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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 May 1993

Vol. 136 No. 4

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs: Motion.

I move:

(1) That a Select Committee of Seanad Éireann consisting of 5 Members of Seanad Éireann, excluding the ex officio members of the Committee referred to in paragraph (6), be appointed to be joined with a Select Committee of Dáil Éireann to form the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(2) That the Joint Committee shall have power to appoint sub-Committees and to delegate any matter comprehended by paragraphs (3), (7), (8) and (9) to a sub-Committee.

(3) That a Bill initiated by the Leader of the House and originating in the Department of Foreign Affairs having passed its Second Stage may on motion made in Seanad Éireann be referred, with the concurrence of Dáil Éireann, to the Joint Committee.

(4) That the report of the Joint Committee upon every Bill originating in Seanad Éireann which is referred to it shall be set down for Report Stage in Seanad Éireann.

(5) That in the case of a Bill originating in Dáil Éireann, the motion of referral in Seanad Éireann shall constitute a Second Reading of the Bill and the debate thereon shall be confined to the general principle of the Bill and where the Third Stage has been dealt with in the Joint Committee, the Bill shall on its receipt in Seanad Éireann after being passed by Dáil Éireann be set down for Report Stage, the First, Second and Third Stages being waived.

(6) That the Minister for Foreign Affairs shall be an ex officio Member of a Committee or sub-Committee which is considering—

(i) a Bill referred to it, or

(ii) Estimates for Public Services,

and may nominate a Minister or Minister of State to be such ex officio Member in his stead.

(7) That the Joint Committee shall consider the impact on equality of policy and legislation in respect of the Department of Foreign Affairs and report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

(8) That the Joint Committee shall consider such aspects of Ireland's international relations, including its cooperation with developing countries, and such matters arising from Ireland's membership of the European Communities and its adherence to the Treaty on European Union as the Joint Committee may select and report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

(9) That the Joint Committee shall, in particular, consider:

(i) such programmes and guidelines prepared by the Commission of the European Communities as a basis for possible legislative action and such drafts of regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions of the Council of Ministers proposed by the Commission,

(ii) such acts of the institutions of those Communities,

(iii) such regulations under the European Communities Acts, 1972 to 1993, and

(iv) such other instruments made under statute and necessitated by the obligations of membership of those Communities

as the Committee may select and shall report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

(10) That any consideration by the Joint Committee, or a sub-Committee of security issues relating to Northern Ireland shall be in private session.

(11) That Seanad Éireann may refer reports relevant to the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Joint Committee for discussion, observations and recommendations, and the Joint Committee shall report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

(12) That the Joint Committee shall make an annual report to both Houses of the Oireachtas which shall detail:

(i) the work carried out by the Committee,

(ii) the work in progress by the Committee,

(iii) the attendance and voting records at meetings of the Committee,

(iv) its future work programme, and

(v) such other matters as the Committee deems appropriate.

(13) That the Joint Committee and each sub-Committee shall have power to send for persons, but information need not be provided to a Committee or a sub-Committee if a Member of the Government certifies in writing that such information is confidential or that its disclosure would be prejudicial to the State's international relations.

(14) That the Joint Committee shall have power, subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance, to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist them for the purpose of particular enquiries.

(15) That in the absence from a particular meeting of the Joint Committee or of a sub-Committee of a member who is a Member of Seanad Éireann, another Member of Seanad Éireann may, with the authority of the absent member, take part in the proceedings and vote in his or her stead; and that Members of Seanad Éireann, not being members of the Joint Committee, may attend meetings and take part in the proceedings of the Joint Committee and of its sub-committees without having a right to vote.

(16) That Members of the European Parliament elected from constituencies in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) and Members of the Irish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe may attend meetings of the Joint Committee and of its sub-Committees; and that other Members of the European Parliament may, at the invitation of the Joint Committee or of a sub-Committee, attend particular meetings. Members of the European Parliament and Members of the Irish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe attending on such occasions may take part in proceedings without having a right to vote or to table amendments to Bills referred to the Committee under paragraph (3).

(17) That the Joint Committee and each sub-Committee previous to the commencement of business, shall elect one of its members to be Chairperson, who shall have only one vote.

(18) That all questions in the Joint Committee and each sub-Committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes, the question shall be decided in the negative.

(19) That every report which the Joint Committee proposes to make shall, on adoption by the Committee, be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith, together with any document relating thereto which the Committee proposes to publish, whereupon the Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report and the said document, or documents, as the case may be.

(20) That notwithstanding paragraph (19) where the Joint Committee has completed Committee Stage of a Bill, it shall be empowered to print and publish the said Bill as amended, where appropriate.

(21) That the quorum of the Joint Committee shall be 8, of whom at least one shall be a Member of Dáil Éireann and at least one shall be a Member of Seanad Éireann, and the quorum of each sub-Committee shall be a number to be decided by the sub-Committee when such sub-Committee is appointed.

(22) That no document received by the Clerk to the Joint Committee or a sub-Committee shall be withheld, withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of such Committee.

Today we have reached the final stage of the Seanad's consideration of the establishment of a foreign affairs committee. The committee we are about to establish has a very broad mandate. It covers the entire area of our European and international relations, examination of EC secondary legislation, co-operation with developing countries, the financing of the Department of Foreign Affairs and of programmes funded by it and legislation sponsored by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I know this House has been to the forefront in pointing to the need for a foreign affairs committee and in advancing proposals for the terms of reference of such a committee. It is, therefore, appropriate that the foreign affairs committee should be a joint one of both Houses of the Oireachtas, which can benefit from the particular perspective that this House can bring to bear on foreign policy issues.

My appointment as Minister of State came at a time of dramatic changes in the international environment in which Ireland must operate. The implications of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe are still working their way through the international system. The new world order that is now being shaped offers both opportunities and dangers for Ireland and for the principles that have traditionally informed our foreign policy.

The Tánaiste and I look forward to the advice that the foreign affairs committee can offer on how this country should respond to the challenges that now face us. It is important that the issues involved are fully explored against the background of our national concerns and aspirations, and that the broadest possible consensus is reached on the future path of our foreign policy.

Our future relationship with Europe is one vital area that the Committee will no doubt wish to investigate in depth. Our accession to the European Community in 1973 involved a fundamental decision by the Irish people to join with the original six member states in a community which aspired towards European Union. The Community has developed considerably since then, the milestones of this development being the Single European Act and the Treaty on European Union. The Irish people, by very large majorities, endorsed the progress towards European Union marked by these instruments.

The difficulties that have been encountered in certain member states in the ratification process of the Maastricht Treaty illustrate the tensions that arise as national sovereignty is pooled in a common Europe. The recent difficulties in the European Monetary System, culminating for this country in the downward realignment of the punt within the EMS, are a further illustration of the challenges involved in the specific area of Economic and Monetary Union. The problems which the Community has been experiencing in responding adequately to the situation in former Yugoslavia illustrate the challenges involved in developing the common foreign and security policy envisaged under the Maastricht Treaty.

The committee might usefully consider what this country can expect from, and contribute to, the European Union which is to be developed under the Maastricht Treaty. There are many issues that arise for Ireland in the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty. For example, will the union be able to adhere to the timetable for Economic and Monetary Union envisaged under the Maastricht Treaty? Whatever about the precise timetable, Ireland's position on the principle of going ahead and on our full participation from the outset to the final stage are clear.

There was much talk some months ago — at the height of the currency turmoil in Europe — about a "two-speed" approach to European Monetary Union, with a central core going ahead without the others. The countries usually considered capable of becoming part of any core group included Germany, France, the Benelux countries and Ireland, although we were not always included in the list. In Ireland's case, our assessed eligibility was based on our fulfilment of the entry criteria contained in the Maastricht Treaty: low inflation and budget deficit, restricted annual government borrowing, as well as our very favourable balance of payments position on our high economic growth relative to our Community partners.

It has now been clearly signalled that an European Monetary Union fast track is not on the cards. What we do have before us is the Maastricht Treaty, which makes it plain that not all member states need join the final stage at the same time. Indeed, Britain and Denmark have explicitly opted out of the arrangements. Whatever happens, it is Ireland's firm intention — an intention backed up by appropriate economic policies and performance — to be part of the first group.

Some other member states may be proud of being geographically closer to the centre of the EC, but let me say that, in terms of political commitment and public support, we in Ireland are a core country. Our commitment to the ERM and to European Monetary Union is strong and unwavering. We want to see co-operation within the ERM strengthened as we prepare for European Monetary Union. No one should make the mistake of identifying a small inner circle connecting Bonn, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. The inner circle, if such there must be, cannot be merely geographical. On all economic and political grounds, it must include Ireland.

