Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to County Cavan on 12 October 2018; if he met businesses; and if they discussed the impact in addition to the uncertainty of Brexit. [43891/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to County Cavan on 12 October 2018; and the meetings he held in respect of Brexit. [45716/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

I visited counties Cavan and Monaghan on Friday, 12 October, where I had several engagements.

In the morning, I visited the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff, which is really worth a visit and I would recommend it to anyone. I also visited the new autism unit in Bailieborough community school and Bailieborough courthouse.

In the afternoon, I visited Cootehill where I had the pleasure of turning the sod on the new Holy Family school, which is a special school. I spoke at the cross-border childcare conference in Emyvale, County Monaghan.

While I had no formal meetings with business people on this occasion, I met a wide variety of invited guests and members of the public at the events I attended. As people can imagine, given that Cavan and Monaghan are Border counties, Brexit was to the fore during my visit. The cross-Border childcare conference afforded me the opportunity to engage with those attending on Brexit and how it may impact on their services and businesses.

I would have thought that the Taoiseach might have heard from more business people about their concern regarding the impact Brexit will have on them. Recent data from the Central Statistics Office suggest there is a noticeable slowdown in the Border region and that the devaluation of sterling has had a significant impact on small and medium enterprises, SMEs, there. There are many Brexit schemes but the combined take-up of these to date has been minuscule. Is the Taoiseach willing to set a specific target for the number of businesses receiving support in order that they might cope with the impact of Brexit? To date, all there has been is the announcement of amounts of money to be spent at some point in the future. Until we see specific targets for businesses directly helped, the delivery deficit is likely to be continually hidden behind the advertising campaigns which promise a lot but deliver little.

Last week, the Taoiseach became very defensive when I raised the Government's love of referring to things as "action plans". He even claimed the Government had delivered 200,000 jobs through the Action Plan for Jobs. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, reviewed the action plan and said it is not possible to isolate any specific figure of job creation under the plan. We do not need action plan for Brexit designed to help the Government claim credit for other people's work. We need hard targets for businesses directly helped through the schemes launched with such fanfare by the Minister. There needs to be a stronger correlation between the announcement and what is actually done. The vote is taking place in the House of Commons on 11 December and the draft withdrawal treaty is coming into far more focus. Most business and farming people on both sides of the Border support the withdrawal treaty. It is disappointing, therefore, that the DUP seems to be hardening its original stance on the draft withdrawal treaty following its conference at the weekend. Will the Taoiseach provide an update on the preparation of east-west arrangements for Dublin Airport following Brexit? Given that most goods entering the North come via Dublin Port, is there any further update on scoping and expansion to facilitate further checks if needed? Is the Government scoping the use of Rosslare Europort in order to ease any possible congestion and ensure the smooth transport of goods via truck, etc.?

It would be surprising if, when visiting the Border, any politician did not involve himself or herself in dialogues on Brexit. The Taoiseach said he did so with a variety of groups. Did he meet any representatives of workers, specifically unions organised on an all-island basis, to discuss their understanding of the implications of Brexit? Did the Taoiseach discuss the implications of a hard Brexit, which is now a very real prospect? Will he share his view on preparations for such an eventuality? We obviously have to prepare for that eventuality. It is hopefully not likely but it is certainly a distinct possibility.

This morning, we had easterly winds which closed Dublin Port. The immediate consequence of that was the blocking of the port tunnel and traffic chaos. That was the result of an hour's closure due to adverse winds. As an island nation, what specific logistical preparations are we making in the event of a disorderly departure from the European Union by Britain? What impact will it have on our potential imports or exports of goods?

Yesterday on "Morning Ireland" the Tánaiste stated that in the event of a no deal scenario things would be much more complicated, and we all know this is undoubtedly true. He went on to say there would be no hard border in such a scenario. Will the Taoiseach outline to the House what the Tánaiste meant by that and what steps can be taken to ensure that in a no deal scenario there would be no hard border?

The focus of this particular visit to Cavan and Monaghan was very much on education, disability and childcare as well as a visit to Cavan County Museum. I engage with business groups and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions regularly but not every day. It is good on occasion to have days where we focus just on education, childcare, disability, health or housing. The particular focus of this visit was education, disability and childcare.

