1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting of 9 February 2004 with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmed Qurei; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4594/04]
Vol. 584 No. 2
1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting of 9 February 2004 with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmed Qurei; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4594/04]
2 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 9 February 2004 with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmed Qurei. [4625/04]
3 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of his meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmed Qurei; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5887/04]
4 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmed Qurei. [6696/04]
5 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the conference, Breaking the Barriers: Partnership to Fight HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia. [6707/04]
6 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the proposed agenda for his next meeting with the President of the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6968/04]
7 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the US Administration. [6969/04]
8 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the visit of the President of the United States of America to Ireland on 25 and 26 June 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6970/04]
9 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if arrangements have been finalised for his planned meeting with the US President in June 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7484/04]
10 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the King of Jordan on 1 March 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7523/04]
11 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his participation in the recent conference, Breaking the Barriers: Partnership to Fight HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia. [7567/04]
12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the likely agenda for the proposed EU-US summit in June 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7568/04]
13 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if a location has been agreed for his EU-US summit meeting with President Bush in June 2004; if a programme has been agreed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7569/04]
14 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent contacts with members of the United States Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7570/04]
15 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the Breaking the Barriers: Partnership to Fight HIV-AIDS conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7572/04]
16 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agenda for the planned trip of US President George Bush to Ireland on 25 and 26 June 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7578/04]
17 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Palestine, Ahmed Qurei; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7945/04]
18 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his visit to the United States for St. Patrick’s Day 2004. [8287/04]
19 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with US President Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8290/04]
20 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8291/04]
21 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States, particularly on discussions he had with President Bush and the Bush Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8594/04]
22 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States. [9087/04]
23 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the President of the United States, Mr. George W. Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9088/04]
24 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the America-Ireland Fund dinner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9089/04]
25 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the proposed agenda for the visit of the President of the United States of America to Ireland on 25 and 26 June 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9097/04]
26 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the arrangements for the visit of the President of the United States of America to Ireland on 25 and 26 June 2004 have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9107/04]
27 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if there has been reconsideration of the planned visit here by President Bush; if not, the additional security precautions which will be put into operation for the visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9111/04]
28 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent official visit to the United States, in particular, on his meeting with President Bush and the US Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9175/04]
29 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if the use of Ireland as the venue for the EU-US summit was at the request of US President George Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9560/04]
30 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with US President George Bush in Washington on 17 March 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9562/04]
31 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach the matters he discussed with the US President when they met for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10028/04]
32 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the discussions he plans to have with other EU leaders at the accession ceremonies for new member states in Dublin on 1 May 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11745/04]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 32, inclusive, together.
I met with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmed Qurei, on 11 February. The visit to Dublin was his first outside the Middle East since entering office. We discussed the generally deteriorating situation in the Middle East with particular consideration of the prospects for political progress, the security situation and humanitarian issues. A comprehensive joint communiqué was issued after the meeting, which has been placed in the Oireachtas Library.
I opened the conference Breaking the Barriers: Partnership to Fight HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia, in Dublin Castle on 23 February. President Sampaio of Portugal, Prime Minister Nastase of Romania, Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bob Geldof were among those who addressed the two-day international conference, attended by representatives of 55 countries, with people working in the areas of education, fundraising and research on HIV-AIDS. In my address, I reiterated Ireland's commitment to the fight against the HIV-AIDS pandemic, which remains a global threat. While sub-Saharan Africa is bearing the brunt of the disease, it continues to spread in our region at an alarming rate. Explosive infection rates are being recorded in eastern Europe and central Asia. Partnership is key to the fight against HIV-AIDS and must remain on the agenda of dialogue between the enlarged EU and its neighbours.
I reminded the conference of my announcement in 2001 to increase our annual funding of HIV-AIDS programmes by $30 million per year. That pledge has been honoured and our annual spending now exceeds $40 million. In addition, we contributed $25 million to the global fund over the past two years.
I also spoke of the importance of focusing on Ireland's concerns in regard to HIV-AIDS and, in particular, the need for an educated, supportive and accepting attitude towards the many Irish people bravely living with HIV-AIDS.
I met King Abdullah of Jordan on 1 March for a working lunch. Our discussions were positive, covering our strong bilateral relations and the international situation. His Majesty wished to encourage Irish investment in Jordan, including as a gateway to Iraq for reconstruction work in association with Jordanian firms.