Other issues that arise for Ireland in our relationship with the EC include: will resources from the Cohesion and Structural Funds be adequate to ensure that Ireland makes satisfactory progress in narrowing the gap between our level of economic prosperity and that of other member states? What are the principles that should underlie our approach to the development of the European Union's common foreign and security policy? What are the issues for Ireland in the accession of new members? Should we favour early accession of the countries of Eastern Europe? What should our view be of the balance to be eventually aimed for between the power of the institutions of the future Union and the power of member states?

The new committee will provide an important link to the European Parliament, as well as to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Irish MEPs will have the right to attend and participate in meetings of the committee. Other MEPs may attend by invitation.

I hope the committee will address, at an early stage, the relationship between the Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament. The importance of this relationship was specifically recognised in the Declaration on the role of national parliaments in the European Union approved at Maastricht. The committee may wish to reflect on how best to give effect to the suggestion in the Declaration that contacts between the European Parliament and national parliaments should be stepped up. The Declaration mentioned in particular the granting of appropriate reciprocal facilities and regular meetings between members of parliament interested in the same issues.

In the new world order that is emerging, the role of the United Nations is of major importance. The end of the cold-war rivalries has given a new impetus to the work of the United Nations which stems from greater international recognition of its potential. Ireland's longstanding commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN remains firm. Global action is needed to preserve international peace, maintain the rule of international law, promote respect for fundamental human rights, protect the environment and combat hunger and disease in the world. The United Nations provides an irreplaceable framework for the common efforts of mankind in these and other areas.

The creation of peace-keeping and observer forces is one of the most important activities undertaken by the United Nations. New challenges are facing the United Nations in this area — for example in Cambodia, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. These challenges may call for a new approach in which peace-keeping may have to be complemented by elements of peace-enforcement. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs might usefully reflect on how this country, with its long and proud record of involvement in UN peace-keeping, should respond to these challenges.

Another positive result of the end of the Cold War has been a renewed emphasis on giving effect to international human rights norms. Ideological differences and an excessive emphasis on the doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of individual states have, in the past, been major obstacles to the human rights work of the United Nations. New opportunities now exist to ensure that respect for the basic human rights of the individual are seen as one of the key building-blocks of the new world order that is being created. In this new world order, the individual whose basic human rights are being abused by a State should be able to look with confidence to the international community for redress.

The World Conference on Human Rights, scheduled to take place in Vienna in June 1993, will provide an opportunity to strengthen further existing mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Ireland, together with its EC partners, is advocating the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as a practical step in improving the enforcement of minimum universal standards.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs could usefully examine how Ireland, with its traditional emphasis on human rights, can best contribute to the development of a new international consensus on the enforcement of human rights norms. The gross human rights abuses that have been perpetrated in former Yugoslavia are a grim reminder of the urgency of the task.

Because of my particular responsibility for overseas development assistance, I am very glad that our relations with developing countries are mentioned specifically in the terms of reference of the committee. I recall the valuable work done in the past by the Joint Committee on Co-operation with Developing Countries. Its reports helped to clarify aspects of our relations with developing countries and to forge a broad consensus around the main features of our official aid programme. These features include a focus on the poorest countries in Africa, close co-operation with Irish non-governmental organisations and an emphasis on the placement of Irish volunteers and other development workers overseas.

In the light of the Government's firm commitment to increase our official development assistance effort, the Tánaiste and I have been examining closely the direction which the expanded official development assistance programme should take. We hope to publish a document on this subject in the coming months. We would especially welcome the advice of the committee in this area.

In recent months we have again been faced with the growing plight of millions of people in Africa who live in conditions of danger and deprivation because of drought, famine and disease — not to speak of man-made disasters, such as brought on the crisis in Somalia last year. Irish agencies and Irish humanitarian relief workers have traditionally played an important role in bringing relief to those in distress, as I have seen for myself in my visits to Somalia and Southern Sudan. The commitment and generosity of these Irish women and men — including a willingness to risk their lives for the good of their fellow human beings — should be a source of pride to all of us.

When I visited Southern Sudan, I saw for myself the extent of the problem that the people in these countries face and the effective assistance being provided by Irish agencies. It is impossible to convey in words the horror of the situation there. Children, and indeed adults also, are dying every day from hunger and from disease. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and are wandering from one centre to another in search of food and shelter. In some areas, up to 40 per cent of the population is said to have died.

Part of the problem, of course, arises from the recurrent difficulties of irregular rainfall, and plant and animal disease. However, I would emphasise that most of these major tragedies are man-made. Increased humanitarian assistance is essential as an immediate response but does not represent a full answer. The answer must be political. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs might usefully consider what role Ireland could play in helping to articulate the need for political progress aimed at avoiding a repeat of the type of humanitarian disaster we have seen in Somalia and are seeing emerging again in Southern Sudan.

Finally, we must remember that aid programmes are only a part of what is involved in development cooperation. For many developing countries, the policies followed by the developed world in relation to trade and debt issues are far more important than aid flows. I hope that the committee will ensure that this broader picture is kept in mind when we face policy choices, especially in the trade area, which have implications both for employment at home and for the long term needs of developing countries. We must be careful to avoid damaging the interests of developing countries. It is easy for us to respond instantly and generously to the image of a starving child on a TV screen. It is not so easy to address policy issues in the trade area which may be vital for the longer-term development of Third World countries, especially if such policies may cause short term job-losses in vulnerable industries in the developed world.

We have tried to be as open as possible in our approach to the terms of reference of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The result is that all issues of relevance to policy-formation in the foreign affairs area will be open for discussion. As Members may be aware, there were detailed deliberations about the arrangements for discussion by the committee of political and security issues relating to Northern Ireland. At the outset, the Government was concerned that the sensitivity and need for confidentiality in debating these issues was such as to raise doubts about the appropriateness of debating them at a committee meeting. It was then suggested that these issues might be discussed in private sessions of the committee. Finally, however, following further reflection, it was accepted by the Government that political issues relating to the North could be discussed in public, with security issues only reserved for private discussion. I feel that this provides a basis for a very full and constructive role by the committee in discussing the appropriate way forward in addressing the problems of Northern Ireland.

What I have outlined is a small selection of the many issues that can usefully be addressed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. I believe that the committee will provide a much needed focus for public discussion on foreign affairs issues. The Tánaiste and I look forward to working closely with the committee and wish it the very best in its challenging work.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion before the Seanad today to form an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Fine Gael has strongly advocated the establishment of such a committee for a number of years because we recognise its importance not just to the House but to Ireland's role within Europe and the wider international community.

I have a criticism of the terms of the reference of the committee in relation to the number of Senators included on it which is five. Given that approximately 30 Members of the Dáil are already involved in Cabinet and as Ministers of State, there are 130 Members of the Dáil available to participate on this committee. On a pro rata basis at least ten members of Seanad Éireann should be included also. This House has been discriminated against by Government in the establishment of this committee. We are under-represented; five members is not an adequate representation of Seanad Éireann. I hope the Minister will take this matter into account and if possible will redress the situation at the earliest opportunity.

I welcome the Government's decision to change the original terms of reference which suggested that all aspects of discussions on Northern Ireland by the committee would be held in private. I had hoped the Government would allow the committee to decide what matters, if any should be discussed in private. All Members of the Oireachtas are responsible and recognise the sensitivity of security matters. There was no need to include this condition in the committee's terms of reference and I welcome its removal. The Chairman and Members would have been capable of making that decision if necessary.

I hope the aspirations in the Minister's speech will be reflected in the committee and that we will have the broadest possible level of discussion on all aspects of foreign affairs and especially of the EC. I hope the committee will be able to discuss the institutions of the community with a view to establishing how each of these institutions relates to the Houses of the Oireachtas and how co-operation and closer links with the European Parliament might be achieved.

It is a welcome development that Irish Members of the European Parliament are being given an opportunity to take part in this committee. That is a step in the right direction. Inviting other Members with specific responsibilities and expertise in areas of particular interest to us, especially those involved in the Regional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and affording them an opportunity of addressing the Irish committee and having an exchange of views could be very useful exercise.

The European monetary system and the exchange rate mechanism must be addressed urgently by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The recent reduction of interest rates in Europe two days after we had devalued our currency deserves examination. It was unacceptable that Germany appeared to accommodate Denmark, which had not ratified the Maastricht Treaty while Ireland was treated less favourably. That matter must be addressed by the committee.

Industrial, environmental, regional and social policies as they are being developed in the European Parliament and within the European Community must also be addressed in detail by the new committee. I hope the Minister of State and the Minister will attend these meetings regularly and provide details of what is going on in the Department and of how the Minister is relating to his counterparts in Europe on various issues.