We have not set particular targets for businesses accessing credit under the various Brexit loan schemes. We have decided not to do this for good reasons. There are a lot of businesses that do not want to borrow or increase their debt and this is a decision they are entitled to make. Many of them have paid off debts they built up over the recession period and they do not want to take on new debt. Some have their own reserves and they will use them rather than take on more debt. We want to make sure these low-cost loans are available to business but that is quite different from encouraging businesses to take on additional debt if they do not want to do so.

I meet businesses all the time that tell me they feel they are being unfairly criticised when we say they have not taken up offers of vouchers, Brexit assessments or loans because they have made an assessment themselves that Brexit will not affect them dramatically because they do not trade much or they only trade with particular countries. Sometimes they state they have made a decision to wait and see. They want to see how things will pan out over the coming weeks or months before taking action. We need to make sure the loan supports and information vouchers are available to business but we need to respect the fact that many businesses will decide they do not want to take up these supports because they do not trade with the UK, because they feel they have adequate reserves and finance or because they are already adequately prepared. We have to respect their autonomy and their right to make their own decisions about their own businesses in this regard.

We approved another memo at Cabinet today on contingency planning. We have planned for two things. These are the central case scenario, which is pretty much the deal that has now been made and the deal we hoped would be made, with a transition period, a single customs territory and backstop. We have also planned for a no deal hard Brexit scenario, which we do not think is likely but we must prepare for nonetheless. In many ways they are a graduation of the same contingency plan because the central case scenario requires one amount and the no deal scenario requires another amount of activity. This involved an update on recruitment and we are confident. We have an assurance from Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that the necessary recruitment is under way. I cannot remember the exact figure with regard to Customs and Excise officials, but several hundred will be in place in March and the rest will be in place after that. We also examined what would be required in terms of physical infrastructure at Dublin Port, Dublin Airport and Rosslare Europort and how it can be provided. In Dublin Airport it would involve an upgrade to the customs and border services and at Rosslare Europort and Dublin Port it would involve physical infrastructure, such as parking areas for HGVs and examination stations. These preparations are very much under way.

I have no doubt we can be totally prepared for a Brexit with a deal because we have the transition period and we know what will happen if there is no deal. We will have a backstop. It will be impossible for any country to be fully prepared for a no deal cliff edge hard Brexit but we will be as prepared as we possibly can be.

National Digital Strategy

Micheál Martin

Question:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the consultation process on the digital strategy recently announced by his Department. [45623/18]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

4. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's digital strategy. [45639/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the digital strategy of his Department. [46990/18]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recently announced consultation process in respect of the national digital strategy. [49144/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, together.

The Government is developing a new national digital strategy to help Ireland maximise the economic and societal benefits from digitalisation. This is a commitment in the Action Plan for Jobs 2018. The strategy is being led as a shared effort by the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the office of the chief information officer in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. An interdepartmental group, which includes representatives from all Departments, is also assisting the development of the strategy. This approach reflects the broad spread of policy areas impacted by digitalisation.

In July, the Government agreed a framework for the national digital strategy, which reflected preliminary consultations with civic society, business representatives, education providers and academics. A wider public consultation exercise to allow citizens to influence the development of the strategy started on Monday, 22 October, and closed last Friday, 23 November. This allowed people to submit their views online, by email or by post. More than 300 responses were received and the submissions are now being analysed. In parallel, there is ongoing consultation with stakeholders and experts to inform development of the strategy.

