Other Questions. - Diplomatic Contacts with Austria.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

6 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is maintaining his position in regard to diplomatic contacts with Austria due to the participation of the Freedom Party in government there, in view of the recent resignation of the Governor of Carinthia from the position of leader of the Freedom Party. [6618/00]

Ceist:

73 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on relations with Austria. [8302/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 73 together.

The Minister and I welcomed the resignation of the Governor of Carinthia from his position as leader of the Freedom Party as an effort to respond to international criticisms of the inclusion of the Freedom Party in the new Austrian Government. The Austrian Government will be judged on its policies, declarations and actions, and whatever reassurance these will provide will be helpful.

In the meantime, the measures of the 14 as outlined in the statement issued by the Portuguese Presidency on 31 January still apply. The 14 do not promote or accept any ministerial contacts with a government which includes the Freedom Party, there is no support for Austrian candidates seeking positions in international organisations and Austrian ambassadors in EU capitals are received at official but not ministerial level.

The Portuguese Presidency of the EU has agreed to a request from Austrian Federal Chancellor, Wolfgang Schussel, that the matter be raised in the European Council taking place in Lisbon today. While I do not wish to anticipate the outcome of that discussion, the Heads of State and Government will take into account the recent developments in Austria, including the resignation of the Governor of Carinthia from his position as leader of the Freedom Party.

It may be helpful to point out that the measures of the 14 have not touched on the conduct of EU business, the standing of Austria as a member state of the European Union or as a member of other international organisations. On 12 April, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in his capacity as chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, will travel to Vienna to meet his Austrian colleague, Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, in her capacity as chairman in office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to discuss issues of interest to both organisations. Meetings such as these continue as before and are not affected by the measures of the 14.

Would the Minister not agree that it is inaccurate to say European Union business is not affected by the treatment of Austria? Is it not a fact that, since taking office, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has entertained all the ambassadors accredited to this country, including the Russian ambassador whose troops are running riot in Chechnya, and that the Austrian ambassador who has not offended anybody and is representing his duly elected government has been treated shabbily? Will she join me in calling for an end to the boycott of the representative of the Austrian Government as the best method of ensuring that the type of extremism put forward by the leader of the Freedom Party will not gain root in Austria?

I reject the parallel the Deputy is trying to make between the situation in Chechnya and the treatment by the Presidency of the European Union of another member state, in this case Austria. The Government's view is that the measures represent a balanced approach. Some EU partners with particular historical experiences understandably feel strongly about this matter. The nature of the Freedom Party poses a fundamental problem which we cannot ignore. However, the measures of the 14 have not touched on the conduct of EU business or on the standing of Austria as a member state of the European Union or of any other international organisation.

The Portuguese Presidency has agreed to a request from Chancellor Schussel that the matter be raised at the European Council taking place in Lisbon today. It is important to recall that the EU is a community of values which seeks to develop observation of and respect for those values of democratic pluralism, human rights and tolerance of diversity that are the foundation stones upon which the EU was built.

Would the Minister agree that a more apt comparison with the situation in Russia and Chechnya is that of Serbia and Kosovo? Where we are acting hypocritically is by taking one position in relation to Kosovo and another in relation to Chechnya. It does not matter how many leaders of the Freedom Party resign. It is the policy and politics the party puts forward which are at issue and the fact that these are now represented within the Austrian Government.

Has the Irish Government been asked to meet any Austrian Ministers since the statement of the 14 and have those requests, if any, been refused?

I agree that it would be fairer to compare the response of the international community to human rights abuses in Chechnya with its response to human rights abuses in Kosovo. Unfortunately, that is the way world politics have developed. However, we are most concerned about the human rights abuses in Chechnya. Notwithstanding everybody's respect for sovereignty and the fact that the Russians are fighting a war against an Islamic fundamentalist movement, the atrocities against civilians are unacceptable.

I am not aware if there has been a request for an Irish Minister to meet an Austrian Minister. It is true that the Austrian ambassador has not been received except at official level in the Department. The reaction of the 14 member states was, overall, a measured one which acknowledged our commitment to fundamental values and norms.

My stated views on the Freedom Party equate with those of the Minister and Deputy De Rossa. However, I have a serious concern about the precedent set and the manner in which this decision was taken outside the institutions of the European Union under the leadership of some member states who were looking after their own interests. It is a woeful precedent which could backfire badly on this State in the future. Imagine if Sinn Féin was invited to participate in our Government and another member state took exception to that, based on its own interests. This is a woeful precedent. Will the Minister join me in seeking an end to this boycott of the Austrian Government and its representative here and in finding other ways to persuade the people of Austria not to support the extremism of the Freedom Party?

These matters will be watched closely by each of the member states, including Ireland. As of now, the Government stands full square with the 14 others on this matter and on the measures which were agreed against Austria. That will be its position until there is a change in that policy.

It cannot be claimed that I am a defender in any sense of Sinn Féin, but it must be said that the Sinn Féin organisation has never espoused the racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic views of the Freedom Party. We can debate this, but it is not a fair comparison.

Unless one is Protestant, Unionist or British.

To achieve clarity on this issue we need to compare like with like.

Yes, Catholic and Gaelic.

Will the Minister of State indicate the steps taken by the Government to ensure that the nature of the support the Freedom Party has managed to garner as a result of playing on the people's fears is being addressed here? What programmes are being put in place to prevent such fear-mongering in this State?

The Deputy will be aware that the Government is very seized of the growth of racist tendencies in Ireland. With our EU partners we are very conscious that positive programmes need to be implemented in the media, schools and the rest of society. Public figures should use every opportunity to denounce the growth of xenophobic tendencies. That is the way to discourage people from forming political parties which would have a mandate in that regard. Comprehensive proposals on integration policies will shortly be submitted to the Cabinet. These include an extension of existing anti-racist programmes which have been developed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other Departments. The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has taken steps to raise awareness of issues of racism through its service providers.