Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (728)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

850 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to report on his Department's activities regarding Ireland's EU Presidency; if he will outline his plans for the next few months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1219/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Irish Presidency programme was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 18 December and debated in the Dáil on 20 January. The programme sets out in detail my priorities for the Justice and Home Affairs Council in the context of the objective of developing the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice. Those priorities are consistent with the requirements of the Treaty of Amsterdam and the work programme agreed by the European Council in Tampere for that purpose. The programme also sets out our priorities in the area of equality, where the focus will be on promoting equality and combating discrimination.

January has already been a very busy month for my Department. The informal Justice and Home Affairs Council, which I chaired, took place in Dublin Castle on 22 and 23 January. Issues dealt with at that meeting included the Council directive on minimum standards on procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status, the question of a common return policy, organised crime, the proposal for a Council framework decision on a European evidence warrant and, in the context of civil law co-operation, the possibility of an EU instrument to deal with small claims. In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, presented his views on the development of a common EU asylum policy at my invitation.

Both I and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who has special responsibility for equality matters, have also appeared before the European Parliament. I appeared before the European Parliament Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs, on 21 January to brief the committee on the Irish Presidency priorities in the Justice and Home Affairs area. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, briefed the European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities on our priorities in the area of equality on 19 January.

I will chair four further meetings of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform officials will be called upon to chair approximately 140 meetings at working group level in Brussels and Ireland. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, will chair two meetings of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council regarding the equality issues before those Council meetings. There will also be further engagements with the European Parliament. A number of conferences and seminars relating to the Justice and Home Affairs area will also be held in Ireland. The calendar of Council meetings which I and other Government colleagues will chair has been deposited in the Oireachtas Library, as has the calendar of high-level meetings which are being held in Ireland.

My officials and I have also advanced the Presidency programme through a considerable number of bilateral contacts with Ministers and officials in member states and other countries, and with officials in the European institutions. I will continue to hold such meetings as necessary. This is a general outline of my Department's activities regarding Ireland's EU Presidency and my own plans for that Presidency. However, it is likely that many other commitments will arise between now and the end of the Presidency regarding my Department.