It is intended that the new national digital strategy will set out Ireland's vision and ambition in the fast-changing digital world as well as specific initiatives in areas such as eGovernment, enterprise policy, digital inclusion, access and regulation. Importantly, it will also position Ireland internationally and within the European Union, where we are active supporters of the digital Single Market.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The Government announced its intention to produce another digital strategy in its Action Plan for Jobs in 2018. We are agreed it is meant to maximise the economic and societal benefits that arise from ongoing digitalisation. It is meant to be citizen focused and to set out how we are all meant to embrace digital advances and provide for a national discussion on how it will impact on the people of Ireland well into the future. Given recent reports, the strategy cannot be done quickly enough. It seems it has infiltrated all of our lives far quicker and deeper than anyone could have anticipated. Throughout the European Union, 66% of the labour force has basic digital skills whereas in Ireland it is 53%. A total of 50% of Ireland's labour force has above basic digital skills but in the European Union it is 63%. How will the Government address what is, essentially, a digital literacy gap? Is the Government assessing how job displacement will be catered for? Is the Government planning to diversify courses and target workers most at risk? Will these courses be available free of charge to workers?

Any digital strategy that is truly national must envisage access to high-speed broadband for every citizen wherever he or she lives. This is axiomatic. Clearly, there is a real difficulty for the vindication of true equality and there is a real danger of a digital divide. How does the Taoiseach propose to address this issue?

There is another issue, which is that one in six adults in this country is functionally illiterate. This will impact on people's ability to use new digital technologies. Before they even get into digital capacity being illiterate is an enormous impediment to accessing services online.

An enormous amount of work on eGovernment was done and I am glad to see the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is present. We looked at best practice in countries such as the Republic of Korea, where an enormous number of public services are accessible very readily, with a unique identifier for each citizen so they do not have to put in endless data each time they contact a local or national Government office or agency. Is it envisaged that we are making progress on facilitating ready access to all Government services online?

Surely digital safety is a key component, if not the key component, of a new national digital strategy at a time when an increasing number of young people are accessing the Internet and social networking apps. Young people are accessing them not just in greater numbers but also at a younger age. The Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment recently discussed the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill, which was brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire. The Bill is supported by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, CyberSafeIreland and the Ombudsman for Children's office. Industry bodies have also stated that they are open to the concept. The Bill complements many of the objectives in the Minister for Justice and Equality's action plan for online safety. The previous Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment broadly supported the Bill as does the Chairman of the Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton.

Does the Taoiseach support the establishment of such an office? Does he believe we need a regulator with powers and that such an office should be established as soon as possible? The Minister for Justice and Equality said last week that consideration is being given to the matter by a review group led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and that he expects the group will report soon. Does the Taoiseach have an update on when we are likely to see such a report? Does he support the objective of Deputy Ó Laoghaire's Bill, which provides for the establishment of a digital safety commission and commissioner to protect our young people?

First, with regard to digital skills, we believe it involves a number of approaches. Obviously there is upskilling of people already in the workplace. That is important to ensure they can continue to have jobs into the future and that companies embrace the digital economy. That is done through a number of existing mechanisms. Sometimes it is fully funded by the Government and sometimes businesses have to make a contribution. A great deal of learning is happening in schools. Children in primary and secondary schools are getting a good digital education and I am impressed when I visit schools around the country to see the extent to which technology is being integrated into schools, particularly primary schools. Deputies will be aware that computer science is now an examination subject in the leaving certificate examination for the first time.

There is also the future jobs programme. Last week, we took the first steps in developing that programme, which anticipates the reality that the world of work will look very different in the next couple of decades. People will not have a job for life, and most people will have two or three different careers in the course of their lives. Many jobs that currently exist will not exist in the future and many jobs that we have not even imagined will exist. Changes such as automation, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and so forth will fundamentally change the world of work. Autonomous driving is one example. Between 10% and 16% of men in this country drive for a living in some way or other. If we replace buses, trains, taxis and trucks with autonomous vehicles we will have to find new jobs for the people who currently drive those vehicles. The future jobs programme is all about that.

In terms of encouraging greater use of online Government services, a healthy digital Government is fundamentally connected with the wider digital health of a country. We have made substantial progress in increased delivery of high quality online public services. For example, we have centralised portals for communications and services, gov.ie and MyGovId.ie. We also continue to work on improving the citizen experience and promoting the uptake of online activities. The national digital strategy will help to raise awareness and highlight the benefits of engaging with online Government services.