One of the most important events in recent times affecting the whole of Europe is the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. Its potential effect on the European Community must be addressed. Irish foreign policy in relation to Europe is very important. In the Maastricht Treaty security was not dealt with in detail but we must address it before 1996 because in 1997 it is expected that a referendum will be held on Europe's security policy. The fundamental issue of neutrality, which has been sacred to many of us will have to be tackled.

I hope the Minister of State in his reply will elaborate in greater detail on recent statements by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs relating to peace-keeping and our role within the United Nations. As the Minister of State correctly stated the United Nations has done great humanitarian work across the world to ensure that international law is adhered to and that peace is maintained in troubled areas. However recently the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that the Defence Act of 1960 will have to be amended to allow the Irish Defence Forces to get involved in what he termed in an interview as peacemaking activities in Somalia. The background to the Tánaiste's statement which changed the terminology from peace enforcement to peacemaking must be examined. Initially the Tánaiste spoke about peace enforcement activities in Somalia and in more recent interviews has spoken of peacemaking. I hope that he will not try to hide the real position from the Irish people. If we are to go in in a peace enforcement capacity we need to be specific about it and the Minister must ensure that the Irish people are fully informed about any change in policy.

It is important that peace be restored to Somalia and Bosnia and Ireland may be able to assist in that process. It is also vital that the Government be clear about any changes in our role in the United Nations. We must be specific if we are changing from a peacekeeping to a peace enforcement role or as the Tánaiste said, to a peacemaking role. The Tánaiste recently stated that peacemaking would involve dealing with land mines and removing types of military artillery from vital positions. We need to find out if that means Irish soldiers will be involved in direct armed confrontation. There is no point in trying to hide the reality of the situation. Is this an attempt to soften our position on neutrality without saying so? Having taken the initial steps in Somalia will we be asked to go further in Bosnia? It is important that we be open, clear and specific. We must not be convoluted or attempt to minimise what the change in policy might be. The Minister and Minister for State should come to the committee and state clearly their position on this matter.

The Cohesion and Structural Funds must be addressed. The Government is preparing a submission for the European Community. Unfortunately the Government did not consider it necessary to bring the last submission before the Houses of the Oireachtas. As a result many vital aspects were omitted which could have been covered if Deputies and Senators had had the opportunity to speak to such a motion. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs should be presented with the Government's proposed document and afforded the opportunity of examining it in detail, agreeing to it, adding to it if necessary or making recommendations to the Minister on additional areas that should be covered.

In the last submission there was no mention of coastal erosion or of providing money to solve the problem. As the Minister knows, vast areas in the east, the south-east and the west are severely affected by coastal erosion. Given that Ireland is the only island member state of the EC the Government was remiss in not examining that area and making a submission for Structural Funds on that basis. Coastal erosion affects many local authorities. I hope on this occasion the Government does include coastal erosion in its submission. I understand local authorities have made representation on that matter.

As regards education, there must be a focus on the under-privileged and on remedial education. Specific funding must be provided to bring us on a par with other European countries in terms of the support system necessary for the under-privileged in education. I hope the Minister in his reply will tell us if the new committee will deal with industry, the environment, education, external relations, consumer issues and Customs and Excise.

Customs policy will affect us in the future. What will happen our duty free shops when the borders are dismantled? What does the future hold for the staff of those shops?

We must examine our role on the broader international scene, particularly in relation to the Third World. On a voluntary basis Ireland has an exemplary record and we have extremely good ambassadors and ambassadresses in the under-privileged world. However, we seem to react to what is happening in other countries. As a nation we have a responsibility in this area. What is our policy in regard to the Third World? How do we promote that policy in Europe, in the GATT countries and in the international community generally? Are we satisfied to stand back and allow the major trading countries to act to the detriment of the starving people of the Third World? These matters are not only political, they are also moral.

Ireland has always had a strong relationship with the United States. This continues primarily because many of our people emigrated there and many of us have family connections there. As a country do we intend to continue that strong relationship with the United States? Do we intend to develop that relationship or reduce it and integrate further with the European Community? We have never really addressed this issue. We have to balance our position as a peripheral state in Europe that has strong connections with the United States with our membership of the European Community. We may then decide what our non-EC commitments to the US are.

I am pleased we have before us the terms of reference of this committee which will be established shortly. There is a great deal of work to be done. I hope the committee works effectively and gets co-operation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and other Departments. Perhaps the Minister could say what contact the committee will have with the Department and whether we can summon other Ministers. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment and the Minister for Social Welfare have contact with their European counterparts through regular meetings. Can the committee examine those areas as well as foreign policy? European affairs affect every Minister. I hope the committee will be able to invite Ministers to find out how their Departments are relating to Europe.

I am delighted the Government has acceded to the constant requests from Fine Gael Members in both Houses to have this committee established. I hope nothing will be done to minimise their work and that co-operation and support will be given by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government. We must take a strong stand and be at the forefront on important issues. I hope this committee will strengthen the hand of the Government in Europe but that can only be done with genuine co-operation and commitment from the Government and the Department.

I wish the committee well and hope it will benefit Ireland and the Irish people.

I welcome the Minister to the House. For many years I and other Members have fought for the establishment of this committee. When in Government we were not able to fight as hard as when we were in Opposition. I am glad the committee has been formed while my party is in Government.

Senator Taylor-Quinn asked the Minister to outline the parameters of the committee. I hope the committee will set its own parameters and the Minister and Minister of State, while available at all times to help the committee, should not play a leading role in it. Unless the committee is given a major role in deciding foreign policy there is not much point in establishing it and foreign policy will continue to be dictated by those in the hallowed halls of the Department of Foreign Affairs on St. Stephen's Green.

I am glad the committee will have broad powers. Its work will be quite onerous as it will deal with issues which affect not only international relations but also, due to our close alignment with the EC, most of our national affairs. The work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, which has been incorporated into this committee, was extremely onerous. Membership of the former committee generated more work for Senators than membership of the House itself. Ireland's international affairs include co-operation with developing countries, dealing with the EC Treaty on European Union, our relationship with the United Nations and every aspect of Northern Ireland, all major issues and part and parcel of the political fabric of this country.

I am glad that members of the European Parliament and of the Council of Europe will be able to attend and speak but not vote at meetings of the committee. This will give them a more meaningful role. Although some would say that MEPs have sufficient opportunity to inform the people of Ireland of the work they do in Europe the right to address the committee gives an opportunity to MEPs to explain their role and allows us to offer guidance in some matters.

The role of the United Nations will be an issue of major importance for the committee. This role has changed dramatically over the past few years because of the breakup of the Soviet Union. There is now no major world power other than the United States and the United States is taking upon itself a world policing role. On occasions it seems to by-pass the United Nations which is reasonable from its point of view as it sees itself as the major power broker in the world at present. The United Nations is made up of a conglomeration of nations some of whom are friendly towards the United States and others unfriendly. Some developing countries are not as supportive of the United States as it would like them to be. The United Nations and not the United States should be the overall world policeman. The existence of the United Nations is pointless if it is not allowed to play the major role in world affairs.

In recent years we have seen the breakup of States and a resurgence of nationalism which is creating problems in Europe and elsewhere. We must be involved in trying to resolve the issues which give rise to national conflicts. The major conflict in Europe at present is taking place in an area which was formerly part of Yugoslavia and is only about two hours air journey from Dublin. Issues of ethnic origin and religious affiliation gave rise to this conflict which could spread eastwards and westwards to involve us unless it is resolved shortly.

Mention has been made of overseas development assistance and the need to help Third World countries. Much work will have to be done by the committee to deal with the elements which contribute to conflict in the Third World. The politics of aid must be addressed carefully. International aid has been politicised to a huge extent. The number of groups involved in such aid is growing daily, groups which sometimes operate in an ad hoc manner by identifying problems and intervening to assist people affected by them. However, such groups do not deal with the reasons for those problems and unless this is done there will be no long term resolution of development problems.

Man-made disasters rather than natural disasters create most difficulties throughout the world. Unfortunately, the same assistance is given for all disasters, irrespective of cause. Some Third World countries are given excessive amounts of food aid. The purpose of food aid is to help countries cope with natural disasters, but when the rain comes and a natural growth cycle is restored, farmers will not grow a cash crop since there is no point growing grain which is supplied free from outside. Food aid when no longer required is not shifted to other areas of need but is left to rot.

Many people who work with UN and EC aid agencies do not have the basic education required for the job. People from the EC go on aid missions to countries, the languages of which they are unable to speak, and then have to hire interpreters. In many cases the translation provided by an interpreter is based on what it is believed the aid worker wants to hear. Sometimes these interpreters work against the interests of the aid groups. There are parts of Africa which are awash with United Nations aid associations. The amount of money being poured into these countries is enormous and the only result we see is the moneys being siphoned off to a large degree.

