The Minister of State is welcome.
Foreign Affairs: Statements
I thank the Seanad for the invitation to speak on foreign affairs and I welcome the opportunity to discuss in this House Ireland's approach to international affairs, which is guided by A Programme for a Partnership Government and the vision expressed in the foreign policy review statement, The Global Island. This framework provides the goals and the priority area of focus for the Government's global engagement to safeguard a secure and prosperous future for the Irish people and make a distinctive and principled contribution to the collective international effort to build a better world.
My understanding is this House would like an update on broader foreign policy matters and not just work under way regarding Brexit. Suffice it to say that today Brexit remains front and centre of the efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all of the Government. This work will continue and intensify into 2018.
There was a huge collective effort to achieve our goals in phase 1 of the negotiations, for which we received unflinching support from our fellow EU member states and the institutions. Work has begun on ensuring these achievements will be translated into the withdrawal Bill that is to be negotiated by October.
Attention is shifting to the shape of the future EU-UK relationship. We have been clear that we wish to see the closest possible trading relationship, one which will sustain the €65 billion worth of trade across the Irish Sea each year and the 200,000 jobs in Ireland that depend on same.
It would be one thing if the frequency and pace of international events moderated in response to Brexit, but, unfortunately, as Senators know, we enjoy no such luxury. This means that we cannot afford, even for one day, to take our eyes off fast-moving developments. This, in turn, requires continuing and renewed investment in global governance, with a strong United Nations as the bedrock of the international rules based order. This investment is all the more important in the face of the multiple challenges that confront the multilateral system. Our engagement in the development of the common foreign and security policy of the European Union is a key vehicle in pursuing this core objective.
The European Union's support for a global order, based on international law, which ensures human rights and sustainable development has been reaffirmed in its 2016 global strategy which commits it to promoting peace, prosperity, democracy and the rule of law. The aim is to improve the quality of life and security of peoples threatened or afflicted by conflict. In turn, this will help to prevent or mitigate the negative effects for our own citizens of insecurity and conflict elsewhere. Ireland co-operates closely with its EU partners in protecting citizens through the justice and home affairs framework. As well as dealing with, as we must, the immediate symptoms and manifestations of conflict through necessary security measures, a medium to longer term strategy to address the root causes is required and being formulated. Action through the common foreign and security policy plays a complementary role in addressing the underlying drivers of threats such as terrorism which have their source in instability in the European Union's neighbouring regions. A range of factors are in play, among which are conflict and societal fragility, as well as poverty and underdevelopment. Continuing engagement in supporting peace and state building, security sector reform and the promotion of the rule of law are key to addressing the causes of conflict and building stable and resilient societies.
With our partners, we are developing an integrated approach to marshal more coherently the full range of instruments available to the European Union, including diplomatic contacts, economic development, trade, capacity building and peace support measures. This entails a mix of actions in the civilian and military spheres. The significant majority of operations under the common security and defence policy have been civilian in character and tasked with support for the rule of law, improving governance and guiding security sector reform. Strengthening the European Union's ability to provide these supports is a major ongoing priority. Sadly, there are circumstances where it is necessary to have the military capacity to manage crises, create space for negotiated political solutions and protect civilians. The EU treaties confer on the European Union a mission to preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in accordance with the United Nations charter. The tasks that may be undertaken in pursuit of these objectives cover the full spectrum of conflict cycle, including conflict prevention and peacekeeping; crisis management and peacemaking; post-conflict stabilisation; joint disarmament operations; humanitarian and rescue; and military advice and assistance.
The European Union has no defence capabilities of its own. It relies on member states to provide the civilian and military assets to undertake these tasks. Considerable difficulties have been experienced in sourcing the necessary range of capabilities for EU peace support operations. It is recognised that there is a need for greater co-operation between member states in generating the requisite assets. The Permanent Structured Cooperation arrangement, PESCO, is a mechanism aimed at addressing this need. It enables countries to come together voluntarily on a project by project basis to jointly develop military crisis management capabilities in support of EU common security and defence policy operations. PESCO will enhance the European Union's capacity to engage in peacekeeping and crisis management operations.
As the House will be aware, Ireland has actively engaged in the shaping of the common security and defence policy from its inception to equip the European Union to act effectively as an international peace provider in support of the multilateral order and the United Nations.
Consistent with this, we have been one of the main contributors to common security and defence policy, CSDP, missions both civilian and military. Our Defence Forces are currently serving in three of the EU's six military CSDP operations in Mali, Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the Mediterranean. My Department supports the deployment of some 14 experts to nine civilian CSDP missions in eight countries which promote respect for the rule of law, human rights compliance and gender sensitivity. Additionally, An Garda Síochána contributes a further five personnel to the EU mission in Kosovo.
Permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, is provided for in the Treaty on European Union which was approved by the Irish people by referendum in October 2009. Some 25 EU member states, including Ireland, are participating. Austria, Cyprus, Finland and Sweden which, like Ireland, are not members of any military alliance are also participating in PESCO. Ireland’s participation in PESCO will enhance the Defence Forces’ capabilities for a wide range of United Nations-mandated missions where they must be able to work with contingents from other countries. It allows the men and women of our Defence Forces to gain access to the latest equipment and training, which enhances their ability to participate safely and effectively in challenging peacekeeping missions. Accordingly, I believe Ireland’s participation in PESCO is in our interests and consistent with our foreign policy and values. It will also enable us to continue to influence development of the CSDP.
Participation in PESCO in no way diminishes or undermines Ireland’s policy of military neutrality. PESCO is a vehicle for developing capabilities required for peace support. However, deployment of Irish contingents on peacekeeping missions will continue to be governed by the triple lock mechanism. Our military neutrality has helped us to develop a distinctive and independent voice on the maintenance of international peace and security. I assure the House that this Government upholds and will continue to uphold this longstanding and publicly valued policy.
