Colombian Peace Process

Questions (87)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

87. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the peace process in Colombia remains on course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41387/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I strongly support the Colombian peace process and hope that ongoing negotiations will bring an end to the long conflict there which has caused much suffering.I welcome progress made to date including the agreement reached last May on the land reform element of the peace negotiations. The timetable for the talks is a matter for the parties involved and I wish them success in reaching agreement on the other important items remaining on their agenda so that a final comprehensive peace agreement can be secured as soon as possible. We in Ireland understand very well the challenges, the opportunities and imperative to peace building and welcome any action taken to spare the Colombian people from violence. We appreciate the responsibility that rests on the parties to these negotiations and wish them success in their work. Ireland will continue to follow closely developments on the talks underway, and to support a negotiated solution to the conflict in Colombia.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (88)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

88. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which the international community has been in a position to intervene in the various conflict zones where child soldiers have been used in combat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41388/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The recruitment, use and abuse of child soldiers continues to be a serious problem and a matter of grave concern to Ireland and indeed the international community. The involvement of child soldiers has been reported in most recent armed conflicts and in almost every region of the world over the last two decades. Each year, the United Nations Secretary-General issues a report on children and armed conflict which lists all armed groups – both state and non-state – that recruit and use children. The most recent list includes 52 state and non-state armed groups operating across three continents. It is estimated that up to 300,000 children continue to be involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide, including, notably, in a number of internal and regional conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Against this background, international legal efforts to curb the practice of using children in armed conflict have been stepped up significantly. In 1996, the UN General Assembly voted to establish the post of Special-Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, tasked to serve as an independent advocate for the protection and well-being of boys and girls affected by armed conflict. In 1999, the UN Security Council passed its first Resolution (UNSCR 1261) highlighting the impact of armed conflict on children and condemning violations carried out in that context. With the adoption of nine Resolutions and several Presidential statements since then, the Security Council has developed important tools to strengthen child protection and to promote compliance with international standards.

The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 May 2000 and entered into force in 2002. It is considered the core international human rights treaty on child soldiers. It lays out clear standards relating to the recruitment and use of under-18s by state armed forces as well as non-state armed groups which, if fully implemented, provide a strong foundation for long-term prevention of unlawful recruitment and use of children, and for assisting those who have already became involved in armed conflict.

Ireland is a strong supporter of the mandate and the work of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms Leila Zerrougui. At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council of which Ireland is currently a member, Ireland expressed particular appreciation for the work that SRSG Zerrougui has been carrying out to mainstream child protection in peacekeeping operations. Ireland called on all parties to conflict to comply with international humanitarian law and to respect schools and hospitals as protected civilian objects. Ireland also highlighted the particular challenges for the prevention of recruitment and the promotion of the reintegration of child soldiers in Mali and expressed concern about the difficult situations of children vulnerable to violence and deprivation in Central African Republic and eastern DRC.

Ireland has engaged on this issue in various ways including, crucially, through the core work of our aid programme in addressing poverty and under-development – major root causes of this problem. Ireland has also supported more targeted and specific interventions from supporting agencies such as UNICEF and the International Criminal Court, to designing interventions in our bilateral programmes that address the needs of children affected by conflict. Ireland places strong emphasis on the importance of prioritising protection and accountability at the national and international level. The conviction of Thomas Lubanga by the International Criminal Court last year for the recruitment and use of child soldiers is a powerful message that no individual who violates international criminal law can be confident of impunity.

We remain deeply committed to addressing this issue, as has been recently reflected in Ireland’s new Policy for International Development, ‘One World, One Future’, where we have pledged to increase our engagement on the issue of child soldiers and children in armed conflict. We are actively examining options for strengthened action in this area. Ireland will also continue to encourage all concerned countries to cooperate with UN mechanisms and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on armed conflict.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (89)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

89. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he continues to be in a position to engage with the US authorities in the context of the regularisation of undocumented Irish in the US; the extent to which agreement has been reached in respect of legislative proposals in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41389/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

This is an issue I treat with the very highest priority. During my visit to the US last week, I spoke with several key contacts in the US Congress including leading members of the House Judiciary Committee, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King. I also met with representatives of Irish community groups as well as some community members who are undocumented. I am acutely aware of the difficulties they face as a result of their undocumented status. I am more determined than ever to continue to work to find a solution to their plight. A resolution of the situation facing the undocumented Irish in the United States remains a priority for the Government. The Government also attaches great importance to seeking provision for future flows of migration between Ireland and the United States through the extension of the “E-3” visa scheme to include Irish citizens.

