Human Rights Issues.

Questions (11, 12)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

9 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the recent condemnation of human rights violations in Iran at the United Nations General Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4262/04]

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Pádraic McCormack

Question:

51 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the use of capital punishment in Iran; if his attention has been drawn to reports that there has been an increasing number of public hangings and other barbaric punishments in Iran in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4257/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 51 together.

The human rights situation in Iran is of serious concern. I particularly deplore the practice of public executions and other unacceptable practices.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council last October outlined its deep concern regarding serious human rights violation in Iran. It specifically mentioned that the practice of public executions was to be particularly regretted. The Council is equally concerned at the continued use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Ireland co-sponsored a resolution entitled "The situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran" at the UN third committee in December 2003. This resolution called on the Islamic government of Iran to abide by its obligations under the international covenants on human rights and other international human rights instruments. These obligations include those related to freedom of opinion and expression, the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, and the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls. The resolution also called on Iran to continue its efforts to consolidate respect for human rights and the rule of law. The resolution was passed by 73 votes to 49, with 50 abstaining. All EU member and accession states supported the resolution, with the exception of Cyprus which abstained.

The EU is also engaged in a human rights dialogue with Iran through which we pursue improvements in the human rights situation. The third round of the dialogue was held in Brussels in October and we hope to agree dates for the next round during our Presidency.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (13, 14)

Paul McGrath

Question:

10 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent meeting of the Government and the Democratic Unionist Party in London; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4307/04]

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Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

52 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with a delegation from the Democratic Unionist Party in London on 29 January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4200/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 52 together.

On 29 January, the Taoiseach, accompanied by myself, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, met with a DUP delegation, led by Dr. Ian Paisley at the Embassy of Ireland in London. Dr. Paisley was accompanied by fellow MPs Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Iris Robinson, Gregory Campbell and Jeffrey Donaldson.

The meeting, which was the first contact between the DUP and the Government since the agreement was signed, was constructive and positive in tone. While these discussions were of an exploratory nature, we saw this as a very valuable opportunity to open a sustained dialogue with the DUP. We are keen to develop and maintain good relations with the party based on mutual respect.

During the meeting, both sides discussed their broad approaches to the review of the agreement, which was subsequently convened on 3 February 2004. We said that we looked forward to engagement with DUP in the review and, as with all the other parties involved, would listen carefully and respectfully to their detailed proposals. We made it clear that both Governments were of the view the review should focus on the operation of the agreement, not its fundamentals. During the discussion, the DUP members emphasised that they would engage constructively and proactively in the review. They also restated their well known views in regard to the linkage between participation in Government and definitive closure of all paramilitary activity. In addition, they confirmed that, while they saw no role for the Irish Government in regard to Strand 1 matters, they were willing to have dialogue with us in regard issues pertaining to Strands 2 and 3.

Together with the Secretary of State, I had a further opportunity to meet a DUP delegation, led by Dr. Paisley, earlier this week in Belfast. This trilateral meeting took place in the context of the current review process and was focused on Strands 2 and 3 and other aspects of the agreement. Due to schedule constraints, the meeting was relatively brief. However a further trilateral meeting has been scheduled with the DUP for 24 February.

As the Taoiseach has already stated, we look forward to broadening and deepening our contacts with the DUP in the period immediately ahead.

Millennium Development Goals.

Questions (15)

Simon Coveney

Question:

11 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he will take during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union to progress the millennium development goals which include halving poverty and ensuring that every child has a primary school place by 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4246/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

From the outset of our EU Presidency, Ireland has urged the need for renewed action by the Union on the millennium development goals, MDGs. An important UN stocktaking on progress towards achieving the MDGs is to take place in 2005 and Ireland, as Presidency, feels that the Union, as the world's largest donor of overseas development assistance, should show leadership in this important task.

We used the occasion of the annual orientation debate on the effectiveness of external actions at last month's General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, to highlight the millennium development goals. A Presidency paper provided the basis for a debate among Ministers and the adoption of Council conclusions which stated the achievement of the MDGs is a key objective for the European Union and the wider international community, and that the commitments made by EU member states at the 2002 Monterrey conference on financing for development reflect the Union's leadership role in international efforts to achieve the MDGs.

EU commitments at Monterrey included the volume of ODA. In this regard, the EU pledged that collectively an EU average of 0.39% of GNP would be reached by 2006. Member states which had not reached the EU average of 0.33% agreed to strive to reach at least this figure by 2006.

In the January 2004 GAERC conclusions, the EU confirmed that its commitment to the achievement of the MDGs should be reflected across the range of EU policies and in its decisions on financial allocations. Ministers also agreed that a major effort will have to be sustained during 2004 to ensure that the commitments made by member states on increasing overseas development assistance at the 2002 Monterrey conference will be met.

This Presidency initiative will be followed up at the April 2004 GAERC which is due to discuss the current position on the EU's Monterrey commitments on the basis of an extensive report from the Commission. Further, in ensuring that the EU is well positioned to provide leadership in the international stocktaking of the MDGs in 2005, the April 2004 GAERC will also consider inviting the Commission to take on the role of monitoring and analysing member states' implementation of their commitments in respect of the MDGs similar to that which the Commission is currently undertaking on the Monterrey commitments.

Under the Irish Presidency, therefore, the EU is in the process of bringing MDG implementation to the top of its external agenda and the EU will be well placed to play a leadership role in the UN 2005 stocktake commensurate with its role as the world's major donor of ODA.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (16, 17)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

12 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts he will make to improve the transatlantic relationship during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4274/04]

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Brian O'Shea

Question:

88 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he expects an EU/US summit to be held during the course of the Irish Presidency of the EU; the likely location of such a summit; if he expects that President Bush will visit Ireland for such a summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter [4197/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 88 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to priority Questions Nos. 1 and 2 dated today on the same issue.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (18)

David Stanton

Question:

13 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the Amnesty International report on the use of the death penalty for child offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4303/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I am aware of the recent report from Amnesty and welcome the organisation's contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. As the Amnesty International report states, and as I have stated on many occasions, the EU is adamantly opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and accordingly seeks its universal abolition.

The EU position on this issue is clearly set out in the EU guidelines on the death penalty, adopted in 1998, and referred to in this report. These guidelines seek, in the first instance, the universal abolition of the death penalty and state that where the death penalty still exists, the EU will continue to press for its use to be progressively restricted, including in the cases of juvenile offenders. The EU has consistently taken action on this issue, through interventions in individual cases including juvenile cases in some of the countries cited in the Amnesty report.

In addition to this, the EU frequently raises the issue of the death penalty in démarches on human rights issues, through its human rights dialogues and by raising the issue at appropriate regional and international fora such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN Commission on Human Rights. The EU has consistently urged states that have not yet done so, to sign, ratify and fully implement the terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which unreservedly prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on persons below 18 years of age.

The EU welcomed the entry into force of Protocol No. 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights last year. This protocol bans the death penalty in all circumstances, including for crimes committed in time of war and imminent threat of war. The EU has called upon all member states of the Council of Europe, who have note yet done so, to sign and ratify Protocol 13. The EU is the principal sponsor of a resolution on the death penalty and joint sponsor of a resolution on the rights of the child at the UN Commission on Human Rights. Both resolutions call upon all states to comply with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit the imposition of the death penalty on persons under 18 years of age.

The abolition of the death penalty is a political priority for Ireland and our EU partners. The EU will continue to closely monitor developments regarding the death penalty with a view to highlighting its concerns regarding both individual cases and the current death penalty practices and to continue to work for its worldwide abolition.

EU Enlargement.

Questions (19, 20)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

14 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which agreement has been reached on the Cyprus issue in the context of the forthcoming European enlargement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4336/04]

View answer

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

66 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken either bilaterally or through the EU to encourage a resolution of the Cyprus problem. [4100/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 66 together.

I welcome the initiative of the UN Secretary General to invite the parties to resumed talks on the basis of his proposals for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. The talks, involving the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot leaders, opened in New York on 10 February. Their resumption offers a real opportunity to achieve the historic objective of the accession of a united Cyprus to the European Union on 1 May 2004. I hope all parties will engage in the process constructively and with determination to reach a settlement on the basis of the Secretary General's proposals.

The accession of a united Cyprus on 1 May remains the clear preference of the EU. The December 2003 European Council urged all parties concerned, and in particular Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership, to strongly support the Secretary General's efforts and, in this context, called for an immediate resumption of the talks on the basis of his proposals. The Council reiterated its willingness to accommodate the terms of a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.

I welcome encouraging signs of progress since the European Council. The Government has remained in contact with the parties concerned to encourage movement to meet the Secretary General's requirements for the resumption of negotiations. Most recently, I met in Dublin with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus, Mr. George Iacovou, on 2 February. I also discussed the prospects for a settlement with the UN Secretary General when I met him in Brussels on 28 January. I assured him of the full support of the EU for his mission of good offices. The European Commission will play an integral role in resumed negotiations to assist a speedy solution within the framework of the acquis.

In the weeks ahead, Ireland as EU Presidency will remain in contact with the Secretary General, who has the central role in the search for a comprehensive settlement. We are ready to assist in whatever way he may require to encourage agreement. The time available is short if agreement is to be reached and put to simultaneous referenda in Cyprus before accession on 1 May. Difficult compromises will be required on all sides. However, it is the strong view of the Government that the accession of a united Cyprus is in the interests of all the people of the island, of Greece and Turkey and of the European Union.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Questions (21, 22)

Joe Costello

Question:

15 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, following the public statements of Dr. Kay, former head of the United States initiated group searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to the effect that none such have been found, the Government has satisfied itself with its decision to make Shannon Airport available for a pre-emptive strike against, and occupation of, Iraq. [4186/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

67 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether he has been proven completely wrong regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; if he regrets allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the Americans for their war effort in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4322/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 67 together.

What appears to be the increasingly firm conclusion that Iraq may not have been in possession of WMD at the time of the invasion of that country gives rise to important questions. In this regard, there are clearly questions which must be raised on the reliability of certain intelligence material. Of concern also, however, is how the international community should deal with a leader such as Saddam Hussein, who is prepared to defy the UN Security Council and to allow the impression to persist that he is in possession of WMD, even to the extent of bringing UN sanctions, invasion and occupation upon his people. Access to accurate and up to date intelligence, particularly for the United Nations, is clearly crucial to determining the appropriate response in such circumstances.

In arriving at a position on the threat posed by Iraq, the Government, like most governments around the world, was guided by a number of factors: first, the hard evidence that Iraq had at one time been in possession of chemical weapons and had used them both in its war with Iran and against its own people; second, that it had sought to develop nuclear weapons capability; third, that it had persistently defied the demands of the Security Council that it verifiably dismantle its WMD capabilities; fourth, that it refused to co-operate fully with UN weapons; finally, that the UN inspectors were not satisfied that Iraq had accounted for its stocks of WMD. The Government did not base its position on intelligence provided by the either the US or the UK.

At the time when Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted, the Security Council was acting in the belief that Iraq did possess weapons of mass destruction. This belief was very widely shared in the international community. The General Affairs Council of the EU at its meeting of 18-19 November 2002 stated three times in the clearest terms its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was despite the fact that there was disagreement among many member states about how to deal with the situation.

In his report of 6 March to the Security Council, Dr. Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the arms inspection team mandated to investigate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said that many questions relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remained unanswered. The belief that Iraq did retain WMD capability was therefore widespread, including in this House, and including on the part of some who appeared ready to oppose military action against Iraq under any circumstances. This fact appears to have been conveniently forgotten. It may be that only one man in the world truly knew at the time of the invasion whether or not Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The fact remains that, whether or not these weapons still existed at the time, Iraq was in material breach of its disarmament obligations through its failure to co-operate fully with the arms inspectors in carrying out their mandate of verifying that Iraq no longer held weapons of mass destruction. War could have been averted if Saddam Hussein had co-operated fully with the arms inspectors mandated by the UN Security Council. Saddam Hussein was manifestly unwilling to do this. He began to offer minimal, but still thoroughly unsatisfactory, co-operation only when military pressure started to mount.

When the invasion was launched, the Government came before this House on 20 March 2003 and put forward a motion, which was approved by the Dáil, regretting that the coalition had found it necessary to launch its campaign in the absence of a further resolution of the UN Security Council. The reasons the Government nevertheless decided to maintain overflight and landing facilities for US aircraft were set out in the Dáil during the debate and the Government's decision was endorsed in the motion approved by the Dáil.

I do not regret the Government's decision. I regret the circumstances which gave rise to the Government having to make that decision. But, given those circumstances, I believe that the Government took the right decision.

Good Friday Agreement.

Questions (23)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

16 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date with regard to the review of the Good Friday Agreement; the Government's priorities for the review; the time he expects the process to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4198/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The review of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement was convened on 3 February 2004. This review was provided for within the terms of the agreement itself.

It will provide a valuable opportunity for us to collectively examine all aspects of the operation of the agreement and rededicate ourselves to advancing those areas where progress has, to date, been modest or disappointing. In that context, we particularly wish to see an early restoration of stable political institutions, with a definitive end to all forms of paramilitarism, irrespective of their nature or source.

While the restoration of devolved government on an inclusive basis is a key priority for both Governments, it is also important to recognise that the Good Friday Agreement is wider than devolution. Both Governments have responsibilities to meet in ensuring that the non-devolved aspects of the agreement within their respective competences continue to be implemented. We remain fully committed to advancing the implementation of the non-conditional aspects of the Joint Declaration and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will closely monitor progress in this regard.

The review was formally launched at an opening plenary meeting on 3 February. I jointly chaired this round table meeting with the Secretary of State. It included representatives of all the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Between now and Easter, the review will meet two days per week, with the exception of two separate recess weeks. The meetings will take place in various formats, including bilateral, trilateral and plenary sessions. The agenda is comprehensive and will cover the full operation of all aspects of the agreement. In April both Governments will carry out a stocktake of the progress made. Over the coming weeks, all parties will have the opportunity to put forward their views on all aspects of the operation of the agreement and the Governments will listen carefully and respectfully to all contributions.

As both Governments have previously indicated, the fundamentals of the agreement are not up for negotiation in this review. As stated by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair, our intention is that the review should be short, sharp and focused. Nevertheless, in the light of the practical experience over the last six years, there may be scope for pragmatic and sensible changes to be made to the workings of the agreement. The Government is open to considering such changes, as long as they are consistent with the fundamental provisions of the agreement and attract a wide measure of consensus support among the parties.

Last Monday, Strand One issues were discussed in bilateral meetings between the British Government and the parties. While the Government does not directly participate in these discussions, we have been appropriately informed of developments in Strand One by the British Government. On Tuesday, both Governments held a series of trilateral meetings with the parties to discuss Strand Two, Strand Three and other aspects of the operation of the agreement. In these discussions, where I was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary of State was accompanied by Minister Spellar, I found the approaches of the various parties to be progressive and constructive and I look forward to further positive engagement in the weeks ahead.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (6, 7)

Michael Ring

Question:

6 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made contact with the Government in Burundi following the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in December 2003; if he will report on the political situation in Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4321/04]

View answer

Jack Wall

Question:

24 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations which have been made to the authorities in Burundi regarding the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney; the assurances which have been received that efforts will be made to bring those responsible to justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4208/04]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 24 together.

There has been a series of contacts between the Government and the Burundian Government following the tragic and horrific murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in Burundi on 29 December last. Earlier this week, I met with the Burundian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sinunguruza, who travelled to Ireland in order to present the results of his Government's official investigation into the murder of Archbishop Courtney. This meeting followed an earlier meeting in Brussels on 13 January 2004 between my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the President of Burundi, where the murder of Archbishop Courtney was discussed and the Burundian President offered to share information on its investigation with the Government.

I appreciate the urgent and speedy manner in which the Burundian Government has carried out its investigation into the nuncio's murder and its willingness to make available to us the results of its investigation. I also understand that the Holy See, of whom the late archbishop was such a dedicated servant, has also received the same information from the Burundian authorities. Deputies will be aware that following the investigation carried out in Burundi, an individual is in custody on suspicion of possible involvement in the ambush which resulted in Archbishop Courtney's murder, and that legal proceedings are now pending.

From my contacts with the Burundian authorities, there can be no doubt about the deep esteem in which the late nuncio was held by the Burundian people and the very real sense of loss which continues to exist following his murder. These sentiments are also shared here in Ireland and I was very pleased during my meeting with the Foreign Minister to announce that the Government intends instituting a series of peace fellowships to enable Burundian students to come to study in Ireland, in tribute to the memory of Archbishop Courtney.

If any small consolation can be derived from the tragic events of 29 December, it is that the nuncio's murder does appear to have provided a renewed impetus to the efforts to achieve a final, comprehensive peace agreement within Burundi for which he personally had worked tirelessly. In my discussions with Foreign Minister Sinunguruza, I made clear that the European Union very much welcomes the recent progress in the Burundian peace process, including the opening of negotiations between President Ndayizeye and the FNL, the last group opposing the peace process by force. I also reassured him that the EU would continue its constructive engagement in support of the peace efforts in Burundi, including through the efforts of its special representative, Mr. Ajello.

As Ireland holds the EU Presidency, we stand ready to extend any practical assistance we can to ensure the current efforts are successful. In this regard, the Government has recently decided to make a contribution of €500,000 available in support of the African Union-led AMIB peacekeeping force in Burundi, as a practical demonstration of our commitment to assist the peace process in Burundi.

I pay tribute to Archbishop Courtney's contribution to the peace process in Burundi and his selfless dedication to others throughout his life. It is fitting that his memory be honoured and I join with the Minister in acknowledging that.

Suspicion for the murder falls on the National Liberation Front, the FNL, according to all reports. Is the Minister satisfied that this is the correct avenue of investigation? Are other avenues being investigated? One reads of 11 years of assassination in this sad region. In the context of the resources of the Minister and of the Holy See, which is well connected in the region, are there other suspicions in regard to the murder of Archbishop Courtney?

What steps are being taken by the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council to advance the peace process in Burundi?

We have, at the request of the UN Secretary General, contributed money towards the peace process in the context of the efforts which continue to be made in Burundi. We continue to monitor that situation and to provide all the support we can as holders of the European Union Presidency. The matter is being dealt with by the African Union and is one of the main successes among initiatives by Africans to solve the problems there.

Nelson Mandela was very much involved in trying to broker a peace between the parties and has done much since the Arusha accords were signed. I discussed this matter in some detail with Prime Minister Mbeki when I met him in South Africa recently. It is our intention during our Presidency to work with the newly established African Union to assist it in trying to bring about solutions to problems in Burundi, Sudan and elsewhere.

With regard to the investigation, we keep in close contact with the Holy See and the Papal Nuncio here, and they are anxious that we allow the inquiry to continue. Recent arrests have been made and the identities of four other suspects are known and their apprehension is sought at this stage.

The Burundians have a full understanding of what happened on the occasion in question. Obviously, there is sensitivity that we do not do anything which would jeopardise the peace process but that is not in any way to suggest that there is not a full, vigorous and robust investigation taking place in regard to the murder of Archbishop Courtney. The Burundian Government, in its recent meeting with me, suggested it is doing all it can in that regard, and the Burundian public prosecutor was among the visiting party. They are trying to apprehend four known suspects in addition to the one already arrested, and are satisfied that they are FNL personnel.

Archbishop Courtney's death was an incredible loss of an enormously talented diplomat of the Church. He was wise and experienced in conflict zones and it is very important that his example and contribution are not lost.

I agree totally with the Deputy.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (25)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

18 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if during the Irish Presidency of the EU, the details of the disbursement procedures of overseas development aid pledged by and to the EU will be published. [4179/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I presume the Deputy is referring to the disbursement of funds in the EU aid programme with particular reference to budget implementation and to the European Development Fund under the Cotonou Agreement.

The European Commission's annual report and the Court of Auditors' report on financial activities will be published in the second half of 2004. In December 2003, the Commission reported the provisional results of the 2003 EC budget implementation. The Commission stated that since the beginning of 2003, € 3.919 billion has been committed, an increase of €42 million when compared to 2002, and € 3.271 billion paid, compared to €3.327 billion in 2002. Furthermore, the backlog of unspent commitments has not increased from €11.5 billion for the third consecutive year. This means that, at current rate of spending, the number of years required to clear this backlog would be 3.5, which compares with 4.6 years at the end of 1998.

For the European Development Fund, EDF, separately financed by member states outside of the EC budget, provisional figures for payments amount to €2.4 billion, a record level and a 24% increase over 2002 figures. Commitments also reached a new level at € 3.7 billion or 76% above the 2002 performance. The backlog of unspent commitments has increased from €8.4 billion at the end of 2002 to an estimated amount of €9.4 billion at the end of 2003. However, expressed in terms of the number of years to clear the backlog, the figure is about four years compared to 5.5 years at the end of 2000.

The reductions in the backlog and the increased annual expenditure suggest that the reforms of external assistance undertaken in 2000 are beginning to have a positive effect. Ireland has been at the forefront of those member states promoting this reform and we will continue to do this throughout the Presidency and beyond. We need to further enhance the efficiency of expenditure, but also its effectiveness. Development Ministers will have a discussion about the reform process at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council scheduled for 27 April.

Passport Applications.

Questions (26)

Jack Wall

Question:

19 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans he has for the introduction of procedures to allow people to apply for passports over the Internet; when the proposed system is likely to be in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4209/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The new passport system which is currently being developed by my Department is being designed to facilitate the processing of on-line passport applications through the public services broker, which is currently being established by the REACH agency.

The ultimate goal is to enable passport applications to be made across the Internet. However, this will require the provision by the public services broker of the level of authentication of applications necessary to ensure the integrity and security of the passport issuing system. The Passport Office will work with the REACH agency to achieve that objective.

In the meantime, my Department is examining the possibility of providing certain passport services across the Internet such as tracking the progress of applications and the completion of application forms on line.

Emigrant Services.

Questions (27, 28, 29, 30)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

20 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the conditions under which many elderly Irish emigrants in Britain are now living, which were highlighted in a television programme (details supplied) of 22 December 2003; if he intends to increase the financial provision for the welfare of Irish emigrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4205/04]

View answer

Mary Upton

Question:

69 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the call by the chairman of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, Bishop Séamus Hegarty, for the early establishment of an agency for the Irish abroad as recommended by the task force on emigrants; his views on the call made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4206/04]

View answer

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

94 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timescale for the implementation of 50 of the 71 recommendations of the recent report by the task force on policy regarding emigrants in view of his recent statement to the House that progress is being made on same; and when the budget suggested for their implementation will be provided by Government. [4184/04]

View answer

Emmet Stagg

Question:

103 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will publish the report of the interdepartmental working group considering the recommendations of the task force on policies regarding emigrants; the recommendations that have been implemented and those that have not, in regard to the report of the task force; if a timetable has been set for the implementation of outstanding recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4204/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 20, 69, 94 and 103 together.

The Government has been providing assistance to Irish emigrants in Britain for many years. The DION fund, which is administered by the embassy in London through the DION committee, has provided almost €18 million for welfare services to the Irish in Britain since its establishment in 1984. More than half of this has been allocated since the present Government took office in 1997. The DION fund has increased from €760,000 in 1997 to €2.75 million last year, an increase of 350%. This year, the DION fund will increase by a further 30% to €3.58 million.

As regards the implementation of the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants, action is currently being taken on more than two thirds of the recommendations. A number of recommendations fall within the areas of responsibility of other Departments and I have asked those Departments to examine them to determine what progress has been made in implementing them. In this regard, my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, is implementing the recommendation that the Government give priority to the link between migration and social exclusion during our Presidency of the EU by organising a Presidency conference on reconciling mobility and social inclusion next April.