The deployments of forces by the EU have all been UN-mandated or supported. The UN increasingly relies on regional security providers such as the EU to run peacekeeping and other peace stabilisation operations. This is why PESCO has been warmly welcomed by the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping as potentially offering additional capabilities for UN-mandated missions. Support for and engagement with the UN of course remains a cornerstone of Ireland’s foreign policy. Ireland has a distinguished peacekeeping record with not a year having passed since 1958 without Irish men or women having been engaged in UN peace support operations.
It is, therefore, right that, at appropriate intervals, Ireland seeks to be part of the body that shapes the policy and practices that our troops carry out - the UN Security Council. We have a responsibility to participate fully in the UN’s work and to champion its role, particularly at this time of global instability and challenge to the rules based international order. These considerations inform Ireland’s candidature for election to the Security Council in June 2020. A seat on the council would strengthen our voice and influence on the global stage. It is a platform to amplify our values and key foreign policy priorities, including those on sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Ireland can be, as it has been before, an independent but authoritative voice on the major political and security issues impacting our world.
Ireland continues to play a leadership role on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, issues which are of high priority for my Department and, I know, for many members of this House. Last autumn the Tánaiste signed, on behalf of Ireland, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by 122 states following negotiations mandated by a UN General Assembly resolution put forward by Ireland and five other countries. This treaty, when it enters into force, will implement the disarmament provisions of the non-proliferation treaty. We also continue our work on conventional weapons, remaining fully engaged in implementation of the landmine and cluster munitions conventions and working with partners to promote universal ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty.
On human rights, we have pioneered an initiative to protect the space for freedom of expression for civil society which is coming under increasing pressure in many parts of the world. We continue to support human rights defenders and we will further strengthen our engagement on gender equality and women’s empowerment when we chair the bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2018 and 2019. Last November, the Tánaiste launched Ireland’s national plan to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights.
Our additional foreign policy priorities include the EU and Ireland's relations with Africa and the Middle East peace process.
On the latter, I understand the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade had a very good discussion last week with Members who will be aware of his particular interest in the region which he has visited twice since last summer. We will continue to press for a stronger role for Ireland and the European Union in achieving a just and lasting resolution based on the two-state solution.
Ireland continues to be deeply engaged in Africa. In addition to our development co-operation programme, Irish Aid, we provide peacekeeping support via the participation of the Defence Forces in the UN training mission in Mali and the deployment of three civilian experts to EU Common Security and Defence Policy missions in the west African region. We are undertaking a review of the Irish Aid programme and developing a pathway towards reaching our long-standing target of 0.7% of gross national income in ODA by 2030. The Tánaiste will bring proposals in that respect to the Government very soon.
Our trading relationship with Africa is also growing. However, a key priority is developing the political relationship between the European Union and Africa which must be strengthened and deepened if we are to address effectively shared challenges in areas such as migration, climate change and economic development. Ireland can and should use its connections and its experience to play a leadership role in that regard. There will I hope be an early opportunity to do so at the start of the post-Cotonou process which will open up space for discussions with African leaders and political dialogue with the European Union on what the best structure might be in the future.
I express my appreciation to the House for giving me the opportunity to outline how Ireland will continue to work for a secure, just, fair and sustainable world, prioritising the values and interests of the people. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on the issues we are facing on the foreign policy landscape.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. I know that he is busy working on the events that coincide with St. Patrick's Day which will present a great opportunity for Ireland to engage on foreign policy issue and also with the global Irish network.
Given that the Minister is attending to important business in the North, there are issues about which we have concerns, including the impact of Brexit on the island and the Good Friday Agreement. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the agreement. We have to point out again that, in spite of numerous requests from the Joint Committee on the Good Friday Agreement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has refused to provide us with a detailed analysis of what has been implemented, line by line, issue by issue, under the agreement and what has yet to be implemented. We know that it is possible for it to do so because both it and the secretariat in Northern Ireland produce a detailed analysis every six months. As the Minister is aware, the Government will be asked to reflect on the Good Friday Agreement, discuss its strengths and weaknesses and whether it is fit for purpose for the next 20 years. Obviously, the question that will come up is how much has been implemented and what is left to be implemented. The committee has been asked this question by a House of Commons select committee, members of which came before us in private session. As the Acting Chairman knows, the answer is that the Government is not entirely sure. As a member of the committee, I know that sounds a little odd, but time and again all we have received from the Department is nothing short of a compilation of press releases on issues such as civil rights, the language Act and others about which we can read in any newspaper, including victims and cases which have not been resolved. In many cases, they have not been investigated. With other members of the committee, I have asked for it to be included in the work programme that we receive a detailed analysis from the Department of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. On the day I joined the committee in 2016 I asked if anyone could tell me what had yet to be implemented under it. With that knowledge, one can benchmark the achievement of the committee, but to this day all we have received are five or six pages, which is not good enough. It is not good enough for the committee to be treated in that way, but it is also not good enough that the Department, unless it has a document hidden away in some filing cabinet, does not make an analysis every six months, as it does in the case of the Fresh Start agreement. However, it has not done so in the case of the overarching Good Friday Agreement. We will continue to ask for such an analysis and some bright breezy day it might appear. It should appear this year because it is nothing short of embarrassing that the Department is not able to answer the question. It should be able to hand out a document stating what has been achieved, what has not been achieved and what has yet to be implemented.
