Priority Questions.

EU-US Relationship.

Gay Mitchell


1 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the importance to both North America and the European Union of the transatlantic relationship; his views on the sentiments expressed by Ambassador Kenny of the United States of America (details supplied); his further views on whether Ireland is ideally placed, in terms of geography, culture and history to advance the American-EU partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4425/04]

Michael D. Higgins


2 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is expected that there will be a visit by President George Bush of the United States of America during the Irish Presidency; and the details of such talks as have taken place between officials of his Department and others. [4388/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

An EU-US summit is expected to take place during the Irish Presidency. Discussions are ongoing with our US colleagues to finalise arrangements, including possible dates and locations. EU-US summits take place on an annual basis. They provide an opportunity at the highest level of Government on both sides to review important issues of shared interest and concern, to arrive at decisions for joint or complementary work and to address issues where there may be differences between us.

This year's summit provides a good opportunity to restore stability and vitality to the EU-US relationship. It is fully acknowledged that the relationship has been through a very rocky period over policy on Iraq. There has been a noticeable improvement in the relationship over recent months. Our aim as EU Presidency is to build on this improvement and deliver a summit that reconfirms the importance of EU-US partnership for our citizens and for the broader international community.

Our reasons for doing this are simple. A co-operative and productive partnership between the European Union and the United States is critical to the prospects for long-term growth, stability and prosperity for our own citizens and for the broader international community. The EU and the US are each other's main trading partners and have the world's most important bilateral investment relationship, with the total two-way trade and investment amounting to approximately €2 trillion.

The EU-US partnership is also key to addressing many of the issues on the international agenda. The best way to restore confidence in the relationship is to focus on pragmatic co-operation on specific issues. On the political side the EU and US are working closely on the Arab-Israeli peace process and on wider relations with the Middle East region and on Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea — to single out a few of the dossiers — as well as co-operation on issues such as non-proliferation and counter-terrorism. On economic and trade issues, too often the media focus tends to be on disputes rather than on areas of co-operation. For that reason, I believe it is important to put these differences into perspective and to concentrate on the positive economic agenda between the EU and the US, while effectively managing the small number of outstanding disputes, which account for less than 3% of overall trade.

Of course, it is not possible to be in full agreement on all issues but it is important that both sides try harder to manage such differences in a way that avoids damaging the overall relationship.

I very much welcome the positive views reflected in US Ambassador Kenny's article of 6 February 2004, referred to by Deputy Mitchell. The momentum to restore and revitalise the EU-US relationship is coming from both sides, which augurs well for a successful summit during the Irish Presidency. I agree with Deputy Mitchell that Ireland is particularly well placed to assist in promoting EU-US relations.

Transatlantic relations also encompass the EU's important relationship with Canada. An EU-Canada summit meeting is scheduled for 18 March and will take place in Ottawa. The Taoiseach and President Prodi will lead the EU side and will meet with the new Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. This summit provides an excellent opportunity to add momentum to this important relationship. The summit is expected to conclude a review of the EU-Canada relationship initiated under the Danish Presidency in 2002 and to launch a new trade and investment enhancement agreement.

A close transatlantic partnership is essential for prosperity and growth on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the broader international community. As Presidency, we will work to reaffirm the strength, depth and significance of these relationships in a sprit of partnership.

Deputy Higgins asked for a list of the meetings which have taken place. There have been a number of meetings at political director level. I met Secretary of State Powell on 25 January when he attended the inauguration of President Saakashvili in Georgia and I will meet the Secretary of State again, together with Xavier Solana and Commissioner Patten, at the EU-US foreign ministerial troika on 1 March in Washington. I will accompany the Taoiseach to the EU-US summit, which President Bush and Secretary of State Powell will attend. In addition, a wide range of consultations will take place between the EU and US at official level, based on mechanisms developed over a number of years to foster co-operation across the full range of political and economic issues. The meetings held within this consultative structure will help prepare for the US summit and some of these scheduled for the Irish Presidency have been held.

Will the Minister confirm that President Bush has been invited to lead the US side at the EU-US summit? I did not understand what he said in his reply. I refer to the article written by Ambassador Kenny and the document published by Fine Gael. The Fine Gael document, an advance copy of which I have given the Minister, makes the case for a transatlantic foundation promoting better co-operation between the European Union and North America, in particular the United States, to be located at Shannon. Does the Minister agree that we have a golden opportunity to promote and advance this idea during Ireland's Presidency? As the European Union expands to the east Ireland becomes much more peripheral, but in terms of EU-US relations we are ideally located. Shannon is an ideal location, being the first stop-off point coming from North America to Europe.

Will the Minister raise with the United States the case for locating such a foundation to promote EU and North American relations in Ireland and will he consider funding such a foundation in its initial stages so as to breach the gulf which Ambassador Kenny refers to in his article.