I was speaking recently to some people who work on aid programmes for the EC and according to them one of the biggest problems they have is when they look for language training before being sent abroad. They are told there is no time for language training. They have to go out and do the job and hire interpreters. That is no way to work. The international languages are French and English and are of use when one is dealing with diplomats or higher civil servants but are of no use on the ground. Unless aid workers speak the language of the country they are not doing the job they are sent out to do. The committee will have to look at the question of aid in which we are involved through our contributions to the EC or our contributions to international aid groups. We have to look at how best this money may be spent. The World Bank seems to make decisions which do not relate to the needs of the communities to which it is giving money. It does not work to the best advantage of the aid receiving countries.

I am glad the Minister mentioned the need for an extension of human rights to all areas. The committee must address the question of human rights since 90 per cent of all conflicts are due to the negation of human rights. Throughout the world human rights violations are a constant factor in the development of major problems. It may be said that militant Islamism caused the rising against the Shah in Iran. I would suggest it was caused by nothing but the violation of human rights by the Shah and his Government. When people in Iran realised they had no hope, they turned to militancy and the militancy they turned to was that of Islam. The same thing is happening in other areas of the world.

The committee, in addressing the question of our foreign affairs policies, will have to look at our diplomatic missions abroad, the relevance of these missions, the numbers of them, their locations and the reason for having diplomatic missions. The world has become a smaller place thanks to international travel, so the need for diplomatic missions has reduced. Furthermore, communication between this country and others can be made instantaneously and without the need, in many cases, for the diplomatic bag which has to be transported by aeroplane. There are ways of communicating other than diplomatic bags.

In many cases our diplomatic missions abroad are not geared to modern day society. They are geared to a time when our diplomats needed to develop a feeling for the countries they were sent to and to convey their impressions via the diplomatic bag. That diplomacy is only needed now in a minority of places. Our diplomatic missions abroad should be used now as centres for the expansion of trade with the countries in which we have diplomatic missions. The era of the "red carpet" diplomatic brigade should be forgotten. There is obviously a need for us to have representation abroad but we should look at the nature of that representation. I suggest that this is an issue the new committee will have to address in the near future.

I would like to see the United Nations reasserting itself as the major world power or, if not, to see a balancing power to the United States emerge. Perhaps Europe is the logical balancing power. The question of peace-keeping forces and peace-keeping against peace-enforcement is an argument that will go on for some time. It is interesting to see Britain backing peace-enforcement in Europe and Yugoslavia, yet when the possibility of bringing the UN into the Six Counties is raised Britain's attitude has always been that the United Nations could not get involved in the internal affairs of a member nation. However, Britain is happy to support involvement in the internal affairs of nations other than Ireland. It has been involved on a multilateral basis in Lebanon and is involved on a multilateral basis in Yugoslavia.

The Minister said that it is easy to respond instantaneously to the image of a child dying on television and that is at the root of the ad hoc nature of a good deal of aid. If we could respond to television with a third sense many of the conflicts in the world would be abated if not eliminated. At present we can see television and we can hear television but we cannot smell television. The day smell is brought onto television will be the day people realise what poverty and deprivation really are.

The Minister of State and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have shown themselves to be responsive to the needs of the under-privileged both outside and inside this country. A major task which this foreign affairs committee can carry out would be to put together a plan to deal with the problems of the Third World in terms of having development assistance and not aid. That will enable these countries to escape the cycle of manmade and natural disasters. These disasters can be addressed but a viable plan has to be produced.

Like Senator Taylor-Quinn, I am glad the issue of Northern Ireland will be debated in public to a large degree. Naturally, issues of security should be dealt with privately and not in public as they could have major implications for people on both sides of the Border. I welcome the Minister of State. I am glad this committee is being set up because the work of the committee will have major implications for our foreign and economic policies. The committee's work on EC affairs will influence not only our international diplomacy but also our national economic policy. I welcome this motion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I remind Members that, while there is no time limit on speeches, they should bear in mind the many speakers who wish to participate.

I think the longest period I have spoken in this House has been nine minutes.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

My remarks were not addressed to you, Senator.

I did not take them personally. I will try not to exceed nine minutes today.

I listened with great interest to the Minister's presentation. As I did so I realised it might be an excellent paper for a university seminar. It sets out a research programme that would keep a department of international relations working for several years.

That is condemnation indeed.

That is the highest praise I can give.

It occurred to me that we do not have a department for international relations in any of our universities. One of the matters that this committee — which I welcome — ought to consider is the type of support it can expect from those whose professional activity is intellectual analysis of these matters. It must be noted by those who work in higher education abroad how casual is the relationship in this country between policy makers and the intellectual community compared to other countries which have more intellectual resources available to policy makers. This committee should consider mobilising our intellectual resources in the higher education system more effectively to assist the committee in its activities.

I do not mean that members of universities should write papers for the committee but there ought to be a closer relationship between the work of policy makers — including this committee of backbenchers — and current intellectual thought. A small number of people in our universities analyse these matters. They are talented but their time and energy can be frittered away on a range of topics which have no relationship to Irish policy making. I see no reason a means cannot be devised to focus their energy on issues which are directly relevant to our country's needs without sacrificing scholarly standards. I hope that some consideration will be given to this proposal.

It is extraordinary that it took nearly 20 years from our entry to the EC to establish an Institute of European Affairs in this country. It was not until the institute — which is doing excellent work — was established a year or two ago that we had a centre to produce systematic analysis of EC affairs. I hope there will not be the same gap between the establishment of this committee and the encouragement of intellectual investigation of international affairs. There is a committee on international affairs in the Royal Irish Academy; its work is worthy but is randomly organised. I hope, therefore, that there can be a more structured relationship between the policy makers, including those on this committee, and the intellectual community. It would be an important factor in making the best use of our very limited national resources in this area.

To put what I have just said into a wider context, we who are in third level and other educational facilities are regularly harangued by Government about what are we or are not doing for business. Why do we not provide more assistance for business? Why do we not provide more business orientated courses? It is time the Government asked that the activity of Government be taken seriously in the work of higher education institutions. I put the relationship between the higher education community and the foreign affairs committee in that context.

I turn now to some of the observations in the Minister's speech. The Minister said:

The committee might usefully consider what this country can expect from, and contribute to, the European Union which is to be developed under the Maastricht Treaty.

Indeed, it could spend every minute of every day for ten years considering these matters. That demonstrates the resource requirement the committee might reasonably expect to have if it is to make the contribution which it is suggested it should make.

The reference to our "assessed eligibility (to the Maastricht Treaty) was based on our fulfilment of the entry criteria...low inflation and budget deficit, restricted annual Government borrowing, as well as our favourable balance of payments position and our high economic growth relative to our Community partners." The latter two criteria were inserted by the Government because, as I recollect, they are not part of the Maastricht Treaty. The first two criteria are contained in the Treaty. It might be interesting to know why some criteria were included in the Maastricht Treaty and others were not. There is no reference to unemployment in those criteria.

The concept of economic fundamentals in Maastricht may be valid. It may be in our international interest to strive to achieve those fundamentals in inflation rates and a decrease to 60 per cent national debt ratio to GDP. It would be interesting if this committee could examine and propose the criteria Ireland should seek in any renegotiation of Maastricht or in a future stage of European Union. There would be more discussion next time — which would not be difficult — of the criteria for which Ireland should fight. Perhaps the Government sought other criteria for the Maastricht Treaty. However, the final criteria are very restrictive and serve a particular concept of economic development. That concept is, arguably, not necessarily in the interest of this country or in the interest of poorer countries within the EC or, indeed in the interest of EC relations with the international community.

I would quibble with the following:

Will resources from the Cohesion and Structural Funds be adequate to ensure that Ireland makes satisfactory progress in narrowing the gap between us and the level of economic prosperity in other member states?

We already know the answer to that. Of course the level of resources will not be adequate, whether it is £8 billion — and good luck to the Government for achieving £8 billion — or £18 billion, because the main issue is not the size of the funds, although that is important, but the use we make of them. That is affected by our capacity to formulate policy and not, except in a loose sense, the EC. If this committee gets bogged down in debating all the worthy areas on which Structural and Cohesion Funds could be spent, it could spend its time discussing something which in the end would become a political issue and would not necessarily contribute to the effective use of those funds. I hope it will not be diverted by that issue, although, in the short term, it is bound to be.

There is an interesting sentence in the Minister's speech which has implications for our foreign policy and neutrality: "Ideological differences and an excessive emphasis on the doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of individual states have, in the past, been major obstacles to the human rights work of the United Nations."