The Taoiseach was asked in the Dáil a few moments ago about the prospect of there being a united Ireland. It was the stock answer from any Department. I think it was Senator Michael McDowell who alluded to the three standard replies given - it was too early to intervene; the issue was too sensitive to intervene; and it was too late to intervene. In the middle of the reply it was stated there were issues ongoing in Northern Ireland. Issues arise in Northern Ireland all of the time. For the Taoiseach not to address the issues of concern is a problem for the unionist community because they are concerned about the future. This was outlined in a report I compiled which was endorsed by the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on unionist concerns about the holding of a referendum on a united Ireland. Three issues were raised in an analysis carried out for the committee by a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The first was the issue of land ownership. It was asked if we would seek the return of the lands granted during the plantations. The second was the issue of retribution for former members of the security forces who had been involved in collusion or murders during the Troubles. The third was the issue of identity, how the British identity would be respected in a united Ireland. None of these issues is being addressed.
The Taoiseach stated it was too sensitive to intervene because the immediate issue was re-establishing the Stormont Assembly. Of course, that is important, but the long-term issues in Northern Ireland are of equal importance because, as Mr. John Bradley pointed out and as was quoted in the report, "policy neglect seldom goes unpunished". I am sure the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is looking for the policy papers it has available on the achievement of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution because it is being asked by the High Court to produce them. It is to supply preliminary documents by 14 February. Has it got them? Some would classify them as foreign affairs issues but others would not. They see them in the context of the State's objective and engagement with Britain. They concern the achievement of the main aim of the State or, as the then Attorney General Rory Brady described it, a constitutional obligation on the Government of the day to put forward the case and address the concerns of all sides. The High Court is looking for the policy papers because a unionist, Mr. Raymond McCord, is taking the State to court to find out what it is doing to achieve its own aims. It is nothing short of something out of "Yes, Minister". His son, Raymond Jnr., was murdered by the UVF on the instructions of a paid informant of the RUC. This shows the dysfunctional nature of the Northern Ireland state in the deployment by the state of South American-type murder gangs.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. There has been engagement with unionists in Northern Ireland on the economic issues associated with Brexit. That is where the issue of keeping the Border open comes in. It is very important to the people living on both sides of the community to ensure there will be a continuation of the economic benefits peace has brought.
Unfortunately, the dividends of peace are mostly in the South. The UN human development index shows that in health, education and income, the Republic is ranked eighth in the world. The UK is ranked 16th. If Northern Ireland is isolated and treated as an independent economic area, according to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, it is ranked 44th in the world in terms of health, education and income.
The Senator is well over time.
I would like a commitment from the Minister of State. Will he make sure the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supplies the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with a line-by-line, issue-by-issue breakdown of what is yet to be implemented in the Good Friday Agreement?
Senator Joe O'Reilly has eight minutes.
I thank Senator Lawless for accommodating me. In eight minutes it is only possible to touch in a small way on a number of items which on their own would merit debate and discussion. I will try to address some important issues as quickly as I can.
I acknowledge the tremendous work done on Brexit. It is important to my region so I am happy about it. I am very concerned that in phase 2 of the negotiations, the commitments made by the UK will be honoured and that we will hold onto the system of alliances we have built up in Europe so successfully. I would prefer not to have a post-Brexit Europe but if we are to have one, it will be important to build up allies. The UK was a very important ally in the EU. Eastern European states will become supporters of Ireland and it will be important in a post-Brexit EU that we hold on to our tax policies. It should be clearly understood that in net terms, our tax regime is no more beneficial to multinationals or inward investment by companies than the French taxation system, for example. It is important that in a post-Brexit situation we harness the goodwill we have built up.
Our relationship with the UK post-Brexit will be of crucial importance. We have €1.2 billion worth of trade with the UK on a weekly basis and 200,000 jobs in each country depend on it. I have the privilege of leading the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, of which Senator Alice-Mary Higgins is one of our most excellent former members. Through the good offices of Ambassador Keith McBean we had a very successful bilateral meeting with the UK delegation at the last Council of Europe plenary session. That is very important. The Council of Europe will become a very important forum for our relationship with the UK when it is no longer in the EU. It will be important that we work very closely there with the UK. We must maintain good relations and we must maintain and enhance our trading relationship. We have tremendous bonds of kinship and neighbourliness and mutual economic interests. It is an important relationship.
The cause of returning emigrants, which is under the remit of the Minister of State, is a very important one. I discovered this all over Cavan-Monaghan. We had 27,000 people return to Ireland between 2016 and 2017. They are encountering great difficulty. I find this right across Cavan-Monaghan. I met a young man recently who cannot open a bank account, get his car insured or his driving licence renewed. Full account is not taken of his driving experience abroad. They will not accept his banking record abroad for mortgage purposes and he is having problems with his health insurance and other issues. It is a real problem. The concerns and needs of emigrants who come home is a very big issue which the Government must address. We should be happy they are home.
My good friend Senator Lawless will do a wonderful job speaking about the undocumented Irish. I do not have his level of expertise on the issue but I want to record my great concern about the undocumented Irish. Many young people from Cavan-Monaghan and elsewhere in Ireland are living in an undocumented way in America. They live in fear and cannot come home to family funerals or weddings. They are almost fugitives in their new land. They are very constructive members of society making a huge contribution to society in their newly-adopted land. We have to get them regularised and accepted. Enormous diplomatic efforts must continue in that regard.
The Palestinian issue is huge. We had a discussion recently, for which the Minister of State was present in the House, on a very good Bill introduced by Senator Black. She very sensibly allowed the Tánaiste to do some work on it over time. The two-state solution is Irish policy. We are against increasing the settlements. We are against the settlements in Palestinian lands and the abuse of the Palestinian people. The Irish Government has a very strong position on this. I would like the Minister of State to assure us there will be no flinching from it and that we will encourage the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so the Palestinian Authority can take control of governance. We should encourage dealing with the settlements and get a two-state solution. The unilateral American position on Jerusalem as the capital is regrettable. I urge the Minister of State to introduce an initiative in the EU, led by Ireland, for a peace settlement in the Middle East. Ireland has the moral authority to lead that and should do so.