Under the present arrangements, it is expected that a summit will take place during this Presidency. Discussions are ongoing with our colleagues to finalise arrangements, including possible dates and locations. If a summit is to take place, it will obviously be led on the US side by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Regarding the Fine Gael proposal about a foundation for transatlantic co-operation, there are numerous institutes and think tanks on both sides of the Atlantic that carry out very useful work on transatlantic relations. I understand that the Institute of European Affairs already has an EU-US group looking at the relationship. The ideas and research that emerge from such bodies certainly help inform the thinking of all of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, who are involved in this relationship. Before going further down the road towards agreeing to establish a foundation, one would have to take those facts into account. It would clearly require further examination, particularly in the area of funding.

While welcoming the new ambassador's wishes — and I hope he is successful in establishing cordial relations with Ireland — I put it to the Minister that if the visit referred to were to take place, the Minister would have to be explicit about the recent events of the war. He would have to face the fact that the war was illegal, that pre-emptive action was illegal under international law and that the best act of friendship might be to explicitly and unequivocally state Ireland's position. Does the Minister now regret not having spent greater effort in ensuring that the United Nations' inspectors were able to stay in Iraq and perhaps avoid some of the appalling loss of life, which unfortunately now continues?

It is too early to say what the full range of the agenda will be, but it would involve political, economic and trade issues.

I continue to refer to this incorrect characterisation of the Government position on the war, and to the motion passed by this House. Every effort was made by this Government, when Ireland was a Security Council member and thereafter, to continue with the participation of the UN weapons inspectors for so long as the Security Council wished. That is the position of the Irish Government, so it is not required that I make it clear to the Deputy. The position is clear in the motion of the House and is confirmed by the vote of the House.

Will the Minister confirm that the EU-US summit will take place in Ireland, as the venue has not been firmly decided on? Will he agree that it is a golden opportunity, particularly in an election year in the United States, which now claims 38 million people of Irish heritage, to get the President of the United States to buy into Shannon as a location for transatlantic co-operation between the European Union and North America? Does the Minister agree that if this summit were to take place in Ireland, it would be the right place to raise this issue? Will he put the issue on the agenda? It will be very rare for the Irish Presidency of the EU to coincide with a US Presidential election, and many Irish-American voters might be very pleased to see a US-supported transatlantic foundation in Ireland.

The Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and several Ministers have referred regularly to the necessity for the war, and the Taoiseach has made reference to weapons of mass destruction. Does the Minister now accept that this was largely a fiction used to create a particular effect? Will he agree that it is now time to review what took place, and the appalling circumstances in which it took place? I hope he is not asking us to believe that he ever condemned pre-emption. He never condemned a pre-emptive strike, nor did the Taoiseach or any Member of the Government.

I will correct that for the Deputy, because I did condemn pre-emptive strike. It is on the record of the House, which I will get.

The Minister told me the jury was out.

I have been asked this question by the Deputy on occasion. Let us be clear about it.

The Minister did say the jury was out.

If the Deputies want to hear the answer to the question, I will give it. In the same way as they do not like being misrepresented, neither do I. No one has a monopoly on truth in this House. I know what my truthful position was. It is set out in the motion which was adopted by this House. Of course I said that pre-emptive action was not a legal way forward in international law. I never suggested it was. The argument is that those who supported military action claimed they had a legal basis from Resolution 687, and subsequent resolutions. That is the argument they put. I did not say that I accepted it. I said there was no consensus or unanimity on the argument on both sides of the fence. What I said was that regardless of what the position of others was, our position was clear. We required a second resolution of the United Nations.

We did not get it.

We did not get it. That is why we stated in our motion that we endorsed the decision of the Government that Ireland would not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq. That is the legitimate position of this Government, which continues to be accused of misrepresentation by those whose motion was defeated in this House.

The Government allowed Shannon to be used.

Deputy Gormley, this is not your Priority Question.

Regarding Deputy Mitchell's points, I have already said that discussions are ongoing with colleagues to finalise arrangements, including possible dates and locations. I cannot be more specific at this time. As I have stated, if the summit were to take place it would clearly be headed on the US side by President Bush. Regarding the proposal on the foundation, I have answered in a previous supplementary that there are a number of such foundations already, that the question of funding would have to be considered, and that it is clear that the EU-US relationship would not be solved simply by setting up another foundation.

There is a substantive agenda to be addressed on a range of issues, about which in some cases there are differences. We have to explore and manage those differences through dialogue. There is also a series of co-operative talks taking place in the United States and the EU based on the strategic importance of this relationship for the European Union and for the quality of life and employment opportunities of our citizens. We have to deal with those too. The gamut of interests should be the subject of a summit based on finalising agenda to the mutual satisfaction of everyone.

Foreign Conflicts.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


3 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 57 of 11 December 2003, the further action he intends to propose to his colleagues on the General Affairs and External Relations Council in relation to the wall currently being constructed by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank; his views on the success that European policy in this regard has had to date; his further views on whether the construction of the wall along its current route represents a breach of the human rights clause contained in Article 2 of the EU Association Agreement with Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4493/04]

The question of the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory was referred to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 8 December 2003. In accordance with the rules of procedure of the court, member states of the United Nations were invited to make submissions which might be useful to the court in its deliberations.