The phrase "an excessive emphasis" is very instructive. It suggests a trend of thought in the Department of Foreign Affairs with which I agree. Nevertheless, who defines what is "an excessive emphasis"? What is a normal emphasis? What is subnormal? What is excessive? Do we have a policy on the matter at this stage? It must be difficult to formulate a definite policy as distinct from responding in an ad hoc manner within a loose framework.

If it is possible to specify criteria, then the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs should be aware of those criteria and, if not, then the problems involved in specifying criteria should be spelled out in a professional manner by the Department of Foreign Affairs or by the formulators of foreign policy. I share what I take to be the implications of the tone behind this but I would like to see "excessive" elaborated on in due course. I do not want to ask the Minister of State to give an instant response today, but the dimension of our thinking on foreign policy must be gradually elaborated upon.

I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by speakers on both sides, with one reservation. We have much to be proud of regarding the conduct of our foreign policy. The Department of Foreign Affairs has frequently suffered from ill-considered criticism. There is no doubt that the Department like all Departments could improve its performance in certain areas; however, I do not share the view that the prime function of the Department of Foreign Affairs is to conduct trade policy. That may be part of its function but it should not be its main function.

The fact that we live in a global village and that communication is more efficient than it used to be does not mean that we do not need diplomatic representation abroad, whatever the nature of that representation. Every day we are subjected to television images of disaster around the world. Television reporters do an excellent job yet it is important to have detached and informed diplomatic commentary and observation on what is happening and on long term implications. Television images greatly affect public opinion but that does not absolve us from the obligation to acquire informed diplomatic commentary. It is necessary that our policy makers would have access to a reliable independent channel of opinion rather than reacting to the latest image from Bosnia, Somalia or elsewhere. I see that as a reason for, rather than against, a commitment to adequate diplomatic representation in as many places as we can afford.

It is true to say that the Department of Foreign Affairs is overstretched in many ways. It is a very small Department by international standards and has to contend sometimes with policy makers from better resourced Departments in larger countries. Our diplomats must be "jacks of all trades", unlike specialists in other countries. Department officials do a remarkable job and we do not make adequate allowance for the fact that they represent a small country of limited resources and back-up.

The programme which the Minister mentioned in his speech requires third level institute research. It also poses enormous problems for his Department because now the rigidities of the Cold War have been relaxed. Issues which were not problematic in the past have now become so. As a result, expertise is needed in a range of new areas. I am sure that the Department does not have the resources to cope with this change.

Later today, we will discuss the Culliton report. The Government's response to the Moriarty report on the Culliton report as regards foreign trade states:

Ireland's economic interests are the raison d'être for most of our Embassies and Missions abroad. Therefore, the training of our diplomats, so they can make the most effective possible contribution to programmes for achieving those interests, has to be a priority.

The emphasis here is different from that in the Minister of State's statement. The references in the document, "Employment through Enterprise", which we will debate later today, are uncomprehending of the nature and role of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which includes the representation of Irish economic interests. The way it is envisaged here does not take account of the most effective means by which that can be done. I would prefer the more traditional emphasis in the Minister of State's statement. There are two different voices or tones in the documents which we will be considering today.

I would like clarification of the Minister of State's priorities and the Government's perspective with regard to the most effective role for the Department of Foreign Affairs, a Department which has served the country extraordinarily well over the years. I hope its effectiveness will not be damaged by ill-considered "shooting from the hip" recommendations by people who have not had the opportunity to be professionally involved in the conduct of foreign affairs.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy T. Kitt, to the House; his speech this morning was thought provoking. I am delighted that Members of the Seanad over the years stressed the need for an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.

One does not have to travel far to find political problems. The serious political situation in Northern Ireland, which the committee will address, is on our doorstep. In Europe, Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia are enduring severe political strife at present.

I congratulate the Minister of State and President Robinson for visiting Somalia. President Robinson has played an active role in visiting troubled countries. We are fortunate to have a President who is such a successful ambassador. Her actions help to educate Irish people about world problems.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs must look at our relationship with Europe when it meets to discuss current issues. In relation to the formulation of foreign policy, one must look at the critical situation which developed during the currency crisis. We were not prepared for what happened at that time. Committees, such as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, should anticipate potential problems so as to avoid future crises. Perhaps our failure to understand the implications of German reunification led to the currency crisis.

We are an island State and we must play a role in the European Community. Otherwise, we will not survive. We must ensure that we receive the money available to us, through the Structural and Cohesion Funds, for national development.

This country has always been to the forefront in fighting for the rights of individuals throughout the world. Groups such as Amnesty International have highlighted human rights violations throughout the world, including South America and Europe. It is important to highlight the problems of people in other countries by making representation through our embassies.

Regarding Third World countries, the poorer they are, the more problems they have. One looks at Somalia and Ethiopia and the fabulous work done by the Minister of State, our President and people like Bob Geldof and the money which was raised at that time. We must ask if that money was spent properly and if policies had been organised, could better use have been made of it? I have no doubt that much of it was wasted.

We have a European food mountain while people are starving in other countries. Morally, it is not right. We see dying children on television and we ask ourselves if there is anything we can do. I have no doubt we are doing our best but I hope that with the formation of the committee we, as a nation, will be able to help these people.

The Northern Ireland issue is close to my heart. People in Northern Ireland often say we are living in a foreign country. It is right to have open discussion on Northern Ireland but not on security policy. Any Senator or TD from a Border county comes under unique political pressure from his constituents, unlike Members from other constituencies.

I was one of those who welcomed Senator Wilson to this House. It was an inspired choice. His contributions have helped us understand the situation in the North. I congratulate him on his initiative to talk to the IRA. Many people may have disagreed with it but at least he did something but we will never know the outcome of that initiative. People should not say he was wrong because it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

In relation to inviting people to address the committee would it be possible to invite people from the Falls Road and the Shankill Road? Talking to individual politicians does not always improve our understanding of the situation. I think our approach to Northern Ireland is the correct one.

I am delighted that there are five Senators on the committee. These Members have acquired a great deal of experience in the area of foreign policy which will strengthen this committee.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He has been a short time in the job but already he has made a definite impact. I compliment him in particular on his recent work in the Sudan and for the priority he has given to the issues he identified. It is refreshing to see in the Department of Foreign Affairs, in that august building, Iveagh House, somebody who may be prepared to challenge some of the orthodoxies which are part of that building. I would also like to applaud his openness to outside groups. I think we will see a very unstuffy approach from the Minister of State and priorities which most of us would appreciate. I wish him well.

I will say a few very brief words about the committee system. I regret, and it is not the fault of the Minister of State, that the representation of this House is so small. Five Members will be part of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. This excludes 55 Members, many of whom have an interest in foreign affairs and would have a contribution to make. If other Members of this House were part of other committees with the same wide terms of reference as this committee that would be a compensation but that is not the case. I raised this matter this morning on the Order of Business. I want to put it on the record again because I think I speak for all Members of this House and for all parties when I say that the committee arrangements proposed for this House are unsatisfactory.

It may be argued that because we are a smaller House we have greater freedom to participate and be heard on Committee Stage debates but that is not compensation for the type of facilities and opportunities which this committee is offering. I would like to see either greater Seanad participation or the possibility of interested Senators being part of sub-committees of this Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs at a later date. Nonetheless, I welcome the decision to set up these four committees, with the reservation about the exclusion or lower representation of this House.

The setting up of these committees is probably the biggest institutional change this House will face. It is not enough to set up a series of committees, the culture underlying the committees must change. The culture of the two Houses and of Irish Government over the past 70 years has been one where Governments decide, backbenchers are occasionally consulted but more usually taken for granted and there is no genuine input. The establishment of the committees will demand that Ministers and their civil servants take the committees and the participation of backbenchers or non-office holders seriously.

That will require a change because it has been the experience of all Government backbenchers that even the newest Ministers within a short time become impatient, feel they have all the advice they need and that they do not want their agenda delayed by backbenchers. They grow away from the rest of us very quickly and develop a culture of their own. Some people call it arrogance but it may be that they are too busy and in too much a hurry. This certainly was the case when my party was in Government with Labour, in 1983-87, and a series of committees were set up which received scant attention from Ministers and, in certain cases, Ministers were prepared to work parallel with committees which had been set up to help them. That is a test which will have to be taken seriously.

A further test will be the willingness of Ministers to change their minds on the basis of what they hear in committee. One of the less attractive characteristics of Irish politics is the way proposals for legislation become cast in bronze almost as soon as they leave the Minister's office. A Minister will rarely say after hearing a debate in this House that the points made were valid, will be taken into account and that major changes may be made as a result of the debate. The last Seanad attracted great attention when Ministers on occasions changed their minds about proposals. I am talking in particular about Bills which have been through the Dáil and the Ministers do not want them to go back to the Dáil. They are often more flexible if the Bill is taken for the first time in the Seanad. Otherwise there is not that openness. Ministers must be willing to take on board points made in the House.