Northern Ireland was the primary focus of my visit to Washington last month. In addition to affording me the opportunity to brief President Bush and members of the Senate and Congress on the review and the need to inject a greater urgency in the process, I had the opportunity to meet Northern Ireland civic and political leaders who had been invited to Washington. I also attended the American Ireland Fund dinner.
I am extremely grateful for the continued support of President Bush and his Administration and our friends in the Senate and Congress for our efforts in regard to Northern Ireland. They offered their strong encouragement in the period ahead.
I thanked President Bush for the expressions of US support and solidarity following the callous bombings in Madrid. We discussed the ongoing war on terrorism and had a wide-ranging exchange of views on a number of international issues, including the Middle East.
I also discussed with President Bush his forthcoming visit to Ireland for the EU-US summit on 26 June. Such summits are an integral feature of EU-US relations and occur on an annual basis. As a rule, summits are held in the state which holds the Presidency at that time. They provide an opportunity to review important issues of shared interest and concern at the highest levels on both sides, to arrive at decisions for joint or complementary work and to address issues where there may be differences between the two sides. The agenda will cover a range of bilateral, economic and regional issues.
The details of that agenda have not yet been finalised and are the subject of ongoing discussions between Irish officials, the European Commission and our US partners. The arrangements for the visit will be brought forward in the coming months.
As regards my planned discussions with EU leaders on the occasion of the ceremonies to welcome the ten new member states on 1 May, I will meet all of my colleagues over dinner in Farmleigh on the evening of 1 May. I will also meet the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, and the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, on the morning of 1 May and will have a joint press conference with them.
I will meet the Prime Minister of Slovenia in Dublin on Sunday, 2 May. This meeting forms part of my schedule of meetings with all EU leaders in the run up to the European Council meeting on 17 and 18 June. I expect our discussions to focus on preparations for the summit in June and the intergovernmental conference.
I will also have the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister Mr. Blair for discussions during his visit to Dublin at the weekend.
Does the Taoiseach believe assurances given recently by President Bush to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon, are inconsistent with the road map for peace that was endorsed by the quartet, made up of the EU, the US, the UN and Russia? What are the implications for the forthcoming meeting in May of the four partners in that regard?
In his capacity as President of the European Council, has the Taoiseach raised with President Bush, that many see this recent set of assurances — if that is the case — as being a further example of unilateral action by the US in respect of the Israeli-Palestinian problem?
In his capacity as President of the European Council, did the Taoiseach raise the question of the extra-judicial killings by Israel of Hamas leaders, with his EU counterparts or the Israeli Government?
In regard to the killing of two Hamas leaders over the past month, we have loudly and clearly voiced our opposition to extra judicial killings, particularly to those two. That is the position we take in all cases, not just in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The European Union has listed Hamas as a terror organisation and has acted against the organisation. The threat of terrorism cannot be countered outside international law and legal standards. We have made our position on that absolutely clear. It does nothing to help to resolve issues.
As the Deputy knows, the recent meeting of Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush was discussed at the foreign affairs conference in this country. The European Union Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in the Middle East and assessed the outcome of the recent meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon. Following that meeting, a statement on the Middle East process was issued. There was no change in the position but it reaffirmed the European Union's commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is believed that the roadmap represents the only route to achieving such a solution. Even though there are difficulties, that is clearly the view. I have had an opportunity to discuss this with a number of people in recent weeks and months and, regardless of the difficulties, everybody concerned is attached to it. The Quartet is still attached to it and believes, in spite of all the difficulties, it is the only basis for achieving a solution. The statement of the Foreign Ministers recalls the European Union's established position that the Union will not recognise any change in the pre-1967 borders, which is the essential difference between what President Bush seems to be saying and what the European Union is saying, other than any agreements that are achieved in negotiation as part of the final negotiations between the parties.
The Foreign Ministers noted that the refugee question is a final status issue and that the roadmap states that a final and comprehensive permanent status agreement that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must include an agreed just, fair and realistic resolution of the position. They also noted President Bush's reaffirmation of the United States commitment to the roadmap, which was the good part of that communiqué from him, as was his agreement that secure and recognised borders would emerge from negotiations between the parties.