After consultations among the member states, it was agreed that there would be a common EU submission and that individual member states might make national submissions based on established European Union positions. The common submission reflected the texts of Presidency statements to the UN General Assembly on 20 October and 8 December. The texts of these statements were annexed to the covering letter.

Essentially, the Union's position is that the building of the wall within the occupied Palestinian territories is in contradiction of international law, but that the General Assembly's request that the ICJ issue an advisory opinion will not help the efforts of the two parties to re-launch a political dialogue and is, therefore, inappropriate. However, contrary to some press reports, the EU has not asked the ICJ to refrain from issuing an advisory opinion. There would have been no consensus to adopt such a position.

In addition, the Government authorised me to submit a national statement. This statement, which is fully consistent with the EU Common Position, sets out the legal basis for Ireland's opinion that the construction of the wall in the occupied territories is in violation of international law.

Both statements were transmitted to the registrar of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 30 January. The written submissions of all interested parties, including the Israelis and Palestinians, have now been received by the court. It is expected that oral submissions will commence on 23 February.

I am afraid that the rules of procedure of the International Court of Justice do not permit me to make the text of the Irish submission publicly available at this time, but I assure the House that it is firmly grounded in well-known Irish positions on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories and the applicability of international humanitarian and human rights law in this case. It is clear that the consistent pressure of the European Union is among the factors which have caused the Government of Israel to reconsider the route and extent of the barrier.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

While any development which eases the dislocation for Palestinians caused by the building of the barrier is positive, the position of the EU and the UN General Assembly remains that the construction must still be stopped and reversed. Issues of international law are also factors in the case being brought before the Supreme Court of Israel by two human rights groups this week.

As regards the question of the consistency of the construction of the barrier with the obligations which Israel has assumed under its association agreement with the European Union, this would depend on the humanitarian impact of the barrier. This matter is being closely monitored by European Union diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Obviously the Minister is aware that hopes were raised that Ireland would play a leadership role in promoting a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the EU Presidency. The quartet is stalled and as the Minister admitted in his contribution in the Seanad last week, some of the reason for that is Israeli intransigence. The Minister will also be aware of the serious concerns about the EU's refusal to fully support the UN General Assembly's referral of the issue to the International Court of Justice.

The Minister said that the member states could not come up with a common position. Which member states are preventing a common position being adopted, and why is there some intransigence in the EU on this issue? Will the Minister request the Commission to examine the issue of the association agreement with Israel and propose that these association agreements be suspended under Articles 2 and 79, and that this be done at the next General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 23 February?

There is an EU common position. Such a position was established under the chairmanship of the Irish Presidency, one that was not available before the meeting began on that Monday but which, as a result of a focused and detailed discussion and further consultations in the following days, ensured that a common position was submitted to the court. People might argue to be in the common position but a common position was established under our Presidency. The important point also is that national statements were also made, including in this country. Ten of the 15 put in national statements, including the Presidency, but in our own capacity as a member state of the Union.

The position on the association agreements is that we continue to monitor these through our people in the territories. This matter is being closely monitored by the European Union diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We already see indications that consideration is being given by the Israeli Government to the prospect of re-routing aspects of the wall. Obviously we would rather not see it built but the Israeli Government claims it must protect the human rights of its citizens from suicide bombings. One must also take into account the human rights and humanitarian concerns of Palestinians who may be deprived of the basic requirements of daily life due to the line this wall is taking inside the occupied Palestinian territories and east Jerusalem.

On Ireland taking a leadership role, I assure the Deputy the Government is doing all it can, against a difficult background, to move the process forward. We had the first visit of Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian Prime Minister, outside the territories since his appointment in November when he visited Dublin this week. I assure the Deputies that the meetings he had with the Taoiseach and later with me were detailed and focused and regarded as helpful as far as Palestinians were concerned. There was a frank exchange of views and an effort made to try to devise means by which we can move this matter forward. It is not a question of simply putting forward legitimate grievances people on both sides have in this spiralling conflict. It is a question of trying to focus on the realisable, realistic efforts that can be made now, which would be reciprocal on both sides, to try to stop this situation deteriorating.

I reported the outcome of those discussions to members of the quartet and I continue my efforts in the Presidency, working with others, including the Secretary General of the UN, to try to move the situation forward. The prospect of a ministerial meeting between the Palestinians and the Israelis is being worked on as we speak.

Gay Mitchell


4 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the assurances that he or other members of the Government were given, in particular through contact with the American or British Governments, on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to military action taken by America and Britain in the absence of a United Nations resolution authorising that action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4426/04]

In the period prior to the invasion of Iraq, the US and UK Governments presented information and provided intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction programme of the Saddam Hussein regime to many foreign Governments. We were among the recipients of some of this material, and most of it is now available in the public domain. Both Governments also presented their views, both publicly and privately, on the threat to international peace and security posed by Iraq at that time.

I assure the House that the Government did not rely on US or UK foreign intelligence sources in its approach to the issue of whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the coalition action.