My third point relates to the level of expertise available to members of these committees. It will also be a test to see if the committees are given the backup and information to make it possible for members to participate fully.

From my experience of the 1983-87 period of Government, I can say that the success of committees depends largely on their chairpersons. There were good and bad chairpersons during that time. The committees which worked were those with a committed chairperson who had an agenda and was prepared to pull rank if necessary to ensure that the concerns of the committee were taken seriously. Senator Roche was an excellent chairperson of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on semi-State Bodies. People frequently disagreed with him — disagreeing with Senator Roche is a fact of life, making it more interesting — but at least people know about his committee.

Between 1983 and 1987 committees folded because their chairpersons were too busy elsewhere, they did not have the necessary stamina, they were not prepared to fight, or they did not believe in what they were doing. The quality of the chairpersons will, to a great extent, determine whether the committees are successful.

Everyone who wants to see Irish parliamentarianism develop will watch the progress of the committees with great interest, because it is widely accepted that the parliaments which give the highest level of job satisfaction and produce the best legislation with the widest degree of consensus are those with the most developed committee systems. In the Swedish and German parliaments, in particular, consensus based on rational discussion and good information is the objective. These are the qualities we will look for in this new committee.

I hope there will be a good reporting back mechanism from the committee; I do not want to find that because I am not on the foreign affairs committee I will not have the opportunity to speak frequently and at length in this Hosue on the major foreign affairs issues of our time. I hope the committee will not be an excuse for diverting discussion on Northern Ireland from the plenary sessions of both Houses. This House had a constructive debate on Northern Ireland earlier this session and there was a consensus that we had made a contribution to the national debate on the subject: views that needed to be heard were aired here. I would hate if the momentum were lost and the Seanad was unable to have regular discussions on Northern Ireland and on foreign affairs. The House will need to insist that the Government of the day does not use the existence of committees to prevent a proper debate on matters of this sort.

I do not wish to comment on the substance of the committee's work as I will not be a member of it, but I wish it well. I will be watching carefully and I hope the Minister will take the committee — and I believe he will — as seriously as Senators wish. As I said, I hope there will be a proper reporting back mechanism and that the existence of the committee is not used to preclude this House from holding full debates reasonably frequently on questions of foreign affairs and Northern Ireland.

I thank Senator Manning for his kind remarks. He covered an extraordinary amount of the ground I wanted to cover myself. As Members will know, I have been an advocate of committee system both here and in the other House and I have been extremely disappointed at the way the committee system has operated in both Houses to date.

Senator Manning generously acknowledged that there were errors in the past when his party shared Government responsibility; those errors were not confined to Governments of which his party was part. As Senator Manning said there is not an appropriate culture for committees in the Oireachtas. Something will have to be changed in order to maximise the benefit of the experience and expertise of both Houses.

Let us remind ourselves briefly of the benefits that can flow from a proper committee system. A proper committee system can allow Members of both Houses to participate and to specialise in areas of particular interest — that does not happen at the moment; to build up their own and to use existing expertise; and to involve independent expertise, as Senator Lee said earlier. Committee systems operating in other European countries, if adopted here, would provide a more logical way of reviewing legislative proposals. Senator Manning's comments are correct; Ministers have to start approaching these Houses as legislative Chambers. There is an assumption within the ministerial culture that as soon as the Civil Service — and I served for a long time in the Civil Service — has produced the drafts of legislation and they have been endorsed by Cabinet — all the Houses have to do is rubber stamp it. That is a fallacy and must be changed. As a consequence, debates on legislation, particularly in the Dáil and to a lesser extent here, take place in a gladiatorial sparring arena where people try to score points. Opposition is inevitably sterile and Government is inevitably stubborn and unwilling to listen and to compromise.

An appropriate committee system would allow more compromise. It would allow Government to listen and to explain to the Opposition why particular decisions are taken. It would allow the Members of both Houses to operate as something other than people who try to mediate in the myriad of administrative wrongs that happen to the citizens of this nation. In other words, it would allow a more enriching role for Members of the Oireachtas.

I was pleased to read the arrangements for the remit of this committee. I believe the Oireachtas has got it right for the first time, because what we will have is a functional committee which will look at a whole area of public policy. It will have responsibility for legislation sponsored by the Minister; it will not be, as other committees have been, simply a talking shop. It is obvious that if our committee system is to reap the same benefits as committee systems in other countries, each committee must be allowed look at a broad area of public administration.

This committee will not only look at the general issues of foreign policy, it will also look at legislation sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is not specifically referred to in the motion, but I hope that Department's budget will also be the subject of discussion by this committee.

From experience I have to say that I await with trepidation what will happen to this committee. Let us look at what has happened to other committees. Senator Manning very generously argued that a committee's success depends on the energy of its chairperson. I know from experience that there is nothing as debilitating as being the chairman of a committee which is starved of resources which is without staff and is being treated as an appendage and sometimes regarded as disloyal to your own side for deciding to uphold the interests of the committee rather than the interests of an individual Minister or Department. When I was chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on semi-State Bodies I never shirked the responsibility of criticising Ministers, and rightly so because my responsibility was to the committee.

Let us just remind ourselves what happened to committees in the past. The funding was pitched at a derisory level. I said yesterday at a lecture in UCD that the resources allocated to all the committees in the last Dáil and Seanad would not have been sufficient to pay for the tea and doughnuts at the tribunal in Dublin Castle, let alone keep the tribunal functioning for a day or two. No matter how much energy the Members of this House and Dáil bring to these committees, they will be condemned to sterility unless they are properly funded. In addition, the issues of privilege and the right to subpoena witnesses will be important if the committees are to be other than public relations exercises.

Staffing of the committees is an important issue that cannot be avoided. The staffing of the committees of both Houses is derisory at present. The staff who serve on the committees are the Clerk and the Clerk Assistants. They have to work in the House and they have responsibility for other committees. They cannot properly research the activities of the committees. Senator Lee spoke of the need to call on the intellectual community, the college staffs, the university staffs, people with experience but the problem is there are no mechanisms for doing that. For example, I remember making the suggestion in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies that if the committee lacked the capacity to engage in research it should request post-graduate students in the universities in this city to undertake such research. It was pointed out to me that not only was it not the tradition, but there would be severe difficulties in having students working in the Houses. There was always some insuperable problem put forward to overcome the lack of resources and the lack of staff.

Senator Manning referred to the issue of time. The political view in Ireland is that Members do nothing in this House and that the Dáil is filled with chancers and double-gangers. It is an extraordinary view of those who are elected democratically; it is a negative view of politics. There is a heavy demand on the time of politicians. Senator Manning will recall that I did some research in 1981 to 1982 on the role of the Deputy, particularly as a constituency representative. I concluded that Deputies worked an average of 80 hours a week. The bulk of the work was put into constituency service. As Members know, today the demand for this work is even greater than it was in the early 1980s. The commission on pay for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas recognised that in its last two reports. The constituency service role has expanded and grown exponentially.

The big issue therefore is how is more time to be found to service the committees. I believe a fundamental examination of the relationship between our electoral system and the way we spend our time is required if there is to be proper reform of this House and of the Dáil. True reform in either House cannot take place unless there is electoral reform. What is required is an electoral system that will help break the treadmill that arises from competition within parties.

We must be conscious of the amount of time that the demands of properly servicing an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will place on Members. On the last occasion, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies had 12 or 14 different investigations under way, I was very conscious of the extraordinary impositions I was placing on the time of Deputies and Senators, particularly those from a rural base. If I scheduled a meeting every week it put severe hardship on Members as they could not sit on a committee, to legislate, as they were elected to do, and at the same time, serve on county councils, health boards, etc. If we do not address this issue there will be no reform and we will establish committees that will become frustrations for those who serve on them.

Senator Manning also mentioned the paucity of representation from the Seanad on the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Foreign Affairs. I agree with him. It would be a pity if Members of this House could not contribute to the committee. The committee chairperson and the committee will be able to determine that. I have a particular interest, and it is an interest I share with the Minister, Deputy Kitt, in the human rights issue and I would like to contribute to a debate on this issue. I am the only Member of either House to have worked in the United Nations Human Rights section and I am the only citizen of this State to have been given a human rights fellowship from the United Nations. There will be only five Members from this House who can contribute to this committee unless there is some way of structuring different areas of specific expertise into the sub-committees. Perhaps the Minister could address that matter. I hope that the committee will do so.

Regarding the issue of human rights, I compliment the Minister, Deputy Kitt, on the work he has done in the Sudan. I believe the Minister was not overstating the case when he said that Ireland has a unique role to play in monitoring human rights issues. The human rights area — not just political rights, the area on which we in the west traditionally focus, but the human economic rights — requires people who have the experience of being ex-colonies. We have the experience of being an ex-colony; we were not ex-colonialists. I think we have a specific role to play in the human rights area.

