British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Questions (20)

Liz McManus

Question:

161 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the issues discussed and matters raised at the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held at Farmleigh on 7 July 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25305/04]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy MP, co-chaired a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference at Farmleigh on 7 July this year. The then Minister, Deputy Cowen, was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt. The Secretary of State was accompanied by Mr. John Spellar MP and Mr. Ian Pearson MP, Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office. Copies of the communiqué of this meeting have been placed in the Dáil Library.

The conference on 7 July reviewed political developments including the discussions on 25 June in Lancaster House. The imperative of seeing an end to all forms of paramilitary activity and of restoring a stable and inclusive partnership government in Northern Ireland was reasserted and the conference looked forward to the intensive talks in September. As the House will be aware, these talks subsequently took place at Leeds Castle on 16-18 September. The conference reviewed the various commitments made in the Joint Declaration, which are not conditional on acts by others, and agreed to continue to monitor and advance their implementation. Progress was welcomed on a number of individual commitments in the areas of human rights, equality and criminal justice.

Security and policing issues were also reviewed. The continuation of a peaceful and orderly marching season was encouraged and those involved in seeking to defuse tensions arising from contentious parades were commended. The conference also discussed cross-Border security co-operation, and ongoing North-South and east-west issues within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement.

Regarding the Cory reports, both Governments agreed that it was important to continue to move forward to establish the inquiries that have been announced following Judge Cory's report and discussed progress in their respective jurisdictions. The Irish Government reiterated its view that the British Government should establish as soon as possible a public inquiry into the Pat Finucane case, as recommended by Judge Cory. On 23 September the British Government announced steps to enable the establishment of an inquiry which will be based on new legislation to be introduced at Westminster.

On the broader issue of dealing with the past, the conference agreed that any approach would need to have widespread acceptance across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and to respect the views of victims.

Additional information

In addition, the Government raised concerns in relation to the impact of the requirement to register annually on the rate of registration by eligible voters in Northern Ireland, particularly among marginalised and socially disadvantaged groups. The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference will meet again this autumn.

Arising from the Minister's comprehensive reply, can he confirm what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated on the radio on Sunday, that at Leeds Castle, arising from the talks to which the Minister's reply refers, Sinn Féin asked for a question to be answered in public to the effect that in some circumstances Sinn Féin could participate in a coalition government south of the Border? Did the Minister anticipate the question put to him on this matter and prepare the answer in consultation with the Taoiseach and senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs in response to a very explicit request made in Leeds Castle by representatives of Sinn Féin on behalf of themselves and the IRA?

I was not present in Leeds Castle and I do not want to touch on the issues currently being discussed among the parties following the talks held there.

The comments made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, were reported to me. I was asked a specific question with regard to a time when we would have complete peace, full decommissioning and an end to paramilitarism, with the latter being demonstrably shown and with the DUP and Sinn Féin in government together in Northern Ireland. I referred to the circumstances in the Republic and I look forward to a time when there will be no violence in this island, when the gun will be removed from Irish politics.

Was the Minister aware that the question would be asked?

I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I am not a clairvoyant.

Was the Minister aware that a question of that kind was likely to be asked?

Did the Minister know that Tommy Gorman was going to ask that question? Was he tipped off in advance?

No. I answered the question when it was put to me. I gave an answer which showed that on one hand we cannot dictate that the DUP and others should sit in government with Sinn Féin in a time of peace. I did not suggest that there would be a coalition between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. On this side of the House, within Fianna Fáil, I am probably one of the people who would be vehemently opposed to the type of policies which Sinn Féin has pursued over the years.

Did the Minister discuss this issue with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste before and after the question was asked and answered? What was the trend of any conversations that took place?

As I said, I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I discussed my interview with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the former fully verified my account publicly in Bodenstown where he said that I made the essential point, namely that there can be no allegiance to another army, that no organisation can come in from the cold until it professes and accepts allegiance to Óglaigh na hÉireann under our Constitution and no other Óglaigh na hÉireann. I look forward to the day when it does so.

Middle East Peace Process.

Questions (21)

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

162 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his position on the roadmap for peace in Palestine and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25293/04]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government believes that the roadmap remains the most likely framework within which to achieve a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The members of the international quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations — remain committed to the roadmap. This commitment was reiterated in the quartet's statements of 4 May and 22 September.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council considered this issue again on 11 October in Luxembourg and in its conclusions reaffirmed the EU's long-standing positions on the quartet roadmap and Israel's proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. While an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the roadmap, the council underlined that the withdrawal must not be an attempt to replace the roadmap and the two-state solution it encompasses. It also recalled that settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap.