As regards other recommendations, the following examples will illustrate the progress that is being made: a key recommendation of the task force was that all funding for emigrant services abroad should be brought together under the Department of Foreign Affairs. This was done last year with the transfer of the DION fund from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; I secured an additional provision of €1 million in the Vote for Foreign Affairs for services to emigrants in 2004. This brings the overall expenditure by my Department on emigrant services this year to just over €4 million, an increase of one third on 2003; the task force recommended that financial assistance be given to AN, the umbrella group for voluntary agencies providing information and advice to potential emigrants, to enable them to provide more effective support to their member agencies. I recently announced that part of the additional funds made available this year will be allocated for this purpose and the task force also recommended that the Government continue its political engagement with the authorities in the United States in regard to undocumented Irish people in that country. We are doing this on a continuous basis both through our embassy in Washington and my own discussions at political level.

I would not exclude the establishment of an agency for the Irish abroad as recommended by the task force. However, the most effective way of using the available funds is through the voluntary agencies that are providing front line services to our emigrants. They are in the best position to direct these resources to where they can be of greatest benefit to those who are most in need. The task force itself estimated that the annual cost of such an agency would be in the region of €2 million. As I said in the House on 27 January, I do not believe that, in the context of a significantly increased budget for support for emigrants of €4 million this year, the majority of it should be expended on administrative structures at this time. Instead, I intend to establish a dedicated unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs later this year to work with the voluntary agencies at home and abroad to help maximise the impact of our collective efforts.

There are many other things that can and will be done. I intend that, in allocating the additional funds which I have secured, priority will be given to improving services for the neediest and the most vulnerable among our emigrants, particularly in Britain, in line with the recommendations of the task force report. I have also directed that increased emphasis be placed on providing assistance to returning emigrants, and on projects to promote more effective networking and information sharing between statutory and voluntary agencies providing services to emigrants.

I am particularly anxious to ensure that voluntary Irish agencies are able to increase their own capacity to access funds from other sources, as well as to improve the effectiveness of their services. I have recently allocated an additional €150,000 to the Federation of Irish Societies in Britain to enable then to launch a major five year capacity building project. This is critical if the federation and its affiliated bodies are to maximise their access to statutory and voluntary sources of funds in Britain.

I am also happy to make available the report of the interdepartmental working group which examined the task force's recommendations, and will place this on the Department's website at an early date. I assure the Deputies that I will continue to implement the report of the task force and to work in partnership with the governments of the countries concerned and with voluntary Irish agencies at home and abroad, to support our emigrants overseas.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38)

Mary Upton

Question:

21 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the main points of the submission made by the Government to the International Court of Justice regarding the building by Israel of a security wall in the occupied Palestinian territories; the Government's views on the right of the court to adjudicate on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4207/04]

View answer

Dan Boyle

Question:

36 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland is associated with a European Union submission to the International Court of Justice regarding the wall being constructed by Israel in the occupied territories; the submissions Ireland has made independently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4324/04]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

57 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps the Government has taken on foot of the invitation by the International Court of Justice to make submissions on the legality of the wall being constructed in the occupied Palestinian territory; if the Government will avail of the opportunity to make a written and oral submission to the court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4189/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 36 and 57 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to Priority Question No. 3.

John Perry

Question:

22 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Kashmir; his views on the current relationship between India and Pakistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4281/04]

View answer

There is a long running history of conflict between India and Pakistan, and these two nuclear armed countries came close to war in 2002. However, there have recently been encouraging political developments. Both countries have agreed to hold a "composite dialogue", to include the issue of Kashmir, full diplomatic relations have been restored, civil aviation and communications links are being restored, and a ceasefire along the line of control has been in place since 25 November 2003.

During the South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation, SAARC, summit in Islamabad from 4 to 6 January 2004, the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India held discussions on Kashmir and terrorism. Most positively, they announced an agreement to hold composite dialogue talks in a joint statement following the summit. These will take place at official level from 16 to 18 February 2004. Ireland, as EU President, issued a statement welcoming these developments.

The EU has always been ready to lend what encouragement it can to assist both countries in making progress towards establishing a durable peace in Kashmir. I will lead an EU troika mission to India on 16 February, and to Pakistan on 18 February. The visit will afford the opportunity to review and discuss bilateral and regional issues and, in particular, to urge both countries to pursue actively the dialogue which they have recently initiated.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

23 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself that the Government was misled regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; if the House was misled in this regard; and that advertently or inadvertently the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs was briefed on information in regard weapons of mass destruction that has proved to be false. [4187/04]

View answer

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

64 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if officials in his Department were in contact either before or after the publication of the British dossier on weapons of mass destruction; if an official in his Department was sceptical regarding the claims of weapons made by the British on weapons of mass destruction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4326/04]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

90 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views in relation to the intelligence upon which Resolution 1441 of the UN Security Council, regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, was based; his further views on the implications of such being proved to have been seriously flawed, and the use of such by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in public statements and statements to the House; and if his Department provided such information to both. [4181/04]

View answer

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

101 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Irish Government, in view of recently published defects in the intelligence upon which the recent war on Iraq was based, regrets not having made a public demand for an extended time period for the UN inspectors to enable them to implement UN resolutions and avert a war. [4188/04]

View answer

I propose to take Questions Nos. 23, 64, 90 and 101 together.

The contents of the dossier mentioned had no bearing on the Government's position in relation to this issue. The Government did not rely on UK and US intelligence sources in its approach to the issue of whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the coalition action.

In arriving at a position on the threat posed by Iraq, the Government, like most governments around the world, was guided by a number of factors: first, the hard evidence that Iraq had at one time been in possession of chemical weapons and had used them both in its war with Iran and against its own people; second, that it had sought to develop nuclear weapons capability; third, that it had persistently defied the demands of the Security Council that it verifiably dismantle its WMD capabilities; fourth, that it refused to co-operate fully with UN weapons; and, fifth, that the UN inspectors were not satisfied that Iraq had accounted for its stocks of WMD.

The Government had regard to reports of UN weapons inspectors and Security Council resolutions going back to 1991, in which the Security Council stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

At the time when Security Council Resolution 1441 was adopted, the Security Council was acting in the belief that Iraq did possess weapons of mass destruction. This belief was very widely shared in the international community. The General Affairs Council of the EU at its meeting of 18-19 November 2002 stated three times in the clearest terms its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was despite the fact that there was disagreement among many member states about how to deal with the situation.

In his report of 6 March to the Security Council, Dr. Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the arms inspection team mandated to investigate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said that many questions relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remained unanswered. We fully supported the work of the weapons inspections teams throughout the crisis. On 5 March, in this House, I called for them to continue the inspections process for as long as they, and the members of the Security Council, considered it necessary and worthwhile. Whether or not these weapons still existed at the time, Iraq was in material breach of its disarmament obligations through its failure to co-operate fully with the arms inspectors in carrying out their mandate of verifying that Iraq no longer held weapons of mass destruction.

The reported comments of the Department of Foreign Affairs official related to the contents of a British dossier and not to the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction. In particular, the official in my Department expressed his scepticism that Iraq could deploy battlefield weapons carrying weapons of mass destruction material within a 45 minute time frame. The House and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs were briefed on information received from the Security Council and the UN weapons inspectors. I clearly stated in my briefings that the Government had no independent means of verifying such reports.

Question No. 24 answered with Question No. 6.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (39, 40)

Dan Boyle

Question:

25 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the report of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (details supplied) outlining the killing of Palestinian civilians, the razing of Palestinian agricultural lands and the indiscriminate shelling of Palestinian residential areas; his views on whether these actions are consistent with the obligations of the Israeli Government in relation to human rights under Article 2 of the association agreement between Israel and the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4323/04]

View answer

Joe Costello

Question:

35 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the report of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights of January 2004 which indicated that in one short period 20 Palestinians were killed, 28 houses were destroyed, and 120 square meters of land confiscated; and the authorities, including the Israeli authorities with which he has raised these questions. [4185/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 25 and 35 together.

I assure the Deputies that the reports of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are followed closely by my Department. The work of this organisation is supported by my Department through our programme for human rights and democratisation and only last December a further €100,000 in core funding was approved for the centre. I am aware of the incidents referred to in the reports of the centre, to which the Deputies refer. The recent actions of Israeli forces in Palestinian areas have been the subject of a demarche to the Israeli Foreign Ministry by our ambassador to Israel and are being closely monitored.

The association agreement between Israel and the European Union does establish human rights standards to be observed by both parties and it is questionable whether the actions of Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories are consistent with those provisions of the agreement. The actions of Israeli forces were raised by the European Union during the last association council with Israel which took place in November 2003.

International Summits.

Questions (41)

Dan Neville

Question:

26 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the recent Summit of the Americas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4318/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Summit of the Americas process brings together the democratically elected heads of state or government of the countries of the western hemisphere with the aim of developing a shared vision for the future development of the region. The secretariat for the summits process is based within the Organisation of American States, OAS. Up to this year, three Summits of the Americas had taken place: in Miami in 1994; Santiago de Chile in 1998; and Quebec city in 2001. The next scheduled summit is due to take place in Argentina in 2005.

On 12-13 January 2004, however, a special summit took place in the city of Monterrey, Nuevo León, in Mexico. It is understood that this summit was inspired by several factors, not least the fact that 14 new heads of state or government had taken office in the western hemisphere since the third summit in April 2001. It was also the first meeting of heads of state or government since the tragic events of 11 September 2001.

The summit approved the Declaration of Nuevo León, affirming that the well-being of the peoples of the Americas required the achievement of three closely linked and interdependent objectives: economic growth with equity to reduce poverty; social development; and democratic governance. In particular, the summit agreed on the need to work together to stimulate prosperity, promote social inclusion and a more equitable distribution of economic growth, eliminate hunger, raise living standards, generate new employment and investment opportunities and promote decent work, combat corruption, as well as confront the new threats to security, such as terrorism, organised crime and illicit trafficking in arms.

The declaration reaffirmed the commitment of participating states to the inter-American democratic charter and reiterated their firm intention to continue implementing the mandates of previous summits, as well as the commitments made at the Millennium Summit, the International Conference on Financing for Development — the Monterrey Consensus — and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (42, 43)

Dinny McGinley

Question:

27 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the recent meetings between the Northern Ireland adviser to the American President and parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4308/04]

View answer

Willie Penrose

Question:

29 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 4 February 2004 with the new US special adviser for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mitchell Reiss. [4201/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take questions Nos. 27 and 29 together.

I met Dr. Mitchell Reiss on 4 February and was pleased to welcome him on his initial visit to Ireland in his capacity as President Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland. His appointment as special envoy, replacing Dr. Richard Haass, is testament to the ongoing commitment on the part of the US Administration to playing a positive and proactive role in the peace process. During his tenure as special envoy, Richard Haass developed a profound knowledge of the peace process as well as a deep personal commitment to its success. I am confident that Dr. Reiss will demonstrate the same ability and commitment in this role.

At our meeting last week, Dr. Reiss and I exchanged views on our respective recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland. Dr. Reiss had just completed introductory meetings with the main parties and he shared with me some of his initial impressions of the main issues currently facing us in the process. We also discussed the prospects for the review of the British-Irish Agreement and agreed on the importance of the full implementation of the agreement, not least in regard to its key commitments on the operation of stable political institutions and the complete ending of paramilitarism. I look forward to further meetings with Dr. Reiss in the near future.

HIV Infection.

Questions (44)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

28 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if proposals for the planned major conference on HIV-AIDS during the Irish Presidency of the EU have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4195/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government has prioritised HIV-AIDS on the development agenda for Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. Development Co-operation Ireland and the Department of Health and Children will co-host a ministerial conference, Breaking the Barriers — Partnership for an Effective Response to HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia, in Dublin Castle on 23-24 February. The conference is being organised in co-operation with UNAIDS, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the European Commission.

The conference takes place against the background of a continuing rise in HIV-AIDS prevalence rates across the European and central Asia region. In some countries, the increase in prevalence rates has reached a level which poses an immediate and critical challenge for governments. The conference will probably be the biggest event based in Ireland during the Presidency. It will be opened by the Taoiseach and will be addressed,inter alia, by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Health and Children and me. It will focus on four key areas: the need for stronger dialogue and co-operation at regional level; the appropriate role of governments, civil society and the private sector; preventing the spread of HIV-AIDS, particularly among young people; and the challenges now facing people living with AIDS, including access to care and treatment. It is anticipated that the conference will adopt a declaration which will provide a basis for strengthened co-operation across the region in respect of the HIV-AIDS issue.

Ministers from 55 member countries of the UN Economic Commission for Europe have been invited to the conference. High-level representatives from UNAIDS, UNICEF, the WHO and the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Economic Commission for Europe will also be present. We have already received confirmation of attendance from many countries and organisations, including the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Pat Cox, EU Commissioner David Byrne, the President of Portugal, the executive director of UNAIDS, the director general of the WHO, the executive director of UNICEF and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A large number of representatives from NGO networks throughout Europe and central Asia have also confirmed their attendance, including young people and people living with HIV.

The conference will provide a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the threat posed by HIV-AIDS to the European and central Asia region and to mobilise political commitment to the struggle against it. It will foster new forms of co-operation and partnership in addressing this threat. The Government will continue to advocate an accelerated global response to HIV-AIDS and will maintain this key development challenge high on its agenda.

Question No. 29 answered with QuestionNo. 27.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (45)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

30 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the Amnesty International report on unfair trials and secret executions in Uzbekistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4301/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I am deeply concerned by the terms of the Amnesty International report on unfair trials and secret executions published on 18 November 2003. The report details the findings of research carried out by Amnesty into abuse associated with the use of the death penalty. Its recommendations include an appeal to the authorities in Uzbekistan to take immediate steps towards abolition of the death penalty and to promptly declare a moratorium on death sentences and executions. I fully support these recommendations.

As I stated in the House on 11 December last in reply to a parliamentary question on the death penalty, Ireland, along with its EU partners, is adamantly opposed to the use of the death penalty and accordingly seeks its universal abolition. In 2003, in accordance with EU guidelines on the death penalty, case specific demarches on the death penalty were made to a number of countries, including Uzbekistan.

The issue of the death penalty in Uzbekistan was addressed more recently at the meeting of the EU Uzbekistan co-operation council, which was held in Brussels on 27 January. As Ireland currently holds the EU Presidency, the meeting was chaired by Deputy Roche, Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs, who raised the issue directly with the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan. At the co-operation council, the EU recalled its opposition to the death penalty and asked for a moratorium. At the same time, it welcomed the fact that Uzbekistan has recently announced the reduction to two of the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.

The co-operation council also recalled the importance of full respect for human rights and the rule of law in promoting political stability and economic growth. It was agreed that any development of closer political relations between the EU and Uzbekistan would depend upon respect for shared values, as agreed in Article 2 of the partnership and co-operation agreement with Uzbekistan.

The EU welcomed the announcement by Uzbekistan of a programme aimed at eliminating the practice of torture in Uzbek prisons, expressed its concerns about cases of torture in detention centres and asked for impartial investigation of deaths of prisoners or other people in custody. The EU also welcomed the visit to Uzbekistan of the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Theo van Boven, and the announcement that Uzbekistan will implement his recommendations and those of the UN Committee Against Torture. Ireland, together with its EU partners, will closely follow the progress made by Uzbekistan in doing so and calls for the implementation process to be speeded up.

The abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan as in other countries is a political priority for Ireland. Together with our EU partners, we will continue to work for its worldwide abolition.

HIV Infection.

Questions (46)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

31 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recently published UNICEF report, Growing up Alone, on the plight of children orphaned and made vulnerable in sub-Saharan Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4241/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I congratulate UNICEF-Ireland on its recently published report, Growing up Alone: children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The report highlights one of the most troubling consequences of the HIV pandemic, namely its impact on children. It calls for the rights of children orphaned and made vulnerable by the disease to be protected. It also urges that the families and communities of these children have the capacity to care for them.

Even though HIV-AIDS is a global phenomenon, no other region has been worse affected than sub-Saharan Africa. Over 11 million children under 15 years of age, orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, live in the region. This figure is expected to rise to 20 million by 2010. The huge number of children who have lost one or both of their parents is a severe strain on wider family members, particularly grandparents. African families have demonstrated extraordinary resilience under the impact of the epidemic, but they are now at breaking point. World Bank research suggests that the long-term social and economic impact of the epidemic will be devastating, largely because significant numbers of these children will not receive the care, education and attention they need.

The declaration of commitment, agreed at the UN General Assembly special session on HIV-AIDS in June 2001, paid special attention to children orphaned by HIV-AIDS. It set specific goals to address their plight. These goals emphasise the importance of developing and implementing national strategies to strengthen government, family and community capacities to respond to the crisis, ensuring non-discrimination and building international co-operation. Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that these commitments are not being met because the demands on governments and communities are so great.

HIV-AIDS is a key priority for Development Co-operation Ireland, the Government's official programme of development assistance. Ireland was one of the first donors to develop a comprehensive HIV-AIDS strategy in its development programme. We have promoted a more vigorous, focused and coherent approach to dealing with the HIV-AIDS crisis in the EU and through our participation in the executive boards of the UN's funds and programmes. Since 2001, the Government's financial allocations to the fight against AIDS have increased tenfold to €40 million in 2003.

UNICEF, which is leading the UN's response to the care and protection of children orphaned through HIV-AIDS, is one of Ireland's key partners in the UN system. In 2003, we contributed over €13 million to UNICEF. The executive director of UNICEF, Ms Carol Bellamy, will attend the Dublin conference on HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia on 23-24 February 2004. UNICEF will also hold the annual meeting of UNICEF national committees in Dublin in April 2004. This latter meeting will also focus on the issue of HIV-AIDS.

The programme countries in Africa which are supported by Development Co-operation Ireland, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, have very severe HIV-AIDS epidemics, as does South Africa, where we also have an intensive involvement. In each case, our efforts are targeted at strengthening Government capacity to respond to the disease and at supporting district and NGO responses at local and community levels. In many cases, funding is focused on support for orphans, including ensuring access to education, provision of food and clothing and psycho-social care. Support for orphans is also part of our regional HIV-AIDS programme in southern and eastern Africa.

The Government will continue to fight HIV-AIDS through its support for prevention, care, including the care of orphans, and treatment programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. We will also continue to press for a strong international response to an epidemic which is undermining all development gains in the world's poorest countries.

Official Engagements.

Questions (47)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

32 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting in Brussels on 28 January 2004 with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4190/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I met United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on 28 January in Brussels. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the Secretary General of Ireland's European Union Presidency priorities, particularly in respect of EU support for effective multilateralism and the United Nations.

I assured the Secretary General that the European Union was firmly committed to a rules based international order with the United Nations at its heart and shared his concern at strains faced by the system of collective security. I briefed the Secretary General on the Irish Presidency programme, particularly on what the EU will do to help strengthen the multilateral system and the resources it will bring to the task of making the UN more effective in meeting challenges to peace and security, including through support for the work of the high level panel on threats, challenges and change which the Secretary General has established.

I reviewed the important developments in the past year in the EU's contribution to collective security, including the adoption of the European security strategy, the signature of the EU-UN declaration on co-operation in crisis management in September and the deployment of the EU mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Operation Artemis, from June to September. I informed the Secretary General that Ireland's Presidency will focus on implementation of the European security strategy and that we will work closely with the UN in making operational the joint declaration. I also told him of our aim to reach agreement on how an EU rapid response capability might support the work of the United Nations.

The meeting also provided a welcome opportunity to reiterate the determination with which Ireland wishes to advance the international development agenda, principally the implementation of the millennium development goals. I also emphasised the priority Ireland attached to the resolution of conflict in Africa, the struggle against HIV-AIDS and the resumption of international trade talks. In respect of HIV-AIDS, I outlined plans for the international ministerial conference on HIV-AIDS in Europe and central Asia to be held in Dublin on 23-24 February, at which the Secretary General will make a video statement.

The Secretary General commended the European Union's developing relationship with the United Nations, including co-operation in crisis management. He emphasised in this regard the importance of rapid deployment and praised Operation Artemis as a positive example of crucial EU support. He looked forward to further close co-operation between the EU and the UN. The Secretary General commended the European Union's developing relationship with the United Nations, including co-operation in crisis management. He emphasised in this regard the importance of rapid deployment and praised Operation Artemis as a positive example of crucial EU support. He looked forward to further close co-operation between the EU and the UN. He conveyed his deep appreciation of Ireland's determination to use its Presidency to support effective multilateralism and his confidence in Ireland's trusted capacity to deliver on this central objective.

The Secretary General and I were in full agreement on the need to enhance Africa's own capacity for peacekeeping. I briefed him on the African peace facility, under which the EU contributes towards the cost of African led peace initiatives as well as enhancing African peacekeeping capacity. The Secretary General, however, stressed the importance of the continued commitment of European states to participation in peacekeeping in Africa and, in this regard, expressed his appreciation of the participation of the Irish Defence Force in the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia.

I took the opportunity to brief the Secretary General on my recent visit to the Middle East. At my request, he provided an analysis of a number of pressing international issues, including the Middle East, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Cyprus, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Sudan.

I also informed the Secretary General that Ireland, in response to his request for support for the peace process in Burundi, would make a contribution of €500,000 to the African mission in Burundi, AMIB, and expressed appreciation for his kind statement following the death of the late Papal Nuncio to Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney.

EU Presidency.

Questions (48)

John Bruton

Question:

33 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he proposes to take, in the context of the Irish EU Presidency, to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and his views on the proliferation risk associated with each category of weapon of mass destruction. [4375/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As EU President, Ireland will carry forward and oversee the implementation of the EU strategy against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, WMD, adopted at the European Council in December 2003. The strategy constitutes an elaboration of the non-proliferation element of the European security strategy and outlines how the EU, using all instruments and policies at its disposal, will seek to prevent, deter, halt and, where possible, eliminate proliferation programmes of concern worldwide. The Union's commitment to multilateralism permeates the strategy. Support for disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and fostering the role of the Security Council with regard to WMD will be central elements in addressing the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery.

The strategy recognises that the proliferation of WMD is a growing threat and that meeting this challenge must be a central element in the EU's external action. Proliferation is driven by a small number of countries and non-state actors but presents a real threat through the spread of technologies and information. Increasingly widespread proliferation of WMD increases the risk of their use by states and of their acquisition by terrorist groups seeking to cause large scale death and destruction.

With regard to nuclear weapons, the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, which came into effect in 1970, has helped to slow and in some cases reverse the spread of military nuclear capability, but it has not been able to prevent it completely. The possession of nuclear weapons by states outside the treaty and non-compliance with the treaty's provisions by states party to it, risk undermining non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. The EU is, therefore, committed to promoting the universalisation of the NPT and to promoting adherence to the additional protocols which strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, safeguards agreements. Proposals to strengthen the treaty will be made to the 2005 NPT review conference and Ireland will have an important role, as EU President, at the preparatory meeting for this conference to be held in New York in April.

Several countries still possess large chemical weapons stockpiles that should be destroyed, as provided for in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997. In addition, the possible existence of chemical weapons in states not party to the convention is a matter of concern and the EU has recently carried out a series of demarches to promote its universalisation. A particular difficulty with verification and export control regimes in this area is that the materials, equipment, and know-how are dual use.

As well as chemical weapons, biological weapons pose a special threat as they may have particular attractions for terrorists. Although effective deployment of biological weapons requires specialised scientific knowledge, including the acquisition of agents for effective dissemination, the potential for the misuse of the dual-use technology and knowledge is increasing as a result of rapid scientific developments. The use of both biological and chemical weapons is banned under the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating Poisonous or other Gases, and of Biological Methods of Warfare of 1925. The stockpiling, production and development of biological weapons is prohibited by, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, BTWC, which came into force in 1975.

