Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Questions (158)

Charlie O'Connor


287 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent visit to South Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2778/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I visited South Africa from 21-23 November 2003. As well as the political meetings undertaken, I visited some of Development Co-operation Ireland's projects in that country, including the township of Soweto. I saw, firsthand, the devastating impact which HIV-AIDS has on the local population there and also the great work of our development officers, NGOs and missionaries.

On 22 November, Foreign Minister, Ms Zuma, hosted a working dinner at her residence for the Irish delegation. Our discussions covered bilateral relations with South Africa, EU-Africa dialogue, Zimbabwe, UN reform, the WTO and the Middle East. It was a productive meeting, in which I outlined our intention, as EU Presidency, to work in partnership with African governments, including South Africa, to push African issues up the EU agenda. Our overarching aim would be to work together with our African partners to enhance Africa's capacity to deal with the issues the continent faces.

The Foreign Minister expressed her appreciation for my announcement of Ireland's €300,000 contribution to the NEPAD initiative. The House is aware that NEPAD is the new economic programme for African development, an African-owned and led initiative which is intended to achieve sustainable development in Africa in the 21st century. We also agreed to the establishment of a structured bilateral partnership agreement with South Africa to augment the relations between our two countries. Regular ministerial and official-level dialogue is envisaged and the details will be finalised in the coming months.

The following day, I met with President Mbeki and reiterated our aim to give strong support to African issues during our Presidency of the EU. We discussed South Africa's role as a successful mediator in various African conflicts, including Burundi. We agreed that effective multilateralism was a common foreign policy goal for both countries and, on behalf of the Government, I invited President Mbeki to make a state or an official visit to Ireland, at his convenience.

The formation of the African Union in 2002 shows that Africa is serious about tackling its problems in a real and cohesive manner. I was glad also to witness Ireland's aid programmes and to talk with the political leaders of the country. South Africa plays a pivotal role in the African Union and in the Southern Africa Development Community. These discussions were of the utmost importance in preparing for the EU Presidency and they have contributed to the further strengthening of our relations with this influential and important country.