I was delighted to hear the Minister of State say our neutrality is not compromised by PESCO. That is very important. There were very legitimate concerns about that expressed in the House. The Minister of State has made it very clear it is not an issue. He has made it clear that we proudly remain part of the peacekeeping effort and that is a very important thing. He also made it clear we will continue our aid for developing countries and for countries in Africa.
I skirted over a number of issues. We do not regard our dealings with Northern Ireland as foreign affairs because they are within the island and are very important. It is a huge concern in my area and every area in the country that we would make every diplomatic effort to ensure a new devolved Administration is established in Northern Ireland. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, is doing extraordinarily good work there as he has been doing on the Brexit issue. I am very confident he will be a success in that regard.
I have just skirted a number of issues. Do I have much time left?
The Senator has 30 seconds left.
I have skirted around a number of issues because that is all my time allows. I would like individual responses from the Minister of State. I would welcome other engagements with him in the House so that we can take the issues I have raised one-by-one. The issues of the undocumented Irish and returning emigrants merit serious discussions in their own right. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to contribute.
Senator Billy Lawless, who is Senator for the diaspora, has eight minutes.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to speak to us in the Chamber today. I commend him for his commitment to addressing the issues faced by Ireland's diaspora. As we near St. Patrick's Day, with many members of Cabinet and the Minister of State travelling to the United States, I ask the Minister of State that as well as promoting inward investment to the State, he ensures that whether a Minister is in Silicon Valley or Savannah, the plight of the undocumented remains firm on his or her agenda. As the Minister of State is aware, it is not just about persuading the President, which is a tall task in itself, or persuading sympathetic US Senators or Congressmen on Capitol Hill, it is about building a coalition of goodwill so businesses that invest in this country act as our messengers for a bespoke solution to the continued hurdles the undocumented abroad face.
There are many in the Irish emigrant community, who are either undocumented themselves or have loved ones who fall into that category, who remain despondent at the prospect of meaningful reform being realised under this US Administration. I would temper that despondency in this way. Historically, Ireland has managed to do many great things with both Republican and Democrat Presidents and when either party leads the House of Representatives or the Senate. It is an often forgotten fact that the McBride principles, named after Seán McBride, Nobel Peace Prize winner, were enshrined in US law during a deeply divided Administration and Government in the United States. The McBride principles were a form of positive discrimination, or as was referred to in the US then, affirmative action, where US companies, if they were to invest in Northern Ireland, were forced to hire equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant workers.
I give this example simply to say that we cannot give up the fight for the undocumented. Despondency and waiting for the next Administration to come along are not the answer. We must work on every side to build a permanent coalition that understands and accepts the unique plight of the undocumented Irish. I hope this message will be conveyed loud and clear by all our Ministers representing us abroad in the coming months.
I also call on the Government to stand ready to secure a reciprocal agreement with the United States, which will ensure future flow of emigration from Ireland to the US while, at the same time, regularising the status of the undocumented. I can think of no better way of enlarging our diplomatic army in the cause of our undocumented neighbours and cousins to build a coalition of support than extending the electoral franchise to emigrant voters. As I have said many times in this Chamber, how we treat the undocumented at home must be the foundation of how we advocate for them abroad. In that same vein, the referendum in June 2019 will be about linking those who for years have campaigned in the US with their local US politicians to the Irish State, which has advocated on their behalf and whose President represents the entire Irish nation. I pressed on the Taoiseach when he was here last week - I will do the same to the Minister of State - not to allow a vacuum to develop in advance of the referendum that I am sure for the Government seems far away. The sooner we have clarity and know precisely who the Government intends to allow to vote in presidential elections and how it will operate in practice, the better we can start having real arguments and allay legitimate fears some of our citizens may have.
I am grateful for the Minister of State’s continued support. Will he convey to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade my thanks for the negotiations he is having on Brexit on behalf of the people?
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Seanad.
Last week, the Seanad debated a Bill on banning goods from illegal colonial settlements entering Ireland. Then I laid out my deep concerns about Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestine, including in the settlements and the apartheid system it enforces there. I also raised the case of Ahed Tamimi who remains imprisoned in an Israeli military jail. Last week, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade neglected to call for her immediate release. Will the Minister of State do so on behalf of the Government now?
It was reported last week that in January, a 14-year-old epileptic Palestinian girl was arrested by Israeli authorities and sent to the Gaza Strip for two weeks, even though her home is with her parents south of Ramallah in the West Bank. The girl was arrested as an illegal alien on 13 January in East Jerusalem because she did not have the right Israeli issued permit to be in Jerusalem. She was released on bail and taken by the Israeli authorities to the Gaza Strip because it was listed in records as her father's place of residence, even though she had never been there in her life. The traumatised child was stuck in Gaza for two weeks before she could return home. This is another example in a litany of brutal daily realities which exist for Palestinians and what they face under Israel's occupation and enforced apartheid regime.
On Sunday, Israeli authorities tore down two EU-funded classrooms which were part of a school for children in the occupied West Bank because they said they were built illegally. This is the fifth time they have done this since 2016. How does the Government plan on holding Israel to account for destroying schools built with Irish and EU taxpayers’ money? Will the Government demand compensation and the rebuilding of the schools? It is time for the Government to respect the democratic wishes of the Seanad and the Dáil, as well as of the Irish people, and officially recognise the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
I am concerned by the current political situation in Catalonia. On 21 December an election was held after the Spanish Government revoked Catalonia's home rule. The Catalan people once again gave political parties which support Catalan independence a parliamentary majority. However, the leader of the largest party is in exile in Belgium and the leader of the second largest party remains imprisoned by the Spanish authorities. The leaders of the two main grassroots, pro-independence civil society groups also remain in prison. The Catalan Parliament is still trying to elect its President because the Spanish Government is threatening to arrest more Catalan MPs if they go ahead with the vote to re-elect pro-independence President, Carles Puigdemont.
