supplies are extremely limited. I will continue to monitor the situation closely. I repeat my call on all parties to the conflict to allow unrestricted humanitarian access to those who need it. The conflict in Yemen has led to grave concerns about human rights. Ireland has worked in the UN system to try to address this. At the UN Human Rights Council in September, I decided that Ireland should join a small core group of countries that were driving forward the adoption of a resolution on Yemen. This resolution establishes a group of international experts who will establish the facts about violations of human rights and humanitarian law on the ground. This group will report back to the UN Human Rights Council as an important step towards accountability in Yemen.

I do not know whether the Minister saw last night's "BBC News at Ten" broadcast, which covered the ongoing crisis in Yemen. One can get desensitised to conflict and humanitarian crises across the world. The pictures coming out of Yemen are basically undescribable. Famine and disease are at epidemic levels. Almost 2,500 people have died of cholera since April. Over 12,000 people have died since the start of the conflict in 2015. The famine in Yemen is ongoing. The pictures coming from Yemen are reminiscent of those that came from Africa in the 1980s. It is a serious situation. According to one agency, it could culminate in a nightmare scenario being inflicted on the world. The Minister said he has discussed this matter with his EU counterparts.

Can the Minister forward this to his EU counterparts so they can broker some sort of peace agreement and in particular, deal with the blockade, which is having a devastating effect on the Yemeni people?

I hope I am not someone who is prone to exaggeration but Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis right now. It is a catastrophic situation in terms of the inability of essential humanitarian aid supplies to reach people who desperately need them. I have seen the images coming out of Yemen and believe me, I suspect we are not seeing the half of it. We have a political responsibility to try to find solutions and a responsibility to make financial contributions towards aid, which we are doing. To put this into context, in September, the World Food Programme, which is probably the largest aid organisation in the world under UN structures, reached 6.5 million people with food assistance. That is 2 million more than the population of this country. As a result of a brutal civil war that involves a number of countries outside Yemen and poses huge political challenges, the population is facing the devastating consequences of that conflict. We need to do what we can as a small country to ensure that we say-----

We might get a few more questions.

Perhaps the EU can use its influence on the UN Security Council. A total of 12,000 people have been killed since 2015. The belligerent country of Saudi Arabia is doing most of the killing. It is being armed by the US and the UK. These countries arm Saudi Arabia to the tune of billions of dollars every year. Could the Minister ask his UK counterpart why the UK is arming a country like Saudi Arabia when it is involved in widespread wholesale murder? These people are part of the problem. It is a humanitarian crisis where the ordinary Yemeni people are dying on the streets and dying of malnutrition. The EU should step up and tell the UK that it is arming these people and this country and this is exacerbating the problem.

First, the EU is vocal on this issue. It has also rules around the arms trade in terms of what those arms are used for. It is important to say that this is effectively a civil war and no one country is responsible for the misery there. There are two sides to this conflict and depending on who one talks to, blame can be attributed to a number of parties so this will not be solved simply by taking a hard-line position with one side or the other. I am afraid it is far more complex than that. Having said that, this is now a war that is into its third year and, unfortunately, has not received the international focus that some other international conflicts such as those in Syria and South Sudan have received. There is a need for more political focus on Yemen because the extent of the misery there is very significant.

Middle East Issues

Seán Crowe


10. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the continued expansion of illegal Israeli colonial settlements in Palestine (details supplied); and the measures being taken at a bilateral and international level to tackle Israel’s continued violations of international law and the impunity it currently has to expand illegal colonial settlements. [48395/17]

Maureen O'Sullivan


41. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there has been dialogue at an EU level regarding the wider issues of Israeli settlements on Palestinian Authority controlled lands with particular reference to the declaration of a Jewish municipality in Hebron which according to the Palestinian Authority nullifies the Hebron agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48418/17]

I am deeply concerned that the Israeli Government is advancing plans to increase the amount of illegal colonial settlements on occupied Palestinian lands, particularly in East Jerusalem and the Jordan valley. It is allowed to carry out these continued violations of international law with impunity. I welcome the Minister's statement on 20 October condemning the latest illegal colonial settlement expansion plans of the Israeli Government but when will the Irish Government and others move beyond the simple rhetoric and actually sanction or put a brake on the Israeli Government for its continued international law and human rights violations?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 41 together.