With regard to the Deputy's second question on the reaction to the meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, there were positive and less positive elements to the exchange between them. There is no doubt about that. We reaffirmed the commitment to the roadmap and to the two-state resolution of final status issues in negotiations. They were all welcomed. I had the opportunity yesterday to discuss these issues at length with the Lebanese Prime Minister who takes an enormous interest in the process and is seen as a very honest broker in the region. The position of the European Union remains that no change in the pre-1967 borders will be recognised unless it comes about as part of the final negotiations between the parties and that the other final status issues and the refugee issues must be negotiated and cannot be pre-judged. That clearly is where the difference of emphasis lies.
Does the Taoiseach agree that the situation in Israel and Palestine creates an alibi for terrorism in surrounding countries? Will he, in his capacity as President of the European Union, outline at a future meeting he will have with President Bush in Ireland the difference of opinion between the European Union and the US? I noted that Prime Minister Sharon said he was happy that the United States was backing his particular programme. Have any recent updates been given to the Council in respect of the building of the wall dividing the two territories which, based on tradition in the context of the Berlin Wall, will not led to any resolution?
Will the Taoiseach comment on a letter to Prime Minister Blair from 52 former senior diplomats in respect of this situation and other conflict situations? Does he have a view or is he concerned about the implications of that based on their extensive experience?
The answer to the first issue is "yes". The Middle East situation will be on the agenda. I raised these issues again at the meeting on St. Patrick's Day. There are many positives in the American position and I have outlined the positives of the two-state position. That is a major change from the position previously adopted by the United States. The issue of the pre-1967 borders is a significant one. Deputy Kenny is correct that the poisonous effect of the ongoing difficulties, particularly in the past three or four years, between Israel and Palestine has had a huge negative effect in the entire region. I heard that first hand yesterday and I was informed about it by the King of Jordan.
This matter has been discussed with a number of people. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, met President Mubarak a number of weeks ago in respect of it. We have heard the same message from everyone, namely, that major progress will not be forthcoming anywhere in the Middle East. Two different approaches are being taken: the European Union plan and the United States wider Middle East peace process. Either one is unlikely to sustain any great credibility until progress is made. Unfortunately, progress has been extremely slow. If anything, many of the events of recent months have made matters more difficult.
As stated on many previous occasions, I have another difference with President Bush on this matter, namely, that he has no time for President Arafat. Mr. Bush sees him only as an obstacle to progress, whereas the European Union and I share the view that in spite of his advancing age and declining health, he remains part of the solution. Most people in the European Union hold strongly to that view. He remains the elected leader of his people. We must also ensure that we give total recognition to the work of Mr. Qurei and the Foreign Minister, who are leading the discussions, and that we do not try to draw distinctions between them because that would be entirely unhelpful. Everyone from the region has said that in dealing with President Arafat we should also deal with the new Prime Minister and the new Foreign Minister and not undermine their position in any way. There are some subtleties involved here about which Members are aware.
Europe has made it clear that we cannot accept the separation barrier built on Palestinian land. It has been said that the barrier would best serve Israel's long-term security but I believe its construction is a mistake. It will prove divisive and will play no part in a solution. The European Council again expressed its concerns last week about the route envisaged for the separation barrier and the departure of that route from the green line in the West Bank. It has been made clear that the appropriation of land in the West Bank or Gaza is illegal and contrary to international law. The restrictions associated with the separation barrier are having a major detrimental effect on Palestinian society.
Does the Taoiseach agree that targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders have no more moral legal authority than suicide bombings and, if so, has he represented that view to the Israeli authorities? As President of all the Europeans, has he received representations from other European leaders in respect of taking economic sanctions against Israel? If not, can he suggest any pragmatic leverage that might be used to restore some sense of proportion to the Middle East conflict?
As stated earlier, the European Union has listed Hamas as a terrorist organisation and acted against it. It has stated that the threat of terrorism cannot be met by acting outside international law and legal standards. That is clearly a reference to the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad——
So that is a "Yes".
——in respect of suicide bombings. Only one interpretation can be read into that. The Israelis may have had an earlier view about us but following our meetings with them, they accept that we hold a balanced and fair position, namely, that we oppose all acts of terror, but particularly those carried out by suicide bombers.
Extra-judicial killings are outside international law and are not accepted by the organised world as a way of dealing with the problem facing the Israelis.