The council reaffirmed the conditions endorsed by the Tullamore declaration on the conditions which must be met by any Israeli withdrawal plan. The following five elements are essential to make a Gaza withdrawal acceptable to the international community: it must take place in the context of the roadmap; it must be a step towards a two-state solution; it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised and negotiated hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

It is of the utmost importance that no further time should be lost in implementing the provisions of the roadmap. I call on both sides to make every effort to fulfil the commitments they have entered into in respect of the roadmap.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply on what is a complex set of affairs. What is the Government's attitude to the status of President Yasser Arafat? Is it of the view that he continues to retain the support of the Palestinian people or does it share the view expressed by Ariel Sharon and others that he is a discredited leader with no effective mandate and with whom they cannot do business?

The Government still regards Yasser Arafat as somebody who has significant influence and input in respect of this matter. From discussions I had with Kofi Annan in the past week, I am aware that this is also the position as far as he is concerned. I do not agree that Mr. Arafat has been discredited and I am of the opinion that he has an important role to play. One of the main things we must do is ensure that the Palestinian Authority has the wherewithal and status to move forward in respect of the roadmap.

Does the Minister accept that the attitude of Ariel Sharon, and the position he has adopted, to Yasser Arafat is a major impediment to the implementation of the roadmap?

It is important that we are not overly critical of one side or the other in respect of this matter. We must contend with the violence perpetrated by Hamas on one hand and the over-reaction of the Israeli Government on the other. However, we must also accept that people on both sides, including Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, are endeavouring, as best they can, to bring peace to that part of the world. The unrest there is leading to instability in the wider region. As I stated at the first meeting I attended of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the violence perpetrated on this island drove people further apart. Unfortunately, the same is the case in the part of the world under discussion. The longer the conflict goes on, the worse matters will become and the more destabilising an influence it will have in the general region. That is why the council in Luxembourg reiterated the view expressed in Tullamore in respect of the roadmap and the two-state solution.

Does the Minister agree that building of a wall by the Israelis is a symbol of a type of apartheid? Does he agree with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign that it is time to introduce a boycott of Israeli goods in light of the repression we are witnessing, similar to that which occurred in South Africa in the past?

Does the Minister agree that Israeli actions in Palestine in recent months run contrary to the roadmap? Does he also agree that extending the privileges of the European neighbourhood policy, including everything except institutions, would send the wrong signal to the Palestinian people? That signal would be to the effect that human rights abusers will be rewarded. What action will the Government take in respect of the debate on 5 November?

First I will answer Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question on the European neighbourhood policy. It is a policy of the EU to maintain good relations, from a political, economic and institutional point of view, with nations in and around its borders and we support it. As regards Israeli participation in the plan of action in that respect, we also welcome their involvement. By getting Israel involved in the ENP, it is hoped that stability will be brought to that part of the world.

With regard to Deputy Gormley's question, we intend that the vast majority of what we will do in respect of this matter will be done through the united voice of the EU. The issue of a boycott has not been raised in that context. We would be more willing to proceed on the basis of using the greater power the EU possesses, as one body, in respect of putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Irish Language.

Questions (22, 23)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

163 D’fhiafraigh Mr. Sargent den Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha cén dul chun cinn atá déanta aige agus ag an Rialtas sa chomhphlé le ballstáit eile an AE chun stádas oifigiúil a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge agus ar chuir an Rialtas litir chuig an gCoimisiún fós ag lorg an stádais seo agus an gceapann an tAire go ndéanfar socruithe san idirphlé leis na ballstáit eile agus leis an gCoimisiún le gur féidir le Comhairle na nAirí an Ghaeilge a thabhairt isteach faoi Rialachán 1 (1958) ag an gcruinniú a bhéas acu i Mí na Nollag 2004. [23055/04]

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Brian O'Shea

Question:

181 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the response which has been received from the European Commission in respect of the status of the Irish language within the EU; if bilateral discussions have taken place in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22756/04]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 181 together.

The Government decided on 14 July to initiate a process of discussions with the other EU member states and EU institutions with a view to seeking official and working status for the Irish language in the EU under Regulation 1 of 1958. The regulation is the legal instrument that governs the official and working language regime of the EU institutions. As a first step, we have undertaken initial bilateral discussions in Brussels with representatives of other member states and EU institutions. These discussions are ongoing and once they have progressed sufficiently to clarify the issues arising, as well as practical options in relation to achieving its objective, the Government will decide how it can most effectively proceed further, including the tabling of a formal proposal, with this matter.