In this context, we very much welcomed the US Senate’s approval of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill by a 68-32 margin on 27 June last. The comprehensive draft legislation, which was drafted over several months by a bipartisan group of eight US Senators, provides for extensive reform of the US immigration system. It includes provisions that would legalise the status of undocumented Irish people and provide a path to permanent residency. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US via the proposed E-3 visa. The Bill is a very positive development. Its provisions, if adopted, would help to end the great hardship and uncertainty faced by undocumented Irish in the US and their families here in Ireland. The inclusion of a new provision to allow several thousand Irish citizens to legally avail of employment opportunities in the US every year is also particularly welcome.

The focus has now shifted to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the issues. It remains to be seen whether a consolidated Bill can be agreed between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is generally accepted that securing overall agreement will remain a complex and challenging process, particularly at a time when Congress is preoccupied by budgetary and debt issues. This was clear from my discussions last week and I believe the challenge to secure agreement has become even greater in recent times. I am determined to continue to deploy all our resources at political, diplomatic and Irish community level to make progress on this vital issue.

In addition to my contacts last week in New York, I visited Washington DC on 11-12 July and held a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, including with key members of the House of Representatives and Senate, with the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. I reiterated throughout all these contacts the Government’s interest in all aspects of immigration reform and in particular our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.

I wish to acknowledge the critically important role being played by a number of Irish community organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. I also want to acknowledge the role played by Ambassador Collins and more recently by Ambassador Anderson and staff at the Embassy in Washington who have been steadily building support for our objectives.

Middle East Peace Process

Question No. 91 answered with Question No. 81.

Questions (90)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

90. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which the Middle East peace talks continue to be actively supported by the EU and other interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41390/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The commencement of direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the end of July, based on the extensive work and commitment of US Secretary of State Kerry, is an important achievement. Secretary Kerry briefed myself and EU colleagues on progress to date during the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Vilnius on 7 September. The process is at an early stage, and we are all aware of the very many difficulties to be overcome if agreement is to be reached. I am encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s firm commitment and belief that a speedy conclusion remains possible if the parties are willing and negotiate in good faith. The EU is fully committed to giving all possible support to this process. This may well represent the last real opportunity for realisation of a negotiated two-State solution and it is essential that all other parties concerned, including the Quartet and the Arab states, also make every effort to assist.

Question No. 91 answered with Question No. 81.

Overseas Development Aid Issues

Questions (92)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

92. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which overseas aid continues to be monitored with a view to ensuring that such aid reaches those for whom it was intended; if any specific measures are needed to enhance such accountability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41392/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

As Minister of State with responsibility for Ireland’s Official Development Assistance, I am very conscious of the need to have a high level of assurance that our development assistance reaches its intended beneficiaries and that it makes a real difference in the lives of the poorest people. To ensure that our assistance is effectively delivered to those most in need in developing countries, we work in partnership with national and local governments, local communities, NGOs, and key multilateral partners such as the United Nations and the European Union. All programmes considered for funding assistance are rigorously appraised by Irish Aid staff using clear criteria, including efficiency in the use of resources, cost effectiveness and sustainability of intended impact.

Programmes in receipt of funding through our development programme are subject to regular internal and external monitoring to ensure that the intended objectives and goals are being achieved. They are evaluated and audited by independent experts as well as by my Department’s Evaluation and Audit Unit. The Unit’s work is regularly reviewed by the independent Audit Committee of my Department. In Partner Countries benefiting from our support, we provide assistance to national Government oversight institutions, such as the Auditor General’s Office and the Public Accounts Committees of National Parliaments, to ensure Governments are held to account for the effective expenditure of public funds.

We have zero tolerance for any misuse or misappropriation of aid funding. In the event of any fraud such as happened last year in Uganda, it is our policy to demand a full refund of monies disbursed and to pursue the perpetrators through the police and court system. As the Deputy will be aware, the Government of Uganda has refunded in full the €4 million in aid funds which were misused in 2012.

The Deputy will also be aware that our new Policy for International Development, One World, One Future, which was launched in May this year, reaffirms our commitment to accountability to the Irish people and to our partners in what we do, how we work, and what we are achieving. I believe that the strong focus on appraisal, regular monitoring, independent evaluations and audit provides assurance that aid funds are very closely monitored and used for the purposes intended.