Like many others, I am truly appalled at the approach and provocative actions of the Spanish Government. Picking a new President should not mean criminal consequences or negative legal effects for MPs. The continued prosecution of Catalan Ministers, MPs, civil society activists and the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament is completely unacceptable and undemocratic. The Spanish Government must turn away from its clearly confrontational approach and, instead, enter into meaningful negotiations with the Catalan Government to find an acceptable path forward through inclusive dialogue. We must bear in mind that we will all gather this year and next year to commemorate elections and the sitting of a then so-called "illegal Parliament".
I have deep concerns about what is happening in Colombia. While it is welcome that FARC and the Colombian Government have agreed a historic peace deal, the Colombian Government is failing to protect vulnerable community leaders and human rights defenders from right-wing paramilitaries. Last year at least 170 community leaders were killed in Colombia; 21 were killed last month alone. Colombia's ombudsman said last week community leaders in Colombia face extermination. He called on the Colombian Government to prioritise the protection of community leaders and said its failure to do so was "assisting in their extermination". Will the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade raise with his counterpart in Colombia the completely unacceptable assassination of these social and political leaders? Hopefully, the Minister of State could pledge on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland’s support to these human rights defenders who are under threat.
I condemn Turkey's ground offensive and invasion of Syria and its attacks on Afrin in north-west Syria. Turkey's military attacks have caused significant civilian casualties. They are wrong and must be condemned by all. We have already seen the human rights violations that the Turkish army has committed against Kurds in south-east Turkey. It is clear its brutal tactics will be replicated against Kurds in Afrin. The Kurdish People's Protection Units, the YPG, has been successfully fighting Daesh in this region. Turkey's attacks will hamper the fight against Daesh, which is not completely surprising given the many questions surrounding Turkey's covert support for radical jihadist groups in this region. I urge the Minister of State to condemn Turkey's attacks on Afrin and that it is raised with his counterparts in the Turkish Government.
I want to speak out against the brutal attacks and blockade of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which have plunged the country into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. UNICEF's latest report, Born Into War, details how children in Yemen have been scarred by years of violence, displacement, disease, poverty, undernutrition and a lack of access to basic services, including water, health care and education, because of the war and the Saudi blockade. More than 11 million children, nearly every child in Yemen, now need humanitarian assistance and famine is a real prospect. I urge the Minister of State to support an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and other necessary measures to create a peaceful political solution to this conflict. I call on the Department to respond generously to UNICEF’s appeal for $312 million in 2018 to continue responding to the urgent needs of children in Yemen.
I respectfully disagree with the Minister of State on the State’s participation in PESCO. I have already made my views known to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, on this. We have much to be proud of in the record of the Defence Forces’ participation in humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Not only will PESCO hamper and erode Ireland's neutrality, it will also have a real possibility of changing the whole nature of the humanitarian efforts which we have undertaken in the Mediterranean to save many refugees.
Regarding the issues of Brexit and the North, as other colleagues have said, I resent contributing to statements on foreign affairs having to talk about the North and Brexit when both of them are home affairs and should treated as such.
Irish language groups in the North in the context of the talks in which the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is taking part have made an appeal in recent days to the party leaders, the British Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to meet the groups and organisations in the Irish language sector who live their lives, work and contribute to society day in and day out, to hear the experience of that community, and to cut through some of the mistruths, ignorance and, in many cases, bigotry expressed towards that community. The people who sent that letter to the Minister on behalf of the Irish-speaking community have yet to receive an acknowledgement. I respectfully urge the officials to take that on board, that they would seek to engage with that sector and, most importantly, that they would meet and hear from them and understand, not the media narrative that exists around the Irish-speaking population, but the reality.
Although I am very happy to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the House, I note we have been promised a debate, and we will need to have one, with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on some of these issues in the future because I understand many of them fall within his remit. Nonetheless, I look forward to the engagement with Minister of State, Deputy Cannon.
I was happy he spoke about the sustainable development goals. Ireland can be very proud of the role it played in brokering one of the most important ambitious global agreements we have had in global development. I understand a national implementation plan is with the Cabinet and is due to be published. Will the Minister of State be returning to the House to present this plan and to allow opportunities for statements and a discussion on it?
I note Ireland will be reporting to the high-level political forum in July, presenting a voluntary national review. As this matter also falls under the remit of the Minister of State's Department, I would like him to comment on what plans he has to incorporate input and review from civil society, both domestic and overseas, around that report, allowing for meaningful engagement. When we receive the national implementation plan, we will need some immediate targets, because if we wish to achieve these goals by 2030, we need to start now and we need to have progress now. It is important to note, and I noted this in an earlier discussion today, that commitment to equal opportunity and reduced inequalities of outcome is at the core of the sustainable development goals. It is also important to make sure that our policies are consistent with supporting other countries in their capacity to deliver the sustainable development goals because they are universal goals and a universal responsibility. It is important in other areas of our policy that we do not undermine the capacity of developing states particularly to reach these shared goals and targets.
I welcome the Minister of State's reference to the post-Cotonou process in respect of Africa. Ireland's relationship with Africa has been a very positive and strong one. I would note in particular the role that has been played by the organisation of Irish parliamentarians for Africa in the Oireachtas for many years.
I understand that while the European branch of that entity may be in difficulty, it is important that we recognise the role of that entity within the Oireachtas and make sure it is continued to ensure people have a space for more parties to engage in issues that affect Ireland, Europe and Africa.