Ireland will continue to play an active role in multilateral fora in an effort to ensure compliance with all of the obligations contained in the relevant legal instruments. We are also committed to strong national and internationally co-ordinated export control regimes, which are a necessary complement to this multilateral treaty framework.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (49, 50, 51)

John Perry

Question:

34 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development assistance in 2007; his views on whether progress towards reaching this target has stalled, with overseas development assistance remaining at 0.41% for the past two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4247/04]

View answer

Liz McManus

Question:

87 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the allocation for ODA in his Department's Estimates for 2004; if it remains the Government's commitment to meet the target for ODA of 0.7% of GNP by 2007; the proportion of that target that will be met in 2004 and in each successive year up to 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4193/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

131 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he expects to achieve the UN recommended targets in overseas development aid for this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4479/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 87 and 131 together.

The Government continues to have as an objective the achievement of the ODA target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007. Every effort is being made to provide the resources needed to work towards that target. Despite the many pressures on the public finances at present, an allocation of €400 million has been made in the 2004 Estimates to my Department's Vote for international co-operation. In addition, elements of ODA which are administered by other Government Departments are expected to total some €80 million this year. Total spending on ODA, therefore, is expected to approach €480 million in 2004, the highest ever in the history of the programme. This level of expenditure, in difficult budgetary circumstances, demonstrates the profound commitment of the Government to the attainment of the UN target.

In 2001, our aid expenditure amounted to 0.33% of GNP. Provisional figures indicate that the percentage in 2003 was 0.41%. This year it is likely to reach the same level or possibly exceed it. In percentage terms, Ireland will remain one of the world's leading donors — we are currently in seventh place — and well ahead of the EU average. The Government hopes that increased allocations, the scale and timing of which will be considered on an ongoing basis, will be possible over the coming years with a view to the achievement of our objective. As budgetary circumstances improve, we hope that renewed momentum towards the UN target will be possible.

Question No. 35 answered with QuestionNo. 25.
Question No. 36 answered with QuestionNo. 21.

Military Neutrality.

Questions (52)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

37 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on recent comments concerning a collective EU defence and Irish neutrality by the Irish EU Commissioner, David Byrne; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4254/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Commissioner David Byrne, in a speech on 9 December to the Institute of European Affairs in Brussels, expressed the view that "some member states, including Ireland, are more squeamish than others about assuming collective defence or security roles".

Let me be clear. Ireland is a ready participant in European security and defence policy, to the extent that this is consistent with our traditional policy of military neutrality. As Commissioner Byrne also highlighted in his speech, modern day neutrality is not about sitting on one's hands, relying on others to help out. Together with the other neutral and non-aligned member states, Ireland has sought to play a positive and constructive role in the evolution of ESDP. We are contributing a number of gardaí to the EU police mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a number of Defence Forces personnel also participated in the EU military stabilisation force in the Democratic Republic of Congo last summer. We also participated actively in the negotiations on the security and defence provisions of the draft EU constitutional treaty and our contribution has helped shape the text which has now emerged.

In the context of negotiations on the mutual defence clause in the draft EU Treaty, Article 40.7, Ireland sought to retain the right to take our own sovereign decision on whether to provide assistance to another member state in the event of an armed attack on its territory. The safeguard clause in the current text makes clear that mutual defence obligations would be without prejudice to Ireland's security and defence policy. Effectively, this means Ireland would retain the right to take its own sovereign decision on whether to provide assistance in the event that a member state is the subject of an attack, in keeping with our constitutional and legal requirements.

In relation to an EU common defence, Ireland's position is clear. In keeping with the amendment to the Constitution of October 2002, Ireland cannot participate in an EU common defence unless the people so decide in a referendum.

EU Presidency.

Questions (53)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

38 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if proposals for a major conference aimed at bringing the EU closer to its citizens during the Irish Presidency of the EU have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4196/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government is committed to better informing and engaging citizens about developments in the European Union. It has decided in that context to convene an informal ministerial conference during Ireland's Presidency to assess and review how the EU is communicated to its citizens. The conference will be chaired by Minister of State, Deputy Roche.

Ministers or Secretaries of State for European Affairs from existing and acceding states, and the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, have been invited to participate in the conference which will take place on 7 and 8 April in Druids Glen, County Wicklow. The Presidency has also invited Ministers from Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, and representatives from western Balkan states to attend.

On the first day of the conference, Ministers will discuss their experiences of communicating Europe to their citizens before assessing and reviewing the most effective strategies to raise wider public awareness and understanding about the EU.

On the second day of the conference, Ministers will meet with a delegation from Ireland's national forum on Europe and with representatives of European civil society organisations to exchange views on how to promote greater engagement by citizens in the European Union.

In preparation for the conference, a questionnaire has been circulated to all participants through the information working group in Brussels, which will assist the Presidency in defining the final conference agenda. Deputy Roche is also in continuing contact with his counterparts in other member states about the conference.

The conference will provide member states with an important opportunity to address the issues of communicating Europe more effectively and of promoting greater engagement of citizens with the EU.

Humanitarian Aid.

Questions (54)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

39 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on a new attempt to establish the United National Relief and Rehabilitation Agency as originally suggested after World War II in view of the present situation in such countries as Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4182/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, UNRRA, was founded in 1943, during the Second World War, to provide assistance in areas liberated from the Axis powers. UNRRA focused on, inter alia, assistance to refugees, distribution of emergency supplies and the restoration of basic services. UNRRA discontinued its operations in 1949. The functions of UNRRA were transferred to other UN agencies, including UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR.

Since the Second World War, the United Nations has developed a group of specialised agencies to address humanitarian, recovery and development needs throughout the world. These agencies include the World Food Programme, WFP, the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, UNICEF, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. These agencies have established an excellent reputation in all aspects of humanitarian and recovery operations and in longer-term development activities. They are active throughout the world including in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Specialised agencies of the United Nations are co-ordinated in their humanitarian operations by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, which has the mandate to co-ordinate UN assistance in humanitarian crises that go beyond the capacity and mandate of any single humanitarian agency. Over the years, OCHA has developed greatly its capacity for effective co-ordination and played important roles in Afghanistan, Iraq and recently in Iran.

Ireland is a strong advocate of co-ordination in all development activities. Such co-ordination is essential for effective humanitarian and development impact. Ireland is therefore a substantial supporter of OCHA and its mandate. Ireland is a member of the OCHA working group which meets at technical level in Geneva on a regular basis. The working group is a forum for dialogue between major donors and OCHA officials. OCHA received €2.6 million in emergency and recovery funding from Ireland in 2003. This funding was allocated to OCHA programmes in Iraq, Liberia, West Africa, Iran and in support for OCHA's general work programme for 2004.

The United Nations Development Group, UNDG, was established by the UN Secretary General in 1997, to improve the effectiveness of UN development interventions at country level. The UNDG brings together the operational agencies working on development. The group is chaired by the administrator of the UNDP on behalf of the Secretary General. The UNDG develops policies and procedures that allow member agencies to work together and analyse country issues, plan support strategies, implement support programmes, monitor results and advocate for change. These initiatives increase UN impact in helping countries achieve the millennium development goals, MDGs, including poverty reduction. Ireland supports the work of the UNDG.

There is always room for improvement in co-ordination of humanitarian operations and long-term development activities. I believe that the best way forward, in seeking to improve the way the UN and the international community responds to emergencies and development, is to improve the existing instruments, such as the UN and its specialised agencies, rather than the reconstitution of an organisation such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, which has not been operational for 55 years.

EU Enlargement.

Questions (55, 56)

Pat Breen

Question:

40 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the bilateral meetings already held or to be held between the Government and the government of Bulgaria in 2004; the position regarding the Bulgarian application for membership of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4242/04]

View answer

David Stanton

Question:

75 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the bilateral meetings already held or to be held between the Government and the government of Romania in 2004; the position regarding the Romanian application for membership of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4243/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 75 together.

The Taoiseach visited both Bulgaria and Romania in November 2003. He met the Romanian Prime Minister again last month and is due to meet him once more later this month. I met my Bulgarian counterpart last month and Minister of State, Deputy Roche will meet the Bulgarian Minister for European Affairs in March 2004. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

The European Council in December 2003 emphasised the continuity and irreversibility of the ongoing enlargement process of which Bulgaria and Romania form an integral part. Over the past year, these countries have significantly taken forward their preparations for membership, which is reflected in the well advanced state of their accession negotiations. The Union's objective is to conclude negotiations with both countries in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and that the two countries should accede in January 2007, if they are ready. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles applied to the ten acceding states. To date, Bulgaria has closed 26 negotiation chapters and Romania has closed 22. As Presidency, Ireland will work to advance negotiations as rapidly as possible, in line with the clear political mandate given by the December European Council.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (57)

Bernard Allen

Question:

41 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Senegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4304/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The elections in April 2001, which resulted in the election of President Abdoulaye Wade, enhanced Senegal's reputation as an African democracy. The current government seems to have a sufficiently solid political base to enable it to move forward with political and economic reforms and to address Senegal's persistent social tensions. The next legislative elections are scheduled to take place in 2006 and a presidential election is due to be held in 2007.

For many years there has been separatist movement among the Dialo community in the southern Casamance region of Senegal. In 1982, theMouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance, MFDC, took up arms to fight for Casamance's independence. Despite various peace initiatives, violence has continued sporadically since.

The prospects for peace in Casamance, however, were given a new impetus by President Wade's meeting in early May 2003 with a central political leader of the rebel MFDC, at which both sides made specific commitments to move the peace process forward. A ceasefire agreement was agreed towards the end of December 2003 with the armed faction of Fogny in the Northwest area of the Casamance.

The agreement, including de-mining, is in the process of being implemented. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (58)

Michael Ring

Question:

42 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the absolute position of the European Union against the use of the death penalty, he will raise the issue with the government of the United States of America during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4275/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As I have previously stated in this House, the Government is adamantly opposed to the use of the death penalty and accordingly seeks its universal abolition. We believe that its abolition contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. The Deputy will be aware of the efforts we have made in conjunction with our EU partners, and in accordance with the common EU guidelines on the issue of the death penalty, to seek its universal abolition. The EU has pressed for abolition and has also undertakendémarches on the use of the death penalty in many countries, including the United States.

The EU guidelines adopted in 1998 set out clearly the common EU position on the use of the death penalty. These guidelines now form the basis for Ireland's concerted interventions, along with other EU member states, in death penalty issues. The guidelines state that, where the death penalty still exists, the EU will continue to press for its use to be progressively restricted and for moratoria to be introduced. In addition to interventions on the use of the death penalty in principle, it has also been agreed that, where the facts of individual cases suggest a violation of basic minimum standards under international law, the Union will consider making a specific intervention. In 2003 the EU carried out a number ofdémarches in the US, at both federal and state level, in accordance with the EU guidelines.

The Government is of the view that an EU intervention on this issue carries significantly greater force than individual bilateral intervention. Since the beginning of the Irish Presidency the EU has intervened in the case of one individual who has since been granted a stay of execution. The EU has also raised its concerns regarding US policy on the death penalty in a statement on this issue delivered at the OSCE on 22 January this year. The EU regularly raises the death penalty issue in its human rights Troika meetings with the US, including at the Troika meeting with the US which took place yesterday.

During the remainder of our Presidency, the issue of the death penalty will continue to be a priority for the EU. The EU will continue to monitor death penalty cases worldwide and make interventions as appropriate. The EU will raise the issue in all appropriate fora, including at the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in March and April this year, where the EU will again table its resolution on the death penalty.

International Arms Trade.

Questions (59, 60, 61, 62)

Gerard Murphy

Question:

43 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he supports the control arms joint campaign of Oxfam and Amnesty International; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4245/04]

View answer

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

80 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will issue a public statement in support of the global arms trade treaty; if the Government is explicitly in support of the control of the legal export of arms; if the Government supports and will participate in the Finnish proposal for a conference of the willing on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4325/04]

View answer

Dan Boyle

Question:

132 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position the Government has taken on the control arms campaign as promoted by organisations (details supplied). [4487/04]

View answer

Dan Boyle

Question:

133 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions the Government is taking to secure the adoption of an international arms trade treaty at the UN arms conference to be held in 2006. [4488/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 80, 132 and 133 together.

I am aware of a process led by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, aimed at the development of an international arms trade treaty which is intended to be a legally binding agreement with core principles and mechanisms relating to international transfers of arms. A welcome aspect of the proposed treaty is that it has the objective of setting out states' existing international legal obligations in the area of international transfers of arms. In addition, once ratified, the draft framework treaty would enable the international community to move forward incrementally, by means of subsequent more specific instruments.

While work on the drafting of the text is still ongoing, it is a promising initiative and I commend the NGOs concerned for their efforts. I understand that the text of the proposed treaty is currently being re-examined from a legal perspective by those NGOs involved in the arms control campaign who are meeting this month in Costa Rica and that as a consequence of those discussions revisions to the text may be made. We await the outcome of that meeting. I also understand that the UN arms conference in 2006 will review progress made under the UN programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects of 2001. The remit of the proposed international arms trade treaty is, however, not confined to small arms and light weapons, but also currently includes heavy weapons. Pending finalisation of the text of the proposed draft treaty and clarification of its focus, it would be premature to consider what actions would be appropriate in 2006. Ireland will, however, continue to be associated with the process and will closely monitor developments.

The Government is fully supportive of the principle of having legal controls on arms. Currently, all exports of arms from EU countries must conform to the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which establishes criteria to control such exports. Ireland was actively involved in the establishment of this politically binding code, which was adopted by the EU General Affairs Council in June 1998. The code lists the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to allow an export of military goods, including respect for human rights, the internal situation in the country of final destination and the preservation of regional peace, security and stability. Discussions are ongoing in the Union on the possible reinforcement of the status of the code of conduct, for example, by its transformation into an EU common position, which would be legally binding. Ireland is supportive of such a reinforcement of the code.

With respect to the proposal to host a meeting in Finland on the subject of the proposed international arms trade treaty, Ireland is supportive of international efforts to make progress. It was in this context that an official of my Department participated in a conference held last November at Cambridge University in England, the purpose of which was to examine the text of the draft treaty. Formal notice of the Finnish meeting has not yet been issued, although I understand that it will take the form of a workshop which will examine the draft treaty in the wider context of export controls. Ireland would be willing to participate in the event that an invitation is issued.

The proposed international arms trade treaty is also under discussion within the EU. Discussions have taken place at working group level, most recently last month, and will continue during Ireland's Presidency of the EU.

EU Treaties.

Questions (63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68)

John Deasy

Question:

44 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the position regarding the EURATOM treaty in the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union, and at the IGC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4283/04]

View answer

Eamon Ryan

Question:

48 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the draft of the proposed EU constitution which the Government is using for negotiations; if the opt out clause from a mutual defence commitment that the neutrals secured in early December 2003 is part of the draft constitution under negotiation or if it will have to be agreed again; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4331/04]

View answer

Damien English

Question:

54 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts being made to reach agreement on the new constitutional treaty for the European Union during the Irish Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4279/04]

View answer

Liz McManus

Question:

97 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is the intention of the Government to seek agreement on a new treaty or constitution for the European Union during the period of the Irish Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4194/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

102 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the Taoiseach's statement at Davos in January 2004 that the Polish and Spanish Governments must forget the agreement reached during the Nice Treaty on voting strengths; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4330/04]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

105 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the status of the Article 40 common defence provisions of the draft EU constitutional treaty; his views on whether the Article 40 provisions have been finally agreed or may still be open to change at the next round of negotiations; if he has agreed to the Article 40 provisions; and, if not, if he will be seeking changes and the changes that will be sought. [4351/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44, 48, 54, 97, 102 and 105 together.

As the House will be aware, as it did not prove possible to conclude negotiations on the draft constitutional treaty in December, the Irish Presidency was asked to consult partners, and, on that basis, to make an assessment of the prospects for progress and to report to the European Council in March

Towards this end, the Taoiseach and I have been engaged in an intensive process of consultation. There have also been extensive official level contacts. We have been struck by the positive and constructive response we have received. There is a shared belief that it is in the Union's interests to bring the IGC to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

However, the issues involved, especially, but not only, the question of voting in the Council, are sensitive and complex. There are strongly differing views which will need to be reconciled if we are to reach agreement. It is, as yet, too early to say if it will be possible to bring matters to a successful conclusion during our term in office. However, as the Taoiseach has made clear, the IGC is a matter of the highest priority for the Government and we will continue to do everything we can to facilitate and encourage agreement.

On the question of voting in the Council, and as is well known, many member states favour a move to a dual majority system. A small number prefers to maintain the current system of weighted votes. There are understandable sensitivities on both sides. Our role as Presidency is to seek to find an outcome with which all participants in the IGC can live. If we are to succeed, there will have to be a shared willingness to compromise.

In approaching our task, we are building on the work carried out by the Italian Presidency. It brought forward a range of proposals in the paper tabled ahead of the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Naples in November. These proposals were refined and additional proposals were made — including in the area of defence — in the paper tabled ahead of the summit meeting in Brussels in December.

Many of these suggestions would probably have been acceptable to partners had a full discussion taken place at that time. As Presidency, we will seek to build on the work carried out by our predecessors in office. However, we are also proceeding on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

As a participant in the IGC, the Government has supported efforts by the Austrian delegation to secure a future review of the EURATOM treaty. As Presidency, it is our task to seek to achieve an overall balanced outcome which is acceptable to everyone.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (69)

Joan Burton

Question:

45 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has raised, or will raise, during his forthcoming visit to the Colombian President, Uribe Velez, the human rights deficit in Colombia and the serious international concerns with regard to respect for human rights in recent anti-terrorism laws promulgated by the Colombian Government. [4180/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

President Uribe is undertaking a visit to Europe from 8-13 February. On 10 February he met with the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The EU has been closely involved in the search for a peaceful solution to the long-standing armed conflict in Colombia. Current EU policy on Colombia is set out in conclusions adopted by the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, on 26 January 2004.

The Council conclusions were the basis for Deputy Roche's discussions with President Uribe. The conclusions confirm the EU's full support for the Colombian Government in its ongoing efforts to reform Colombia's institutions and to develop a fully functioning democratic state throughout the territory of Colombia, consistent with the rule of law, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and the welfare and safety of the citizens of Colombia. The conclusions also note progress so far on economic and political reforms designed to address existing inequalities within Colombia and promote sustainable development. The EU has expressed its support for the continuation and acceleration of this process.

The Council reiterated its full support for President Uribe's commitment to seek a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict in Colombia and reiterated the readiness of the EU to assist in reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict, within the framework of a comprehensive peace strategy. The Council insisted that the illegal armed groups cease all hostilities and engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue. In particular, while acknowledging the recent release of some hostages, the Council underlined the importance of a rapid release of all remaining hostages and kidnapped persons.

The Council also stressed the importance of taking early and effective action against impunity and collusion, especially with paramilitary groups. It underlined the need for demobilisation and re-insertion into society of members of illegal armed groups to be undertaken in line with relevant international law and jurisprudence and in a manner that respects the right of the victims of the conflict to truth, justice and reparation.

The Council expressed its deep concern regarding the still grave human rights and international humanitarian law situation in Colombia, and urged the Government urgently to address this situation, in particular by implementing without delay the specific recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNHCHR, including the recommendation to publish a plan of action on human rights with a timetable for implementation. The Council recalled in particular the UNHCHR's recommendation concerning the question of the granting of judicial powers to the security forces — one element of the recently enacted anti-terrorism legislation — and hoped that further discussions by the Congress on this legislation could be undertaken.

Noting with deep concern the plight of internally displaced persons and inhabitants of closed-off communities, the Council confirmed the EU's willingness to work with the Colombian Government and the UN in order to ensure a focused and co-ordinated effort to address this crisis. The Council also highlighted the perilous security conditions under which local and international NGOs and civil society organisations, including trade unions and human rights defenders, currently find themselves obliged to carry out their work in Colombia; and called on the Government to co-operate closely with all such groups to ensure their protection.

The Council emphasised the importance of achieving full implementation of the London declaration of July 2003 and exhorted the member states and the Commission to further develop their co-operation

EU Enlargement.

Questions (70, 71)

Bernard Allen

Question:

46 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the bilateral meetings already held or to be held between the government and the Government of Turkey in 2004; the position regarding the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4244/04]

View answer

John Bruton

Question:

79 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the likely effect on the EU labour market, the EU budget and the functioning and weighting of votes in EU institutions of Turkish membership of the European Union; and when Turkey is likely, on present trends, to be ready for full EU membership. [4376/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 46 and 79 together.

The Taoiseach has met twice recently with Prime Minister Erdogan in Brussels on 12 December and in Berlin on 9 January 2004. I will visit Ankara next month for the EU ministerial Troika meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Officials met earlier this week to prepare for this meeting. In our role as EU Presidency, the Government will maintain close contact with the government of Turkey and will encourage progress in the reform process in preparation for the decision on accession negotiations to be taken by the December European Council.

The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the political criteria, which apply to all candidate countries. The Copenhagen European Council in December 2002 made the clear commitment that if the European Council meeting in December 2004 decides that Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU will open accession negotiations without delay. This decision will be taken on the basis of a report and recommendation by the Commission.

Last December's European Council welcomed the determined efforts by the Turkish Government to accelerate the pace of reforms. The Council encouraged Turkey to build on the substantial progress achieved so far in its preparations for launching accession negotiations. It underlined the commitment of the EU to working towards full implementation of the pre-accession strategy with Turkey, including the revised accession partnership. The European Council also noted that a settlement of the Cyprus problem would greatly facilitate Turkey's membership aspirations.

I have welcomed the progress made by Turkey in legislating for wide ranging human rights reforms over the past two years. A central element in the assessment to be made by the European Council in December will be the effective implementation of these legislative reforms at all levels of the administration.

In the event of a positive decision on fulfillment by Turkey of the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU is committed to opening accession negotiations without delay. Questions relating to the labour market and the budget would be important issues in any such negotiations. The question of voting in the Council is currently under discussion in the IGC. As Deputies will be aware, some partners are supporting a change to dual majority. Others prefer to maintain the current system of weighted votes. Until this question is resolved, it is not possible to say what the impact of Turkish accession would be in this matter, assuming that there were no further change in arrangements.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (72)

Phil Hogan

Question:

47 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the Amnesty International report on press freedom in Indonesia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4300/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I am aware of the Amnesty International report, "Indonesia: Press Freedom under Threat", published in October 2003, which highlights a number of cases being taken against individual journalists, as well as newspapers and magazines.

Greater freedom for the press has been one of the most promising developments in recent years in Indonesia. The passing into law of Press Law No. 40/1999 represented an important move away from previously restrictive measures. It recognizes that freedom of the press is one of the embodiments of the sovereignty of the people, and guarantees it as the human right of citizens.

On 13 June 2002, the European Commission adopted a new framework for co-operation with Indonesia, country strategy paper, covering the period 2002-06. Its primary aims are to reinforce good governance and the rule of law, assist in the reduction of poverty, reduce social unrest and assist in improving Indonesia's capacity for decentralization. As with all EU co-operation frameworks, such co-operation should contribute to encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The External Relations Council of April 2003 adopted conclusions on Indonesia. The conclusions reaffirmed the EU's aspiration to build a closer partnership with Indonesia. They stressed at the same time the importance the Council attaches to the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia and the importance that the government of Indonesia further pursues its commitment to human rights.

I hope to lead an EU-Indonesia Troika meeting in ministerial format in the margins of the ASEM Foreign Ministers' meeting to be held in Kildare in April 2004. We will use this occasion, and further opportunities, to raise issues of concern, including emphasizing the importance the EU attaches to the promotion and protection of human rights and freedom of speech in Indonesia.

Question No. 48 answered with QuestionNo. 44.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Questions (73)

Richard Bruton

Question:

49 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make statement on the relationship of the European Union with Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4309/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The basis for the European Union's relationship with Cuba is set out in the EU common position, which aims to encourage, through dialogue rather than isolation, a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a lasting economic recovery and an improvement in living standards of the Cuban people.

In this context, the deterioration in the human rights situation in Cuba during the past year is greatly to be deplored. I refer in particular to the summary trial and lengthy prison sentences imposed on 75 dissidents for exercising their right to freedom of speech, as well as the summary trial and rapid execution of three hijackers of a ferry boat, in breach of international minimum standards for the implementation of the death penalty.