In arriving at a position on the threat posed by Iraq, the Government, like most Governments throughout the world, was guided by a number of factors: the hard evidence that Iraq had at one time been in possession of chemical weapons and had used them both in its war with Iran and against its own people; that it had sought to develop nuclear weapons capability; that it had persistently defied the demands of the Security Council that it verifiably dismantle its WMD capabilities; that it refused to co-operate fully with UN weapons inspectors; and that the UN weapons inspectors were not satisfied that Iraq had accounted for its stocks of weapons of mass destruction. The Government did not base its position on intelligence provided by either the United States or the United Kingdom.

The Government had due regard to a series of Security Council resolutions, going back to 1991, in which the Security Council stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. As regards verification of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, we relied on the reports of the UN weapons inspectors.

At the time when Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the 15 members of the Security Council, the council was acting in the belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This belief was widely shared in the international community. The General Affairs Council of the European Union, at its meeting of 18 and 19 November 2002, stated three times in the clearest terms its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was despite the fact that there was disagreement among many member states about how to deal with the situation.

In his report of 6 March to the Security Council, Dr. Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the arms inspection team mandated to investigate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said that many questions relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remained unanswered. The belief that Iraq retained WMD capability was therefore widespread, including in this House where different viewpoints were embraced.

Before turning to what Dr. Blix actually said, the Minister referred to widespread views within the European Union. The Austrian Government did not take the same view and certainly not in terms of making facilities available. The French and German Governments did not take that view, so I do not know where the widespread view in the European Union to which the Minister refers was. I will put on the record shortly some of the comments made by Dr. Hans Blix.

Will the Minister inform the House why he assured it on 23 October 2003 that there was no guarantee that Iraq no longer possessed these dreadful and illegal weapons and that, instead, there was good reason to suspect that it had continued to pursue this programme? He went on to say that——

It is not appropriate to quote during Question Time.

I am not quoting; I am referring. I did not say I would quote from any document. I am aware of the Standing Orders and I am operating within them. The Minister also told the House at that time that these weapons were a major threat to both regional and international security.

As far as I know we do not have an intelligence service of our own — the €500,000 in the secret service fund would not extend to that — but if the Minister did not rely on British and American assurances, on what assurances did he rely? Dr. Hans Blix informed the UN and the world that, had he been given time, he could have shown a critical path through which this matter could have been resolved and that a multilateral motion could have been passed by the UN to deal with Iraq had that country not let him finish his work, and he said it could have.

He recently accused the British Prime Minister and President Bush of behaving like insincere salesmen who exaggerated intelligence in an attempt to win support for the war. He also said that intelligence communities were too ready to believe the tales of defectors and that Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush, while not acting in bad faith, were too preoccupied with spin.

When he referred to weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes, Dr. Blix insisted that the intention was to dramatise it, just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to exaggerate the importance of what they have. Mr. Blix said: "From politicians or our leaders in the western world, I think we expect more than that, a bit more sincerity." That is what the EU fellow member states of the European Union did——

The Deputy is making a statement. I ask him——

In those circumstances, will the Minister tell the House what intelligence he relied upon if not the intelligence or the advice or the canvassing of the British and American Governments which have shown that multilateralism has been set aside and has set a woeful precedent for China, Russia or whomsoever——

Will the Deputy give way to the Minister, please?

The problem is that in preparing to put forward his supplementary question he did not listen to the primary answer. I explained precisely in my reply that upon which I rely. I made it very clear and I do not intend to repeat it as it is on the record. Quite apart from that, whether those weapons existed at the time, Iraq was in material breach of its disarmament obligations through its failure to co-operate fully with the arms inspectors in carrying out their mandate of verifying that Iraq no longer held weapons of mass destruction. I remind the Deputy that the Government was in favour of Mr. Blix taking whatever time he required to continue with the inspections regime. The United Nations Security Council unanimously determined in Resolution 1441 of November 2002 that: "Iraq's non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles" posed a threat to international peace and security.

I relied on the UN Security Council in deciding whether there was a threat to international peace and security. This resolution decided: "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, in particular, through Iraq's failure to co-operate with UN inspectors and the IAEA and to complete the actions required of it under Resolution 687." The resolution mandated "an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verifiable completion the disarmament process" established by several Security Council resolutions. The resolution instructed Iraq to comply, but Iraq did not do so. Why Saddam Hussein refused to co-operate fully with the United Nations and thereby avoid the possibility of conflict is a question I hope he will one day answer.

Question No. 5, please.

A Cheann Comhairle——

Sorry, Deputy, we have spent almost eight minutes on the question. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. He spent almost four minutes asking a supplementary.

What was the content of Colin Powell's phone call?

The next question, please.

It is a very important matter. Many people are still dying.

Of course it is. I have called Question No. 5. We have spent almost eight minutes on this question.

In the past few days 100 people died in tragic circumstances.

I have called Question No. 5.

Who gave these assurances? What was the content of Colin Powell's phone call? We are entitled to know.

Will the Deputy resume his seat and allow the Minister to reply to Deputy Gormley's question?

