Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (38)

Maureen O'Sullivan


38. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the Helms-Burton Act; the way in which it has been causing hardship for Cubans for decades; the way in which Ireland and the EU will support trade and solidarity with Cuba in light of US treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25165/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

My question relates to the Helms-Burton Act, the way in which it has caused hardship for Cubans for decades and how Ireland and the EU will support trade and solidarity with Cuba in light of US treatment.

I know the Deputy has a real concern with and knowledge of Cuba. Ireland and our EU partners have been following developments on the Helms-Burton Act in recent months and the issue has been discussed on several occasions at the EU Council Working Party on Transatlantic Relations, COTRA, at which Ireland has been represented at official level. It was also discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, which was attended by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, because I was in Belfast.

Ireland’s reaction to the suspension of waivers remains in lockstep with that of our EU partners. We also echo the statement made on 2 May by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini, that: "EU considers the extra-territorial application of unilateral restrictive measures to be contrary to international law and will draw on all appropriate measures to address the effects of the Helms-Burton Act, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute."

Fundamentally, Ireland believes that the US embargo on Cuba serves no constructive purpose and that its lifting would facilitate an opening of Cuba’s economy to the benefit of its people. In addition, we are not persuaded that the continued embargo is contributing in a positive way to the democratic transition in Cuba. With our EU partners, Ireland has also firmly and continuously opposed extraterritorial measures that seek to extend the US embargo against Cuba to third countries as contrary to commonly accepted rules of international trade.

The EU-Cuba agreement, which will be ratified shortly, is the best mechanism to support trade with Cuba and show solidarity with its people. Last week, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, was before the Oireachtas on this very issue to support the internal Irish legislative process which is required to enact the agreement within the EU. It is my hope that this process in Ireland and across the EU will be completed swiftly to allow for this important and timely agreement to come into full effect for the mutual benefit of EU and Cuban citizens.

The Deputy has asked me in previous parliamentary questions about the legislation the Government had to approve here. I hope she can see that it is now moving through the process.

We know the Helms-Burton Act is a law of the United States and, therefore, its jurisdiction should be confined to the United States. It is akin to Ireland making a law and expecting it to be applied in another country. As the Tánaiste said, the Act shows no respect for international law. It is also a violation of Cuban sovereignty and undermines Cuba's constitution, which is about abiding by a commitment to international law, including territorial integrity. It also runs contrary to the principles of the UN Charter. Experts have noted that the Helms-Burton Act smacks of imperialism, and I agree. There is no doubt it is intended to strangle the Cuban economy, which the United States has been doing for many years.

Our group, Independents 4 Change, will introduce a motion in this respect. The US is now trying to internationalise its unilateral blockade against Cuba. It is doing so by taking severe measures against third countries, including the imposition of hefty fines, some of which we have already seen. As of last month, very serious measures will be taken, which will see individuals and companies that try to trade with Cuba severely punished. This will deter such trade. People could also be denied entry into the United States. Lawsuits are already under way in the United States. While the European Union is saying the right things, in the meantime the blockade continues to do irreparable damage in Cuba.

I hope the Deputy is not suggesting the EU is not trying to find a way forward because I believe it is. From an Irish perspective, we are not currently aware of any Irish entity or individual being affected by the changes to the Helms-Burton Act. There is an EU blocking statute which prohibits the compliance with any US court judgments relating to Title III or IV of the Helms-Burton Act and allows EU companies sued in the US to recover any damage through legal proceedings against US claimants before EU courts. This is a protective measure which applies to Irish entities and individuals. I fully accept the Deputy's point that while there may be some legal protections and legal recourse if an Irish or EU company is subject to this Act, it certainly has the impact of discouraging trade and engagement with the Cuban economy, which is damaging. The EU will continue to do what is in its powers to facilitate that trade. It will also seek to speak directly to the US to try to change its mind on the broad approach towards Cuba.

It is rather ironic that, only last week, members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, including me, were delighted to support and approve the terms of the political dialogue and co-operation agreement between the EU and Cuba. The Cuban ambassador and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, were in attendance at the meeting. We were all very positive that the agreement marked a good step forward. However, Irish companies which want to trade with Cuba are being prevented from doing so. We suggested that Cuba be included in any future trade missions to the region. This would send a signal that Ireland is not kowtowing to or agreeing with the Helms-Burton Act, which is really just out to do Cuba. In previous replies to me, the Tánaiste indicated there was no constructive purpose to the embargo. However, the embargo continues and is preventing progress. Irish-Cuban relations have developed and we will celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations in September or October. Canada, the EU, the UK and other US trading partners issued statements of concern about the Helms-Burton Act. While statements of concern are welcome and valuable, they are not enough. We need stronger action on this to show that people can trade with Cuba and will not be punished for doing so.

It is important that I respond honestly to the Deputy. We are doing quite a lot. The Deputy has just heard my statement, including on the actions the EU is taking. Ultimately, the reach and power of the US is very significant, particularly in that region. Cuba is very close to the United States. Many companies that may seek to trade with Cuba will also, in all likelihood, be trading into the US. We should not pretend we can simply bypass this Act and the approach the US has taken. These pose real difficulty but the EU is trying to give as much cover and support as it can to companies that want to trade with Cuba legitimately. We do not agree that the approach the US is taking, for which it has its own reasons, is effective or appropriate in 2019. We will continue to make that case and do what we can in practical terms to support companies that want to trade with Cuba.