These grave violations by the Cuban authorities of international human rights standards caused the EU to implement the following diplomatic measures on 5 June 2003: a limitation on bilateral high-level Governmental visits; a reduction in the profile of participation in cultural events; the inviting of Cuban dissidents to national day events at EU embassies in Havana; and the decision to proceed to an early re-evaluation of the EU common position, six months before the due date.

On 16 June 2003, the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, adopted conclusions in which it reaffirmed its grave concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners. Referring to certain provocative conduct on the part of the Cuban authoritiesvis-à-vis the EU and its member states, the Council made it clear that it regarded such behaviour as unacceptable. This was a reference to the fact that official mass demonstrations, headed by President Castro, had been mounted against the embassies of two member states in Havana, and that the Cuban state media had conducted an unacceptable campaign of personal vilification against certain EU heads of Government.

The human rights situation in Cuba was deemed to be so serious that the matter was taken up by heads of state and government at the European Council on 20 June 2003. Endorsing the GAERC conclusions of 16 June, the European Council reiterated the EU's deep concern regarding the violation of fundamental freedoms in Cuba. Heads of state and government also deplored and rejected the "totally unacceptable behaviour of the Cuban authorities vis-à-vis at the EU and its Member States”.

Notwithstanding this unacceptable conduct on the part of the Cuban authorities, on 21 July 2003 the GAERC reconfirmed the positive objectives of the common position as I have outlined them above, and also reaffirmed the validity of constructive engagement with Cuba, to be continued through political dialogue so that tangible results might be achieved, particularly in the political, economic and human rights spheres.

During the six months of the Irish Presidency, I will be open to any viable opportunity to advance relations with Cuba on the basis of the EU Common Position.

Middle East Peace Process.

Questions (8, 9)

Phil Hogan

Question:

7 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian situation in Iran following the December 2003 earthquake; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4240/04]

View answer

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

74 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian aid the Government has provided or plans to provide to help the Iranian people to cope with the devastating impact of the recent earthquake there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4191/04]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 7 and 74 together.

It is now over six weeks since the city of Bam was devastated by an earthquake which claimed more than 40,000 lives. In this interval the people of Bam, of whom 75,000 were made homeless, have started to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. However, the scale of the disaster was so great that the rebuilding and full recovery of the city of Bam is expected to take years. On the day the earthquake struck, 26 December last, I allocated €1 million in humanitarian funding for the rescue operation and for immediate humanitarian needs. A further €2.3 million in emergency fundingwas allocated by the European Community Humanitarian Office.

Some €500,000 of the Irish funding was delivered to the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, IFRC, and the remaining €500,000 was provided to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, for onward disbursal to effective humanitarian organisations on the ground on a needs basis. Ireland has been commended by the United Nations for being one of the first donors to deliver on its pledge.

The view of donors, international humanitarian agencies and international NGOs is that the local authorities in Iran, with the assistance of the local Iranian Red Cross, responded exceptionally well to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the disaster. The emergency response phase has ended and international assistance will be required for the medium to long-term post emergency rehabilitation phase.

In early January, a UN assessment mission took place in Bam. This assessment formed the basis for the UN's emergency appeal launched on 8 January by the Iranian national authorities, the United Nations Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, OCHA, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The appeal requested a total of $31 million for shelter, food, water and sanitation. The long-term rehabilitation of Bam and surrounding areas is expected to cost between $700 million and $1 billion.

Further assistance for Bam from the Government is likely in the coming weeks. The main areas of need are pre-fabricated housing, water and sanitation. The rebuilding of health facilities and schools is another urgent requirement. I intend to take a best-practice approach in channelling funding through a national mechanism in Iran that will give the appropriate local authorities a degree of flexibility in determining rehabilitation priorities. This route would ensure local ownership of the recovery process, reduce costs and support the local economy.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he inform the House of the latest estimated number of deaths? The figures mentioned were between 30,000 and 50,000, which would make it the highest death toll from an earthquake for more than 25 years.

On the problems faced by the Iranian Government in the region and given the extent of the disaster, is the European Union considering taking special collective steps to try to help the region recover and rebuild? Given the extent of the problem and the terrible devastation caused, will the Minister of State agree that something exceptional needs to be done? Will he inform the House if such an approach is being considered by the European Union Council of Ministers?

On the estimated number of deaths, the figures available to me suggest that more than 40,000 people were killed. It was a major disaster. I understand that the last major earthquake in the region was in 1990 when 30,000 people were killed and more than 70,000 were made homeless. There is a good infrastructure locally, thanks to the local Iranian Red Crescent. There is a very good tradition in Iran and other neighbouring countries of back-up assistance being provided speedily.

The needs are huge. Following the search and rescue phase, which is over, aid workers are putting in place semi-permanent facilities, specifically pre-fabricated housing, for the many people who have had to endure freezing temperatures, especially at night. The rebuilding of the city will cost approximately $1 billion.

We will work closely with our EU colleagues and use our Presidency to ensure that the EU plays its part. We keep in close contact with the European Union. I said that €2.3 million was provided under the European Community Humanitarian Office. We have been working and will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the enlarged Union to ensure that continued assistance is provided. It will be required well into next year and the years ahead.

I understand there are dangers within Tehran where the potential for earthquakes and the gas supply could give rise to further disasters of this nature. I do not know whether this is a matter for the Petersberg tasks in terms of humanitarian aid. What specific vehicle within the European Union will be the correct one to use? Will the European Union make available to the Iranian Government its expertise and advice to minimise potential disasters in the region?

The Deputy is correct in saying that this area is prone to earthquakes. Part of the recovery process will be to ensure that structures in the area are earthquake resistant and that those involved in the process, including the European Union, will bear that in mind. The process involves the UN and the European Union working together in this regard.

The Deputy may be aware that there were some reports of a lack of co-ordination between the UN and the EU. On my direction and as part of the Presidency, we became involved in Dublin in ensuring that the UN OCHA and the European Commission officials were brought together. I assure the Deputy that this will lead to better co-ordination in the months ahead. The aspects of the disaster referred to by the Deputy will be borne in mind. During our Presidency, we will ensure maximum co-ordination between the UN and the European Union.

Will the Minister of State agree that it does not assist western relations with Iran when President George W. Bush describes it as belonging to an axis of evil? Will he agree the remarks were regrettable and that we should try to improve our relationship with Iran?

As part of the European Union, we have our own relationship with Iran. We support the work of the IAEA on the nuclear question. We are anxious, as part of the European Union, to develop relations with Iran.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Questions (76)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

53 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken by the Government and the European Union to restore to the United Nations its authority and international standing following the unilateral action in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4316/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The divisions caused in the United Nations Security Council and beyond by the refusal of the then Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to comply with the demands of the council and by the subsequent military action in Iraq were unquestionably damaging.

At the General Debate in the UN last September, Secretary General Annan characterised the UN's position as having "come to a fork in the road." He pointed to the need for the Security Council to regain the confidence of states, and of world public opinion, by demonstrating its ability to deal effectively with the most difficult issues, and by becoming more broadly representative of the international community as a whole as well as of the geopolitical realities of today. He also spoke frankly of the need for the revitalization of the UN General Assembly.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September, the Taoiseach strongly supported the call made by Secretary General Annan to the international community to tackle the fundamental policy issues and the structural changes needed in the United Nations if it is to deal effectively with global issues, particularly those of international peace and security.

The Government believes that this is an issue of cardinal importance and, accordingly, the Irish Presidency of the European Union has made effective multilateralism a central priority. The Government believes that the European Union needs to develop a political profile at the United Nations commensurate with the substantial financial contribution its members make to the organization. It further believes that this collective strength, which will increase substantially on 1 May, should be used to support the strengthening of the United Nations.

The Union's strength has recently been put to good use in supporting the process of revitalization of the work of the UN General Assembly, on which a landmark resolution was adopted by the General Assembly in December. In its Presidency, Ireland is working to ensure effective implementation and follow-up.

On the more fundamental questions concerning the role of the UN, Ireland has obtained the agreement of partners that the European Union will make a contribution to the work of the Secretary General's high level panel on threats, challenges and change which is undertaking an analysis of current and future threats to peace and security and assessing how best collective action can meet those challenges.

Ireland is using its EU Presidencyinter alia to focus on implementation of the European security strategy, which is aimed ensuring a stronger international society, a rule based international order and strong international institutions, including, most importantly, the United Nations. Ireland is working to render operational the EU-UN joint declaration on co-operation in crisis management, which was signed in September 2003, and reach agreement on how an EU rapid response capability might support the work of the United Nations. Ireland's Presidency programme is also committed to the advancement of the international development agenda, principally the implementation of the millennium development goals agreed at the United Nations in 2000.

I outlined Ireland's Presidency priorities in this regard to UN Secretary General Annan on 28 January. The Secretary General expressed his appreciation of the European Union's developing relationship with the United Nations and his confidence that Ireland would use its European Union Presidency constructively and effectively in support of the United Nations.

Question No. 54 answered with QuestionNo. 44.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (77, 78)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

55 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay will form part of the Irish Presidency's focus on human rights around the world; and if he has made representations to the US Administration concerning the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. [4327/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Human rights have been a priority of successive Irish Governments and are a key area for the Irish Presidency in external relations. Ireland along with our EU partners monitors the human rights situations in many countries throughout the world. Where the situation warrants, the European Union makes known its concerns about human rights violations to the Governments in question, either directly, or through action at the appropriate international fora such as the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights.

As the Deputy is aware, I have previously expressed to the House the Government's concern that the detainees in Guantanamo Bay be treated in accordance with the provisions of international human rights and humanitarianlaw.

The United States authorities are well aware of the Government's position, which has been conveyed to them on a number of occasions. These concerns were conveyed most recently to the US embassy in Dublin by my Department in September last. There is no doubt that the United States is very conscious of the level and nature of international concern about the treatment and status of the prisoners held in GuantanamoBay.

The Government recognises the danger posed by terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda. However, in confronting those who abuse and violate all forms of human rights, it is essential that the highest standards be maintained at all times.

Enda Kenny

Question:

56 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, during the Irish Presidency of the European Union, there will be formal contact with Zimbabwe; if he will report on the political situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4311/04]

View answer

A priority of the Irish Presidency is to increase the European Union's focus on African issues. In pursuit of this, we have organised a series of high-level meetings during our Presidency, including with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, South Africa and Nigeria. During such meetings we will impress upon our interlocutors our concern at the current situation in Zimbabwe.

The European Union remains profoundly concerned about the political situation in Zimbabwe. Political violence and intimidation of dissidents continue. This was evident recently in the authorities' treatment of the National Constitutional Assembly, NCA, protesters in Harare on 4 February 2004. The right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the mass media are under attack, which can be seen in the Zimbabwe Government's harassment of theDaily News, Zimbabwe's only independent newspaper. Ireland condemns utterly the abuses being carried out by state forces and other groups affiliated to the governing party and the lack of accountability on the part of the Government of Zimbabwe in these matters.

As long as the current problem persists, I do not envisage engagement with the Zimbabwean Government. At the same time, Ireland, given its Presidency of the European Union, is open to dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe as and when it can demonstrate material progress in the areas defined under the Union's established benchmarks. These centre on democratic norms, the rule of law, respect for human rights and personal freedoms. Real and verifiable progress on the benchmarks would lead to the re-engagement of the European Union with the Government of Zimbabwe.

The Union will continue to monitor the situation in Zimbabwe and to review the issue with our African partners.

Question No. 57 answered with QuestionNo. 21.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (79)

Willie Penrose

Question:

58 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 22 January 2004. [4202/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Together with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy, MP, I co-chaired the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Farmleigh House on 22 January 2004. I was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt. The Secretary of State was accompanied by Jane Kennedy, MP, and John Spellar, MP, Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland also attended.

This was the seventh meeting of the conference since the inaugural meeting in December 1999 in London. The conference on 22 January reviewed political developments, including developments since the Assembly elections in November and the continued efforts to fully restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, based on cross-community support. The conference reasserted the two Governments' commitment to the full implementation of the agreement and discussed the review of the operation of the agreement, which was subsequently convened on 3 February 2004.

There was an exchange of views on North-South and east-west matters, including the current work programme of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, respectively. The conference also reviewed the current security situation. It welcomed the reduction in violence in 2003, but noted with concern the rise in paramilitary violence in January and discussed ways of tackling this issue. It also reviewed the prospects for further normalisation and the British Government agreed to ask the Independent Monitoring Commission to report on this issue in conjunction with its report on paramilitarism.

The conference noted the increase in paramilitary crime and discussed ways of dealing with this issue, including through ongoing co-operation between the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Assets Recovery Agency. There was a discussion of the ombudsman's report on the murder of Séan Brown and the Chief Constable said he fully accepted the police ombudsman's report and had appointed a team to review the case. The conference also considered a range of criminal justice matters and recent developments in the area of human rights. Following our discussion of the Cory, Barron and Stevens reports, the conference acknowledged the need for the four remaining Cory reports to be published as soon as possible.

I also availed of the opportunity to raise concerns about the nationality requirements that restrict recruitment to certain Civil Service posts within the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Finally, the conference reviewed the continuing implementation of the Joint Declaration of 1 May 2003 and it agreed to review progress in greater detail at the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in March 2004.

I have arranged for copies of the conference communiqué to be placed in the Oireachtas Library.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (80)

Pat Breen

Question:

59 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the Amnesty International report on concerns related to legislation introduced by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4302/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 228 of Wednesday, 28 January 2003, which addresses the issues raised in this question.

European Enlargement.

Questions (81, 82)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

60 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the accession of ten new member states to the European Union in May 2004 will not be considerably tarnished by the growing number of obstacles being placed in the way of these new states in terms of their mobility and equality within the Union; his views on whether the future enlargement of the Union will take place in a two-tiered manner that is contrary to the spirit of enlargement and the Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4255/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

125 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the future enlargement of the European Union is being determined at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4473/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 125 together.

The Government, in light of Ireland's Presidency, looks forward to welcoming the ten new member states into the European Union on 1 May 2004. That day will be a defining moment in the history of the Union and a major highlight of Ireland's EU Presidency. Ireland has placed a high priority during its Presidency on ensuring that these countries are fully and effectively integrated into the Union.

The outcome of the enlargement negotiations was balanced and accepted by both the existing and acceding member states. The accession treaty does not provide for or envisage a two-tier Union. The treaty does provide, in some cases, for transition periods or the option of transition periods, in many cases at the request of the acceding states. The provisions on mobility, including those on the free movement of workers, were agreed by all parties to the accession treaty.

The process of enlargement does not end on 1 May. The December European Council reaffirmed that negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania will be concluded on the same basis and principles as those applied to the ten new member states. The European Union will decide on the question of opening negotiations with Turkey at the European Council in December 2004.

Croatia applied for membership in February 2003 and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is expected to lodge its application soon. At its summit meeting with the western Balkans in Thessaloniki in June 2003, the European Union reiterated that the future of that region is within the European Union. As the European Union continues to enlarge, we make clear our view that moving forward together is the best way for Europe to advance.

The European Union is also developing its policy with regard to its neighbours in the European neighbourhood policy. This is designed to strengthen the framework of the Union's relations with neighbouring countries which do not currently have the prospect of membership of the European Union. In return for concrete progress and the effective implementation of political, economic and institutional reforms reflecting shared values, the initiative offers the Governments of these countries the prospect of closer economic integration with the European Union. The geographical scope of the initiative includes all the countries on the external land and sea border of the enlarged Union. These are Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus and the countries of the southern Mediterranean — Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia. In January 2004, the Council invited the Commission to bring forward a recommendation on the relationship of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the European neighbourhood policy.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (83, 84)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

61 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position on the efforts of the Nasser family to recover their family land held for generations and annexed by the Israeli authorities; the actions and advice his Department has offered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4183/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As I have stated in the House, the Government has consistently taken the view that the transfer of its own population into occupied territory by an occupying power is a flagrant breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Israeli authorities are illegal and must be dismantled. Land seizures by the occupation forces for the purposes of settlement are null and void in international law. Both Ireland and the European Union have made these views known to the Israeli Government on numerous occasions.

The Nasser case referred to by the Deputy appears to be a particularly disturbing example of this policy in action. The case is currently the subject of an action before the Supreme Court of Israel and I understand that the next hearing is due to take place in March. My Department has not been approached for action or advice on the case. Our diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian territories are following developments and we will in the first instance await the outcome of the court case.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

62 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the Amnesty International report on the perversion of justice in the United Kingdom with reference to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4305/04]

View answer

My officials have noted the contents of the Amnesty International report entitled "United Kingdom, Justice perverted under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001".

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which became law in the United Kingdom in December 2001, contains a wide range of measures which the British Government considered necessary in the light of terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The measures include the power to seize assets, additional powers to detain under the Immigration Act and to search and fingerprint terrorist suspects.

The Amnesty International report raises a number of concerns about the Act and its operation. Under Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, the Secretary of State can certify a non-UK national as a "suspected international terrorist" if he or she "reasonably (a) believes that the person's presence in the United Kingdom is a risk to national security, and (b) suspects that the person is a terrorist." The basis for these determinations may include secret information that is never revealed to the person concerned or his or her lawyer of choice. In addition, under the powers granted to the Executive in Part 4 of the Act, it can order the detention without charge or trial of foreign nationals.

I am satisfied, however, that Irish people living in Britain will not in practice be affected by the provisions in respect of "international terrorists" because they are not considered foreign nationals under the law.

In general, it is clear that a number of measures in the Act will affect all persons living in the United Kingdom. I am satisfied, however, that none of the measures will have a greater effect on Irish persons living in the United Kingdom than on British nationals or other UK residents.

Finally, it should be noted that the detention provisions of the Act are subject to a number of safeguards. They are subject to annual renewal by parliament, their operation is to be examined by a reviewer, and they will, in any event, cease to have effect in November 2006.

Irish Language.

Questions (85)

Dan Neville

Question:

63 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the position regarding the recognition of Irish as an official working language of the European Union; if the Government will be raising this matter at European level during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4265/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Irish language has the status of a "treaty language" in the European Union. This derives from the fact that the treaties are in Irish, and that in the treaties Irish is listed as one of the languages in which the text is authentic. This means that each successive treaty is published in Irish as well as in the eleven other languages, with the texts in Irish being equally authentic and having equal status with those in all other languages.

It has been the Government's consistent approach to take any appropriate opportunity to enhance the standing of Irish in the European Union, and it has done so in several respects, including the following: the right of citizens to correspond with any of the institutions in Irish was introduced by the Amsterdam treaty and is maintained in the draft constitutional treaty; at our request, an Irish language version of the draft constitutional treaty agreed at the European Convention was also prepared; LINGUA, the European Union's programme for the promotion of language teaching and learning, recognises the Irish language for its projects; most recently, the Government took steps to enhance the standing of the Irish language in the context of the reform of the staff regulations for European Union officials.

The Government remains committed to its policy of monitoring developments with a view to availing itself of any appropriate opportunity which may arise to enhance the status of Irish in the European Union. It is in this spirit that there are ongoing interdepartmental discussions in which all the options available to us are being analysed. I very much hope that these discussions will result in the identification of additional opportunities to enhance the status of Irish in the European Union within a practicable time frame.

Question No. 64 answered with QuestionNo. 23.

International Atomic Agency.

Questions (86)

Michael Noonan

Question:

65 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the work of the International Atomic Agency in Libya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4317/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 19 December 2003, Libya announced its intention, following negotiations with the UK and US, to eliminate all "materials, equipment and programmes which lead to the production of internationally proscribed weapons".

The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, sent a team to Libya almost immediately after the announcement, and briefings from the agency indicate that IAEA inspectors have been making rapid and steady progress in their nuclear verification efforts in Libya. They report a high level of co-operation from the Libyan authorities as well as assistance from UK and US personnel.

By the end of January the agency inspectors had completed the initial phase of their work, which included conducting an inventory of sensitive nuclear components and materials, the application of IAEA seals and working with US and UK personnel who, with the agreement of the Libyan authorities, provided logistical support to remove these materials from the country. Sensitive items have been removed under IAEA supervision and remain under IAEA seal and oversight. The IAEA work is continuing and agency inspectors will be undertaking verification work on nuclear components, equipment and materials inside Libya and on items which have been removed.

I understand that the Libyan authorities have also signalled their intention to conclude an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the agency. Ireland and our partners in the European Union consider that the adoption and implementation of comprehensive safeguards agreements, and additional protocols to them, is a prerequisite to an effective and credible safeguards system. We look forward therefore to Libya signing, ratifying and implementing such a protocol.

Ireland fully supports the work of the IAEA in verifying the dismantling of the Libyan programme and looks forward to the report of the director general of the agency on progress in Libya at the next meeting of the board of governors in March.

Question No. 66 answered with QuestionNo. 14.
Question No. 67 answered with QuestionNo. 15.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (87)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

68 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in East Timor; if he will further report on the negotiations between East Timor and the Australian Government regarding maritime boundaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4313/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

In their efforts to build a nation, the people of Timor-Leste have shown great political maturity, and good progress has been made in the establishment of democracy there. Every effort is being made by the new government to consolidate democratic institutions and the rule of law.

The special representative of the United Nations' Secretary General for Timor-Leste gave a briefing to the Security Council on 15 October 2003. He said that the advances and gains since independence had been remarkable, especially in the areas of governance, open leadership, enactment of legislation, rehabilitation of infrastructure, responsible development planning and budgetary discipline, the country's regional integration, and, most importantly, the commitment to democratic norms and personal freedoms.

On 21 May 2002, the Security Council established a UN mission of support in East Timor, UNMISET, for an initial period of 12 months. In May 2003, the Security Council renewed its mandate for a further 12 months. UNMISET is gradually being reduced in preparation for its complete withdrawal in May 2004. The government of Timor-Leste expressed its hope in December that the UN would extend its mandate beyond May 2004, to help consolidate infrastructure and reassure the community about security. The Security Council will continue to monitor developments in Timor-Leste.

In spite of the achievements of the past three years, and despite continued progress, there are still major tasks to be accomplished. Timor-Leste faces a number of challenges including supporting core administrative functions, building and strengthening the justice system, completing the investigations undertaken by the special crimes investigation unit set up under UNMISET, and creating a favourable climate for sustainable social and economic development. It remains one of the poorest nations in the world, and there is a critical need for the continued support of the international community.

Negotiations on the definition of maritime boundaries are complex. Both Timor-Leste and Australia claim the same parts of the Timor Sea, an area with vast reserves of oil and gas. Timor-Leste wants the border, which currently gives Australia the majority of seabed between them, to run halfway between their coastlines. Australia on the other hand wants the boundary to remain as it is. However, it has signed the Timor Sea Treaty with Timor-Leste, giving Timor-Leste 90% of the revenue from oil deposits there. This issue was discussed at the EU-Australia ministerial Troika on 21 January, when Foreign Minister Downer advised us that Australia is committed to resolving this issue with Timor-Leste.

In March 2003, the Government announced that Ireland had accorded Timor-Leste programme "country status" for development co-operation purposes. This announcement is recognition of the significant progress made to date in Timor-Leste, and demonstrates our continuing commitment to its political and socio-economic development and to the promotion of good governance and human rights in these crucial formative years. The Ireland Aid Timor-Leste country strategy covers the period 2003-2005, and provides for funding of more than €11 million.

Ireland will continue to play its part in the provision of ongoing international support for Timor-Leste, and will continue to follow developments there very closely.

Question No. 69 answered with QuestionNo. 20.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Questions (88)

Denis Naughten

Question:

70 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken to assess the nuclear capabilities of North Korea; if the European Union will hold meetings with representatives of North Korea to discuss international concern at ongoing nuclear developments in North Korea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4319/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Ireland and our EU partners remain seriously concerned about the DRPK's nuclear programme and its failure to comply with its IAEA safeguards agreement. We deeply regret the DPRK's expulsion of IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and its announcement in January 2003 to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT. The expulsion of the IAEA inspectors has meant that it is difficult to provide any accurate assessment of the DPRK's nuclear capabilities.