John Gormley


5 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will clarify the statement the Taoiseach made in Brussels in December 2003 that he was always against the war in Iraq; if he will outline that opposition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1288/04]

In his remarks of 11 December the Taoiseach confirmed that the Government had at all times striven to secure a peaceful resolution to the situation which arose from the refusal of the Saddam Hussein regime to meet the obligations imposed on it by the UN Security Council. Ireland made every effort while we were members of the Security Council and after to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict. We did this through the UN, the EU and bilateral contacts with the US and others, including the countries of the region.

On 8 November 2002, the Security Council, of which Ireland was a member at that time, agreed unanimously to adopt Resolution 1441. This resolution found Iraq in material breach of successive UN resolutions and gave its regime a final opportunity to meet its disarmament obligations.

During the period leading up to the adoption of Resolution 1441, Ireland worked discreetly but effectively to encourage consensus in the council. We encouraged members to work from a single text and to refuse support for any course of action which looked likely to cause division in the council. The outcome was a vindication of our constructive approach.

The Government publicly and repeatedly stated it was for the Security Council to determine whether there existed a threat to the peace, and then to decide what was to be done to remove that threat, and to resolve what measures were to be taken if its decisions were not respected or implemented in full. In every public statement the Government made on this issue we emphasised our opposition to war and our commitment to the resolution of the issue through peaceful means. We repeatedly expressed our strong concern about the risks involved in military action; the loss of life and material destruction; the danger of further destabilising an already volatile region; the deepening of misunderstanding between the people of Islam and the rest of the world; and the negative consequences for the struggle against terrorism. We argued that any military action should receive the clear and undisputed authorisation of a further Security Council resolution. Our position was clear and we articulated it at every appropriate opportunity. War could have been avoided if Saddam Hussein had co-operated fully with the arms inspectors mandated by the UN Security Council. Saddam Hussein was manifestly unwilling to do this.

When the US and its allies launched their invasion of Iraq, the Taoiseach came to the House on 20 March and moved a motion on behalf of the Government. This motion reaffirmed Ireland's commitment to the United Nations as the guarantor of collective global security and as the appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes threatening international peace and security. The motion expressed regret that the coalition found it necessary to launch the campaign in the absence of agreement on a further resolution. Furthermore, it endorsed the decision of the Government that Ireland would not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq. At the same time, the Dáil expressed its support for the Government's decision to continue to offer overflight and landing facilities to US aircraft.

This morning the Minister for Defence told the House that the Taoiseach can hold diametrically opposed views at the same time and still be right. This is yet another example of it. Does the Minister realise we are approaching the anniversary of the biggest protest march in the history of the State where 100,000 people went out on the streets of this city and protested against the military use of Shannon by the Americans for their war effort? Does the Minister accept he blatantly ignored their wishes? Does he accept that no other neutral state in the European Union, and outside, allowed its airports to be used by the Americans for their war effort in Iraq? Given that the Taoiseach said in this House that war was justified because Saddam Hussein had not surrendered his weapons of mass destruction and given now that there are no weapons of mass destruction will the Minister accept he, the Taoiseach, George Bush and Tony Blair got it wrong and that the war was not justified?

In any democratic society, thankfully including this one, if not elsewhere in some other parts of the world, people have the right to peaceful protest and to express their views, and I welcome that. Decisions made by Government that require approval by Parliament are made in this House in the democratic fora of our State, not on the street. While I respect the right of people to voice their opinions regarding the resolution of conflict, and many did so for many different reasons, not totally as claimed by the Deputy for the purpose of their opposition to war, an opposition I share, the motion passed in this House provided the democratic basis for our decisions. It was legitimate. There was not unanimity in the House on this question in terms of how people perceived our interests but it was done overtly in this House in the proper and appropriate way.

I am not aware if the United Stated sought to reroute its planes travelling to the Middle East through Helsinki in Finland. I presume there was no such request as they were not going in that direction.

They knew what answer they would get.

I confirmed — I got majority support in the House — that our position on this matter was as I have set out in reply to earlier questions regarding our support for the United Nations, the guarantor of collective global security, that being the appropriate forum for resolution of disputes threatening international peace and security. We expressed our deep regret that the Security Council failed to reach agreement on how to address the question of Iraqi non-compliance. We recalled our statements as a member of the Security Council on the adoption of the resolution in the previous October that it would be for the Security Council to decide on any ensuing action in the event of further Iraqi non-compliance. Throughout the whole period this Government held to its consistent position. When we voted in this House, we also endorsed the decision that we would not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq. The continuing effort by the Deputy and others to suggest that overflight or landing facilities constitute participation in a war is fundamentally wrong in international law and is a charge the Deputy does not ascribe to other countries such as Germany and France, which provided such facilities.

Mr. Justice Kearns said in the High Court that it is not compatible with international law or neutrality. This is a load of bull from the Minister. It is what we get every time the Minister comes to the House.

Deputy, please. You are being disorderly and I ask you to resume your seat. We are moving on to Question No. 6

The Deputy's intemperate remarks do not make him more correct on international law. They prove instead the paucity of his remarks.

