Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Questions (35)

Niall Collins

Question:

35. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the situation in Macedonia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40829/18]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

On 30 September, Macedonian citizens had the opportunity to vote on the Prespa Agreement, which was signed on 17 June by the Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers and proposes changing the name of the country to the Republic of North Macedonia, potentially ending a dispute between the two neighbours that has lasted for decades. I want to commend those who voted in the consultative referendum, and acknowledge the political leadership and courage shown by the Macedonian and Greek governments in coming to an agreement on the issue.

It was a peaceful and democratic vote, in which 94% of votes cast were in favour of the Agreement. This represents a positive result, despite the turnout being low at 37%. A threshold of 50% turnout is required if the outcome of a Macedonian referendum is to be regarded as legally binding. However, as the referendum was only consultative in nature, failure to reach this threshold does not prevent politicians in Skopje from pressing ahead with the Prespa Agreement. The Agreement must now be ratified by the parliaments of both countries, beginning with the Macedonian Assembly, if it is to enter into force and if the proposed name change is to become effective. As such, it is now in the hands of parliamentarians in Skopje to decide on a way forward which can command broad support in the wake of this result. I would urge them to engage constructively with each other now and seize this historic opportunity. The successful resolution of this issue will not only set a much-needed example for reconciliation in the region, but will also decisively move the country forward on its European path.

Ireland continues to be a strong supporter of Skopje’s European perspective, and indeed of the European perspective of the Western Balkans region as a whole. We were pleased to see the European Commission begin the initial preparatory work in Macedonia’s accession process in late September, following the Council’s decision to set out the path towards opening negotiations in June 2019. We hope that momentum can be maintained in the process over the coming months.