Recent reports that the DPRK is ready to freeze its nuclear programme are encouraging signs. However, Ireland, with our EU partners, continues to urge the DPRK to dismantle immediately any nuclear weapons programme in a visible and verifiable manner, to allow the return of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, inspectors to assess the DPRK's nuclear capabilities, and to come into full and unconditional compliance with all relevant international obligations, in particular the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA safeguards agreement.

An unofficial US delegation met the DPRK Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and visited the nuclear facility in Yongbyon last month. One member of the delegation testified to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the effect that North Korea has the equipment and expertise with which to extract plutonium for use in nuclear weapons but he was not shown conclusive evidence of a nuclear weapons programme in operation in the DPRK. A European Parliament delegation, which is likely to be led by Jacques Santer, also plans to visit the DPRK from 21-24 February 2004.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, is committed to the pursuit of a peaceful and multilateral solution to the current Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis, and supports those working towards that end. We therefore fully support the six party talks process between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK, the USA, the Republic of Korea, China, Japan and the Russian Federation aimed at securing a peaceful and comprehensive resolution of the current nuclear crisis. I welcome the news that a second round of talks will take place in Beijing on 25 February.

The visit to the DPRK by a European Union regional directors Troika delegation last December demonstrates the commitment of the Union to actively contribute to a peaceful solution to the current tense situation. The purpose of the Troika's visit was to convey clearly to the DPRK the EU's support for the six party talks process. The delegation also conveyed the need for the DPRK to respect its international non-proliferation obligations, emphasising that EU-DPRK relations and EU assistance would develop further once the current crisis has been resolved.

State Visits.

Questions (89)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

71 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason a Minister of State will soon embark on a trip to Cuba while an Irish Parliamentary delegation was refused permission by the Government last Easter 2003 to visit Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4333/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Callely, has decided not to visit Cuba at this time.

The question of visits abroad by Members of the Oireachtas is a matter for the Members themselves. However, the Government would continue to advise against official level visits to Cuba at this time.

EU Presidency.

Questions (90)

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

72 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the upcoming third Asia-Europe parliamentary partnership meeting to be held in Vietnam in March 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4251/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Third Asia Europe parliamentary partnership meeting, ASEP 3, will be held at Hué, Vietnam, from 25-26 March 2004, hosted by the National Assembly of Vietnam.

The ASEP is the overseeing parliamentary body whose meetings parallel the biannual inter-governmental Asia Europe meetings, ASEM, and represents an initiative designed to bring together parliamentarians from Europe and Asia. Although part of the ASEM framework, it meets on anad hoc basis, and has not so far been established permanently.

I understand that the three main topics for the meeting will be: (1) ASEM partnership for a fairer and more equal global trade; (2) cultural identity and diversity in the context of ASEM; and (3) the current international security situation and challenges to international law.

The Vietnamese organisers intend to invite MEPs, members of the ASEM legislatures, as well as those of the accession countries, and participants from related regional organisations. I welcome this widening of ASEP participants. Such a wider participation would contribute to the aims of ASEM to widen discussion of Europe and Asia to a broad spectrum of civil society.

I hope that ASEP can develop into an important forum for interparliamentary discussion and debate on issues that affect all ASEM countries and assist in the promotion of better mutual understanding of our shared interest in peace and co-operation for development.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Questions (91)

Denis Naughten

Question:

73 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the European security document published recently by Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4272/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As the Deputy is aware, the European security strategy was adopted by the European Council on 12 December 2003. The aim of the strategy is to enable the EU to bring a holistic approach to international security issues, drawing on the full range of instruments available to the Union, including development co-operation and humanitarian assistance, trade relations, diplomatic and political means, and civilian and military capabilities for conflict prevention and crisis management which are being developed under the European security and defence policy, ESDP.

The Government has welcomed the overall approach of the European security strategy. It is fully consistent with Ireland's own perspective through its embodiment of a comprehensive approach to security, including both military and non-military means and its recognition of the need to address not only the symptoms of insecurity but also the underlying causes, which include poverty, injustice and under-development.

As Presidency, Ireland is working with High Representative Solana and the Commission on the implementation of the European security strategy. This work will focus on the four areas outlined by the European Council for initial action. These are effective multilateralism with the UN at its core, the fight against terrorism, a strategy towards the region of the Middle East and a comprehensive policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina. Preparatory work is already under way in each of these areas and operational conclusions on our plans for implementation were adopted at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 26 January. The intention is to report to the June European Council on progress in the implementation of the strategy.

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 7.
Question No. 75 answered with QuestionNo. 40.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (92)

Simon Coveney

Question:

76 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the Amnesty International report on allegations of police ill treatment and excessive use of force in Germany; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4306/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I wish to refer the Deputy to my reply of 28 January in which I reaffirmed the Government's appreciation for the contribution that Amnesty International makes to furthering the cause of promoting and protecting human rights internationally. I am confident that the German Government will have closely examined the contents of the Amnesty report.

As the Deputy will be aware, Germany has extensive constitutional protection for human rights and is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for an independent European complaints mechanism to augment safeguards provided in national protection. Germany is also a party to a number of other international human rights instruments.

Illegal Immigrants.

Questions (93)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

77 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the statement issued by President Bush on 7 January 2004 setting out proposals for a new temporary worker programme as a way of addressing the situation of undocumented foreign workers in the United States; if he has an estimate of the number of undocumented Irish workers in the United States; the number he expects to benefit from the new proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4192/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 7 January 2004, the President of the United States announced a new immigration initiative entitled "Fair and Secure Immigration Reform". Under the initiative, the president is proposing the creation of a new form of temporary work permit which would be available to both undocumented foreign nationals currently in the United States and those seeking to enter with a job already arranged.

The temporary work permit would give such people legal status in the United States for three years, with the possibility of renewal. Recipients of these permits would be able to apply for permanent residence in the US but would not receive preference over other green card applicants. Workers who did not qualify for permanent residency status when their temporary work permits expired would have to return to their country of origin.

While the proposal does not ensure permanent legal status for the undocumented in the United States, it does offer the possibility of a temporary status, which would enable them to work legally, with the accompanying employment rights and social benefits. Importantly, it would give these workers the right to leave the United States during the period of the temporary work permit and return again. President Bush's proposals will have to be approved by the US Congress and it is too early to say what changes or amendments may be made in the course of their consideration by congress. Nevertheless, I welcome this initiative, which represents an important first step in addressing the situation of undocumented foreign workers in a pragmatic and compassionate way.

It is too early to gauge the number of Irish undocumented who might benefit from President Bush's initiative. Given the nature of the undocumented community it is very difficult to calculate the numbers involved accurately. For its part, the US citizenship and immigration services estimates that Ireland is one of the few European countries for which the number of undocumented in the United States declined during the 1990s, from 5,000 in 1990 to 3,000 in 2000. However, many of the agencies working with our emigrants would place the figure substantially higher.

I can assure the Deputy that the embassy in Washington will follow closely the progress of the president's initiative and the consideration given to it in the US Congress. In particular, it will continuously assess the potential of the proposals to regulate the status of Irish citizens in the United States who remain undocumented.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (94)

Paul Connaughton

Question:

78 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recently published report, More Justice for Europe, by Amnesty International Ireland; and his views on the violence against women and the mental health campaigns. [4256/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Ireland and our EU partners attach great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights. During our EU Presidency, we will continue this process of mainstreaming human rights concerns into all aspects of the Union's policies. The report from Amnesty International, which the Deputy mentions was received in my Department and is currently being examined by my officials. Amnesty International Ireland and the human rights unit of my Department have a long record of consultation and co-operation, and my Department values the contribution Amnesty International Ireland is making with their reports. I understand that Amnesty International Ireland intends to launch its campaign against violence against women on 8 March. It will encompass opposition to domestic violence against women as perpetrated in Ireland and violence experienced by women in conflict and post-conflict situations worldwide.

Any queries the Deputy might have relating to the domestic angle of the campaign would fall within the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality, and Law Reform. I therefore propose to only address the topic of violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations. During periods of conflict the role of women, both young and old, often becomes one of sole household provider, sole parent, carer for the injured, older people, children and other relatives. Women may also have roles of forced or voluntary combatants or providers of various services for fighting forces. These roles should be fully recognised. In this context, I would like to draw attention to the guidelines on children and armed conflict, which the EU adopted in 2003, which also underline the specific vulnerability of girls. Implementation of these guidelines is a priority for the Irish EU Presidency.

Women and girls are particularly at risk of serious violations of human rights or breaches of international humanitarian law in times of conflict, in particular genocide, ethnic cleansing and rape, including systematic rape of women and girls. In this context the government strongly supports the Rome Statute of the International Court under which persecution of women and girls, systematic rape and other acts of sexual violence may constitute crimes against humanity. The Government, along with its EU partners, urges all states that have not done so, to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute, and actively co-operate with the court, which has a vital role to ensure justice for all and to fight impunity.

Women in areas of conflict are easy prey for trafficking and sexual exploitation which is a matter of growing concern. The Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, which Ireland signed on 13 December 2000, is a powerful international instrument in the fight against trafficking. In addition, article 6 of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women requires state parties to suppress of all forms of trafficking. The Government ratified the convention on 22 January 1986 and its optional protocol on 22 December 2000. This protocol allows individual women, or groups of women, to submit claims of violations of rights to the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women; and provides for an inquiry procedure enabling the committee to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women's rights.

The Beijing declaration and the platform for action recognise not only that peace is inextricably linked with the advancement of women but also that armed and other types of conflict still persist in many parts of the world. The Government welcomes initiatives in recent years by the United Nations to address these issues, in particular, Resolution No. 1325 on women, peace and security adopted by the Security Council in 2000. This resolution reiterates the importance of bringing women, and a gender perspective, to the centre of all decisions regarding UN peace making, peace building and peacekeeping and acknowledges that rehabilitation and reconstruction require the full participation of women. The Government, along with its EU partners, commends the report by the Secretary General on women, peace and security arising from this resolution and its system wide implementation action plan to the Security Council. The Government also welcomes the UNIFEM report on women, war and peace which emphasises the leading role of women in peace building and the need to support women in this role.

Regarding the Deputy's query on Amnesty International Ireland's campaign on mental health in Ireland, we understand from the organisation that the focus of this campaign is purely domestic and therefore falls within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.

Question No. 79 answered with QuestionNo. 46.
Question No. 80 answered with QuestionNo. 43.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (95)

Damien English

Question:

81 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4280/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

: The overall political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be marked by steady progress in the implementation of the Sun City peace accords, concluded in South Africa last April. The new transitional government comprising representatives of the government of President Kabila and of the main rebel groups has now been in office for over six months and is developing a strong sense of coherence in discharging its responsibilities. The transitional government's programme of work covering the transition period to 2005 was approved last December by the interim parliament established last July. There are also encouraging signs of a progressive normalisation of relations between the DRC and its neighbours. An important development in this regard was the meeting on 25 September 2003 between the DRC, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda in the presence of UN Secretary General Annan in which the four countries agreed to refrain from interference in each other's affairs and to prevent arms shipments to warring groups in the eastern area of the DRC.

While the overall security situation in the DRC has improved immeasurably since the signing of the peace accords, there continues to be concern over the situation in the Ituri and north and south Kivu regions which remain plagued by sporadic violent killings, notwithstanding the efforts of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission. Such incidents demonstrate the need for the newly formed transitional government to establish its presence throughout the country and, in particular, in the eastern and north eastern regions. The transitional government has committed itself to send 3,000 police officers to the Ituri region, a decision which I welcome. I also welcome the release of European development funds totalling €205 million to support the transitional government in institution building, constitutional reform and the strengthening of the rule of law, as well as funding for health services and debt relief.

Ireland, along with our EU partners, will continue to encourage the transitional government in Kinshasa to consolidate its authority throughout the territory of the DRC and to hasten the process of creating an integrated national army and police force. Specifically, as regards the envisaged integrated police force, the EU is providing support, in a two phase project, towards the establishment of an integrated police unit in Kinshasa, with the emphasis in the initial phase on training and rehabilitation of the training infrastructure.

The European Union has already made a substantial contribution to restoring peace and security in eastern DRC through deployment of the EU led emergency multinational force, operation Artemis, to the town of Bunia in Ituri last June. Operation Artemis, the first EU operation to undertake implementation of Petersberg Tasks outside Europe, was deployed at the request of the United Nations Secretary General and on foot of UN Security Council Resolution 1484. In September, Operation Artemis handed over control of Bunia to a strengthened United Nations mission in the DRC, MONUC, having fulfilled its mandate of restoring stability to the town. Ireland contributed five army officers to Operation Artemis and a proportionate share of the costs. Ireland is currently providing two army officers who serve as military observers with MONUC.

Ireland fully intends to sustain the positive engagement of the EU in the DRC and the great lakes region during our Presidency. We will work to prepare the proposed great lakes conference which is currently scheduled to take place in November 2004. The conference will focus on peace, security, democracy and development in the great lakes region and will be held under the auspices of the African Union and the UN.

As further evidence of Ireland's commitment to the DRC, we will ensure that the office of the EU special representative to the great lakes region is utilised to the full in promoting EU policy in the region. In addition, my Department continues to avail itself of bilateral meetings with regional and pan-African parties to stress Ireland's support for the peace process in the DRC and to encourage others to support fully the transitional institutions in that country. The Government will also continue its constructive engagement in providing substantial humanitarian assistance in response to the enormous suffering caused by conflict and natural disasters in the DRC. Development Co-operation Ireland, DCI, has delivered over €5.5 million in emergency and recovery humanitarian aid for the people of the DRC since 2000, while a further estimated €1.1 million will be made available under DCI's multi annual programme scheme.

EU Presidency.

Questions (96)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

82 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Georgia; if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Georgia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4298/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I represented the European Union at the inauguration of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on 25 January 2004. While in Tbilisi, I met with President Saakashvili, with state minister Zhvania, and with parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze. I also discussed Georgia with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. In my meetings with President Saakashvili and his colleagues, the new leadership conveyed its interest in strengthening Georgia-EU links, particularly with regard to the European neighbourhood initiative. I also sensed an openness to listen to ideas about how they might best move forward in their programme of democratisation and reform. President Saakashvili has said that his priorities are to fight corruption, establish the rule of law, and improve the conditions for investment in Georgia, in the interests of long-term prosperity.

Threats to Georgia's territorial integrity arising from regional conflicts will inevitably be a concern for the new administration. On foreign policy, President Saakashvili has stressed his wish to develop relations with the EU, to continue to work closely with the US, and to improve relations with Russia. Given the size of the challenge which the new administration in Georgia faces, it is to be hoped that the new leadership will continue to co-operate closely to ensure the continued stability of the country.

The European Union is supportive of the new leadership in Georgia in the challenges which it faces. Following discussion of the situation in Georgia at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in January 2004, Ministers agreed that "the EU remains committed to assisting the reform process in Georgia through the range of EU instruments and policies, in close co-operation with relevant international organisations".

The Union will monitor closely the progress of reforms in Georgia, particularly in the next few months. The parliamentary elections which will take place on 28 March will be a real test of the progress which Georgia's new leadership have made towards meeting international commitments on electoral standards. The European Union will be watching closely to see how Georgia meets this challenge. The Government provided €100,000 towards the cost of running the early presidential election on 4 January 2004 and will send monitors to the March parliamentary elections.

The new administration has also to tackle problems caused by mismanagement of state resources and a failure to collect revenues efficiently over the past several years, as well as a massive corruption problem. They have taken courageous steps to address these issues, and a crucial test of their success will be the IMF assessment of the new state budget following the visit of an IMF delegation to Tbilisi this month. Greater accountability in the use of resources would facilitate an increase in international aid to Georgia.

The appointment of Heikki Talvitie as EU special representative for the south Caucasus in July of last year was a signal of greater EU engagement in the whole south Caucasus region. EU special representative Talvitie visited the region most recently in late January and early February, and I met with him during my visit to Tbilisi. The January 2004 General Affairs and External Relations Council invited the Commission "in consultation with the High Representative, and taking account of the EUSR's proposals, to bring forward a recommendation on the relationship of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the European Neighbourhood Policy". The Council indicated its wish to consider this recommendation before the end of the Irish Presidency.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (97, 98, 99)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

83 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he hopes to influence the situation in Iraq, with particular reference to restoring peace and stability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4337/04]

View answer

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

84 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the current situation in Iraq. [4101/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 84 together.

I have consistently argued that an accelerated transfer of authority from the occupying powers to the Iraqis is necessary, while also recognising that this transfer has to be properly prepared. Although progress is being made in this regard, this positive development is offset by the continuing violence and the deep sense of concern which this is generating. The continuing insecurity problem cannot be solved through military means alone. A political solution is required. The support of the Iraqi people and of neighbouring countries is crucial to the successful transfer of sovereignty.

The fundamental question is how to transfer power to a sovereign Iraqi government at a time when the country is torn by violence and the three main factions — Shia, Sunni and Kurds — are in disagreement over the way forward. The resistance continues to inflict casualties on both the occupying powers and ordinary civilians. At the political level, there is disagreement on how to choose an interim government.

I welcome the announcement that a UN electoral team has been sent to assess the feasibility of holding elections before 30 June, and if not feasible, advise on possible acceptable alternatives. The UN elections advisory team left for Iraq on 5 February. I would concur with Secretary General Annan's analysis that consensus among all Iraqi constituencies would be the best guarantee of a legitimate and credible transitional government arrangement for Iraq. I have also consistently spoken in favour of a deeper UN involvement, as I believe that a UN role in the oversight of the transfer of sovereignty, for example, in supervising the formation of the transitional assembly, would give the process greater international legitimacy. I commend Secretary General Annan's efforts to maximise, within the existing political and physical constraints, the role and activities of the United Nations in regard to Iraq.

During our Presidency we will continue to support efforts aimed at reaching an international consensus on the way forward. We will be in contact with our EU partners, the United States and other concerned countries. In addition, in our role as Presidency of the European Union, Ireland is pleased to join with the US and other donors as a member of the Iraq reconstruction core group. We believe this will be a valuable opportunity to work closely with other donors to ensure that reconstruction efforts in Iraq are successful.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

85 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report to Dáil Éireann on the political climate in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4310/04]

View answer

On 23 February 2002 a formal ceasefire agreement was signed, with Norwegian facilitation, between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, and the Sri Lankan Government. Despite mounting political difficulties on the island, the ceasefire has continued to hold. On 4 November 2003, President Kumaratunga relieved three senior government ministers of office and personally assumed their powers. President Kumaratunga was reportedly concerned about LTTE proposals on an interim administration for the north and east of the country, and claimed that the government, led by Prime Minister Wickramasinghe, was making too many concessions. She announced that talks with the LTTE had been postponed indefinitely. A state of emergency was declared and parliament was prorogued for two weeks. Although Mrs. Kumaratunga holds the office of president, her party constitutes the official opposition, having lost parliamentary elections to Prime Minister Wickramasinghe two years ago.

The prime minister reportedly rejected as unworkable a power sharing offer from the president. On 8 February 2004, President Kumaratunga dissolved parliament and called for elections to be held on 2 April, nearly four years ahead of schedule. It is unlikely that there will be a resolution of these differences until after the elections. There are ongoing concerns that a prolonged political confrontation between the prime minister and the president could ultimately jeopardise the peace process with the LTTE. However, the LTTE have continued to reaffirm their commitment to the peace process.

On 4 November, the Presidency of the European Union, in conjunction with the European Commission, issued a statement urging the parties involved to continue to work together in support of a negotiated political solution. On 14 November 2003, Norway announced the suspension of its involvement in the peace process until such time as the political crisis is resolved. From 24 to 27 November 2003, EU External Relations Commissioner Mr. Chris Patten visited Sri Lanka where he held meetings with both government representatives and the LTTE. Commissioner Patten urged both sides to resume the peace process and warned against the extremely negative consequences that a resumption of violence could bring.

A co-chairs conference is due to take place in Washington on 17 February 2004, as a follow-up to the June 2003 Tokyo donor's conference on Sri Lanka. The co-chairs consist of the EU, Japan, the US, and Norway, the last in view of its position as facilitator of the peace process. Co-chairs are responsible for monitoring progress towards peace and advising on actions by the donor community. Through various channels, the Government will continue to take all appropriate opportunities to encourage the parties concerned to bring the peace process to an early, successful conclusion.

Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 50.
Question No. 87 answered with QuestionNo. 34.
Question No. 88 answered with QuestionNo. 12.

North-South Ministerial Council.

Questions (100)

Tom Hayes

Question:

89 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the report of the North-South Ministerial Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4282/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The 2002 annual report of the North-South Ministerial Council provides an interesting insight into the work of the council. It demonstrates the extent to which the programme of work under way under the aegis of the NSMC has developed and has become an integral part of the relationship between both parts of the island. It will be clear from the range of work and issues covered, that what we are talking about is practical co-operation on matters which bring obvious benefits to both North and South.

Despite difficulties in the wider political process, progress on North-South co-operation continued throughout 2002, with important work being taken forward by the North-South bodies and by Departments.

The Deputy will recall that in order to safeguard the achievements of the council, the Government legislated in November 2002 to provide that both Governments could take any decisions necessary to allow the North-South bodies to continue to carry out their important public functions during the period of suspension.

The two Governments have stated many times that the review of the agreement, which is currently underway, will not be a review of the fundamentals of the agreement, but of its operation. It will be the Government's priority in the period ahead, and against the backdrop of efforts to bring about the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, to protect the achievements of the agreement, including the Strand II arrangements, which include the North-South Ministerial Council and the North-South bodies.

Question No. 90 answered with QuestionNo. 23.

Diplomatic Relations.

Questions (101)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

91 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his January 2004 meeting with the Swiss Foreign Minister, Ms. Micheline Calmy-Rey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4328/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 13 January, I met Switzerland's Federal Councillor, Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey, who has responsibility for Switzerland's foreign relations. Because of the importance of Switzerland's relations with the European Union, Federal Councillor Calmy-Rey had requested a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity in Ireland's EU Presidency and I was happy to facilitate this. Our discussions focused mainly on relations between the EU and Switzerland and on international issues of mutual concern and interest. We were both happy to note that bilateral relations between Ireland and Switzerland are excellent.

The EU and Switzerland are at present engaged in completing negotiations on a revised set of bilateral agreements in view of the impending enlargement of the European Union. The European Commission is conducting the negotiations on behalf of the EU on the basis of a mandate agreed by the Council of Ministers. The negotiations cover taxation of savings, Schengen, co-operation in combating fraud, free movement of people, trade in processed agricultural products, Swiss participation with the EU Environment Agency, co-operation on statistics, trade in services, and co-operation on media related matters, and on education, youth and training. Negotiations on trade in services have been deferred until a later date.

In most of these areas, only a few points remain to be agreed. With regard to the negotiations on the Schengen and Dublin agreements, on co-operation in combating fraud and on adapting the existing agreement on free movement of persons, there remain outstanding difficulties and negotiations on these continue. Ms Calmy-Rey and I had a useful exchange of views on these issues, while recognising that the Commission remains responsible for the conduct of negotiations on all of these issues on behalf of the EU.

Ms Calmy-Rey and I also discussed the Middle East peace process and, in particular, Switzerland's experience with the Geneva initiative. As this meeting was held just before my own visit to Israel and Egypt, it was a useful and timely opportunity to share views with another party with important insights into this difficult dispute.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (102)

Dinny McGinley

Question:

92 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Liberia and on the welfare and conditions of the Irish troops serving in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4248/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Deputies will be aware that the national transitional government of Liberia was inaugurated in Monrovia on 14 October, 2003. Mr Gyude Bryant will serve as chairman of the transitional government until parliamentary and presidential elections are held before the end of 2005. The Irish Government was represented at the inauguration by my colleague, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt. On taking office, Mr. Bryant pledged to introduce transparency in government and respect for human rights.