I have the arguments here. I have the record.

The Deputy makes it up as he goes along.

It is the Minister who makes it up as he goes along.

I do not want to spend all day dealing with Deputy Gormley's question.

The Minister got it wrong.

Murder of Papal Nuncio.

Michael Ring


6 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made contact with the Government in Burundi following the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in December 2003; if he will report on the political situation in Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4321/04]

Jack Wall


24 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations which have been made to the authorities in Burundi regarding the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney; the assurances which have been received that efforts will be made to bring those responsible to justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4208/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 24 together.

There has been a series of contacts between the Government and the Burundian Government following the tragic and horrific murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in Burundi on 29 December last. Earlier this week, I met with the Burundian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sinunguruza, who travelled to Ireland in order to present the results of his Government's official investigation into the murder of Archbishop Courtney. This meeting followed an earlier meeting in Brussels on 13 January 2004 between my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the President of Burundi, where the murder of Archbishop Courtney was discussed and the Burundian President offered to share information on its investigation with the Government.

I appreciate the urgent and speedy manner in which the Burundian Government has carried out its investigation into the nuncio's murder and its willingness to make available to us the results of its investigation. I also understand that the Holy See, of whom the late archbishop was such a dedicated servant, has also received the same information from the Burundian authorities. Deputies will be aware that following the investigation carried out in Burundi, an individual is in custody on suspicion of possible involvement in the ambush which resulted in Archbishop Courtney's murder, and that legal proceedings are now pending.

From my contacts with the Burundian authorities, there can be no doubt about the deep esteem in which the late nuncio was held by the Burundian people and the very real sense of loss which continues to exist following his murder. These sentiments are also shared here in Ireland and I was very pleased during my meeting with the Foreign Minister to announce that the Government intends instituting a series of peace fellowships to enable Burundian students to come to study in Ireland, in tribute to the memory of Archbishop Courtney.

If any small consolation can be derived from the tragic events of 29 December, it is that the nuncio's murder does appear to have provided a renewed impetus to the efforts to achieve a final, comprehensive peace agreement within Burundi for which he personally had worked tirelessly. In my discussions with Foreign Minister Sinunguruza, I made clear that the European Union very much welcomes the recent progress in the Burundian peace process, including the opening of negotiations between President Ndayizeye and the FNL, the last group opposing the peace process by force. I also reassured him that the EU would continue its constructive engagement in support of the peace efforts in Burundi, including through the efforts of its special representative, Mr. Ajello.

As Ireland holds the EU Presidency, we stand ready to extend any practical assistance we can to ensure the current efforts are successful. In this regard, the Government has recently decided to make a contribution of €500,000 available in support of the African Union-led AMIB peacekeeping force in Burundi, as a practical demonstration of our commitment to assist the peace process in Burundi.

I pay tribute to Archbishop Courtney's contribution to the peace process in Burundi and his selfless dedication to others throughout his life. It is fitting that his memory be honoured and I join with the Minister in acknowledging that.

Suspicion for the murder falls on the National Liberation Front, the FNL, according to all reports. Is the Minister satisfied that this is the correct avenue of investigation? Are other avenues being investigated? One reads of 11 years of assassination in this sad region. In the context of the resources of the Minister and of the Holy See, which is well connected in the region, are there other suspicions in regard to the murder of Archbishop Courtney?

What steps are being taken by the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council to advance the peace process in Burundi?

We have, at the request of the UN Secretary General, contributed money towards the peace process in the context of the efforts which continue to be made in Burundi. We continue to monitor that situation and to provide all the support we can as holders of the European Union Presidency. The matter is being dealt with by the African Union and is one of the main successes among initiatives by Africans to solve the problems there.

Nelson Mandela was very much involved in trying to broker a peace between the parties and has done much since the Arusha accords were signed. I discussed this matter in some detail with Prime Minister Mbeki when I met him in South Africa recently. It is our intention during our Presidency to work with the newly established African Union to assist it in trying to bring about solutions to problems in Burundi, Sudan and elsewhere.

With regard to the investigation, we keep in close contact with the Holy See and the Papal Nuncio here, and they are anxious that we allow the inquiry to continue. Recent arrests have been made and the identities of four other suspects are known and their apprehension is sought at this stage.

The Burundians have a full understanding of what happened on the occasion in question. Obviously, there is sensitivity that we do not do anything which would jeopardise the peace process but that is not in any way to suggest that there is not a full, vigorous and robust investigation taking place in regard to the murder of Archbishop Courtney. The Burundian Government, in its recent meeting with me, suggested it is doing all it can in that regard, and the Burundian public prosecutor was among the visiting party. They are trying to apprehend four known suspects in addition to the one already arrested, and are satisfied that they are FNL personnel.

Archbishop Courtney's death was an incredible loss of an enormously talented diplomat of the Church. He was wise and experienced in conflict zones and it is very important that his example and contribution are not lost.

I agree totally with the Deputy.

Humanitarian Aid.

