I thank the Chairman and the members of the select committee for this opportunity to discuss the motion referred to the select committee for consideration:
That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Cuba, of the other part, signed at Brussels, Belgium, on 12 December 2016, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 31 May 2019.
This agreement is the first bilateral agreement between the EU and Cuba and signals an important step in developing EU-Cuba relations and, in turn, Ireland-Cuba relations. Cuba’s relations with the EU have improved significantly in recent years, forming part of a general pattern of increased openness on the part of Cuba to re-engage with international partners.
This agreement is robust and comprehensive, consisting of three main pillars, namely political dialogue, co-operation and sectoral policy dialogue, and trade and trade co-operation. The core aim of the political dialogue and co-operation agreement, PDCA, is to open channels of dialogue and co-operation between the EU and Cuba in order to assist the modernisation of the Cuban economy and society, strengthen human rights and democracy, and work together to achieve the sustainable development goals. The agreement provides for a comprehensive dialogue between the EU and Cuba on a range of policy areas, including human rights; small arms and light weapons; disarmament and non-proliferation; sustainable development; terrorism; serious crimes of international concern; unilateral coercive measures; combating illicit drugs; and combating racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The agreement also provides for the development of co-operation, including on political and legal issues such as democracy, human rights, good governance, justice, citizens’ security and migration, as well as on social, environmental, economic and developmental issues. Most of the agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 November 2017. However, its full application requires ratification by all the EU member states once they have completed their own internal legal procedures.
Since establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1999, Ireland’s relationship with Cuba has grown significantly. The visit of President Higgins to the island in 2017 was a high point in our relations and facilitated the further strengthening of ties between our two countries. This visit also highlighted the interesting shared history between the two countries, with Irish emigrants having contributed to the economic, cultural and political evolution of Cuba over the years, and Cuban leaders having been influenced by the leaders of the Irish revolutionary and independence movements.
Cuba opened an embassy in Dublin in 2001 and Ireland’s ambassador to Mexico is accredited to Cuba. I welcome the ambassador here today. The recent opening of two new missions in Latin America, in Colombia and Chile, has significantly increased our footprint in the region and has allowed our embassy in Mexico to dedicate greater resources to developing our relationship with Cuba. The year 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of relations between the two countries and is being celebrated with a series of cultural events organised by our respective ambassadors.
Ireland and Cuba are like-minded on a number of multilateral issues such as disarmament, non-proliferation, gender equality and climate change. We signed a memorandum of understanding on political dialogue with Cuba in 2015, and have since engaged in three rounds of bilateral political consultations, where such issues of mutual concern were discussed.
It is also important to acknowledge concerns about the challenging human rights situation in Cuba. Ireland is keenly aware of the difficult situation that exists for human rights defenders and civil society actors in Cuba. Ireland, together with the EU and our fellow member states, continues to encourage reform within Cuba, particularly in the areas of freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, the protection of open civil society space and a free, fair and open judicial system. The EU and Cuba have an annual dialogue in the area of human rights and this agreement provides for further engagement in this extremely important area. Encouraging steps have been taken by Cuba, including in the reform of the constitution, approved by referendum after a process of public consultation. Among other reforms, the new constitution establishes the presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings and the right to habeas corpus, and extends a ban on discrimination, including on the basis of sexuality. The PDCA recognises the potential contribution of civil society and specifically provides for further co-operation between the EU and Cuba in this area and encourages the active participation of civil society in the formulation and execution of development co-operation policies.
I thank the select committee for the opportunity to present this motion. My assessment and that of the Department is that the PDCA provides a solid framework and welcome opportunity to strengthen both EU-Cuba and Ireland-Cuba relations, providing for closer economic and political ties, and it also helps to provide the framework for further constructive dialogue on the many human rights issues.
I hope the select committee will support the motion, and that Dáil Éireann may approve the terms of this agreement so that Ireland may proceed to ratify it in the near future. I am happy to take any questions members may have at this point.