On the issue of the digital divide and digital engagement, increased digitalisation is going to change Ireland and the world with or without policy action. We cannot stem the tide but we can determine how to embrace digitalisation positively for the benefit of every citizen, business and community in Ireland. To this end we are working to develop a strategy that is collaborative and is developed in partnership with citizens and stakeholders. The public consultation is very important and that is why continuing engagement with stakeholders in all sectors of society will be a hallmark of the strategy's development. There will be a focus in the strategy on trust, society and inclusion. We are putting the well-being of citizens at the heart of the strategy. Digitalisation presents us not only with challenges but also profound opportunities. Digital Government services, for example, offer the chance of more equality and efficiency in how our public services are administered.

Regarding digital protection and digital safety, the general data protection regulation, GDPR, came into effect on 25 May last. We enacted the Data Protection Act 2018 which gives effect to limited areas of flexibility under GDPR before this date. Ireland is among a small group of member states to meet the deadline. Since GDPR came into effect the Data Protection Commissioner has seen a rise in data breach notifications, which are now obligatory. In addition, the Date Protection Commission is already seeing numerous major difficult cross-border complaints being transferred to it under the EU one-stop-shop model. There are several significant data protection cases before the Irish and European courts, as well as other cases that might end up before the courts. Whatever the outcome, the Government will continue to comply with GDPR as it evolves. Funding for the Data Protection Commission is €15.2 million for next year, which represents a 30% increase on the 2018 allocation and an eight-fold increase since 2014.

On the issue of a digital safety commissioner, many stakeholders have called for the establishment of such a commissioner. Last February the Government did not oppose the passing on Second Stage of Deputy Ó Laoghaire's Private Members' Bill which seeks to establish the office of a digital safety commissioner. The Bill has been referred to the joint committee by the Oireachtas. The action plan for online safety covers a range of activities relevant to the proposed office of the digital safety commissioner, including education, awareness raising, communicating with the public, oversight and consultative structures. Action 18 of the plan commits the Government to working with the joint committee on the Bill in this regard and the Minister attended a meeting of the joint committee on 25 October last during detailed scrutiny of the Bill. At that meeting the Minister said that if the Oireachtas is to pass the legislation we must ensure we get it right and that it is robust, effective and meets the urgent public policy need to protect all online users, particularly children.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has now requested legal advice from the Attorney General on the legal issues the Bill presents, most notably the lack of a definition of what "harmful digital communications" are and proposals in the Bill that would apply extra-territorially, which could be difficult. However, we are committed to working with the committee and the Deputy to resolve these deficiencies in the legislation.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the war in Yemen was discussed at the October 2018 ASEM summit. [45882/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the ASEM summit; and the leaders he met and meetings he attended. [45714/18]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the war in Yemen was discussed at the October 2018 ASEM summit. [46873/18]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent ASEM summit. [49145/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.

I attended the 12th ASEM summit, or Asia-Europe meeting, on 18 and 19 October in Brussels. The summit, which takes place every two years, provides an opportunity for Asian and European leaders to discuss how to enhance co-operation in tackling regional and global challenges and deepening economic, social and cultural links between our two regions.

The focus of the recent summit was on improving trade and connectivity between Europe and Asia and on reinforcing the multilateral, rules based system of governance on issues such as international trade, peace and security, sustainable development and climate change.

As well as attending the plenary sessions, I held bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister of Norway, Ms Erna Solberg, President Battulga of Mongolia and the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Wan Azizah, focused on strengthening bilateral relations. I also used the opportunity to raise Ireland's candidature for election to the UN Security Council for the 2021-22 term.

I engaged informally en marge with a number of other leaders including Chinese Premier Li, Japanese Prime Minister Abe, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev, Vice President Naidu of India and the foreign ministers or special envoys of Laos, Myanmar, Australia, Kazakhstan and New Zealand. These were primarily courtesy conversations about bilateral relations, although in several instances I raised Ireland's candidacy for the UN Security Council.

While discussions at the ASEM considered a number of foreign policy issues, Yemen did not feature on the agenda. I anticipate that Yemen will feature in summit level discussions between the EU and the Arab League early next year. In the meantime, Ireland and the EU continue to be extremely concerned about the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and the plight of civilians.