The security situation in UN controlled areas has improved. There has been progress in the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement signed by the Liberian parties on 18 August 2003. The peace process, however, remains fragile. Monrovia is now a weapons free zone but the situation is less stable in other areas. Troops from the United Nations mission in Liberia, UNMIL, were deployed in rebel territory outside Monrovia for the first time on 27 December. Sporadic outbreaks of fighting in rebel strongholds highlight the need for a comprehensive process of disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration, DDRR.

Initial disarmament and demobilisation efforts in December, while securing large numbers of weapons, did not proceed as smoothly as foreseen. On 15 January 2004, a new plan to restart the DDRR programme was agreed by all the military factions, incorporating a timeline to allow the faction leaders to educate their fighters on all aspects of the plan before physical disarmament takes place. Encouragingly, on Monday 9 February 2004, the leader of the largest rebel movement, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, LURD, handed over a substantial cache of weapons to UNMIL to demonstrate support for the impending round of disarmament.

In addition to participating in UNMIL, Ireland, both nationally and as EU Presidency, has been actively engaged in promoting donor support for reconstruction in Liberia. In his address to the Liberia reconstruction conference in New York on 6 February, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, pledged the EU's continued support for the Liberia peace process and for efforts to rebuild the country. He outlined European Community assistance for Liberia, stating that the European Community alone will provide an overall amount of $200 million through the European Development Fund and humanitarian funds to contribute to the transition process and emergency relief over the coming two years. This assistance is in addition to bilateral assistance pledged by EU member states at the conference. Ireland pledged assistance of €5 million.

Ireland will continue to encourage all parties to carry out their commitments and obligations under the comprehensive peace agreement. We will lend active support to the work of the United Nations Special Representative in Liberia, Jacques Klein, and to the EU Special Representative for the region, Hans Dahlgren.

Deputies will also be aware of the substantial deployment of permanent Defence Forces personnel to UNMIL. The Irish contingent comprises some 430 personnel including a small number of personnel at force headquarters in Monrovia. In addition, personnel from the Army ranger wing have been deployed, at the request of the UN, on a short-term basis to UNMIL.

As regards the welfare and conditions of the Irish troops deployed to UNMIL, I would refer to the comprehensive information recently given by my colleague, the Minister for Defence, to the House. The Minister provided the House with extensive briefing on the meticulous preparation and training of Defence Forces personnel for service in UNMIL, and on the measures taken to ensure that an appropriate standard of medical care is available to Irish military personnel. On his visit to the Irish contingent in Liberia on 21-23 January, he conveyed to the Irish troops the deep appreciation of the Government and people of Ireland for their continued outstanding service to the cause of international peace and security.

Colombian Trial.

Questions (103)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

93 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest reports or information he has received from the consular office which has been attending the trial of three Irish persons facing serious charges in Colombia; if he has information with regard to when the trial is expected to resume; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4203/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The ambassador to Colombia acted as my official representative throughout the trial and his reports were considered carefully in my Department. The trial has ended and the decision of the judge is awaited. The Deputy will appreciate that, pending the delivery of the judge's decision, it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment on this case.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to follow this case closely and to provide all possible consular assistance to the men.

Question No. 94 answered with QuestionNo. 20.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (104)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

95 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent contact with the Government of China on behalf of Falun Dafa practitioners; if he has discussed with the Chinese authorities the position of two persons (details supplied) who are unable to return here to continue their studies due to their support for Falun Dafa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4260/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Human rights issues, including the issue of Falun Dafa, are regularly raised in contacts with the Chinese authorities. I will continue to raise such issues during my meetings with Chinese Ministers.

The situation regarding the persons referred to by the Deputy has not changed since my last reply on this matter on 27 January 2004.

Missing Persons.

Questions (105)

Enda Kenny

Question:

96 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the recent kidnapping and subsequent release of an Irish citizen and others in Iran; the efforts made by the Government on behalf of these persons to ensure their safe release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4277/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Mr. Aidan Leahy, an Irish citizen, was kidnapped along with two German citizens in south eastern Iran on November 28 last year, while on a cycling tour from England to Australia. He was released on December 28.

Upon receiving news of the incident, our embassy in Tehran established contact with the relevant Iranian authorities, and liaised with them on a daily basis throughout Mr. Leahy's captivity. The embassy in Tehran also remained in daily contact with the local authorities in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, who were charged with co-ordinating the search for the missing persons and who organised a task-force for that purpose. I also wrote to Dr. Kamal Kharazzi, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, to express my concern about the situation.

In addition, my Department maintained contact with the German Foreign Ministry, to share information and ensure a co-ordinated approach towards a speedy resolution of the matter. My officials were also in close touch with Mr. Leahy's family, and kept them informed of all developments in the case.

Following his release, Mr. Leahy was assisted in his return home by our embassy staff in Tehran, Berlin and London, and I was happy to meet with him personally upon his subsequent visit here. He expressed great appreciation for the Government's efforts on his behalf.

I am grateful to the Government of Iran for its efforts to secure the release of Mr. Leahy and for the assistance it provided to our embassy in Tehran throughout this case.

Question No. 97 answered with QuestionNo. 44.

International Criminal Court.

Questions (106)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

98 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the position of the United States of America and its co-operation and recognition of the International Criminal Court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4314/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The United States of America participated in the diplomatic conference leading to the adoption of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998 and signed the statute in December 2000. However, in May 2002, the US informed the Secretary General of the United Nations that it did not intend to become party to the statute, and that it accordingly had no obligations arising from its signature.

The objections of the US to the International Criminal Court are based on its view that, because of the independence of the prosecutor of the ICC, US citizens and in particular its military forces could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions before the court.

While I recognize these concerns, I do not share them. The jurisdiction of the ICC is complementary to national jurisdictions, meaning that the court will become involved in a case only where a state with jurisdiction over a crime is unable or unwilling genuinely to carry out an investigation or prosecution. In addition, the Rome statute contains strong and carefully drafted safeguards to prevent politically motivated prosecutions. I would also point tothe integrity, character and professional qualifications of the persons who have been elected to serve as prosecutors and judges of the court.

I wish to reiterate the view that the ICC will prove itself to be an essential means of combating impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In its investigation and prosecution of such crimes, the court may invite any state not party to the Rome statute to provide assistance. It is my firm hope that assistance will be forthcoming from all such states, based on the common interest of all states in seeing that the most serious crimes of international concern do not go unpunished.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Questions (107)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

99 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the possible links between Pakistan and Iran concerning the development of a nuclear programme in Iran; the progress of investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Iran; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4320/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme are being addressed in an ongoing process within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. Since June 2003 the director general of the agency, Dr. Mohamed El Baredei, has presented three reports on Iran to the IAEA board of governors. The board has adopted two resolutions on the issue which set out what the IAEA member states expect of Iran, essentially full co-operation with the agency in order to resolve all outstanding questions with regard to its nuclear programme. Considerable progress has been achieved in recent months with Iran presenting a declaration of activities to the IAEA and signing and implementing an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the agency. The process is, however, still ongoing and the director general will present another report to the board of governors at its next meeting which begins on 8 March.

During the IAEA's ongoing verification activities in Iran, questions arose regarding the source of equipment imported for use in Iran's programme. The agency signalled its intention to follow up on information received about the origins of such material, including with other relevant parties. The most recent resolution of the board of governors, adopted by consensus in November 2003, also reiterates that the urgent, full and close co-operation with the agency of all third countries is essential in the clarification of outstanding questions concerning Iran's nuclear programme. I would expect that the report of the director general to the board of governors next month will contain further information in this regard.

I am aware of the recent developments in Pakistan with regard to proliferation activities. Such revelations are, of course, a cause of concern and I would urge Pakistan to ensure a full investigation of these activities and to offer all assistance and co-operation required or requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency, particularly with regard to its ongoing verification activities in Iran and Libya. The director general will report on the agency's activities in both of these countries at the board of governors meeting on 8 March.

The IAEA, however, is not charged with implementing or overseeing export controls, which are a matter for each individual country. As more details about this trade in sensitive nuclear technology emerge, all countries will need to examine how to improve and reinforce export control systems to combat these activities. Ireland has always taken the view that export control systems are a necessary complement to the international treaty and verification systems. The importance of strengthening export controls is highlighted in the recently adopted EU strategy against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (108, 109)

Paul McGrath

Question:

100 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Iraq; if he will further report on the situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4284/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

With regard to Iraq, I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 83 and 84.

On 11 December 2003, I made a statement to the House concerning the situation in Afghanistan. Progress towards re-establishing a democratic civil government in Afghanistan continues. A constitution was approved by the constitutional Loya Jirga on 4 January 2004. The constitution observes the United Nations Charter and respects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while establishing the centrality of Islam. It also provides for an office of president and a national assembly. Voter registration, under the auspices of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, began on 1 December in a number of provinces. Presidential and national assembly elections are expected to take place in the second half of this year.

On 14 October 2003, the United Nations Security Council agreed unanimously to authorise the extension of the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, to 20 December 2004, and to authorize the expansion of ISAF's mandate outside Kabul and its environs.

Progress has also been made on the creation of a national police force and reform of the national army. The first battalions of the army have begun military operations alongside coalition forces. The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process began on 24 October in the northern province of Kunduz, and has continued in a number of provinces, and in Kabul city.

Nevertheless, a number of serious problems continue to confront Afghanistan: the security situation continues to give cause for concern; the economy is still in dire straits; and poppy cultivation is a large and growing industry. On the political front, the ATA's writ largely does not run beyond Kabul, and there has been little progress in forcing regional governors to submit tax revenue to the central government. Socially and culturally, tribal divisions run deep.

Political, security and development issues are on the agenda for an EU ministerial Troika to Afghanistan on 17 February 2004, which I will lead. These issues will also be addressed by an international conference on Afghanistan, which will take place in Berlin, most likely at the end of March.

Question No. 101 answered with QuestionNo. 23.
Question No. 102 answered with QuestionNo. 44.
Question No. 103 answered with QuestionNo. 20.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

104 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a public inquiry can be established into the Government's decision to collude with the illegal invasion of Iraq to address the revelations that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction and did not pose as an imminent threat, in keeping with the US and British Governments' commitments to hold inquiries. [4350/04]

View answer

The decision of the US and UK Governments to establish inquiries into the quality of intelligence which led them to conclude that Iraq posed an imminent threat to international peace and security through its possession of weapons of mass destruction has no direct parallel for Ireland. The Government never claimed to have national intelligence to this effect and there is consequently no question of the Government establishing an inquiry.

In arriving at a view on the threat posed by Iraq, the Government, like most governments around the world, was guided by a number of factors: first, the hard evidence that Iraq had at one time been in possession of chemical weapons and had used them both in its war with Iran and against its own people; second, that it had sought to develop nuclear weapons capability; third, that it had persistently defied the demands of the Security Council that it verifiably dismantle its WMD capabilities; fourth, that it refused to co-operate fully with UN weapons inspectors; finally, that the UN inspectors were not satisfied that Iraq had accounted for its stocks of WMD. The Government did not base its position on intelligence provided by either the US or theUK.

I reject the Deputy's assertion that the Government colluded in the invasion of Iraq. The Government came before this House on 20 March 2003 and put forward a motion, which was approved by the Dáil, regretting that the coalition had found it necessary to launch its campaign in the absence of a further resolution of the UN Security Council. The reasons underlying the Government's decision to maintain overflight and landing arrangements were set out in the Dáil during the debate and the Government's decision was endorsed in the motion approved by the Dáil.

Question No. 105 answered with QuestionNo. 44.

Local Employment Service.

Questions (110)

Pat Breen

Question:

106 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if FÁS has commenced its assessment of the labour market in County Clare; if contact has been made by the director general of FÁS with LES workers who are on industrial dispute in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4387/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

A meeting was held in the Dáil on Wednesday, 21 January 2004, between myself and representatives of Clare local employment service staff to discuss the closure of the LES. Also present were a number of other Clare public representatives including Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, Senator Daly, Senator Dooley, a board member of Clare LES, representatives of Clare LES staff, departmental officials and representatives of FÁS.

Staff and union representatives expressed their concerns at the decision by the board to close. I pointed out that while the board of Clare LES was made up of representatives from the statutory and voluntary sectors, and the operation of the service was funded by FÁS, it was nonetheless a separate legal entity and I had no function in relation to the internal workings of a body of this kind.

I requested FÁS to undertake an assessment of the labour market needs of the Clare region in the context of the closure of the LES. As part of this assessment FÁS would bring forward recommendations on the type of employment service activity necessary to address the particular needs of marginalized client groups in the region.

I subsequently advised the director general of FÁS of my wishes in this regard. FÁS has advised that work has commenced on this assessment and it will consult with relevant parties in Clare, including staff representatives and SIPTU.

EU Presidency.

Questions (111, 112)

Joe Higgins

Question:

107 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will put in the public domain documents being presented by the Government to the EU Article 133 committee meeting to be held in Dublin on 20 February 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4389/04]

View answer

Joe Higgins

Question:

108 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the EU Article 133 committee meeting to be held in Dublin on 20 February 2004 will be put in the public domain; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4390/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 107 and 108 together.

Documents and reports presented to and circulated for discussion at 133 committee meetings are internal negotiating documents in the context of international multilateral trade talks and as such are restricted to members of the committee. In accordance with EU treaty provisions trade policy is a Community competence. This means that the European Commission initiates proposals which are submitted to the 133 consultative committee, as designated by the treaty, prior to their submission for approval by Council.

Hence, documents circulated for discussion at the 133 committees contain information communicated in confidence to officials within an international institution representative of all EU member states.

As the Article 133 committees are created under the EU treaty provisions as consultative bodies to the European Commission, it is not the practice to publicise their discussions.

Job Creation.

Questions (113)

John Bruton

Question:

109 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her plans to improve the jobs ratio, that is, the ratio of jobs in a locality to the labour force resident in that locality, in County Meath from its present unsatisfactory level of 0.49, in order to minimise the necessity for persons in Meath to commute outside the county for employment. [4441/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

Regional development is a key objective for my Department and the enterprise support agencies each have specific operational activities designed to encourage a redirection of employment and economic development away from Dublin. To ensure there is coherence in our aims, these new regional commitments align with the Government's national strategic objectives as detailed in the national spatial strategy.

In order to give effect to the national spatial strategy at regional level, the Dublin and mid-east regional authorities have prepared draft regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area. The draft guidelines indicate policy priorities for economic development including regional employment and job creation. The settlement strategy in the draft guidelines emphasises the need to reinforce the development of the major hinterland towns, and this will contribute to maintaining or improving the jobs ratio for the local authority areas in which they are created. The closing date for submissions on the draft guidelines is 5 March 2004.

Increased residential zoning by Meath County Council, especially adjacent to the county boundary and transport corridors has helped the county population grow by about 24,000 since the 1996 census. This has facilitated people live in the county and work in Dublin.

The spatial contrasts between parts of Meath close to Dublin and north Meath are acknowledged in the national spatial strategy. Rural areas that have experienced decline relative to rural settlements will have that trend reversed through a focus on boosting the development capacity of smaller villages and rural towns and supporting the housing needs of the rural community.

Last July I set up the enterprise strategy group. In developing a vision for enterprise policy and employment, I asked its chairman, Eoin O'Driscoll, to take into account an appropriate balance between the regions as set out in the national spatial strategy. Notwithstanding these activities, our commitment to balanced regional development involves working with local communities and authorities to reinforce regional strengths and use them as a catalyst to further skilled employment, to buttress the sustainability of existing employment and to accelerate the necessary and growing trend towards higher value output.

Distinctive county attributes are an important aspect of this development work and the enterprise support agencies under my Department have a strong commitment, at county level, to meet demanding targets for company support, development and growth. This involves a determined interaction with county authorities to spur necessary improvement in both infrastructure and the environment for business in Meath. These agencies are represented on the Meath County Development Board and associated teams.

New initiatives have arisen from this involvement including a special Navan-based, pilot FÁS traineeship scheme to service insurance administration. This commenced in February 2003 and was developed at the request of the IDA, Navan Chamber of Commerce and the Meath county development team to support important investors in this sector who are expanding employment. For example, in September 2003 the IDA board approved a 57-job expansion project from Generali International at the Navan Business Park. This expansion will see employment grow to 92 in Generali's financial services project. Meanwhile, Europ Assistance has engaged in an extensive recruitment programme which will see an additional 50 staff added to the current workforce.

Due to the closure of some foreign enterprises at Navan Business Park last year, the IDA has accelerated the level of itinerary visits there and is hopeful this will result in securing replacement projects for the park. The IDA is actively working with Meath County Council's new investment manager, in marketing these facilities and securing the provision of all required infrastructure facilities in the county.

Furthermore, there are three advance office buildings at planning permission stage and one advance technology building, while planning permission and IDA agreement have been received for the conversion of Athlumney House in Navan to provide 29,000 sq. ft. of office space. The location has been included in several itinerary visits. A new 60 acre business park is under infrastructural development within the county and adjacent to Drogheda. This will bring expanded opportunities for both employment and local authority funding, through rates, to County Meath.

There are 180 Enterprise Ireland client companies in Meath employing 4,241 people. Enterprise Ireland will continue its policy of encouraging growth and development in those companies as well as encouraging new high potential start-ups in the county.

Over the past ten years projects in County Meath have received over €4.4 million in grant aid from the Meath County Enterprise Board. The board has assisted projects that created 872 full time jobs and 211 part-time jobs. During 2003, 110 people attended start your own business courses and a further 130 entrepreneurs attended management development, IT and marketing courses. A further 216 individuals availed of business advice and counselling while 18 businesses received individual mentoring. The board is encouraging entrepreneurship and self employment in the county to build an enterprise climate that will encourage more new and creative business start-ups.

The board has been instrumental in developing and operating the Navan Enterprise Centre, containing 75,000 square feet of enterprise and office space and where in excess of 150 people are currently working. The board, in conjunction with Kells Town Council, is also working on the development of a 25,000 sq. ft. enterprise centre. Construction is anticipated to commence in October 2004. These are further indicators of State support to improve the employment potential and enterprise infrastructure for County Meath.

Insurance Industry.

Questions (114)

Finian McGrath

Question:

110 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding insurance legislation in regard to home insurance and damage by river floods. [4486/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

I no longer have a legislative function in insurance matters.

The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority has responsibility for the regulation and supervision of insurance undertakings since 1 May 2003. The particular issue raised by the Deputy may be of interest to the consumer director of IFSRA and I will draw her attention to it.

While I still retain responsibility for the insurance reform programme my concern is in improving the functioning of the Irish insurance market and reducing the overall cost of insurance to consumers and business. The pricing and underwriting of insurance is a matter for individual insurance companies and EU law prevents Governments from intervening directly in relation to premium levels or the risks that insurers are prepared to underwrite.

Job Protection.

Questions (115)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

111 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps she can take to assist a company (details supplied) in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4494/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

In recent years, Enterprise Ireland has invested in both the expansion of facilities and new product development in this company in an effort to maintain its competitiveness. The agency has also worked closely with the company to develop new export opportunities.

However, it is understood that increasing costs have adversely affected the competitiveness of the company's products in its main market, Europe, where demand is also affected by seasonal factors. As a result, the company has decided to close for six weeks commencing on 20 February, 2004. Enterprise Ireland will be meeting the company to review the situation.

Hazardous Substances.

Questions (116, 117, 118, 119)

Dan Boyle

Question:

112 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans she has to strengthen regulations on placing child resistant tops on all containers with chemical substances. [4503/04]

View answer

Dan Boyle

Question:

113 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the proposal she has to increase the size of hazardous warning labels on domestic use products. [4504/04]

View answer

Dan Boyle

Question:

115 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she sees value in a media campaign raising awareness of the dangers of household chemicals. [4507/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112, 113 and 115 together.

The principal legislative provisions covering warning labels on dangerous substance products are contained in the European Communities (Classification, Packaging, Labelling and Notification of Dangerous Substances) Regulations, 2003 and the use of products by the European Communities (Dangerous Substances and Preparations) (Marketing and Use) Regulations, 2003. These regulations, enforced by the Health and Safety Authority, transpose into Irish law and implement the latest EU directives in the dangerous substances area.

The Director of Consumer Affairs, in her role as the enforcement agency for the European Communities General Product Safety Regulations, 1997, has responsibility for the market surveillance of products covered by the EU general product safety directive. This entails ensuring that items placed on the market do not present a risk to the safety of persons or animals.

The director is not aware of any demand for the placing of child resistant tops on all containers with chemical substances or for an increase in the size of hazardous warning labels on domestic use products over and above that contained in the relevant legislative provisions.

Implementation of the regulations governing the labelling and use of dangerous substances is designed to alert users, in the most effective manner, as to the potential dangers associated with such products and to heighten the general level of awareness of the public in their use of substances of this nature.

Dan Boyle

Question:

114 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will request that the Health and Safety Authority conducts a report on the use and effects of chemicals in the workplace. [4506/04]

View answer

The Health and Safety Authority's programme of work for 2004 stresses that inspection, workplace advice, investigation and enforcement activities of the authority are a key tool in achieving its vision of a safe and healthy working life.

In 2004, the authority is committed to focusing on achieving improvements in a number of the high priority issues including chemical safety.

I am satisfied that the authority has committed itself to an extensive and comprehensive programme of work on chemical safety generally in 2004, and, therefore, I do not propose to request the authority to conduct any special report on the use and effects of chemicals in the workplace.

Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 112.

Milk Quota.

Questions (120)

John Cregan

Question:

116 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason entrants to the milk quota restructuring scheme (details supplied) were not allocated quota despite the fact that all applicants were under 35 years of age and all applications submitted were in order; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4443/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Co-operatives dairies are required to operate the milk quota restructuring scheme in their own collection area according to detailed rules laid down by the Department as provided for in the milk quota regulations.

I am aware that a number of applicants, including the named persons, have raised issues concerning the operation of the scheme by a particular milk purchaser. My Department has sought clarification from the milk purchaser in question in regard to the matter raised and the applicants concerned will be advised of the Department's findings in the matter.

Economic Competitiveness.

Questions (121)

John Bruton

Question:

117 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement on the implications for Irish business, exports and inward investment of the rise in the euro relative to the dollar; his views on the reason this currency adjustment is taking place; and whether the global imbalances underlying it are likely to be rectified in the medium term. [4395/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

As Minister for Finance, I have not commented in the past on the euro exchange rate and I do not now propose to make any specific comment on it.

In terms of the impact on the Irish economy, the recent appreciation of the euro against the dollar, if sustained, may affect our capacity to achieve the growth rates projected in the budget. However, it is worth noting that the very limited movement in the euro and sterling exchange rate would tend to mitigate some of the potentially negative effects of an appreciation of the euro on the Irish economy.

The euro-dollar appreciation has a number of impacts. On the positive side, it lowers inflation by reducing the cost of imports priced in dollars. On the negative side, it reduces the competitiveness of Irish firms exporting to non-euro and sterling countries and demand for Irish goods in the euro area. That is why competitiveness is a priority for this Government. We must remain vigilant to the risks to our competitiveness, such as domestic wage and price inflation, otherwise jobs will be at risk.

Teachers' Pensions.

Questions (122)

Joan Burton

Question:

118 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance when he proposes to bring forward his proposed changes to teachers' conditions of service and pension entitlements; if this will require legislation; when he proposes to bring these changes before Dáil Éireann; and when he proposes to implement them. [4378/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I take it that the Deputy is referring to my announcement in budget 2004 of the Government's decision that most new entrant public servants, including teachers, should be subject to a minimum pension age of 65 years, and should not be subject to a compulsory retirement age.