We are doing a lot on the Israeli-Palestinian question but simplistic approaches do not necessarily work. Ireland and our EU partners have consistently condemned the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, which is unjust and provocative and undermines the credibility of Israel's commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict. The introduction and settlement of communities of an occupying power to alter the demography of the area is unambiguously illegal under international law. The process of establishing settlements also inevitably involves violations of the rights of the occupied population through seizure of their land, discriminatory treatment and other restrictions. Tactics including differentiated application of planning laws, zoning, military use, creating national parks etc. are used by the Israeli authorities to advance this process under a cloak of legality. None of these measures can alter the fact that the whole process is illegal.

It is not possible to comment on every reported settlement plan, many of which are speculative and go no further. However, I was disturbed when plans were announced last month for the construction of several thousand housing units in illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory in the West Bank, including in sensitive areas like East Jerusalem and the city of Hebron, and I publicly stated my concern and condemnation at the time. The intrusive actions of settlers in the city of Hebron have long been a focus of concern and the recent further actions by the Israeli authorities in favour of settlement expansion can only further increase tensions and make genuine and lasting peace and security more difficult to achieve.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In addition, Ireland has consistently argued in favour of a clear differentiation by the EU and the international community between the state of Israel on the one hand and the illegal settlements on Palestinian land on the other. This policy was explicitly supported by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2334 in December 2016. The EU has already taken a number of actions in this regard.

The Minister is saying that it will not involve simplistic solutions. The Minister accepts that the settlements are illegal, as does the UN. I think most people around the world accept they are illegal. What I am really asking the Minister is what we can do and what we are doing to do. What actions are we going to take? I am asking for us to move beyond the rhetoric because according to data released last month by the Israeli Peace Now movement, plans to build 6,500 settlement units in the West Bank have been approved since the beginning of 2017 compared to 2,629 settlement units in 2016 and 1,982 settlement units in 2015. This is ongoing. We know the Israeli Government's attitude to it. The Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs has said that Israel must start planning 1 million illegal settlements in Area C. What are we going to do about it?

That is a fair question. The Government has consistently and repeatedly conveyed these concerns to the Israeli authorities and highlighted them in our interventions at EU, UN and international level. In addition, I raised these concerns directly with Israeli leaders during my visit to Israel and Palestine in July.

Ireland supports efforts to reach a comprehensive peace agreement to the Middle East conflict and this is a priority for me personally. I have met with the US Middle East team to encourage its work and to underline what the EU sees as the key parameters for any future agreement. There is an expectation that the US may come forward with a new initiative regarding a peace agreement early in the new year. I have also taken an active role on this issue in the Foreign Affairs Council, urging my colleagues to continue our work to help preserve and create the political and physical space in which the two-state solution can be achieved.

I visited the region earlier this year and met representatives of both parties. I hope to do so again early next year to try to build on the work we are already doing.

I heard what the Minister said, yet concerns are being raised. In the meantime, as we debate the issue, the settlements are continuing. Palestinian people are being put out of their houses to make way for these settlements. The Minister was there recently and so was I. It is only when one is there that one understands the real impact of what is happening. In Hebron, it is particularly oppressive. We are talking about Brexit and borders in Ireland but if one is Palestinian and one is walking down a street in Hebron, one cannot go a certain way. If one is Israeli, one cannot go another way. We either agree with the two-state solution or we give up on the issue. I agree with the Minister about raising concerns but it is not having an impact on the Israeli authorities because the settlements continue. If one looks at the settlements and the infrastructure and the contrast between life in those settlements and the lives of ordinary Palestinian people, there is no resemblance.