In respect of Irish Aid, we have had a long-standing commitment to the 0.7% of gross national income, GNI, target. It dipped severely in recent years to 0.33%, which is not even half of the target. I recognise that the Taoiseach has now pledged to increase it. I especially welcome last week's announcement around increased support for the global partnership for education. I also note the review of the Irish Aid programme which the Minister of State signalled. That is one which we may be able to discuss in more detail in this House, but I note with some concern that an increasing portion of Irish Aid is routed through European aid which operates sometimes on quite different principles. An important aspect of Irish Aid is the principle that it is not tied. As we look to increase our spending in this area, we need to ensure that we maintain that principle and that we maintain it within our funding.
We also need to examine the area of policy coherence. Under the sustainable development goals, policy coherence is one of our commitments. From our areas of aid to trade to our taxation policies, we have to make sure that we address contradictions which undermine the often positive and exceptional work of Irish Aid and programmes and workers. In that context, others have spoken about the issue of occupied territories. Globally, there are many occupied territories to be considered, including Western Sahara and West Papua, but focusing specifically on the question of the occupied Palestinian territories, it is concerning that at the weekend we were told by the Irish representation that the Israeli army has demolished a children's school in East Jerusalem, a school which Irish Aid funding helped to build. It underscores the need for intensified strong diplomatic action to ensure we are not losing ground on this issue and we do not enter a new era in which actions can be taken with perceived impunity.
With respect to Brexit, I will not speak in detail on it as I imagine we will have a chance to debate it further, but I want to highlight two issues. First, it is welcome that the Tánaiste met the joint committee on human rights. The principle of human rights equivalence is a vital, if somewhat neglected, pillar of the Good Friday Agreement. That question of human rights equivalence is crucial and a first stage Brexit issue. It would have been good to see it moved forward more in the first phase of the negotiations.
The second issue I wish to highlight is that Ireland has a very strong national action plan on women, peace and security, as the Minister of State will be aware. It is important we remind ourselves of that plan in our approach to the Brexit negotiations and our engagement in them. When we talk about women, peace and security, we need to talk also about communities, women's groups and civil society groups, the role they have played in the Good Friday Agreement and the role they need to play in the conversations as we look to the Brexit negotiations. It is a reminder for us to follow through on those principles.
The next stage of the Brexit negotiations is effectively a trade negotiation. That involves key questions. What will be the model of the trade agreement? Will it include an arbitration method such as an investment court system? There would be a concern if that is the method and the chosen form of arbitration because the investor court system is currently being challenged within the European Court of Justice. That raises the question of whether it is an appropriate model to be considered. Will the precautionary principle, and this is very important for Ireland, in terms of environmental employment and medical and health standards be at the centre or will we go for the situation which prevails in a number of trade agreements where the onus is on a person to prove harm rather than the precautionary principle standing? Will we go for the quite radical and still experimental proposal of a negative list system where everything is included unless something is taken off the table, or a positive list system where we know what is being negotiated? These are the questions that hang over every trade negotiation, but we need to address them urgently in terms of Brexit.
The Senator is spot on, yes.
The issue on which I wanted to focus is PESCO. I will need to speak to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, because this deeply affects his work on disarmament. I have to correct the record in the context of the Minister of State's speech. He said PESCO is provided for in the Treaty on European Union which was approved by Irish people. Let us be very clear, the opportunity to opt in or out of PESCO is what is provided for in the treaty and that is what was voted for. It is important that we do not give some retrospective legitimacy to suggest people have approved that. I beg the Cathaoirleach's indulgence on this. I will be following up on the question of PESCO and we will have a debate on it, but let us be clear that it is not business as usual.
One of the key areas is that of military procurement. What we now see is that there is going to be joint military procurement. The Minister of State refused to answer previously whether the triple lock would be used. We now know the triple lock will not be used, so there is a core question, which is how the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, assures the public that the military equipment we purchase will be used by other countries with different mandates and whether it will be used outside a UN mandate? Germany has NATO troops and is part of missions in Afghanistan and Austria has brought tanks to the border with Italy to use against migrants. Some European countries have a history of testing and using their military equipment against other countries outside UN mandate. There is a real question here.
I must ask the Senator to finish. There are three other speakers and they will not all get in.
Okay, I will adjourn but only on the-----
Senator Higgins should listen to me for a moment. She had eight minutes and she is now at almost ten minutes and that is an abuse of the privilege she was given.
I had to redirect my speech because we did not have the debate that we had been promised and I did try to address the Minister of State's brief, out of respect to him.
I know, but I have to be fair to everybody.
However, I note that we will be returning to PESCO and we will need clear assurances as to how the Minister addresses the use of those weapons and military equipment which Ireland jointly purchases. It is a very clear question. There is no mechanism to deal with it.
I call Senator Feighan.
Will the implementation on PESCO-----
Senator Higgins should please respect the Chair. I call Senator Feighan.
It is a concrete question. Will the implementation plan on PESCO be published-----
I call Senator Feighan.
-----and will it be brought to these Houses and voted upon? That is my final question.
I always say that when people have eight minutes, they should not leave the important point until last. Senator Buttimer, the Leader of the House will probably not get to speak now because we wasted three minutes. Senator Feighan has five minutes.
I thought I had eight minutes.
The leader of each group has eight minutes. Senator Feighan has five and Senator Bacik has eight because she is the leader of the Technical Group.
I will pare down my speech.
Senator Buttimer would have five but I cannot see him getting in. the Minister has to respond as well.
These are very challenging times due to Brexit and as we all know too well the nature of the relationship between the EU and the UK post Brexit remains unclear. It will be subject to potentially complex and protracted negotiations. I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, who is present, and the foreign affairs team on the continued work they are doing on the Brexit front.