Phil Hogan


7 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian situation in Iran following the December 2003 earthquake; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4240/04]

Kathleen Lynch


74 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian aid the Government has provided or plans to provide to help the Iranian people to cope with the devastating impact of the recent earthquake there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4191/04]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 7 and 74 together.

It is now over six weeks since the city of Bam was devastated by an earthquake which claimed more than 40,000 lives. In this interval the people of Bam, of whom 75,000 were made homeless, have started to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. However, the scale of the disaster was so great that the rebuilding and full recovery of the city of Bam is expected to take years. On the day the earthquake struck, 26 December last, I allocated €1 million in humanitarian funding for the rescue operation and for immediate humanitarian needs. A further €2.3 million in emergency fundingwas allocated by the European Community Humanitarian Office.

Some €500,000 of the Irish funding was delivered to the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, IFRC, and the remaining €500,000 was provided to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, for onward disbursal to effective humanitarian organisations on the ground on a needs basis. Ireland has been commended by the United Nations for being one of the first donors to deliver on its pledge.

The view of donors, international humanitarian agencies and international NGOs is that the local authorities in Iran, with the assistance of the local Iranian Red Cross, responded exceptionally well to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the disaster. The emergency response phase has ended and international assistance will be required for the medium to long-term post emergency rehabilitation phase.

In early January, a UN assessment mission took place in Bam. This assessment formed the basis for the UN's emergency appeal launched on 8 January by the Iranian national authorities, the United Nations Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, OCHA, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The appeal requested a total of $31 million for shelter, food, water and sanitation. The long-term rehabilitation of Bam and surrounding areas is expected to cost between $700 million and $1 billion.

Further assistance for Bam from the Government is likely in the coming weeks. The main areas of need are pre-fabricated housing, water and sanitation. The rebuilding of health facilities and schools is another urgent requirement. I intend to take a best-practice approach in channelling funding through a national mechanism in Iran that will give the appropriate local authorities a degree of flexibility in determining rehabilitation priorities. This route would ensure local ownership of the recovery process, reduce costs and support the local economy.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he inform the House of the latest estimated number of deaths? The figures mentioned were between 30,000 and 50,000, which would make it the highest death toll from an earthquake for more than 25 years.

On the problems faced by the Iranian Government in the region and given the extent of the disaster, is the European Union considering taking special collective steps to try to help the region recover and rebuild? Given the extent of the problem and the terrible devastation caused, will the Minister of State agree that something exceptional needs to be done? Will he inform the House if such an approach is being considered by the European Union Council of Ministers?

On the estimated number of deaths, the figures available to me suggest that more than 40,000 people were killed. It was a major disaster. I understand that the last major earthquake in the region was in 1990 when 30,000 people were killed and more than 70,000 were made homeless. There is a good infrastructure locally, thanks to the local Iranian Red Crescent. There is a very good tradition in Iran and other neighbouring countries of back-up assistance being provided speedily.

The needs are huge. Following the search and rescue phase, which is over, aid workers are putting in place semi-permanent facilities, specifically pre-fabricated housing, for the many people who have had to endure freezing temperatures, especially at night. The rebuilding of the city will cost approximately $1 billion.

We will work closely with our EU colleagues and use our Presidency to ensure that the EU plays its part. We keep in close contact with the European Union. I said that €2.3 million was provided under the European Community Humanitarian Office. We have been working and will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the enlarged Union to ensure that continued assistance is provided. It will be required well into next year and the years ahead.

I understand there are dangers within Tehran where the potential for earthquakes and the gas supply could give rise to further disasters of this nature. I do not know whether this is a matter for the Petersberg tasks in terms of humanitarian aid. What specific vehicle within the European Union will be the correct one to use? Will the European Union make available to the Iranian Government its expertise and advice to minimise potential disasters in the region?

The Deputy is correct in saying that this area is prone to earthquakes. Part of the recovery process will be to ensure that structures in the area are earthquake resistant and that those involved in the process, including the European Union, will bear that in mind. The process involves the UN and the European Union working together in this regard.

The Deputy may be aware that there were some reports of a lack of co-ordination between the UN and the EU. On my direction and as part of the Presidency, we became involved in Dublin in ensuring that the UN OCHA and the European Commission officials were brought together. I assure the Deputy that this will lead to better co-ordination in the months ahead. The aspects of the disaster referred to by the Deputy will be borne in mind. During our Presidency, we will ensure maximum co-ordination between the UN and the European Union.

Will the Minister of State agree that it does not assist western relations with Iran when President George W. Bush describes it as belonging to an axis of evil? Will he agree the remarks were regrettable and that we should try to improve our relationship with Iran?

As part of the European Union, we have our own relationship with Iran. We support the work of the IAEA on the nuclear question. We are anxious, as part of the European Union, to develop relations with Iran.

Foreign Conflicts.