The Government is voicing our concerns at every appropriate opportunity, including at the United Nations, the EU's Foreign Affairs Council and bilaterally with the relevant authorities.

I am somewhat surprised that the conflict did not feature on the ASEM agenda, given that the war in Yemen represents one of the world's greatest humanitarian crises and is now the world's largest crisis. Some 17.8 million people are food insecure, of whom 8 million are severely food insecure. We have all watched the emaciated bodies of the children on television, which is horrific.

It is extraordinary that such an horrific conflict has been allowed to continue for more than four years. To a certain extent, there is complacency within the international order, which almost confines the conflict to a regional war that does not necessitate an urgent, global response, apart from the humanitarian assistance that is in place. The EU has provided €440 million to Yemen for humanitarian development, stabilisation, resilience support and so on. Ireland has also provided €16.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen.

We support Mr. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, in his efforts to try to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table. Having said that I believe there is a sense that the powers that be in the EU, and western leaders in general, are pulling their punches on this conflict with regard its origins and conduct. While providing all this humanitarian assistance, the regional actors need to be called out, for example, on the role of Saudi Arabia which has a strong relationship with the United State. That is unacceptable in the context of the situation in Yemen, Iran and elsewhere. The use of proxy fighters who wreak appalling devastation on civilian populations is barbaric and should have led to a far greater call for action and intervention from the major powers of the world than it has to date.

We cannot salve our consciences by doling out humanitarian aid, important as that is. The political background to this conflict needs to be addressed urgently by the powers that be. This is why it needs to be on the agenda of ASEM and other global fora.

I agree with Deputy Martin. It is remarkable that what is widely regarded by the UN as the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time was not a matter of focus. In many ways, this is a forgotten, if not ignored, war. It is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is being fought at a the cost of the people of Yemen. We see heart-wrenching images of children dying of malnutrition in 2018, which is beyond shocking. I hope that Ireland will continue to raise the issue at every possible forum.

Did the Taoiseach attend the EU-Korea Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, summit, which was held the next day? If so, what were his inputs there? Did Ireland voice a view on the ongoing discussions to bring peace to the Korean peninsula?

With regard to the Taoiseach's discussions with the Russian deputy prime minister, were the ongoing concerns over Russian interference in the election process both in Europe and elsewhere raised by him or by any of the participants in the bilateral meetings or at the summit itself?

I am surprised that while at the ASEM conference the Taoiseach did not discuss the disaster that is unfolding in Yemen. It begs the question generally about whether European leaders and leaders of other governments around the world are willing to call out the Saudi regime for imposing a brutal blockade on the people of Yemen, which has brought between 11 million and 17 million people to the brink of starvation, with at least 10,000 killed directly. Save the Children estimate that 50,000 children died in 2017 as an indirect consequence of the blockade.

We must also consider what is happening in Saudi Arabia itself. There was the barbaric killing of Jamal Khashoggi who was dismembered and, we think, dissolved in acid. In the past few weeks, we heard that some women activists who campaigned for the right of women in Saudi Arabia to drive have been imprisoned. Amnesty International recently produced a report on the routine sexual harassment, torture and degradation of civil rights activists, including hanging prisoners from the ceiling and sexual tormenting of women prisoners by people wearing face masks. Three activists who had just received the alternative Nobel prize in Stockholm have been imprisoned for between ten and 15 years for crimes such as "disobeying the ruler" and "harming the reputation of the State", "engaged in peaceful protests where they criticised the Government". Europe, America and this country continue to treat the regime there as if it is some sort of normal regime. It is a vile and vicious regime that is doing appalling things, and the world is sitting by with Europe and America selling them guns. At least Senator Bernie Sanders has tabled a motion this week in the US Senate calling for an end to the support by the US of Saudi Arabia in this horrific war in Yemen. What are we doing about these people? What is going on is barbaric. It needs to be called out and sanctions are needed.