If there has been any failure in foreign affairs in Ireland it has been a failure of self-confidence. We have not had the confidence in the history of this State to stand up for what is right, decent and appropriate in the area of human rights. As an example I refer to a case in which the Minister, Deputy Kitt, and myself received a knuckle rattling. It concerned the representation of Cambodia at the United Nations. We as a nation were slavishly following a policy which had been set down in Foggybottom in Washington and the Foreign Office in London. There was no good reason we were taking that particular viewpoint. As a small nation we should always be on the side of the oppressed. I am not saying we are models in human rights behaviour, because there is a series of areas where we are very deficient, but what I am saying is that there is a role that we as a nation could and should play. Furthermore, there is a role that we as a nation, because we lack self-confidence, have been shying away from.

I hope that when the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is established it will follow carefully the suggestion made by the Minister and other Members that the monitoring of human rights issues is a specific area in which we could play a major role. It is not that we, the Government of Ireland, will be playing a role in it but we, the representatives of the people.

There are few nations that are as committed, on an individual citizen basis, to human rights issues as are the people of Ireland. The concept of people being oppressed offends the Irish people in a way that it does not offend any other people. I do not say that in a chauvinistic or xenophobic way rather I say it as a reality. When we were involved in issues relating to Irish cases in Britain and when I went to monitor elections in Nicaragua with a small group from both Houses, I recall that the Irish people had a genuine interest and concern about these issues. This is an area of foreign affairs in which Ireland has a major rôle. We have no historic reason for being shy about being to the fore on human rights issues. We were a colony but we were never colonialists. We have no vested or commercial interest and no commercial attachments to ex-colonies which suggest that we should be anything other than to the fore in this area. I speak for Members on all sides of this House and the other House in that regard. There are people in both Houses who would have a very interesting role to play. I will conclude because I do not believe in over-lengthy contributions and I know Senator Wilson wishes to speak.

I wish this committee well. It has been properly and appropriately structured and I ask that it be properly and appropriately staffed and resourced. I also ask that the committee at an early stage be allowed to open its proceedings so that television cameras and radio can record them because there is an anomaly which prevents that kind of coverage. There is a farcical arrangement that committee Members have to sit around a table before a meeting starts in order to give television cameras an opportunity to film. All these committees should be as open as both Houses have become since radio and television coverage was extended.

These committees should cover as many areas as possible, particularly the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Ireland has much to offer. Senator Maloney said he hoped people from the Falls Road and the Shankill Road would be invited to speak to the committee about issues relating to the North. I share this hope. Senator Lee suggested that the prowess which undoubtedly exists in the intellectual community should be drawn on to give an independent input to these committees. This is not because we should mistrust the people in foreign affairs — I served in the EC section of the Department of Finance for a long time and worked in close co-operation with the Department of Foreign Affairs — but because a supply of alternative views is the very essence of working committees. The chairmanship of the committee is important and if the person who is rumoured to get the chairmanship gets it, I wish him well. I wish whoever is the chairman well as I wish the committee well.

We are on the threshold of major change in the way both Houses of the Oireachtas work. I anticipate that the Government will be open and willing to come to these committees, support them and be willing to listen to them. Above all, I hope the Government will be willing to do the one thing that the committee system has allowed elsewhere and that is to draw on talent from all sides of the House. There is no monopoly of wisdom in any of the political parties or on any side in these Houses. There is experience, expertise and wisdom on all sides. Our job as lawmakers, the people who control Government and public policy, would be done far better if we recognised that we are here to combine all the talents of the people who have been elected to both Houses for the benefit of the Irish people. I wish the committee well and I compliment the Minister.

I wish to mention a number of issues the committee might discuss. The committee has been universally welcomed as a necessary change. From now on instead of the old system of the Department deciding what foreign policy should be, it will be debated within a committee.

The right of MEPs to attend and participate in the committee is a very important development. I have always believed that we do not fully utilise and it appears we cannot find a role for the MEP structure within the country. I advocated that the British system of Privy Council membership should have been extended to Opposition MEPs so that they could be briefed by Government when matters of national importance are being debated in the European Parliament and in the European Commission. We should have treated all the MEPs, irrespective of political party, as a resource for the country and briefed them accordingly. This should have been done rather than transferring partisanship to Strasbourg or Brussels where MEPs ought to have a common purpose. Perhaps in time we could invite MEPs from the other part of the island to participate in the committee. It might involve a quantum leap in attitude but it is worth considering.

In relation to utilising talents, I have a view the Minister of State and the Tánaiste might take on board at some stage, as Ireland is a small country, it is vital that it utilises whatever talents it has. All the talent that is required in foreign affairs does not reside exclusively in Merrion Square or St. Stephen's Green. People such as Garret FitzGerald, Peter Sutherland and Jack Lynch would have been excellent ambassadors for Ireland after they finished their parliamentary careers. If part of the purpose of appointing ambassadors is to gain access and establish better relations, who better than people such as these who command international respect and affection in many countries? The day will come when we will appoint Irish men and women of international standing to represent us abroad and that will be a welcome development. This does not take from the excellent service given to us by the career diplomats in our foreign service.

Regarding the role of the committee in its dealings with the UN, it is a fact of life that the UN is becoming increasingly involved in disputes and in some cases civil war disputes such as in Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia and Somalia. It is becoming evident that this increasing role will necessitate a standing army of peace-keepers. At the moment, the Irish are well represented as part of the UN peace-keeping force.

As I said in the past, there are only a number of countries that are acceptable as peace-keepers for various reasons. Ireland is one and Sweden is another. There are very few countries whose history allows them to participate in a peace-keeping role. It has to be put on a permanent footing and Ireland is best placed to make that contribution to the UN. There ought to be a standing army here which is essentially a UN peace-keeping force. Perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 troops could be trained in the business of peace-keeping and reconciliation and could be on stand-by for the UN to go anywhere. A number of countries could do the same rather than the present position where a request is made, trucks are sprayed from green to white, "UN" is put on the side of them and off they go. It should be more formalised and better structured. The suggestion of a permanent force is worth considering.

There are many other areas I would like to mention but I am conscious that other speakers wish to contribute and the debate is to conclude at 1 p.m. I suppose I will cause great consternation in the Department by suggesting that people other than the old club should be ambassadors but it is worth considering.

I wish to share my time with Senator Daly. I welcome the Minister and I thank him for welcoming me to the Oireachtas. I also welcome his statement which covers a wide range of topics.

The contribution this country makes in the area of foreign affairs is out of proportion to its size, population and resources and it is perceived that way across the world. That is something we should treasure. However, I have one criticism of his statement and that is that Northern Ireland was mentioned at the end. Even then, it was raised only as a detail. I do not need to remind the House there is a war 60 miles from where we sit and blood is being shed. While I do not decry the importance of the other issues mentioned, I hope Northern Ireland and what is happening there will be, to put it mildly, further up the Committee's agenda than it is in the Minister's statement.

In so far as I may speak for them, the people of Northern Ireland doubt the Government's commitment to the North. One day we hear Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution are not set in bronze, the next we hear they are there for as long as they are needed. This doubt is not healthy. I hope the committee will devote ample time to Northern Ireland which is the most pressing problem on this island. I welcome the committee. I wish it well and see nothing but good coming from it.

I welcome the establishment of the committee and thank the Government for acting so speedily. Setting up this committee has been talked about for some time.

As the Minister said, it is important to have a committee which will fully discuss, tease out and explain the Irish position on international issues of the day. Often the public are not fully aware of this. The committee will provide support for the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It will enlighten the public about the major issues affecting the international community, explain the Government's position and explain what the Government is doing.

There have been about 20 Ministers for Foreign Affairs, or External Affairs, since the foundation of the State in 1922. Outstanding contributions by former Ministers were recognised not only here but internationally. For many years, the late Frank Aiken made attempts in the United Nations to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. The late Seán MacBride was chairman of Amnesty International and was internationally honoured and recognised for his outstanding achievements in many international organisations. Dr. Hillery completed our negotiations for entry into the European Community. Deputy Collins, Deputy Lenihan, Deputy Barry and others were not only recognised here as people of outstanding ability and integrity but they were also acknowledged in international organisations, like the United Nations, as having made valuable contributions in this area.

The present Minister of State highlights the needs of the Third World. The Government is committed to increase funding to these countries and work is being done there by Government and non-governmental organisations. This is not fully appreciated by the public. The Irish Government contributes over £50 million a year towards the international effort for famine and disaster relief. Voluntary contributions from the Irish people are the highest in the European Community. The Irish Government, the non-governmental and voluntary agencies are helping to find solutions to the problems in the developing world — Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania etc. These efforts are recognised by the United Nations refugee agency and other famine relief organisations. The new committee will support the Government, the Minister and the Minister of State in their work in this area.