Trade Data

Questions (93, 94)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

93. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which the potential for growth in trade has been noted between this jurisdiction and African, American and Asian countries with particular reference to the need to maximise all options with a view to continued improvement in economic performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41393/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

94. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the level of trade has developed over the past five years with countries within the EU, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia, and the degree to which potential for development for such markets continues to exist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41394/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 94 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the Government Trade Tourism and Investment Strategy (hereafter referred to as “the Strategy”) identifies 27 priority markets, including those with the best prospects for increased trade. Local market teams headed by our Ambassadors are in place in these markets and their work is overseen by the high level Export Trade Council, which I chair. I can ensure the Deputy that my Department and the Embassy network will continue to prioritise our work to support the growth of Irish exports.

While the majority of Irish services and merchandise exports go to Europe and the US and we must continue to cultivate these markets, the Government is strongly focused on the further development of trade ties with Latin America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. Nine of the 27 priority markets identified under the Strategy are in Latin America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region (Brazil, South Africa, China, India, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Republic of Korea). For the first six months of 2013, goods exports to each of these countries were as follows; Brazil, €136.5 million; South Africa, €126 million; China, €730 million; India, €125 million; Australia, €350 million; Japan, €859 million; Malaysia, €108 million; Singapore, €278 million and the Republic of Korea, €166 million.

Under the oversight of the Export Trade Council, which I chair, we will continue to work to boost bilateral trade with these countries, as well as other key markets in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region and Africa. In relation to Africa, my Department’s targeted Strategy is aimed at exploring new sectors and markets in that continent that have particular potential for Irish companies and we are working closely with the state agencies and Irish companies on its ongoing implementation. As part of our continued work in this area, my colleague, the Minister of State for Trade and Development, Mr. Joe Costello TD., will lead a trade mission to South Africa & Nigeria from 10 - 15 November. This will be the third trade mission to South Africa in as many years.

My Department also co-ordinates Joint Economic Commissions (JECs) with a number of important markets including South Korea, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. The focus of JEC discussions with these countries is on key priority sectors for the Irish export sector and for inward investment into Ireland. My Department, in cooperation with the Embassy network and a number of other Departments and state agencies, hosted JECs with Korea and China during 2012 and the Department is in the process of organising JECs with Russia for the fourth quarter of 2013 and Saudi Arabia for the first quarter of 2014.

Ireland’s exports have performed well over the past five years. The total value of merchandise exports in 2012 was €92 billion, representing an increase of 6.48% on the 2008 figure (€86.4 billion), while services exports for 2012 reached €90.29 billion; an increase of 33% on 2008 (€67.9 billion). A table, using CSO data, showing the value of Ireland’s goods imports and exports by region over the last 5 years is reproduced below:

Goods Imports by Area (EUR Million)

Period

Great Britain

Northern Ireland

Other EU 1

EFTA 2

Other Europe 3

NAFTA 4

Other APEC5

Rest of World

Unclassified 6

Total

2008

17,941

1,261

17,353

1,841

450

7,316

8,559

1,458

1,404

57,585

2009

12,787

941

12,997

1,328

285

8,403

5,621

1,584

1,115

45,061

2010

13,823

990

13,049

2,148

290

6,900

5,471

1,770

1,321

45,763

2011

15,638

1,047

13,671

1,937

333

6,412

5,410

2,000

1,868

48,315

2012

15,419

1,023

12,777

1,905

376

6,914

5,525

3,479

1,604

49,024

Goods Exports by Area (EUR Million)

Period

Great Britain

Northern Ireland

Other EU 1

EFTA 2

Other Europe 3

NAFTA 4

Other APEC5

Rest of World

Unclassified 6

Total

2008

14,300

1,565

37,976

3,085

554

17,610

8,180

2,914

210

86,394

2009

12,305

1,292

38,616

2,937

540

19,562

7,574

2,857

121

85,803

2010

12,617

1,326

38,169

4,003

577

22,169

7,397

3,312

133

89,703

2011

12,845

1,422

38,293

4,109

641

22,776

7,189

3,890

63

91,228

2012

13,794

1,445

39,024

5,393

640

19,621

7,350

4,625

117

92,009

1 France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania

2 Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Norway

3 Includes Ceuta, Melilla, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, San Marino, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Turkey, Andorra, Vatican City, Albania, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, Kosovo

4 USA, Canada, Mexico

5 APEC excluding NAFTA countries: Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Philippines, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Vietnam, Peru

6 Trade not classified by country, including Intrastat survey estimates for which a breakdown is not available

Consultancy Contracts Expenditure

Questions (95)

Billy Timmins

Question:

95. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the consultants, if any, he has contracted since 1 January 2013 to advise on the possible sale of any assets; the current situation; the advice given and the terms and cost of the contract; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41545/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I wish to confirm that no such consultants have been contracted by my Department in 2013.