Giving effect to these reforms requires legislative change, and to this end I intend to introduce the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 in the Oireachtas shortly. Subject to this Bill being enacted the changes will take effect on 1 April 2004.

The changes in question will not generally affect serving teachers or serving public servants.

Tax Credits.

Questions (123)

Pat Carey

Question:

119 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance if he will re-examine the application by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 for the incapacitated child allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4440/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the incapacitated child tax credit was granted in July 2003 on receipt of a telephone call from the child's mother, subject to a medical report being submitted confirming the extent of the child's incapacity.

Section 465 (2) (a) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 requires that the incapacity of the child must be such that it permanently prevents the child from being able in the long term, that is, when over 18 years of age, to maintain himself or herself independently.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a medical report was submitted but it did not contain sufficient information and a further report was requested. The second report did not indicate that the child would be unable to maintain himself when over the age of 18 years. Accordingly, the incapacitated child tax credit was not due. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that if a further medical report is submitted, the matter will be reviewed.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they do not propose to withdraw the incapacitated child tax credit already granted for 2003.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (124, 125, 126)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

120 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he expects through the EU and the UN to make a positive impact on the situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4468/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

121 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the degree to which he has had discussions through the EU and the UN with the US authorities in relation to the restoration of peace and stability in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4469/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

122 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he has used his influence with the UK authorities to bring about peace and stability in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4470/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 to 122, inclusive, together.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 83 answered today, which addresses the issues raised in this question.

Partnership for Peace.

Questions (127)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

123 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the recent developments in regard to defence, security and peace in the EU context with particular reference to the future role of PfP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4471/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The basic principles underlying the Partnership for Peace, PfP, as set out in the PfP framework document of January 1994, remain unchanged. This document sets out the political purposes of PfP which include the protection of human rights, the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace, the promotion of democracy, the maintenance of the principles of international law, and the fulfilment of the obligations of the UN Charter, and of OSCE commitments. A key principle which applies is that of self-differentiation whereby each PfP country determines the nature, scope and limits of its participation.

A key aspect of PfP membership from Ireland's perspective lies in the core principle of self differentiation, whereby each country participates according to its own interests and priorities. Ireland has focused on co-operation in the area of peacekeeping. The development of enhanced interoperability with other PfP countries is improving our ability to undertake peacekeeping operations in a safe and effective manner.

The Deputy will be aware that the number of non-NATO countries participating in PfP will fall from 27 to 20 in June 2004, after the accession process is completed for those countries that were invited in November 2002 to join NATO; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Deputy will also be aware that in the separate and distinct context of the European Union, European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP, became operational during the course of 2003 with a strong focus on undertaking crisis management and humanitarian missions. During that year, the EU undertook two police missions, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The EU also launched two military crisis management and humanitarian operations, one in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the other in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter operation, in which Ireland participated, was undertaken at the request of the United Nations and was successful in relieving a situation of great humanitarian distress.

Ireland's ability to make a meaningful contribution to UN-authorised missions is undoubtedly enhanced by its participation in Partnership for Peace activities. PfP has proved itself an important framework for co-operation in areas appropriate to the so-called Petersberg Tasks which include humanitarian, peacekeeping, crisis management and rescue activities. This can also be seen by the participation in PfP of all our EU partners, including the other neutral and non-aligned states.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Questions (128)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

124 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent discussions with his EU colleagues in the matter of European defence and security; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4472/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Developments in the European security and defence policy area are a regular theme for discussion among EU Foreign Ministers, both meeting collectively at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council and in bilateral contacts. I most recently met with the Foreign Ministers of the other EU member states and accession states at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 26 and 27 January.

A particular issue discussed at this meeting was the theme of conflict prevention, which is an integral part of European security and defence policy. The council noted the Irish Presidency's ideas in the area of conflict prevention which include, among other aspects, an increased focus on early warning leading to early preventive action and on longer term conflict prevention strategies drawing on the full range of tools at the EU's disposal. The council also discussed Ireland's intention, as Presidency, to submit a report to the European Council in June 2004 on the implementation of the EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts.

I have also recently discussed European security and defence policy at a number of bilateral meetings with my EU colleagues. I have taken these opportunities to inform my colleagues on Ireland's Presidency priorities in this area. In this regard, an important priority is to facilitate preparatory work for a possible EU follow-on mission to the current UN authorised, NATO led mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Another priority of the Irish Presidency will be to facilitate the ongoing balanced development of both the EU's military and civilian capabilities for crisis management.

I expect to discuss these and other issues relating to European security and defence policy at upcoming meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 60.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (129, 130)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

126 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the procedures that have been put in place to ensure that international aid is reaching those for whom it was intended on the African continent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4474/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

127 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself that all international aid is now reaching its intended targets throughout Africa with reference to the need to eliminate interference from corrupt or illegal organisations or regimes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4475/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 127 together.

Issues at the heart of effective delivery of assistance to poor people in least developed countries include clear objectives, a well-articulated strategy for delivery and good oversight and accountability.

As the Deputy will be aware, the central objectives of the Irish programme of development co-operation continue to be the reduction of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development. Meeting the basic human needs of some of the poorest people in the world and improving their access to food, water, health services, sanitation, education and employment are key goals of the bilateral development programme, of our interaction with multilateral institutions and of our engagement with and through NGOs.

The main geographical focus of the bilateral programme is sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest region in the world. Within the framework of three-year country strategy papers, CSPs, Development Co-operation Ireland provides long-term development assistance to seven programme countries, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Zambia, as well as South Africa. In line with other donors, we operate in partnership with the Governments of these countries and agree our strategies with them to ensure that our interventions respond effectively to their development needs. We help to build up the capacity of these Governments to manage their own affairs, which in turn strengthens their sense of ownership of the whole development process.

This more integrated and harmonised approach, focused on assisting poor countries to do things for themselves, is a major advance on the previous project-type engagement and has delivered positive and substantive results.

An agreed strategy also directs our engagement with the UN agencies. Our relationship with the larger Irish NGOs is underpinned by a multi-annual programme scheme, MAPS, while in the programme countries all of our country strategies outline the nature of our relationship with local non-government organisations.

A key issue, when one is operating in an environment of dire poverty and the corruption usually associated with it, is to have robust processes for oversight and accountability. The Development Co-operation Ireland programme provides this through a rigorous system of evaluation, monitoring and audit. All accounts and expenditure are audited. There is a strong, comprehensive monitoring process, which acts as a quality control on the programme. The evaluation approach allows for a forensic examination of interventions to measure effectiveness and identify lessons learned. These systems are reviewed regularly and updated as necessary.

Sub-Saharan Africa.

Questions (131)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

128 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to combating starvation and ill health in the various African countries which are experiencing difficulties in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4476/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I am deeply conscious of the enormity of the challenges facing African nations as they seek to build the foundations of economic and social development, often in a climate of hunger, disease and endemic poverty. The reduction of poverty, food insecurity and disease, including HIV/AIDS, are some of the most important tasks to which the international community can dedicate itself in the 21st century.

In regions such as southern Africa, it has become apparent that the impact of HIV/AIDS, both as a cause and a feature of food insecurity crisis, has been underestimated. The far-reaching social impact of the pandemic has created a completely new spectrum of vulnerable groups such as AIDS-orphans and child-headed households that are lacking the most basic of coping strategies.

Ireland responds in two ways to the humanitarian and development needs of Africa. In the short term we focus on saving lives in the most effective way possible, through direct assistance via the UN system and international agencies as well as non-governmental organisations, NGOs. In the longer term Ireland's development programme tackles the structural reasons underlying endemic poverty.

Last year the Government's humanitarian assistance to African countries amounted to more than €20 million. Humanitarian interventions were designed to reduce the effects of famine, disease and conflict on some of the most vulnerable populations in Africa, with a particular emphasis on women and children.

Over the past three years, the volume of development co-operation Ireland funds committed to HIV/AIDS has increased ten-fold. In 2002 alone, over €40 million was spent on HIV/AIDS programmes. On a multilateral level, Ireland is a strong advocate and supporter of the global fund for AIDS, TB and malaria and the international AIDS vaccine initiative.

Our direct humanitarian and development assistance is complemented by ongoing political action. In relation to food insecurity, we have been working closely with our partners in the EU and the UN to develop strategies on how immediate needs can best be met at national and regional level.

In November last, Ireland hosted the launch of the 2004 UN humanitarian appeal. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, represented the UN at the event. The appeal is a key instrument for the humanitarian community and acts as the principal vehicle for strategic planning and resource mobilisation. It facilitates effective and efficient responses to famines and other emergencies by fostering collaboration among key humanitarian agencies including NGOs, donors and host Governments. In hosting the launch, I highlighted chronic humanitarian emergencies, particularly in Africa, which have faded from public consciousness or indeed have never been funded sufficiently.

At EU level, Ireland will host an informal meeting of the humanitarian aid committee in Dublin next March. This meeting will bring together senior representatives from the humanitarian offices in member states and the Commission to share information in relation to the management and implementation of humanitarian aid.

If we are to break the cyclical nature of food insecurity, disease and conflict in Africa, the underlying structural problems affecting poverty and stability must be addressed. Ireland has strong development partnerships with six countries in sub-Saharan Africa and delivered development assistance of approximately €150 million last year to these countries. Through these partnerships, Ireland fully engages with the Governments, donors, EU and UN agencies on the basis of poverty reduction strategy plans, PRSPs. The PRSPs outline how each country prioritises resources and policies with the objective of reducing poverty. These programmes contain a strong governance element throughout to assist in the building of democratic structures, the rule of law and a culture of respect for human rights.

This comprehensive and African-owned approach by donors, Governments and civil societies stands the best chance of reversing the downward spiral of economic and social indicators in sub-Saharan Africa, reducing conflict and facilitating real and positive change in the lives of millions of Africans.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (132)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

129 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he and other EU colleagues are monitoring events in the Balkans with reference to ensuring that events in the relatively recent past do not reoccur and that outstanding issues, when possible, are dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The consolidation of peace and stability in the western Balkans remains an important political priority for the European Union. Events in the region are reviewed at each of the monthly meetings of General Affairs and External Relations Council. I have assured my colleagues on the Council, and the countries of the region, that Ireland will continue to accord the western Balkans high priority throughout our EU Presidency.

The institutional framework for the development of relations with the region was confirmed at the EU-western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003, which agreed a shared agenda for progress. The objective of the eventual integration of the countries of the western Balkans into the EU will be met through progress in the strengthened stabilisation and association process and implementation of the series of agreements which brought an end to the tragic conflicts in the region over the past 12 years. For the first time ever, all the countries of the western Balkans now have democratically elected Governments. They face the challenge of adopting and implementing difficult and wide-ranging economic, political and administrative reforms. Economic development will only be assured through improvements in regional co-operation.

The rate of progress towards European integration is now largely in the hands of the Governments of the region. The EU will continue to support them fully. Both sides of the relationship made commitments at Thessaloniki, and these must be implemented. We hope that following their elaboration by the Commission and approval by the Council, the expected presentation of European partnerships to each of the countries of the western Balkans will serve to emphasise the reality of the commitment to European integration and of the challenging policy developments required to make further measurable progress.

During Ireland's EU Presidency, the Commission will present its opinion on Croatia's application for EU membership, and, if sufficient progress is made, the feasibility study on the opening of negotiations on a stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro. Macedonia will present its application for membership of the EU at the end of February. Negotiations will continue on an agreement with Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is now engaged in a process of implementation of wide-ranging reforms identified in the Commission feasibility study last November, with a view to a possible decision on the opening of negotiations with the EU later this year.

The situation in Kosovo will also receive close attention. At the request of the Council, High Representative Solana, in consultation with the Commission and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Harri Holkeri, is currently preparing a report on the enhancement of the EU role in support of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1244 in Kosovo. The situation in Kosovo will be discussed at the next meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 23 February.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council last month reviewed the situation in Serbia and Montenegro, following the general elections in Serbia on 28 December 2003. The Council urged all the democratic parties to work together to ensure the early formation of a government committed to the reform agenda and to further progress. The Council emphasised that the EU will give its full support to the efforts of a new democratic government on this basis. It is a cause for concern, however, that the democratic parties have not yet reached agreement on the formation of a government.

Diplomatic Representation.

Questions (133)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

130 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is intended to open further embassies throughout the world; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4478/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The spread of resident Irish missions abroad is reviewed by the Government on an ongoing basis, with decisions to open new missions being based on a thorough assessment of the costs and benefits involved.

In 2001, the Government decided to open new embassies in a number of EU candidate countries on a phased basis, subject to the availability of the necessary resources. New embassies have since been established in Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Cyprus, and also in Brazil. In addition, in order to ensure the most effective management of the enlargement dossier during our Presidency, we have opened offices in Bulgaria and Romania for the period of our Presidency. The opening of additional missions will be kept under ongoing review, in the context of the availability of resources.

Question No. 131 answered with QuestionNo. 34.
Questions Nos. 132 and 133 answered with Question No. 43.

Schools Building Projects.

Questions (134)

Mary Wallace

Question:

134 Ms M. Wallace asked the Minister for Education and Science if there is progress with regards to a case (details supplied), in particular with regard to the application for funding for a set-down area outside the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4391/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The management authority of the school referred to by the Deputy has applied for funding for a set-down area under the summer works scheme 2004.

Applications under this scheme are currently being processed in my Department and details of successful applicants will be published on my Department's website no later than 27 February 2004.

School Closures.

Questions (135)

John Gormley

Question:

135 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Sisters of the Holy Faith have announced the closure of Haddington Road girls' school due to lack of funding; the steps he will take to ensure that the school remains open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4392/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

My Department has been advised of the proposed closure on a phased basis of the school to which the Deputy refers. The Deputy will appreciate that a secondary school is a privately owned and managed institution and a decision to close such a school is a matter for the trustees.

My main concern in a school closure is to ensure that the best interests of the pupils are looked after in the period up to the closure and that there will be sufficient pupils places in existing schools in the general area for pupils who would have normally enrolled in the closing school. This process will involve consultation with all affected parties.

Schools Building Projects.

Questions (136)

Jack Wall

Question:

136 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science if an early solution will be introduced for the major problems affecting a school (details supplied) in County Kildare in regard to safety and hygiene; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4406/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The management authority of the school referred to by the Deputy has applied for funding for works under the summer works scheme 2004. Applications under this scheme are currently being processed in my Department and details of successful applicants will be published on my Department's website no later than 27 February 2004.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Questions (137)

Jack Wall

Question:

137 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science when a visit from the school inspectorate in regard to class sizes will take place as stated by him in regard to a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4407/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I have asked officials from my Department to meet with the management of the school to which the Deputy refers.

Schools Building Projects.

Questions (138)

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

138 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give priority to St. Colmcille's junior school for its application for €230,000 from the summer works scheme 2004, which represents only a portion of their actual need; and if the extension building for whichit lodged an application in 2000 will be expedited. [4414/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Applications made to my Department under the summer works scheme will be assessed in strict accordance with the published criteria for the scheme.

Applications under the scheme are currently being processed in my Department and details of successful applicants will be published on my Department's website no later than 27 February 2004.

With regard to the provision of additional accommodation at St. Colmcille's junior school, this project is currently awaiting the appointment of a design team. As I announced when publishing the capital programme for 2004, my Department is holding consultations with the education partners on the prioritisation criteria used for large-scale building projects. The purpose of these consultations is to ensure that the criteria have optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post primary sectors. When the consultations have been completed, a review of all projects awaiting the appointment of a design team will be undertaken and a further list of priority projects will be brought forward to commence architectural planning. The proposed project at St. Colmcille's junior school will be included in this review.

In addition, a key strategy going forward will be grounded on the budget day announcement of multi-annual allocations for capital investment in education projects. All projects that are not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme will be re-evaluated with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual building programme from 2005 onwards.

School Staffing.

Questions (139)

Batt O'Keeffe

Question:

139 Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason sports and society officers at Cork Institute of Technology have not been granted a grade 5 position in line with similar posts in other institutes of technology. [4450/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The persons in question are not employed as part of the authorised staffing allocation approved by my Department for Cork Institute of Technology. I understand Cork Institute of Technology is funding these posts from the student services charges paid to the institute by students and that the persons in question are employed on a temporary contract basis. The terms and conditions of employment attaching to contract posts funded from the student services charge are generally determined by the employing institute.

Schools Building Projects.

Questions (140)

John Perry

Question:

140 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the situation regarding schools (details supplied) in the schools building programme 2004; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the teachers and children are in totally inadequate sub-standard accommodation and that the local contribution of €25,000 has been raised since 2001; if he will give a firm guarantee that the amalgamation of accommodation will proceed immediately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4508/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The proposed large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at stage 3, detailed plans/costs, of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 1 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The proposed project will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004. Indicative timescales have been included for large-scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Sports Funding.

Questions (141)

John Perry

Question:

141 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, further to Parliamentary Question No. 200 of 25 June 2003 on an application for funding of a sports field in County Leitrim, the progress made on this application and the amount of money allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4509/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I refer the Deputy to Question No. 304 on this matter to which I replied on Tuesday last, 10 February.

Hospital Services.

Questions (142, 143, 144)

Dan Boyle

Question:

142 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Health and Children if he intends to allow for regional offices of the national poisons centre to be established. [4505/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The National Poisons Information Centre, which is based at Beaumont Hospital, provides a national telephone information service, primarily to health care professionals. It provides information on the toxicity, features and management of poisoning from a wide range of agents including pharmaceuticals, household products, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, pesticides and plants.

The Eastern Regional Health Authority is responsible for the funding of services at Beaumont Hospital. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to have the matter raised by the Deputy examined in consultation with Beaumont Hospital and to reply to him directly.

Michael Ring

Question:

143 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a prostate operation in Galway. [4384/04]

View answer

The provision of services to residents of County Mayo is the responsibility of the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Pat Breen

Question:

144 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children if the 24 hour accident and emergency services at Ennis General Hospital will be maintained despite the recommendations of the Hanly report; and if funding will be allocated to upgrade and refurnish accident and emergency services at Ennis General Hospital in view of the fact that a design team has now been put in place to prepare the outline development control plan. [4385/04]

View answer

The report of the national task force on medical staffing, the Hanly report, proposes that Ennis General Hospital should form part of an integrated network, alongside Limerick Regional Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, Nenagh, and St. John's Hospital, Limerick to meet the acute hospital needs of the mid-west region. The report recommends that Ennis General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, Nenagh, and St. John's Hospital, Limerick should be local hospitals within the network.

The Hanly report recommends that local hospitals should provide a wide range of services as close as possible to the local community, meeting most of the local population's need for acute hospital care. This would include a greatly expanded proportion of elective day surgery and elective medical procedures, appropriate diagnostic and treatment facilities and improved access for general practitioners to services and diagnostic facilities.

I will shortly announce details of a local implementation group, which will develop a detailed action plan for the implementation of the Hanly report's recommendations in the mid-western region. The group will examine how best to provide accident and emergency services in each local hospital in the context of the Hanly proposals. The report envisages that a very high proportion of cases presenting to accident and emergency units would continue to be treated in local hospitals such as Ennis. The exact opening hours of each unit would be influenced by the volume of cases presenting at different times over the 24 hour period.

The next step in the process of developing the physical infrastructure at Ennis General Hospital will be the preparation of an outline development control plan and I have recently approved the appointment of the design team to prepare this. The plan will be prepared having regard to the development brief prepared by the project team which sets out the broad scope of the proposed future development at Ennis General Hospital and identified the priority areas for development.

Health Professionals.

Questions (145)

Richard Bruton

Question:

145 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the credentials which are required for a person to operate as a chiropractor; the circumstances in which such a practitioner can administer x-rays; and the supervision of professional practise or investigation of alleged mistreatment which applied in relation to such practitioners. [4408/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Chiropractors are not currently authorised to administer x-rays. The European Communities (Medical Ionising Radiation) Regulations, 2002 give effect to Council Directive 97/43/EURATOM on health protection of individuals against the dangers of ionising radiation in respect of medical exposures. Under the regulations persons who are entitled to take clinical responsibility for an individual medical exposure are those whose names are entered on (a) the register established under section 26 of the Medical Practitioners Act 1978; (b) the register established under section 26 of the Dentists Act 1985; and (c) such other register or registers as the Minister for Health and Children may from time to time establish.

I have not yet established any register under (c). However, my Department has established a medical exposure directive advisory group, MEDAG, to draw up the requirements for inclusion in such a register. MEDAG is currently examining the training requirements as outlined in the directive including theoretical knowledge and practical experience in radiological practice and radiation protection. When finalised, persons who meet the requirements, including chiropractors, would be entitled to registration under the European Communities (Medical Ionising Radiation) Regulations, 2002.

There are currently no statutory regulation requirements for chiropractors in Ireland. Moreover, chiropractors are not employed in the public health service and therefore their qualifications are not subject to the requirements of the Health Act 1970. It is the responsibility of every individual practitioner providing health care services to the public to ensure that they are trained and qualified to the level required to work safely within their area of competence.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Questions (146, 147)

Jack Wall

Question:

146 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications for the nursing home subvention submitted in County Kildare in each of the past three years; the number accepted for payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4409/04]

View answer

Jack Wall

Question:

147 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications for the enhanced nursing subvention submitted in County Kildare for each of the past three years; the number of successful applications; his plans to increase the subvention payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4410/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 146 and 147 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Kildare area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board, under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Questions (148)

Jack Wall

Question:

148 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the number on the waiting list for beds in Naas General Hospital; the actions his Department is taking to alleviate the overcrowding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4411/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of services at Naas General Hospital rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine the matters raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Health Board Services.

Questions (149, 150)

Mary Upton

Question:

149 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 receives assistance from the South Western Area Health Board. [4419/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of health services in the Dublin 8 area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board. It acts under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the authority's chief executive to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

Mary Upton

Question:

150 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children the position on applications for persons (details supplied) under the scheme for community support for older people. [4420/04]

View answer

The provision of health services in the Dublin 12 and 6W areas is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the SWAHB which acts under the aegis of the ERHA. My Department has asked the authority's chief executive to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

National Lottery Funding.

Questions (151)

Paul McGrath

Question:

151 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be made on an application by a group (details supplied) for a grant towards the purchase of a minibus for the disabled. [4435/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

I expect that a decision on the national lottery funding application from the Mallow area wheelchair support group will issue shortly.

Health Board Services.

Questions (152)

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

152 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of elderly people approved for subvention but awaiting confirmation that the health boards in the ERHA area are in a position to release funds; and if he will provide this information and in respect of each health board area. [4436/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of health services is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the ERHA. My Department has asked its CEO to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

Medical Cards.

Questions (153)

John McGuinness

Question:

153 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children if a medical card will be granted on appeal to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if a decision in this case will be expedited. [4461/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the CEO of the relevant health board or authority. My Department has asked the CEO of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Questions (154)

John McGuinness

Question:

154 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children if an early appointment can be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who is waiting for a hip operation; and if the matter will be expedited. [4462/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of services for people resident in County Kilkenny is, in the first instance, a matter for the SEHB. My Department has asked its CEO to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Foreign Adoptions.

Questions (155)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

155 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the position of child adoption from Vietnam; if a bilateral agreement between our countries has been completed; and if such adoptions can proceed. [4497/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

During 2002 the Vietnamese authorities decided that from the end of 2002 adoptions would only be allowed to countries with a bilateral agreement. Last March I contacted the Irish ambassador and a delegation headed by the Ambassador to Malaysia and Vietnam negotiated a bilateral agreement on inter-country adoption. Ireland and Vietnam signed the agreement and Vietnam ratified it on 7 January.

The Adoption Board has worked with its counterparts in Vietnam to set up the practical arrangements and procedures for Vietnamese adoptions. My Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs have been examining options to enable ratification of the agreement by the State as soon as possible. As this is a State agreement the terms must be examined very closely to ensure that the State can meet its international obligations. The work has been completed and the matter will be brought before the Government shortly with a view to ratifying it within the next fortnight. Under the terms of the agreement adoptions can recommence 30 days after Ireland has ratified the agreement.