It is essential that the new committee have the staffing and research personnel to enable it to do its work. During my period on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, documents arrived on my desk almost daily from the institutions of the Community. Without proper research and support facilities it was not possible to make a meaningful evaluation of the contents of these documents. The result has been that we are lagging behind when it comes to bringing our legislation into line with European Community Directives.

I welcome this committee. The Irish stance on international issues is admired and, in some respects, envied by many. I believe we can continue to give a lead on issues like overseas development aid. The work of the Government will be strengthened and their position will be underpinned by the work of this committee. I hope it will be a success.

Senator Daly has reminded us of Ireland's active role in international affairs over the years. I am proud to participate in this area from which I get tremendous personal fulfilment. I am aware of the enormous areas of activity involved and they have been reiterated in this useful debate. I thank all Senators for their contributions.

Senator Wilson made an important point. I wish to assure him that Northern Ireland remains the Government's top priority. This has been spelt out time and time again by the Taoiseach and by the Tánaiste. I expect this committee to devote much time to discussing all aspects of the Northern Ireland situation. There is a huge commitment on the part of the Government and all parties in the Dáil and Seanad to a resumption of dialogue and this committee could play a role in improving communications. I have always recognised the need for more contact between the people of the North and of the South. Recently I spoke to some young students, Catholics and Protestants, in Ballymena and as a result I am much better informed of their views. Senator Magner referred to the role of MEPs. There is a provision enabling MEPs from Ireland, including Northern Ireland, to participate fully in this committee. This is an important signal of our commitment to improved contact among all on this island.

Senator Taylor-Quinn and others referred to the question of peace-keeping and peace-enforcing and Senator Taylor-Quinn was concerned about the confusion between the two. There is no confusion whatsoever because the implications of the new United Nations mandate in Somalia were clearly explained by the Tánaiste. This mandate is very specific and detailed so there is absolutely no confusion about the nature of Ireland's involvement there.

The committee's powers and remit are very wide. I would like to see it examine in detail and make recommendations on UN structures and the question of peace-keeping and peace-making. No Government can have all the answers. The attitude of both the Tánaiste and I in promoting this committee is that its role is to facilitate the finding of answers to the many urgent problems that exist. I assure Senators that no aspect of our relations with the European Community is closed to the new committee. Ministers will attend meetings of the committee when Estimates and legislation are being discussed.

A number of Senators referred to the Government's policy on the Third World. We welcome the involvement of the committee in this area. The Government's Third World policy has two main emphases which I know are shared by my predecessor, Senator Daly. First, our policy is focused on the poorest of the poor. Secondly, we have stressed the link between human rights and democracy on the one hand and development on the other. These policy principles are very important.

Our thinking on foreign policy will not be developed by the committee alone; academics will also be involved. I welcome, and view as healthy, links between academics and practitioners. I attended many seminars both before and after my appointment and having heard the views of several academics, I think they have much to offer. In preparation for the plan which the Tánaiste and I hope to publish soon, I visited and had discussions with Ministers in other countries. I discussed in detail with the Belgian Minister for Development the specific linkage he has forged with universities and I will establish an advisory committee which will have a broad membership, including NGOs and academics. Although it is very difficult to achieve the right balance as regards advice, I will certainly draw on the advice offered by this committee and it may be useful for the committee to develop linkages with universities.

The point was correctly made that other Departments will be affected by the work of the committee especially in relation to the European Community. I already referred briefly to attendance of Ministers. Senator Manning and Senator Taylor-Quinn were critical of the fact that of the new committees established only the committee on foreign affairs has Seanad representation. I am sure the Senators will understand that I cannot speak with authority on the role of the Seanad. It is reasonable to point out, however, that the terms of reference of the new legislative committees focus on the proceedings of legislation and on Estimates.

The terms of reference of this committee include the provision that all Senators can attend its meetings and take part in proceedings. I refer Members to paragraph (15) of the motion establishing the committee which states:

That in the absence from a particular meeting of the Joint Committee or a sub-committee of a member who is a Member of Seanad Éireann, another Member of Seanad Éireann may, with the authority of the absent Member, take part in the proceedings and vote in his or her stead; and that Members of Seanad Éireann, not being members of the Joint Committee, may attend meetings and take part in the proceedings of the Joint Commitee and of its sub-committees without having a right to vote.

That is an important provision and Senators should avail of that opportunity because, as I pointed out, not everybody can be a member of the committee.

I will refer briefly to security issues in Northern Ireland. The requirement that such issues be considered in private session has been criticised. Advances have been made as regards the committee's coverage of Northern Ireland issues. At the outset it was envisaged that the committee would have no role with regard to political and security issues there but after some discussion it was agreed that these issues could be considered in private session. Finally, in the light of further consideration, it was agreed that only security issues would be discussed in private and political issues, like all other matters dealt with by the committee, would be discussed in public session. I suggest that given the sensitivity of the issues involved we have been as fair and forthcoming as possible. The committee now has ample scope to develop a meaningful role on Northern Ireland issues if it chooses to do so.

It is hardly necessary to emphasise the sensitivity of discussions on security matters which can involve literally matters of life and death. We have an overriding duty, and I am sure that this is accepted by all Members here, to ensure that nothing in our proceedings or discussions can put at risk the personal safety of any individual or group. I acknowledge, of course, the thin line between political and security issues in the Northern Ireland context. Members of the committee will need to show sensitivity and good judgment in deciding the political issues appropriate for public discussions and the security matters which require private session.

Senator Maloney referred to interest groups and I am very interested in his view because it is important to hear the views of those who live near Northern Ireland. I agree with the Senator that the establishment of this committee will be welcomed by the many groups with views to express on the Northern situation who have often felt excluded. In some cases Dáil debates can be quite sterile and stage managed. Question Time does not meet the needs of certain interest groups and it is important that they be otherwise involved.

Senator Lanigan referred to the need for language training. I will remind Senators that APSO are doing much good work in this area and part of the programme in the development area is to increase the number of volunteers substantially from 400 to 2,000. I know great emphasis is being placed on language training.

Professor Lee spoke of the close relationship between the committee and the universities to which I already referred. I also agree with him that the Institute for European Affairs should be used to the full by the new committee. He rightly points out that there are many issues yet to be resolved, that the question of enlargement will create new areas for discussion and we will have a debate continuing to 1996 when there will be a real opportunity with this committee to shape the future of our institutions and our development in Europe.

Senator Lee referred to my speech where I said:

Ideological differences and an excessive emphasis on the doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of individual states have, in the past, been major obstacles to the human rights work of the United Nations.

He agreed with the reference to excessive emphasis and I am pleased to hear that. What we are saying is that the individual whose basic human rights are being abused by a state should be able to look for assistance. I made this proposal when I spoke recently in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The Government is pursuing the establishment of a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. This initiative is supported by other countries and we will pursue that vigorously in Vienna in June of this year.

Senator Lee and others referred to diplomatic activity concerning trade. I suggest that the committee might also examine whether the country is well served by our current network of official representatives overseas. The network includes not only our diplomatic and consular missions but also the overseas offices of State agencies. We start from the principle that a small country like Ireland, operating within strict budgetary parameters, cannot have resident representation in every part of the world. We must be highly selective, focusing our resources in accordance with our best judgment of where our priorities lie. We must also ensure that the limited resources available for all overseas representation are used to the maximum advantage. Bringing together in one Ireland house, as it is called, all our official representation in a particular city is an example of this; an Ireland house is being established in New York. Other Ireland houses have been established in places as diverse as Seoul and Madrid.

The committee could also consider if there are countries — I am thinking in particular of eastern Europe — where the lack of official representation may be damaging our national interests. I have had personal experience of ambassadors being involved in promoting business. Recently I spoke at the Belgian-Irish Business Association. They are involved in networking in the local business community and are supported by many State agencies. I attended two very successful functions which indicate that there is a lot of good work being done.

Senator Manning spoke about being serious when it comes to this committee. I can assure Senator Manning and others that we will take this committee seriously. We are willing to listen and to take points on board. I have always said that we are here to facilitate and that we do not have all the answers. The Tánaiste and I are of the attitude that we want to listen to this committee and hear Members' views. I assure the House we will give the committee the necessary back-up services. Senators will have the opportunity to decide what kind of back-up services they require. The role of the chairperson is, quite rightly, a critical and key role.

Other issues were raised but I do not have the time to deal with them. I thank Senators for their contributions and for giving me the opportunity to come before the Seanad once again. This is the third time I have been in this House and I have always left this Chamber better informed. I look forward to working closely with the committee.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.