The outcome and length of negotiations on this matter cannot be predicted with certainty. Unanimity among the 25 member states is required for amendment to Regulation 1 of 1958 which governs the language regime of the Union. The Government is determined to try to make early progress in this matter.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an bhfreagra. Tá an Rialtas ag plé na ceiste seo le fada ach tá gá le freagraí daingneacha, "sea" nó "ní hea". Níor chuala mé na freagraí a raibh mé ar a lorg go fóill. Ar scríobh an Rialtas litir go foirmiúil chuig an Coimisiúin agus Comhairle na nAirí ag déanamh an iarratais seo? An féidir í a feiceáil? An mbeidh rún ar an gclár ag an chruinniú de Chomhairle na nAirí atá beartaithe do dheireadh na bliana an Ghaeilge a chur ar an liosta faoi airteagal 1 do rialachán 1, 1958? Tá gá le freagra díreach dó sin. An bhfuil aon dhul chun cinn déanta faoi aonad chomhordaithe aistriúcháin a bhunadh leis an chuid denacquis communitaire nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge cheanna a aistriú? Tá go leor oibre ansin agus tá a lán ann a bheadh sásta á déanamh.

It is not a question of "yes" or "no". The contacts that have been made were made at diplomatic level with all the countries involved. While some progress has been made, there is a difficulty in respect of some countries with regional languages which may want to obtain recognition in that regard. As stated earlier, unanimity is the issue.

A sensitive sounding out of the positions of other countries is taking place at present. The discussions are at a preliminary stage but we would like to believe we would be able to progress a proposal on this matter at a meeting in the not too distant future. This is a particularly sensitive issue. While the Irish language has treaty status and the Amsterdam treaty confirmed this, it is the only language in which treaties may be published yet it is not an official language. The Government decided to try to address this matter and that is why the initial contacts have taken place at diplomatic level. I am not in a position to say that letters are in place. We leave the matter to diplomatic representatives acting on behalf of the State.

An bhfuil an tAire sásta sprioc-dáta a chur leis na comhráití seo a chríochnú? Sna cainteanna go dtí seo, an bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta? Cén stáit a léirigh bá leis an rud atá ar lorg ag Gaeilgeoirí agus pobal na hÉireann?

Recently, I told a member of the public I would raise a question he put to me in the House at the first opportunity. Why was the status of the Irish language not addressed during our Presidency and before the accession of the new member states?

Níl an tAire ag déanamh a dhícheall ar son stádas na Gaeilge. Cad faoi stádas na Gaeilge sa tír seo? Tá an nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge,, faoi bhrú agus tá daoine ag iarraidh an deontas atá ag dul do a bhaint agus an t-aon nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge a chur ó dhoras. I ask specifically about the language daily, , which will have its funding removed. Unionist politicians, in particular, argue that it does not deserve funding. An gcosnóidh an tAire an nuachtán seo? Will he protect this newspaper because it is extremely important?

An nglacann an tAire go bhfuil an-difríocht idir teanga conartha agus teangacha eile sa Spáinn, mar shampla, nach dteangacha conartha iad agus nach bhfuil comparáid ann? Tuigim nach bhfuil litir ann, agus tá díoma orm nach bhfuil, ach ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta, nó ar labhair ionadaíocht ar a shon, sa Bhruiséil le stáit eile faoin gceist seo? Tá sé ag rá go bhfuil sí á plé idir dhaoine ach ní dúirt sé go raibh sé féin ag plé léi go díreach. Ar labhair sé go pearsanta le hionadaíocht buan sa Bhruiséil faoi stádas na Gaeilge?

As regards our position during the discussions on the European constitution, the status of a number of languages, Basque, Catalan and Galician, was raised and it was agreed that the treaty would be translated into these languages, which is similar to the position regarding the Irish language. A declaration on minority languages was also agreed but there was no question of reopening the issue of Article 1 of the 1958 treaty.

The Government made a decision to pursue this issue in July last and since then significant progress has been achieved. Our representatives in Brussels have made direct contact with all the member states and there has been a degree of positive reaction towards and understanding of our position regarding the Irish language. At the same time, however, the question of the status of other minority languages that do not have recognition in the European Union also arises. We will need to overcome this issue given that unanimity is essential in this regard.

Chuir mé ceist dhíreach faoi.

I do not know what is the position regarding the newspaper,. The Deputy will have to raise the matter with the Minister with direct responsibility.

Chuir mise ceist.

I answered the question regarding discussions on the European constitution.

The Minister did not provide an explanation. Why was the matter not pursued during the Presidency? Why did we wait until July when it had expired to follow up the issue when the most opportune time to do so was before the accession of the new states?

Chuir mé ceist agus tá mé ag fanacht ar fhreagra go fóill. Ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta? An mbeadh suim aige sa cheist gon-ardófadh sé í le baill stáit eile? An bhfuil suim aige i gceist freisin, mar tá sé, mar Aire Gnothaí Eachtracha, ag plé le daoine ar an dá thaobh ó Thuaidh agus is féidir leis an cheist a chur ansin? Is ceist don Tuaisceart é fosta.

I will have to check the position regardingin the Department. I understand the reason the matter was not raised during the Presidency was that the Irish language became a real issue with the accession of ten new countries.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.