Ireland has secured concrete commitments on the maintenance of the common travel area and on the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process. I have attended many conferences and meetings through my involvement with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and many other fora and I have told UK politicians that under no circumstances will there be a border on the island of Ireland. We cannot say that enough. In some respect there is a selective memory but under no circumstances can we allow a border on the island of Ireland. I think we have made our position extremely clear. We want to be very helpful to the United Kingdom and we will be helpful to it but this is a red line issue on which we have made ourselves very clear. I was in the UK last week and people said we could get around that. One cannot get around a border on the island of Ireland. The Border will be the Achilles heel of Brexit. It was an Achilles heel two years ago and the same was true a year ago. That is why I believe Brexit cannot work because there cannot be a border on the island of Ireland for many reasons other than the symbolic, political and financial.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken a review of the Irish Aid programme and developed a pathway towards reaching our long-standing target for overseas development aid of 0.7% of gross national income, GNI, by 2030. That is very important. As a country we must take our place among the nations of the world and lead by example. We have no baggage such has having had an empire and we are seen as independent arbiters. We need to step up to the plate. I do not say we need to take risks but we must be seen as independent arbiters. Sometimes when there are issues before the House, that does not mean we should not debate them, but people are watching Ireland in terms of our position and we will do an awful lot of good in the world in future years.
I note with interest that we have applied to become an observer at the francophone group of nations. I welcome that. It is a very strategic move. It will ensure we get into places such as east Africa or other parts of Africa and it will help our relationship with the EU and Africa and help us to do good. Previously, I suggested we should consider our relationship with the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth. I say that from the point of view of aid, trade, the diaspora and sport. We should also look at the CPLP which is the Community of Portuguese Language Speaking Countries. All of those groups and agencies are not hugely political but they do great work around the world. If we are going to spend 0.7% on aid, which Norway, Sweden and many other countries do, it is about time that we could pool our resources and ideas. A group from the Commonwealth of Nations does work around the world, as does the francophone group, the EU and the United Nations, and that all makes a considerable difference.
Canada and Cyprus are in the group of francophone countries. They are also in the Commonwealth of Nations. We should not be afraid of joining and helping out in those various communities because that can only do good. India is the second largest country in the world with a population of 1.3 billion. It is the fastest growing economy at 6.7%. Why would we not look at being part of an organisation that would give us access to such a country? If it makes sense for us to join a francophone group of nations, why should we not look at a group of which we were a member up to 1949 when a Fine Gael Taoiseach left in a huff? Why should we not consider the Commonwealth of Nations and all the positive aspects of being a member of it? Let us get over the fact that it is British. It is the Commonwealth of Nations and it would make great sense for us to consider joining such a group.
The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is very welcome to the House. If I may, I will touch for a moment on an issue that is not related to foreign affairs. As a fellow member of the all-party Oireachtas cycling group, I commend him on his work on cycle safety. I wish him the very best with the minimum passing distance law which I hope will be introduced without any further delay. I know the Dublin Cycling Campaign and others are working with him on it.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade I am delighted to engage with the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on a range of issues. We look forward to having the Minister before us at the committee on 1 March and I will certainly raise issues with him then. I am conscious that colleagues have raised issues around the undocumented Irish. Senator Lawless has done much work on votes for the diaspora, the Government commitment on which I very much welcome, having been involved with the Constitutional Convention which recommended that we would have votes for the diaspora in presidential elections. Others have spoken also on PESCO.
On the day that is in it, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, when we commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage, I very much welcome the Minister of State's commitment to ensure gender equality is at the forefront of our international work, in particular as he said when Ireland becomes the chair of the Commission on the Status of Women later this year.
In the brief time available to me, and so as to allow time for Senator Buttimer to speak, I wish to touch on Irish Aid. As the Minister of State is aware, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade has been conducting a review in conjunction with the Department, and we hope to launch our report on Irish Aid at the end of February. We heard from many stakeholders in the area and a number of issues were addressed. Members of the committee travelled to Malawi, a key partner country for Ireland. We are keen to ensure the Government takes forward the implementation of the sustainable development goals in the Irish Aid programme, with a specific focus on gender, education, climate change and agriculture. We have also called for a whole-of-Government approach to overseas development. We very much recognise the very positive feedback we get from partner countries and from those working in development in terms of Irish Aid's programme and the significant benefit it has brought about.
One thing we are keen to emphasise is that we would seek to reach our commitment on the spending of 0.7% of GNI on overseas development aid. I very much welcome the comment in the Minister of State's speech that he will be developing a pathway towards reaching that goal. He also said the Tánaiste will bring proposals in that respect to Government very soon.
I very much hope we will see it. The committee will certainly be working to support it because, in its report, it will be setting out in detail a proposal for how we can achieve our target on a phased basis. We are conscious that Ireland is still some way off achieving it. We were only at a figure of 0.33% in 2016. That is a key issue that will certainly be raised in the report.
On ongoing humanitarian crises, colleagues have referred to the Rohingya people and the need for an independent investigation in that regard. I raised the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, some months ago and was glad to see in his response to me that the Government would be pushing for an impartial, independent investigation into events, particularly in Rakhine State. I very much support the Minister's work in that regard.
Colleagues have referred to the conflict in Syria. With regard to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, as a neutral state within the European Union, Ireland should be referring to the powers behind them - the powers that are really causing the humanitarian crises. I refer to Russia's backing of the brutal Assad regime in Syria, on which we have had quite a number of hearings at meetings of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. This morning I was glad to screen a film by Ronan Tynan and Anne Daly of Esperanza Productions, "Syria: The Impossible Revolution". It sets out the context and background to the horrific conflict which has claimed so many lives. There is still enormous displacement of people across Syria, with civilians being targeted and sieges in East Ghouta and other places. I am happy to work with the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement in trying to highlight the plight of the Syrian people and the backing of the Assad regime by other powers such as Russia and Iran which has resulted in the regime being propped up. The same applies to the forgotten crisis in Yemen which others have mentioned and in which there have been terrible civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia has been complicit in the brutality. Ireland should be taking a strong stand against the backing of brutal regimes by other powers.
