Questions Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, answered orally.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (11)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

11. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views regarding the hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia; his views on the human rights legislation currently in place in the Russian Federation; the actions has he taken to raise these concerns with his Russian counterpart; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41195/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games will be held in the Russian city of Sochi from 7-23 February 2014. As the Deputy will be aware, and as was the case with previous Olympics, the awarding of these Games was a decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), rather than of national governments. Respect for diversity and inclusiveness are, of course, an integral part of the Olympic ideal and I would very much like to see this reflected at the Games in Sochi. The IOC is in ongoing contact with the Russian government regarding recent legislation relating to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex persons (LGBTI) and any possible implications for athletes or spectators at the Sochi Games.

My own views on the legislation referred to are very well-known in this House and elsewhere. I have made LGBTI rights a Human Rights priority and am firmly committed to combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. As I made clear earlier today, I strongly disagree with the legislation which, while purporting to protect young people, is more likely to result in the further stigmatisation and, indeed, criminalisation of LGBTI young people. This position has been conveyed by my Department to the Russian Chargé d’affaires and I have undertaken to raise the matter at my next meeting with a Russian Minister.

I understand that the IOC has received written assurances from Russian officials there will be no discrimination at the Sochi Games. I would strongly encourage the Russian authorities to continue to provide robust assurances to the IOC and to the wider international community that the human rights and dignity of all participants and spectators, regardless of their sexual orientation, will be scrupulously respected including freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly.

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Questions (12, 17, 54)

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

12. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the current situation is respect to the commitment to overseas development aid. [41066/13]

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Niall Collins

Question:

17. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he remains committed to the 0.7% of GNP target for overseas development aid to be achieved by 2015; if provision will be made to make further progress towards this target in budget 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41191/13]

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Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

54. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will confirm that, considering Ireland’s aid promise is made as a percentage of our national income, when the Government speaks of consolidating the overseas aid budget, he is referring to consolidating not the euro amount, but the ODA-GNI percentage. [41150/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 17 and 54 together.

The Government is committed to Ireland’s overseas aid programme. This commitment was expressed and enhanced by the publication earlier this year of our new Policy on International Development, “One World, One Future”, which clearly sets out our vision for a sustainable and just world, and our goals and areas of focus for the coming years. It also reaffirms the centrality of the aid programme to our foreign policy. The new policy states clearly our commitment to achieving the UN target of providing 0.7% of Gross National Product (GNP) for Official Development Assistance (ODA) when economic circumstances permit.

Over the past two years, the Government has broadly stabilised the budget for development assistance - a significant achievement in the context of the very difficult conditions facing the country. For 2012 Ireland provided almost €629 million in ODA, representing 0.47% of GNP. For 2013 the Government has allocated a total of €622 million in ODA. These very significant allocations of public funds are evidence of a consolidation of the development assistance budget and represent a genuine investment on behalf of the Irish people in assisting those less fortunate than ourselves.

The Estimates process for Budget 2014 is now well under way. The Budget will be framed in the context of the Government’s overall fiscal consolidation strategy. Departmental budget allocations for 2014 will be a matter for Government decision and will be announced in the Budget Statement.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Questions (13)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

13. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress to date in the trade talks between the EU and the US; in view of the trade remit of his Department the particular role he and his Department have in these discussions at European Union level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41214/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Considerable preparatory work by the Irish EU Presidency and intensive discussions at the EU Trade Council on 14 June – under the chairmanship of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation - led to agreement on a mandate for the European Commission to formally launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This ranks amongst our most important Presidency achievements. The first round of negotiations took place in Washington in the week beginning 8 July 2013 and represented a positive initial exchange of views and a useful clarification of respective positions. Intensive contacts in different areas have continued during the summer, paving the way for substantial discussions at the second round, to be held in Brussels next week.

The EU and the US, two of the world’s largest trading blocs, already have very strong trading and investment ties. The conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement with the US would have a significant and positive impact on trade, resulting in new markets for Irish and for other European exporters and bringing positive effects on job creation and competitiveness. A comprehensive deal on areas such as common regulatory standards and investment rules holds massive potential for economic growth and jobs which it is estimated could over time boost EU GDP by 0.5% per annum and help create approximately 400,000 jobs in the EU.

While the lead Department for the coordination of Ireland’s interests in EU trade policy is the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the negotiations are being followed by all relevant Government departments including my own Department which has lead responsibility for bilateral relations with the United States and for trade promotion. The United States remains one of our most important trading and investment partners and as such the proposed Agreement has the potential to impact very favourably on Ireland’s prosperity, on growth and on jobs, all priorities for the Government.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (14, 26, 71)

Denis Naughten

Question:

14. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he held in the US recently regarding legislative reforms to assist the undocumented Irish; the current status of plans for an E3 visa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41178/13]

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Seán Crowe

Question:

26. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide the details of any meetings he had with US politicians and Irish diaspora groups regarding US immigration reform during his recent visit to New York. [41168/13]

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Joe McHugh

Question:

71. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on his efforts to progress visa resolution for Irish citizens who live without documentation in the United States. [41056/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 26 and 71 together.

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.