I thank all Senators for their contributions. I want to make four overall points in response to the issues raised by Senators. I will then respond to the comments made by each Senator.
The first point I want to make is about the concept Senators used during the debate to the effect that the European Union was in some way forcing Ukraine to sign an association agreement. I ask them to produce the evidence to back up that claim. We were dealing with a democratically elected government which was giving all of the signs that it wanted to sign an association agreement with the European Union. It was on that basis that the European Union proceeded to enter into discussions with it. The Governments of Georgia and Moldova stated the same thing. The Governments of Georgia and Moldova signed an agreement, but the Ukrainian Government decided not to do so. I had the privilege of being part of the team that represented Ireland at the partnership summit that took place Vilnius at which the Ukrainian Government decided not to sign the agreement. That was its right, just as it was its right to decide to participate in discussions in the run-up to that Council at which it indicated that it was interested in signing. When people use the word "provocation" or "force" to indicate that the European Union forced the Ukrainian Government to participate in an association agreement or was provocative in so doing, I ask for evidence to show how the Union forced any country to participate in a discussion and dialogue.
In the period leading up to the partnership summit, the truth is the European Union dealt with the then Ukrainian Government which viewed the signing of that agreement positively and for its own reasons then changed its mind. That is their right. However, at no point does the European Union have the ability not to mention the ambition to force any country to sign an agreement with it.
My second point relates to the Members' comments on Russia. It is very important to be aware of the challenges we all face in many other areas. Let us consider what is happening in Syria, Iran and the challenges we face on climate change and the many other policy challenges that Europe and the world faces. The reality is that we need to work with Russia to reach a settlement and conclusion on other issues that will have a significant effect on the peace and stability of Europe and the world. I agree with the decision of the Council of Europe to withdraw Russian voting rights but to keep it within the Council. In many other areas, there is a clear need to be able to work with and maintain dialogue with the Russian Federation, its Ministers and its leaders.
My third point also relates to the comments that Senators have made. Senator Paschal Mooney referred to "the shifting sands of this issue", a phrase that is very apt in describing how the situation has developed. Amid all the shifting sands the reality is that the borders of another country were changed without the consent of the government in place, and with the threat of force in the background. The ballot paper for the referendum in Crimea had options that did not include the maintenance of what was then the status quo. It is correct that people articulate their perspectives of this very complicated situation, however a core point is that the borders of another country were unilaterally changed.
Fourth, what has been crucial in influencing the position the Government has reached - I think many Senators agree with me - is how the decision was reached. International law and organisations such as the United Nations and other bodies have processes and procedures in which these matters can be dealt with peacefully through negotiation and agreement. That did not happen in this instance. That is the reason the Government has taken its stance. The Government is very conscious of Irish neutrality and the fact that the bedrock of neutrality is a respect for the rule of international law - a point on which Senator Jim D'Arcy touched. The capacities and provisions are in place under international law for dealing with the right of people to self-determine how they are governed and where their borders should be, but none of that was used in the decision that was taken in Crimea. That is the reason that before I address the comments of individual Senators, I want to emphasise the fact that the European Union in the run up to the partnership summit that took place in November, did all of its negotiations on the basis of dealing with the wishes of the Ukrainian Government. The idea of force or provocation by the European Union in the run up to that period is a view that while others are entitled to articulate it is certainly one that I would strongly reject because I do not believe it is based on the facts of what happened in the run up to that summit.
I will now comment on the contributions of individual Senators. Senator Paschal Mooney made the point about the shifting sands of the situation. He picked up on historical analogies or the lack of analogies, depending on the viewpoint, between where we are now and what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. We could spend the entire afternoon debating the consistency of that analogy. The significant difference between the 1930s and 1940s and where we are now is the degree of economic interdependence between everybody across the world and within the Continent of Europe and all members of the European Union. That is best understood by what has happened in terms of energy interdependence. Some 34% of European energy needs are provided through many of the different countries that we are discussing. That provides a very clear example of interdependence and that is the reason I believe we have to look at the role of sanctions in that light. Since these measures were announced we have seen major changes take place in the value of the Russian rouble, the Russian stock market, in the capitalisation of very major Russian companies. That is an example of how the indirect effects of sanctions and the fear of investors about what could happen in the future has a very major effect not only on the Russian economy but obviously on the economies of countries nearer Russia.
Senator Catherine Noone identified one very important and worrying development that has now taken place, which is the mobilisation of the Ukrainian national guard. In my contribution I made a point of emphasising the restraint that has been shown to date but we have now seen worrying developments take place within Ukraine in response to what they perceive to be happening within their own borders. Senator David Norris referred to the European Union being cack-handed in its response. He made the vital point that it is up to the people of Ukraine to decide. That is the basis on which the European Union was dealing with Ukraine, that it was dealing with the then Ukrainian Government that wanted to proceed and wanted positive discussions with the European Union. For reasons of its own, it changed its mind on that, which is its right.
Senator Sean D. Barrett stressed the importance of the elections of 25 May, a point I strongly agree with, not least because they will deal with the concerns that many Senators have articulated on issues such as inclusivity, the security of communities within Ukraine and the different ethnic traditions within Ukraine, of which we have to be cognisant. That is the reason these elections are so important and that the period between now and the end of May is so sensitive in terms of what will happen in Ukraine in the years to come.
In respect of some of the points that Senator Aideen Hayden made, I touched on the differing view that I have on the role of the European Union up to that point. While acknowledging clearly that mistakes have been made in reaching this point also, which I absolutely understand and am aware of, I still acknowledge that the European Union was dealing with a government at the point in Ukraine that wanted to change its relationship with the European Union.
The Senator also referred to the role of a common European foreign policy and made a number of observations on it. We should be aware that foreign policy is very different from trade policy, as Members will know. In respect of trade policy, the peoples and governments of the European Union decided to make the Commission the lead negotiator and gave it a large degree of competence in that regard.
That is why, for example, the lead negotiation on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership with America is Commissioner de Gucht as opposed to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, or a Minister from any other country. Ultimately, they have to agree with the trade pact but the Commission has a high degree of competence in relation to it.
On foreign policy, governments and the people of the European Union have decided - I believe it is the right decision - to retain much of the competence for making foreign policy decisions in their own Ministers. The Ministers make many decisions on EU foreign policy through the Foreign Affairs Council and with the consent of their governments at home. Where that leads me is to say that we should not blame the European Union for discharging competences and powers which it does not have in the first place. Much of the power and role on foreign policy decisions sits with individual foreign Ministers. It is through agreement and compromise within the Foreign Affairs Council that a general overall approach is reached.
I wish to pick up on one point made by Senator Jim Walsh on Kosovo. I have heard the analogy put forward by other contributors to today’s debate. I put it to him that there is a very big difference between Kosovo and where we are now. The big difference is that in the period leading up to the Kosovan decision they were participating in a realm of international administration under the terms of the UN resolution to which Senator Jim D’Arcy referred. All the decisions that were made in Kosovo happened in accordance with the same international law that was not recognised in Crimea.