Health Board Services.

Questions (156, 157)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

156 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of children who are awaiting orthodontic treatment and assessment in each of the health board areas; and the waiting time for assessment and treatment in respect of each health board area. [4498/04]

View answer

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

157 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the enormous concerns on the part of thousands of parents and their children who are unable to access urgently required orthodontic treatment; and his proposals at this stage to improve the availability of the service. [4499/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 157 together.

The provision of orthodontic services is a matter for the health boards. I have taken a number of measures to improve services on a national basis.

The grade of specialist in orthodontics has been created in the health board orthodontic service. In 2003 my Department and the health boards funded 13 dentists from various health boards for the grade at training programmes in Ireland and three separate universities in the United Kingdom. The 13 trainees for the public orthodontic service are additional to the six dentists that commenced their training in 2001. There is an aggregate of 19 dentists in specialist training for orthodontics. These measures will compliment the structural changes being introduced in the orthodontic service, including the creation of an auxiliary grade of orthodontic therapist.

My Department's commitment to training development is manifested in the funding provided to the training of specialist clinical staff and the recruitment of a professor in orthodontics for the Cork Dental School. The appointment will facilitate the development of an approved training programme leading to specialist qualification in orthodontics. The Southern Health Board's CEO reported that the professor commenced duty on 1 December 2003. In recognition of the importance of the post at the Cork Dental School my Department approved, in principle, a proposal from the school to substantially improve its training facilities for orthodontics. The project should see the construction of a large orthodontic unit and support facilities. Ultimately, it will support an enhanced teaching and treatment service to the wider region under the leadership of the professor of orthodontics.

Under an orthodontic initiative a sum of €4.698 million was provided to the health boards and authority in 2001. It enabled health boards to recruit additional staff, engage the services of private specialist orthodontic practitioners to treat patients and build additional orthodontic facilities.

In June 2002 my Department provided additional funding of €5 million from the treatment purchase fund to health boards specifically for the purchase of orthodontic treatment. It enabled boards to provide additional sessions for existing staff and to purchase treatment from private specialist orthodontic practitioners.

The CEOs of the health boards and authority have informed me of the following information about their waiting lists for December 2003:

Assessment Waiting List

Treatment Waiting List

Average Waiting Time (months)

Category A

Average Waiting Time (months)

Category B

Average Waiting Time (months)

SWAHB

291

3 — 6

644

< 10

474

< 12

ECAHB

100

1 — 3

52

< 6

148

< 24

NAHB

179

3 — 6

45

< 12

2,220

< 24

MHB

287

4

Nil

No waiting time

210

12

MWHB

2,432

24 — 36

Nil

No waiting time

642

24 — 36

NEHB

Nil

No waiting time

9

1.5 — 2

278

12 — 18

NWHB

990

5

156

7

638

28

SEHB

283

3 — 3.5

Nil

No waiting time

644

17

SHB

4,034(12 years or older)

According to date of birth (currently 1990)

Nil

No waiting time

3,301

42

WHB

654

10

Nil

No waiting time

759

38

The CEOs have also informed me that at the end of the December quarter 2003 there were 21,295 children receiving orthodontic treatment from the public orthodontic service. This means that there are over twice as many children getting orthodontic treatment as there are children waiting to be treated. An extra 4,000 children have received treatment from the health boards since the end of 2001.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Questions (158)

Brendan Smith

Question:

158 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress in the preparation of a design brief for the proposed outline development control plan for Cavan General Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4500/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Significant work has been undertaken on the preparation of a design brief for the proposed outline development control plan for Cavan General Hospital.

The work has been done as part of the process of agreeing future capital requirements for each of the five acute hospitals in the two hospital groups in the North Eastern Health Board area. Final agreement of the Cavan General Hospital ODCP brief will be subject to the definition of the board's priorities for development on this site in the context of the health capital programme. Funding resources available to progress capital projects nationally under the health capital framework 2004-2008 will also be taken into account.

A detailed submission from the NEHB is expected shortly and will be examined by my Department.

Hospital Services.

Questions (159)

Brendan Smith

Question:

159 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Health and Children if additional resources will be provided for the surgical department, Cavan General Hospital, as requested by the hospital's medical board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4501/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of services at Cavan General Hospital rests with the NEHB. On 3 February I met the board. On 5 February I met representatives of the hospital's medical board to discuss the provision of acute hospital services in the Cavan and Monaghan hospital group. The medical board representatives tabled a number of proposals that are being discussed with the NEHB.

Health Board Funding.

Questions (160)

Brendan Smith

Question:

160 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Health and Children the funding provided to the North Eastern Health Board in the initial allocation for 2003; if additional funding was provided during the year and the total spend by the board during 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4502/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The 2003 original allocation for the NEHB is €483.079 million. Additional funding of €43.195 million was provided during the year giving a 2003 revised allocation of €526.274 million. The additional funding covered items such as parallel benchmarking, an intellectual disability award, miscellaneous service adjustments, including a nursing degree programme and non-pay technical adjustments.

The board's 2003 provisional outturn is €520.333 million. The final figures for 2003 will not be available until the annual financial statements have been prepared and submitted for audit by 1 April.

Driving Tests.

Questions (161)

Pat Breen

Question:

161 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport the number of applications waiting for driving tests in the centres at Shannon, Kilrush and Ennis; the average length of time applicants are waiting for their driving tests in each of these centres; the success rate in 2002 and 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4386/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

The information is as follows:

Test Centre

Applicants awaiting a driving test at 2/2/04

Average weeks waiting at 2/2/04

Pass Rate %

2002

2003*

Kilrush

483

30

59.6

64

Shannon

1,027

42

65

67

Ennis

762

15

59.6

67

*Estimated

Note: The average waiting time is derived having regard to waiting times experienced by individual applicants who have undergone a driving test over the previous four week period in the test centre.

Dublin Port Tunnel.

Questions (162)

Finian McGrath

Question:

162 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Transport if he plans to meet residents groups in the Marino, Fairview and Santry areas regarding super-cube trucks and the Dublin Port tunnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4393/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

My Department engaged Atkins to review the feasibility, safety implications and cost of raising the height of the Dublin Port tunnel. Its final report was received 8 December 2003. At present I am reviewing its findings and I have sought further information from the National Roads Authority pertaining to its conclusions.

I have not received a request to meet the groups to discuss the issue nor do I intend to. Dublin City Council manages the project and has responsibility for traffic management in the area. It consulted, and will continue to do so, the local residents on all aspects of the project.

Rail Network.

Questions (163)

John Bruton

Question:

163 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Transport his plans for the provision of a rail tunnel between Heuston station and Dublin city centre; and the length of time it would take to complete it. [4437/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

Consistent with the Dublin Transportation Office document, entitled Platform for Change, Irish Rail recently completed a study on the feasibility of providing an interconnector tunnel from Heuston Station to the docklands. My Department received the completed study and discussed it which Irish Rail.

I am awaiting a business plan from Irish Rail that will include cost benefit analysis, funding proposals and a proposed timescale. The construction of an interconnector is not part of the company's short-term plans.

Driving Tests.

Questions (164, 165)

Denis Naughten

Question:

164 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the location of driver theory tests in County Roscommon; the frequency; when the next test will be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4439/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

People in County Roscommon can avail of theory tests in Castlerea, County Roscommon and in the adjacent test centres of Carrick-on-Shannon, Longford and Athlone.

Theory tests are arranged by the driver theory testing service. A key performance standard contained in the customer charter for the driver service is that tests are offered at centres, that undertake more than 250 tests per annum, within two weeks of a candidate's preferred date.

Denis Naughten

Question:

165 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the process for reissuing a full licence when it has been lost and the local authority has no record of issuing it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4467/04]

View answer

The holder of a driving licence that is lost, destroyed or mutilated may apply to the licensing authority that granted it for a duplicate. An application should be made on scheduled form D800. An applicant may obtain a copy of the relevant form from the licensing authority.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1961 and the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 1999 to 2001, it is a matter for the appropriate licensing authority to determine the eligibility of a person for a duplicate driving licence and to issue licences.

Light Rail Project.

Questions (166, 167)

Mary Upton

Question:

166 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Transport if he will consult the Railway Procurement Agency on the need to redesign one part of the works associated with the Luas project as it is causing widespread local concern (details supplied). [4491/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

The RPA is responsible for the management of the Luas project. I contacted it about the design of the Rialto bridge and I was informed that the bridge was upgraded to resist the impact of road traffic with a view to preventing vehicles ending up on the alignment below. It prepared five alternative designs for consideration by Dublin City Council and the railway inspection officer before the current design was agreed and constructed.

Mary Upton

Question:

167 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on the proposed fare structure on the Luas; and his views on a competitive pricing structure necessary to reward passengers for using public transport. [4492/04]

View answer

Over the coming month the RPA will make by-laws under section 66 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 fixing,inter alia, fares for travelling on the Luas project. Account will be taken of the following criteria: revenue should at least cover operating costs; fares should be reasonable and competitive relative to other modes; patronage should be maximised and a modal shift to public transport be promoted; and fares should be consistent with concurrent passenger services on adjacent and nearby public transport.

Registration of Title.

Questions (168)

Michael Ring

Question:

168 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding a section 49 application by a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [4381/04]

View answer

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

I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that a section 49 application refers to the acquisition of title by virtue of long possession under the Registration of Titles Act 1964. Itwas lodged on 27 January, dealing No. D2004SM000824D.

These are complicated applications that require detailed examination for registration as owners and can take some time to process. Queries issued to the lodging solicitors on 9 February. The application cannot proceed until they have been satisfactorily resolved. On receipt of a satisfactory reply, the matter will receive further attention in the Land Registry.

Community Policing.

Questions (169)

Seán Ryan

Question:

169 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí of all ranks involved in community policing in Balbriggan Garda station, County Dublin, in respect of the years 1997 to 2003, inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4382/04]

View answer

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

The Garda authorities are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel. They have informed me that there are 52 personnel, all ranks, serving in the Balbriggan district as at 11 February.

One member of Garda rank has been permanently involved in community policing in Balbriggan from 1997 to 2003, inclusive. All gardaí allocated to the Balbriggan district have a role,inter alia, to deal with community policing issues as they arise.

Asylum Applications.

Questions (170)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

170 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the policy of his Department in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers who have a verifiable threat to their lives should they return to their country of origin; if, on foot of the case of a person (details supplied), all Nigerian women seeking asylum here will be refused asylum regardless of whether a death penalty may be awaiting them on their return; if so, the basis upon which this policy was decided; if not, the reason this particular person was refused; if he is considering granting humanitarian leave to remain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4383/04]

View answer

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

It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual applications for asylum. However, all applications for asylum in the State are processed in accordance with the provisions of the Refugee Act 1996, as amended and in particular having due regard to the definition of a "refugee" in section 2 of that Act which states that a "refugee" is a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

The Deputy will be aware that under the Refugee Act 1996, as amended, two independent statutory offices consider applications/appeals for refugee status. These two offices are the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, which considers applications for refugee status at first instance and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which considers appeals from negative recommendations of the Commissioner.

Decisions on asylum applications are made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform upon receipt of the recommendationor decision of the Refugee Applications Commissioner or the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

In considering an asylum claim consideration is given to the subjective and objective elements of the application. The subjective element of an asylum application concerns the applicant's individual circumstances as they are perceived and described by him or her. The objective element of the application concerns the relevant country of origin information which comes from a wide variety of sources including information from organisations such as the UNHCR, Amnesty International, the US State Department, Canadian Boards of Immigration and other EU member states as well as media and Internet sources. In addition to these periodically updated sources, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal have access to up to date news reports regarding events and developments in the countries concerned.

In relation to this particular case, the person in question entered the State on 15 September 2002 and claimed asylum. The Refugee Applications Commissioner recommended that her claim be refused and the applicant was informed of this recommendation on 14 April 2003 and appealed this recommendation on 8 May 2003. The Refugee Appeals Tribunal affirmed the recommendation and the person concerned was informed of this decision on 28 August 2003.

I am further informed that in accordance with section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 the person in question was informed on 26 November 2003 that it was proposed to make a deportation order and was given the following options: to make written representations within 15 working days to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform setting out reasons why she should be allowed to remain in the State, to voluntarily leave the State or to consent to deportation. An application for leave to remain was received from the person's legal representatives on 18 December 2003. I expect the case file to be submitted to me for consideration in the near future.

Juvenile Offenders.

Questions (171)

Pat Breen

Question:

171 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason an application for a justice programme in Kilrush was refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4427/04]

View answer

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

Garda youth diversion projects are a community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seek to divert young persons from becoming involved — or further involved — in anti-social and/or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve long-term employability prospects. By doing so, the projects also contribute to improving the quality oflife within communities and enhancing Garda/community relations. I am committed to their continuing development and, as resources permit, their expansion.

The number of projects has grown from 12 in 1997 to 64 at present, a process made possible in part by funding under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. The locations of the new projects were decided upon by the Garda authorities in conjunction with my Department. As the Deputy may be aware, there is a Garda youth diversion project currently operating in Ennis, County Clare, namely, the Ennis Youth Project. Funding of €103,961 was allocated to the project in the year 2003 and €30,000 has been issued to the project in the year 2004 to date. Further payments will be considered on receipt of audited accounts for the year ended December 2003 and projected expenditure figures for the current year.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that a proposal in respect of a project catering for young people between ten and 18 years in the disadvantaged area of the John Paul Estate in Kilrush was received by the Garda community relations section on 6 November 2002. Further proposals for new diversion projects will be examined within the context of available resources. The application for Kilrush will be kept under review.

EU Presidency.

Questions (172)

John Bruton

Question:

172 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he proposes to take as president of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, to encourage France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to fulfil their obligation to transpose into their domestic law the provisions of the European arrest warrant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4429/04]

View answer

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

I refer the Deputy to myreply to Parliamentary Question No. 275 of Wednesday, 11 February 2004.

Irish Prison Service.

Questions (173)

Sean Fleming

Question:

173 Mr. Fleming asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the earnings of each of the ten prison officers with the lowest earnings including overtime in 2001, 2002 and 2003; and the average weekly earnings in each case. [4442/04]

View answer

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

I have been informed by the Irish Prison Service that the information requested by the Deputy can be obtained but will take some further time to compile. I will write to the Deputy as soon as the information becomes available.

Visa Applications.

Questions (174)

John McGuinness

Question:

174 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a decision will be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who has lodged an application for residency on the basis of their marriage to an Irish national and was informed that a decision would be made in early 2004. [4463/04]

View answer

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

The application to which the Deputy refers is currently coming under consideration. The immigration division of my Department will be in communication with the person concerned in the very near future with a view to bringing the application to a conclusion.

Legislative Provisions.

Questions (175, 176, 177, 178, 179)

John Deasy

Question:

175 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the use of Henry VIII provisions in legislation is constitutionally sound; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4480/04]

View answer

John Deasy

Question:

176 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will give details regarding the use of Henry VIII provisions in legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4481/04]

View answer

John Deasy

Question:

177 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the efforts he has made in the past to examine and stem the use of Henry VIII provisions in legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4482/04]

View answer

John Deasy

Question:

178 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the making of regulations which amend primary legislation in a substantive way pursuant to a Henry VIII provision in legislation is itself constitutionally sound; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4483/04]

View answer

John Deasy

Question:

179 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the statement by persons (details supplied) that any regulation which repeals or amends primary legislation is ipso facto unconstitutional even if this has been explicitly authorised in the parent section; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4484/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 175 to 179, inclusive together.

The interpretation of the law and the provision of legal advice is a matter for the Attorney General in so far as the functions relate to those of Government.

Grant Payments.

Questions (180)

Michael Ring

Question:

180 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive a partial cull ewe payment for 2003, as promised in a previous reply. [4394/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Farmers who joined the rural environment protection scheme, or REPS, during the course of the sheep production year 2003, including the person named, will receive apro rata payment from my Department to cover the loss sustained by them for the months prior to the commencement of their REPS plan. It is expected that these payments will issue shortly.

Departmental Advertising.

Questions (181, 182)

Arthur Morgan

Question:

181 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the fact that it is inappropriate for his Department to use models in promotions for public information campaigns; when he will cease this practise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4421/04]

View answer

Arthur Morgan

Question:

182 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount of money spent by his Department for models who have appeared in promotions for public information campaigns run by his Department in the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4422/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 181 and 182 together.

My Department utilises a number of consultancy firms from time to time to promote awareness of important issues relating to my Department's functions. Invitations to tender would require the successful firms to implement high-impact awareness campaigns including a national campaign launch, information leaflets, design, printing and dissemination of posters, instructional videos, local and national advertising or general media briefing. Subject only to general guidance from my Department the format of public information campaigns and the attached manner in which they are conducted are matters for the selected firms.

Consequently, a detailed breakdown of information as sought in Question No. 182 would not be available in my Department.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Questions (183)

Arthur Morgan

Question:

183 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on where the revenue will be raised for the payment of funds that will result from the State's failure to comply with Kyoto protocol targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4423/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I am satisfied that full implementation of the national climate change strategy over the remainder of the decade, together with any additional measures to be identified in the current review of its implementation, will ensure Ireland's compliance with the Kyoto protocol. In this regard, I refer to the Government's decision, which I announced on 5 February 2004. Among other matters, this makes an indicative allocation of 110.1 million emission allowances available to Irish participants in the EU emissions trading scheme in the period 2008-2012 (the Kyoto phase) inclusive, an average of 22 million per year; it also indicates the Government's intent to purchase allowances on the international market to ensure that Ireland is in possession of sufficient allowances to comply with Kyoto commitments for those sectors of the economy not directly engaged in emissions trading, with the possibility for the purchases to be funded from the CO2 tax to be explored in the consideration of this tax. A total quantity of 18.5 million allowances or 3.7 million per annum is estimated to be sufficient for this purpose, i.e. in respect of emissions reductions in non-trading sectors where the cost of reductions is expected to be significantly above the price of CO2 on the emissions trading markets.

I also indicated that further decisions to be taken by Government in relation to the Kyoto phase will be subject to an evaluation of the operation of EU emissions trading, and its impacts, prior to the finalisation, in June 2006, of the national allocation plan for the Kyoto commitment period.

Planning Issues.

Questions (184)

John Bruton

Question:

184 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the imposition of development levies in the use of their powers by local authorities under the Planning and Development Act 2000 on pollution statement measures (details supplied) and works on listed buildings which are necessary for the upkeep and preservation of those buildings. [4444/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

While the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may comment on a draft development contribution scheme during its consultation period, it is ultimately for the elected members of the planning authorities to determine the classes of development to which the contributions will apply, having regard to the actual cost of providing infrastructure in that area.

Circular letter PD 4/2003 of 27 June 2003 advised planning authorities that a scheme can allow for a lower, or no, contribution in certain circumstances in order to promote planning objectives in their own functional area.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Questions (185)

John Bruton

Question:

185 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has received proposals for an upgrade to the sewerage scheme serving the town of Ashbourne, County Meath, which is regarded by the regional authority as essential to its spatial strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4445/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Ashbourne sewerage upgrade scheme has been included in my Department's water services investment programme 2003-2005 as a scheme to advance through planning.

I understand that Meath County Council is currently preparing a preliminary report for the scheme for submission to my Department for approval.

Planning Issues.

Questions (186)

John Bruton

Question:

186 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to minimise non-agricultural development on best quality soils here in order to retain the nation's capacity to feed itself in an emergency which inhibits supplies from abroad. [4446/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Section 10 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides that the development plans of planning authorities shall set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area to which the plan relates. The development plan must include objectives for the zoning of land for the use solely or primarily of particular areas for particular purposes, whether residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational, as open space or otherwise, or a mixture of those uses.

The Act further provides that the development plan may include objectives for,inter alia, reserving or allocating any particular land, or all land in any particular area, for development of a specified class or classes, or prohibiting or restricting, either permanently or temporarily, development on any specified land. It would be a matter for each planning authority to determine in the context of making its development plan whether these provisions should be applied to restrict non-agricultural development on land within its functional area if this was considered necessary for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area of the development plan.

It should be noted that information from the Central Statistics Office indicates that Ireland is self-sufficient in most of the major commodities it produces. The individual commodity ratios are as follows:

Item

%

Butter

1,016

Milk Powder

901

Beef

820

Cheese

551

Lamb

303

Pigmeat

163

Poultry

103

Cereals

88

Guidelines for planning authorities on residential density under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act seek to encourage more sustainable urban development and avoid excessive suburbanisation. The guidelines indicate that increasing residential densities will help to reduce urban sprawl and lessen the need to use additional land resources for housing development. Planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála, where applicable, are required to have regard to these guidelines in the performance of their functions.

It is not proposed at this time to introduce any additional measures in relation to the restriction of non-agricultural development in order to guarantee food supply.

Electronic Voting.

Questions (187)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

187 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the projected annual cost for storage of the electronic voting machines. [4466/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Returning officers have for many years been responsible for storage locally of ballot boxes, polling booths and other election materials utilising local authority, court and private sector storage arrangements, as appropriate. The same arrangements will continue to apply to the storage of voting machines.

The limited experience of electronic voting in the pilot constituencies at the 2002 general election and the Nice treaty referendum suggests that storage referendum arrangements for voting machines should not add significantly to election administration costs. Documented claims for final payment are made periodically, by returning officers, to the Department of Finance for recoupment from the Central Fund. The additional impact, if any, of storage costs for electronic voting machines will only be reflected after the roll-out of these machines to all constituencies has been completed.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Questions (188)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

188 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government further to his recent announcement of funding under the special housing aid for the elderly scheme, the reasons the Eastern Regional Health Authority was allocated only 14.5% of the available funding when it covers over 33% of the State's population; the criteria used to allocate such funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4495/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The special aid for the elderly scheme, is administered by a task force, under the aegis of my Department. Allocations to the health boards are determined by the task force from the funding available and are based, not on the geographical spread of the population, but on the statistical returns received from the health boards showing the level of activity within the area, the actual number of applications on hands and the estimated cost of these applications.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Questions (189)

Finian McGrath

Question:

189 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if lone parents in receipt of lone parent allowance will not be awarded maternity benefit under the Finance Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4417/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The social welfare system is primarily a contingency-based system, with entitlement based on a, pre-defined contingencies, such as sickness or unemployment. While it can happen that a person may experience more than one contingency at the same time, for example, an unemployed person may become sick, a general principle usually applies whereby even if a person experiences more than one of the pre-defined contingencies at any one time, they can still only receive one of those payments. This principle is common to social security systems across the world.

Under the Irish social welfare system there have been a limited number of exceptions to this general principle. In the past these included the situation whereby a recipient of one parent family payment could, at the same time, receive short-term social insurance benefits such as maternity benefit, unemployment benefit and so forth at half rate if the contingency arose.

As part of the publication of the spending estimates for 2004, a measure was introduced whereby this entitlement to concurrent half-rate payment of a number of benefits is discontinued for new claimants with effect from 19 January 2004. Existing recipients are not affected by this measure for the duration of their claims.

Decentralisation Programme.

Questions (190)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

190 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress on proposals for decentralisation for Drogheda; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4496/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

Under the Government's decentralisation programme all sections of my Department currently headquartered in Dublin will move to provincial locations. This includes the move of 300 posts in the Department's headquarters to Drogheda.

There are five locations involved in my Department's decentralisation programme and management of the programme overall will be a challenging task. The programme involves the development of an overall strategy in relation to the business areas to be moved to each of the five locations and the timing of those movesand, subsequently, the development of implementation plans for each location. An overall project plan is currently being prepared.

In line with a request to all Departments a preliminary response has been sent to the decentralisation implementation committee established by Government to oversee the programme. The committee will be considering the responses from all Departments involved, and is due to submit an initial report by end March on the implementation of the overall programme. It is not possible at this stage to give a precise timescale for any of the locations involved.