Richard Bruton


8 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Macedonia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4249/04]

My most recent meeting with the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ms Ilinka Mitreva, was in Brussels on 9 December last. She informed me of the Macedonian Government's intention to present an application for EU membership in February of this year. We discussed progress in the wide-ranging reform process and the improvement in the overall level of stability in Macedonia. The coalition Government in power is led by the pan-Slav party, the SDSM, in partnership with the largest Albanian political party, the DUI. It remains fully committed to the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which is essential for progress in the development of closer relations between the European Union and Macedonia.

The Ohrid Framework Agreement, which was brokered by the European Union, brought an end to the violent conflict in the country in 2001. Its objective is the creation of a truly multi-ethnic Macedonia. It provides for a series of constitutional amendments to safeguard minority rights, strengthen local government and secure equitable representation for the two main ethnic communities at all levels of state administration. Important progress has been made over the past year. A census has been conducted successfully and its results released. A dozen more laws required under the agreement have been adopted. Key draft laws on decentralisation are before parliament. The main political challenges in the period ahead are to ensure effective progress on the difficult but essential issues of decentralisation and equitable representation.

The EU continues to play a central role in support of the reform process in the country — politically, economically and in terms of security. This close co-operation is being maintained during Ireland's Presidency of the EU. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Macedonia, which was concluded in 2001, has now been ratified by all 15 member states of the European Union. It will formally enter into force this spring and will be the first of these agreements with countries of the western Balkans to be ratified by the EU.

In co-operation with the Macedonian Government, the EU is also helping to address the continuing security challenges in Macedonia, through the EU police mission, Proxima, which has been in place since 15 December 2003. The EU-western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki last June agreed that the future of the countries of the region lies in their eventual integration into EU structures. Progress towards this goal will be made through implementation of the reforms required under the stabilisation and association process. On 26 February, the Prime Minister of Macedonia, Mr. Branko Crvenkovski, will lead a high level multi-ethnic delegation which will visit Ireland for the presentation of the country's formal application for membership of the European Union.

Does the Minister agree that, between February and July 2003, there was a real danger that Macedonia would descend into the same chaos that happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina in recent years but, thanks to the efforts of the OSCE, NATO and the European Union, that did not happen? Does he also agree that, following the withdrawal of NATO, all the EU member states, excluding Ireland — I am not sure about Denmark — and the applicant states were prepared to participate in the peacekeeping force which went into Macedonia? Will he inform the House why, in those circumstances, Ireland did not alter its domestic law to participate in that force? Do we not owe it to those people? Are we not ashamed that we have allowed the Chinese, because of the Macedonian recognition of Taiwan, to block our sovereign right to send troops with other EU and applicant states to keep the peace on our doorstep in Macedonia, a country which on 26 February will apply for membership of the European Union? Is that not nonsense?

When will we see a proactive foreign policy in this House that takes on those who use NATO as a four letter word and anti-Americanism as a policy? When will we have the courage of our convictions to repeal the triple lock and give this House the right to decide on a case by case basis if we should participate in peacekeeping and peace enforcement when they are in keeping with the principles and priorities of the United Nations charter?

The European Union, through its diplomatic and political efforts, has been instrumental in ensuring that the violence in Macedonia did not erupt into civil war. We have been able to confirm the usefulness and importance of the EU through the Ohrid framework agreement. This is our backyard and it is important that Europe faces its responsibilities in this region.

This is perhaps a matter best addressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but I understand that the question of non-participation by Garda personnel in Operation Proxima was for operational reasons based on the recommendations of the Commissioner and nothing else. Operational reasons were given as to why it would not be possible for our police to be involved in that effort.

Operation Proxima will contribute to the efforts of the Macedonian Government to fight organised crime and uphold the rule of law in the territory of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with a particular focus on the former crisis areas. EU police experts are monitoring, mentoring and advising Macedonian police, and members of Operation Proxima are not involved in executive policing tasks. The mission was launched on 15 December and will run for an initial period of 12 months with a possibility of extension by agreement with the Macedonian authorities. It comprises 180 international police officers located at the Ministry of the Interior as well as at selected police headquarters.

On the participation by our Defence Forces in operations outside the State, it is important to point out the declaration we obtained and submitted as part of the second referendum on the Nice treaty that confirmed the Seville declaration setting out the triple lock. That is the basis upon which we would be involved. It is a matter for Parliaments to revisit the legislative framework domestically at any time and I am aware of Fine Gael's views on the matter. That is the position at the moment.

I find it difficult to see how the best interests of Ireland or our Defence Forces are served by sending troops to a relatively dangerous theatre such as Liberia, where, the Minister for Defence told the House, there is a medium risk militarily and a high risk in terms of Health while we cannot send them to the relatively safer theatre in Macedonia as part of an EU force because of our domestic law. I find that appalling. Will the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Defence, revisit the issue? The UN Charter allows for regional action once that action is in keeping with the principles and purposes of the charter. Clearly Macedonia met those terms, although it did not have a mandate for UN forces and that is why we could not participate. Will the Minister revisit the legislation?

This matter, as with all issues, is available for consideration at any time by any Government. As I understand it, apart from legal interpretations of our domestic legislation, there were also operational issues which influenced the decision.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.