On the conflict in Palestine and the Middle East, I am glad that we had the debate last week on Senator Francis Black's Bill on the occupied territories. I am also glad that the Minister adopted a co-operative approach to it. I hope he, Senator Frances Black and her colleagues will liaise on the matter to ensure progress is made on the Bill which is an important one. It is important that we take action, particularly on the settlements which are illegal under international law. The Labour Party has a strong track record on Palestinian rights.
Although I know that it is not strictly a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - it is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality - we need to recognise our role in Ireland in taking in more refugees and ensuring generosity in granting a right to work to those living in direct provision centres. I hope we will see speedy action being taken by the Government in that regard. My colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has taken a strong stance on the issue and been right.
Recently I was pleased to attend the Holocaust memorial event. The resonance between the position on the plight of refugees fleeing from conflict across the Mediterranean and Ireland's lack of generosity in taking in Jewish refugees during the Second World War was actually noted by the Taoiseach when he spoke at the event.
On Brexit, I do not agree with Senator Frank Feighan. I do not believe many agree with his position on the Commonwealth. However, I agree with him on how disastrous Brexit will be for Ireland. A number of members of the committee met the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee just a week and a half ago. We presented a cross-party consensus to its chairman, Mr. Hilary Benn, and his colleagues on just how seriously detrimental Brexit would be to Ireland. We left them very clear on the effect it would have. It is crucial that we have ongoing parliamentary engagement with Members of Parliament in Britain and Members of the House of Lords. I am glad that, as part of Vótáil 100, a group of us will be travelling to the House of Commons on 28 February to present a portrait of Constance Markievicz. It will be the first time the British will recognise officially her position as the first woman Member of Parliament who was elected in 1918.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, and commend him for his work in the Department. There will be an adjournment of the debate to allow further discussions with the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, who is but one of the Ministers in the Department. The Minister of State is here in his own right and has his own specific brief and duties. He is not here as a surrogate.
It is important on this day to have ongoing parliamentary dialogue, negotiation and conversation, as Senator Ivana Bacik pointed out. This is a very important day in the country's history and the history of women. It is also important in the context of the ongoing peace process in the North. I hope that, in the context of this debate, there will be a resolution of the issue that has bedevilled the parties in the North for 12 months. It is hard to believe it was this time last year that some of us, including Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, were canvassing in the elections in the North. I had the pleasure to be there and certainly found the issues to be pertinent, including to what was happening here. The one thing people want is devolved government. They do not want administrators, civil servants or direct rule from London; they want the parties that were elected to take up their responsibilities. I wish everybody well in the ongoing talks.
I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE which meets on a number of occasions during the course of the year. We are due to meet next week in Vienna. One of the pertinent points in its initial founding document, under the Helsinki Final Act, was a call to participating states to develop co-operation in the fields of trade, industry, science and technology, the environment and other areas of economic activity that contributed to the reinforcement of peace and security in Europe and the world as a whole. It is the very principle of reinforcing peace and security that is at stake. What the opening mission statement does not refer to is the ongoing issue of human rights.
As a member of the LGBTI community, I had the need - I will not say the honour or pleasure - to meet the Russian ambassador to discuss human rights in Russia and the issue of Chechnya. From talking to some of my friends, including Senator Billy Lawless, who represents the diaspora via Galway and Chicago, I note that there is a fear within the LGBT community in America that there has been regression in the representation of rights by some, particularly under the current US Administration. It is feared that across the world human rights issues for LGBT people are not profiled enough. I very much welcome the participation of Mr. Rory O'Neill, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as an ambassador for us across the world. He is an extraordinary person, with whom I have had the pleasure of working and campaigning. I have been on panels with him. He brings his own unique style and also a keen intellect to many issues, including the issue of HIV-AIDS in this case. Those who questioned his participation should consider what he has actually done and to where he travels. Whether it is in Mozambique, South Africa or other parts of the world, he is challenging but also advocating.
There is a wealth of information, knowledge and experience within the parliamentary system that can also be used. I use my opportunity, as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, to advocate continually for human rights. To borrow the famous phrase used in connection with Mr. Bertie Ahern, it sometimes feels like playing handball against a haystack, but we must continue to advocate. That is why Senator Ivana Bacik is correct regarding migrants and our humanitarian outlook. We must continue to challenge ourselves as a nation, challenging not only the State and civic leaders but also an gnáth duine - the ordinary person - on how we can make Ireland a more welcoming place for people fleeing conflict.
I commend the work done by Deputy Simon Coveney when he was Minister for Defence. He is now Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I commend him for his genuine approach to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. I also commend the men and women of the Naval Service and the Defence Forces for the work they do.
It is a matter of international co-operation and adopting a comprehensive approach to security. While we want to see our neutrality maintained and do not want to see it diluted, the world is evolving. The way in which the world looks at itself is changing. Bearing in mind the 1975 document of the OSCE, there have been changes in the world, but the challenges remain. I heard the Minister's comments on the United Nations. What does it stand for anymore? Whom does it represent? Where does the power lie? Who makes the decisions? These are questions we must all ask and consider. That august body is seen as bearing the gold star in upholding human rights and challenging those who deny them, but who is in control? Senator Alice-Mary Higgins referred to this issue.
It is a question to which I will come back when the debate is resumed. Certainly, it is one we cannot and should not ignore.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. I know that he came at the eleventh hour. He has a considerable budget and brief which I did not get a chance to discuss, but I know from talking to people he has met as part of his work that he is doing a good job.
On the Order of Business Senator John Dolan struck an important chord when talking about missionary work and sustainable development, including sustainable development aid, throughout the world. That is an issue to which we must come back. I propose that we adjourn the discussion until a later date.
The discussion is adjourned until another occasion, as agreed to on the Order of Business. I thank the Minister of State.