I do not disagree with any of what the Deputy has said. I hope we are talking about how to change it and the approach that will achieve that. My view is that there is a hope and expectation at present. I have met senior Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on this issue, as well as many Israeli politicians. I have met the Israeli ambassador on multiple occasions to discuss this issue. There is a hope and expectation that, as a result of the relationship between Israel and the current US Administration, there may be a new initiative in the next few months. Our focus, as politicians and as a Government, needs to be to try to influence that initiative to ensure that it is one the European Union and Ireland can support in terms of what it asks of both sides. That is what I have been trying to do. I have met the senior US negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, in Jerusalem and New York. It is an important issue for me personally. It is something into which I want to put a lot of time. It is not a coincidence that I will be back in Ramallah and Jerusalem, and probably the Gaza Strip, in January or February. If people have suggestions or want to talk to me in detail in advance of that visit, I will be happy to accommodate them.

I acknowledge the Israeli people I have met who are opposed to the Israeli Government's policy on settlements. I acknowledge the ongoing work of the Geneva initiative. I will mention the Bedouin and the issues for them and their lives and the way they are being treated. I will also mention the Golan Heights. A group appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade recently to discuss the situation in villages in the Golan Heights. They are mainly of Syrian origin and are also under threat as a result of the policy on settlements. This is an issue the Minister could investigate if he is visiting the area.

We have been very consistent on the issue of settlements. They make a lasting peace agreement more and more difficult to achieve. The geography and politics of Jerusalem are incredibly complicated. It takes a lot to get one's head around the issue but it is helpful when one is there and sees the places that the politics and divisions are centred around. The continuing expansion of settlements in areas that we hope will be part of a Palestinian state in the future makes the agreement regarding such a state much more difficult and complicated. That is why the European Union has been so firm and consistent in criticising settlement activity and why it will continue to do so.

United Nations

Maureen O'Sullivan


11. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the Irish agenda for its potential presence on the UN Security Council. [48420/17]

What is Ireland's agenda for its potential presence on the UN Security Council?

The UN provides the foundation for an orderly, rules-based international system. Such a system is important for a small and globally-trading country such as Ireland. Small states depend on this system, which helps to regulate interactions between nations. In an increasingly interconnected world, it is in our national interest to support the UN and to strengthen its role. Ireland is, therefore, seeking election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in June 2020 for the 2021-2022 term. We have a responsibility to participate to the fullest extent possible in the work of the UN.

The Security Council is the UN body with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is difficult to predict what matters may be on the agenda of the Security Council in 2021 should Ireland’s candidature be successful. What is beyond doubt is that the Council's agenda has grown in volume and complexity as the issues fuelling conflict have become more diverse and numerous.

Periodic membership of the Security Council is an important part of Ireland’s foreign policy. It provides us with the opportunity to positively influence Security Council decisions in areas of international and national importance, giving firm practical expression to our principles.

No state by itself can resolve the many international peace and security challenges the world faces. Security Council membership will allow Ireland to make a contribution to the global efforts to tackle these challenges, fulfilling our shared responsibility and ensuring that we have an opportunity to advocate for the core values of our foreign policy at the Council, which are peace and security, justice, equality and sustainability.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Security Council is the body which mandates peacekeeping missions and sets the policies that UN troops must follow in the field. Over 1,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen serve each year under UN-mandated peace support operations, representing our people and our values. Membership of the Security Council would be a valuable opportunity for Ireland to influence decisions that will affect the conditions and circumstances under which our troops are deployed.

Security Council membership would also give us an avenue to influence initiatives on conflict prevention, a priority area for Ireland, where we have called for increased investment and a stronger role for women in the maintenance of international peace and security. Other policy areas that are having an increased impact on international peace and security include migration, climate change, sustainable development and food security. In addition, the link between youth, peace and security is increasingly recognised as an area of importance and one that the Security Council will need to address in a comprehensive way.

Ireland’s previous terms on the Security Council have provided an opportunity to give firm practical expression to the principles underlying Irish foreign policy, which are widely held across the Oireachtas. A strong and vigorous campaign will be needed to secure election in 2020. Should we succeed, our election will allow us to again play our part, to bring our values of peace, justice and human rights to bear in directing the work of the UN.