The war in Yemen should have been discussed at the ASEM summit. Like everybody, I am disgusted and shocked at the images of the humanitarian crisis and the suffering in Yemen, where thousands of people have died and 14 million people are going without food. They are on the brink of famine. The UN World Food Programme has warned that Yemen is facing a full-blown famine in approximately six months unless circumstances change rapidly. What are we doing about all this? What are we doing to assist the humanitarian response to the crisis? Aid organisations cite the blockade over the past three years by the Saudi-led coalition at the city port of Hodeidah, which handles 90% of Yemen's imports, as the reason for the food shortages. Clearly, responsibility for the humanitarian crisis must fall at the feet of the Saudi regime. We are aware that it has used its military might to bomb civilian areas, infrastructures, homes and school buses. Data collected by Al Jazeera and the Yemen Data Project show that 18,000 air raids have been carried out in the Yemen area since 2015 by the Saudis and the UAE-led military coalition. Almost one third of those bombings struck non-military sites, yet Britain and the US have sold weapons to Saudi Arabia worth more than $12 billion since it entered this war.

There is an urgent need for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia because of the war crimes taking place there. What is the Taoiseach's position on an arms embargo? Does he support that and will he press his EU colleagues and counterparts to support such a call?

The Government is greatly concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen. The crisis unfolding before our eyes is deeply troubling, particularly the horrendous impact on civilians, including children.

Ireland, together with the EU, fully supports the UN special envoy in his efforts to ensure that all parties respect international humanitarian law, and that humanitarian aid to the civilian population is allowed to flow unhindered.

The increase in hostilities around the port of Hodeidah is alarming, particularly as the port is essential for the importation of food and humanitarian aid to Yemen. The Government has called on all parties to the conflict to agree a ceasefire as a matter of urgency. We will continue to work through the UN and the EU to encourage all parties to make concessions and to arrive at a negotiated settlement.

Ireland is doing everything it can to mitigate the devastating humanitarian situation in Yemen. Since 2015, we have provided almost €16.5 million in humanitarian assistance directly to Yemen and we are also providing additional humanitarian aid through our contributions to the EU. Ireland has consistently and strongly communicated its concerns, especially regarding the safety of civilians and the need for safe access for humanitarian assistance. We have conveyed this to all parties to the conflict - to Saudi Arabia but also the United Arab Emirates and Iran, which are involved as well. In October, the Tánaiste relayed Ireland's strong views directly to the Saudi ambassador and will continue to make our views known both bilaterally and at the UN and EU. At present, there is no consensus at EU level for an arms embargo on Saudi. Ireland does not have an arms industry and, therefore, unilateral action would not have any effect. However, all exports from Ireland of military and dual use goods are subject to a strict assessment on a case-by-case basis against eight criteria contained in the EU code of conduct on arms exports.

The agenda for ASEM was focused primarily on regional geopolitical issues affecting the European and Asia-Pacific regions. It is important to understand that ASEM covers Europe and east Asia but does not cover the Middle East or the Arab world. Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia were not present and are not members of ASEM. However, I anticipate that the conflict in Yemen will feature in discussions at the EU-Arab League meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Egypt next February. Ireland continues to work at EU and UN level to seek a resolution to the crisis in Yemen. The issue was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 November, at which EU foreign Ministers reconfirmed our backing for the efforts of the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, to bring all parties to the negotiating table. I was not present at the EU-Korea meeting, as that was handled at Commission President and Council President level. I did not have a formal bilateral with Prime Minister Medvedev but we were at the same table for one of the meals and I did raise the issue of election disruption with him.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, the Government fully supports calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. There has been some progress in identifying the perpetrators but we are still awaiting clarification of what transpired. The ongoing investigations must be transparent and credible, get to the facts of the case and ensure that all those responsible for the killings are held accountable. Ireland and the EU are closely monitoring investigations as they proceed and we will consider what further steps to take in due course in close consultation with our EU partners. Ireland raised its concerns about the killing at the UN Human Rights Council on 5 November during Saudi Arabia's universal periodic review and we will continue to raise our concerns about this case, in particular, and human rights issues in general both directly with the Saudi authorities and at EU and international level whenever appropriate opportunities arise. As I mentioned earlier, the Tánaiste met the Saudi ambassador in Dublin last month and stressed the need for a credible and open investigation leading to accountability for all of those involved.