When the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Flanagan, was discussing this, he made the point that small states can make an impact. There is no doubt that our small state has been making an impact and that we have a reputation in the area of development and humanitarian aid. Being associated with the Security Council could undermine the very good and respected reputation we have for our development and humanitarian aid work. When we look at the Security Council and the big five and consider the situation in Syria and Yemen, which the Minister has just discussed, those permanent members are not preventing conflict or its escalation but adding to it by their decisions. A recent presentation to the foreign affairs committee outlined how France was trying to bring about a situation on the Security Council where the right to exercise the veto would not be permitted in severe humanitarian crises. The general population of the UN agreed with that but not the people with the veto. Can Ireland really change that situation or have an effect on it?

It can try. The one thing we should not be doing is giving up on it because it is the only show in town when it comes to international intervention in serious conflict situations. Ireland will continue to advocate for UN reform and Security Council reform. We believe the use of the veto is abused. We also believe the make-up of the Security Council is not reflective of the world today. It is a post-Second World War structure in many ways. The idea that there is no African permanent representation on the UN Security Council is extraordinary when one thinks about the current population and also the population trends which predict that we will see an extra 1 billion people on the Continent of Africa in the next 25 to 30 years. Ireland wants to be a brave and consistent voice on issues that are important to its people in the areas of humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping and conflict prevention. We have a Secretary General of the UN now who is a big believer in reform. Secretary General Guterres needs the support of countries like Ireland and many others. If we are on the Security Council, we can push that reform agenda hard in a much more effective way than if we are not on it.

We have a certain niche we should protect, namely, our voice as it relates to development and humanitarian issues. I fear this could be undermined. The extent of the work and lobbying that will have to be done between now and 2021 will take up the time of our diplomatic services. We know the great work they are doing already and we understand the demands on their time. In my view, this will divert them somewhat from the essential work relating to development and humanitarian aid. I read a report which states that when Canada was looking to be a non-permanent member, in the region of $10 million was spent in order to achieve this.

The question must arise as to what our application might cost us both in terms of the work our diplomatic services will have to put into it and the cost of securing the necessary votes.

If one is trying to influence the debate that is going on inside the tent, deliberately deciding to stay outside it does not allow one to progress the agenda. We want to be inside the tent persuading and arguing with people and getting the Irish perspective across. We have done that very successfully in the past. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, for example, and the subsequent so-called war on terror, Ireland, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, was a consistent voice emphasising the need to account for and prioritise the humanitarian fallout from the associated military activity, particularly in Afghanistan. This country has a reputation for being consistent and vocal on humanitarian issues and a strong record of peacekeeping, where we have more experience than virtually any other country in the world. In fact, we have 60 years of unbroken peacekeeping service, which no other country can claim. The UN Security Council will increasingly be involved in designing and signing off on mandates for peacekeeping operations. There is a great deal of work to which Ireland can make an important contribution, and we should compete for membership in that context. It will cost money to secure success, although I do not have an exact figure. However, the opportunity to participate in the work of a body that makes huge decisions impacting on populations throughout the world means we should aspire to be at the table. We hope to be there in 2021.

Northern Ireland

We have enough time to take Question No. 12 provided Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív forfeits the 30 seconds usually given for an introductory question, the Minister restricts his response to two minutes and the Deputy confines himself to one supplementary question. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Éamon Ó Cuív


12. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position of the Government in the talks to set up a new Executive in Northern Ireland in regard to the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48384/17]

Darragh O'Brien


31. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the situation in Northern Ireland and the outstanding issues that remain to be resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48314/17]

Bernard Durkan


38. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which opportunities still exist to reform the power-sharing Government in Northern Ireland; if efforts in this regard are likely to continue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48438/17]

Brendan Howlin


40. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his engagement with the parties in Northern Ireland on re-establishing the Executive. [44550/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 31, 38 and 40 together.

As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government, working with the British Government, has spared no effort over many months in supporting and facilitating talks on the formation of a new Executive. However, a devolved power-sharing Executive can only operate on the basis of an agreement reached between the two largest parties. The other parties represented in the Assembly, which have shown considerable patience, also have a critical role to play. I am disappointed that, after several phases of negotiations in different formats, we still do not have an agreement to form an Executive.

The issues under discussion, particularly those on language and culture, go to the heart of the divisions in society in Northern Ireland and agreement on them was always going to be challenging. I have always been strongly of the view that it is possible to reach an honourable compromise which ensures implementation of previous agreements and reflects the core principles of the Good Friday Agreement and power-sharing itself, namely, partnership, equality, and mutual respect. It remains my conviction that this is achievable.

Specifically regarding the Irish language, successive Irish Governments have advocated in favour of an Irish Language Act, as provided for in the St. Andrews Agreement, and we continue to do so. Respect for linguistic diversity and the Irish language are central to the Good Friday Agreement. The Government's firm position is that this agreement and subsequent agreements must be implemented in full.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The introduction of a budget Bill for Northern Ireland at Westminster this week is a significant development for the political process in Northern Ireland, founded on the Good Friday Agreement. A budget for Northern Ireland is a matter that should be considered and decided on by the power-sharing Executive and Assembly. As there is no Executive in place at present, the necessary budgetary decisions cannot be made by the devolved institutions. In the meantime, a statutory basis for the continued funding of public services in Northern Ireland is required. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has confirmed that the budget Bill reflects the advice of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and has not been subject to political decision-making outside of Northern Ireland. I acknowledge that this step has been taken by the British Government with reluctance and at the latest possible stage in order to seek to preserve the role of the devolved institutions to decide on budgetary and other matters within their responsibility when they are operating again.

It is important to affirm clearly that the Good Friday Agreement remains the indispensable framework for relationships within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland. The Government has confirmed that this week, as has the British Government. In the event that the devolved institutions cannot function, it is the responsibility of the British and Irish Governments to ensure the North-South and east-west institutions of the Agreement can continue to operate effectively and in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. The Government has consistently affirmed its unwavering commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and its determination, as co-guarantor of the Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions. The Taoiseach and I continue to engage with the British Government and the parties in Northern Ireland to give full effect to that commitment.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating this question. I am very reassured by the Minister's response. It is vital that we explain to people who probably do not understand, particularly members of the British Government, the importance of the Irish language to many people on this island, North and South. The language threatens nobody, nor would anybody advocating for it wish to threaten anybody. We must ensure Irish language speakers can exercise normal rights within society, both in this State and in the North.

Has the Minister engaged with the parties and the British Government on the issue of the Ulster Scots language? In a previous role I had, I was always of the view that it was equally important to show respect for the culture of the community which sees its heritage as essentially an Ulster Scots one. Engaging on that part of the equation is the key to the door. By showing no fear in respect of any other culture, we can then ask the people on the other side of the table to respond in a similar manner.

This essentially boils down to a question of respect for diversity in Northern Ireland, and both the Irish language and Ulster Scots are part of that. Both parties are trying to find accommodation for the other on this matter. It is a sensitive political issue, the history of which Deputy Ó Cuív does not need me to relate. Much of the effort in the past ten weeks has been about, first, understanding each other's positions and, following on from that, seeking to create an environment where the Irish language is not seen as a threat or a political statement. It is about supporting the people in Northern Ireland who see the language as part of who they are.

There is a recognition in this regard within the DUP and we have a had a lot of discussion on how to accommodate a process of legislating for the Irish language. There is an understanding that the right vehicle must be found to ensure it is done in the right context. The need to legislate for and recognise Ulster Scots as part of Northern Ireland's diversity, likewise, has been part of the discussion, including the question of how to incorporate that into a legislative framework.

I hope we will be back around in the table in the coming weeks working to find a way forward on this issue that will facilitate the Executive in moving ahead. It is not the only issue under discussion, of course, but it has been one of the more difficult ones. Both parties are trying to make progress on it, in a context where everybody must recognise the commitments that were made, in the Stormont House Agreement in particular, in respect of the introduction of Irish language legislation. That is the context in which we are having this discussion and I hope the two Governments will be able to help to facilitate an agreement.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.