I am not entirely clear from that reply where we stand. The Taoiseach seems to be saying these acts cannot be condoned and are manifestly outside international law. Does the Taoiseach condemn the targeted execution of Palestinian leaders? I know how the Israelis regard Hamas, but does the Taoiseach condemn the selective murders of Palestinian leaders and has he represented that view to the Israelis? He explained what the Israelis have represented to us but has he represented a view to them? Has he considered taking any initiative, either as Leader of the Government or as President of the EU, to bring home that view to the Israeli authorities? I asked specifically whether he had any representations from any member state in respect of the taking of or putting in place of economic sanctions against Israel while Mr. Sharon remains on the rampage? If he has not, are there any other pragmatic measures or initiatives he thinks might be taken?
Deputy Rabbitte said he is not clear on where we stand. Let us be very clear. I am saying that the targeting of Palestinian leaders is totally wrong. We have condemned it clearly to the Israelis and have shown our opposition to the extra-judicial killings. We have made this clear numerous times and ways over the past five weeks since the case was made. The Deputy asked earlier about the suicide bombings and I already replied to Deputy Kenny on that matter. We have equally condemned them and have been fair on the matter.
There has been some discussion but no representation on economic sanctions. There was some discussion about suspending the association agreements with Israel in view of the continued violations of human rights in the territories. The view is that suspension of the Euro-Mediterranean association agreement with Israel is not on the agenda. There would have to be consensus within the European Union for such a step to be taken. There would not be consensus on that issue. The argument has been made that such action would have undesirable consequences such as undercutting the role of the European Union in the peace process and creating major difficulties in implementing our programmes of assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In other words, it would be counter productive. That is the view held by the vast majority of states and strongly held by President Chirac and others.
Article 2 of the association agreement reinforces obligations which already fall to the signatories with respect to human rights. It is the European Union's view that the meetings of the association councils with Israel provide an opportunity to highlight the concerns on human rights to the Israeli authorities and that suspending the agreements would not be good tactics and would be counter productive. The people who would suffer most are the people we are trying to assist, namely, the Palestinians.
I would like to ask the Taoiseach about his visit to the United States and his discussions with President Bush. He mentioned in his reply that he mainly dealt with the issue of Northern Ireland and I am glad to hear that. He also dealt with global terrorism, an issue which also needed to be discussed.
As regards President Bush's visit to Ireland, the Taoiseach said in his reply that the agenda was not yet clear. When might it become clear? Is the Taoiseach concerned that on the American side the main focus will be photo opportunities based on the need for President Bush to garner support from the Irish-American voting public? Will he set out exactly what the agenda will be if it is not to be primarily that?
The Taoiseach did not mention the security arrangements to be put in place, which I asked about in one of my questions. Is it the case, as we have heard, that United States Air Force Eagle fighter planes from the UK will cover Irish air space?
Could the Taoiseach answer the questions raised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties as to whether there is to be status of forces agreement? I understand the purpose of such is to give special powers to US security personnel. Has that been agreed with the United States? Have any instructions been given to US security personnel regarding circumstances where they feel there is a need to open fire? Will instructions be given from the Irish side in that regard, as they were previously by the UK authorities in the case of a similar visit to the UK?
What is the Taoiseach's position now, given President Bush's expression of thanks to him for his support during the illegal invasion of Iraq and his own statement that he was against the war in Iraq? Would he agree that the statement of Mr. James Kenny, the US Ambassador to Ireland, that Ireland behaved like an ally, flies in the face of the Taoiseach's statement that he was against the war? In that context and to clarify the matter in terms of the polls, will he end US military use of Shannon to make his position absolutely clear?
The priority issues are obviously EU-US bilateral issues. The agenda will be finalised, as happens in regard to all of these meetings, fairly close to the date of the meeting. As Deputy Sargent knows, such meetings are held regularly and the country that holds the Presidency hosts the meetings. That is standard practice and has been for a number of years.
President Bush does not need photo opportunities. He does not need to court publicity in this way. He tends to get it anyway, as the Deputy probably noticed. He does not need to come to Ireland in order to get his photograph in the paper, unlike some people in this House. That would not be a priority for him.
This year's summit provides a good opportunity to restore stability and vitality to the US relationship with the EU. It is our aim as EU President to build on what has been a noticeable improvement in the relationship over recent months and to deliver a summit that reconfirms the importance of the US partnership with the EU, our own citizens and the broader international community. There are many issues on the EU agenda, including world trade, the UN and other political and economic issues. The meeting will not be very different from other such meetings. It will take matters up from where they are at the time.
On security issues, any decisions will be made by the Garda Síochána or in association with the Garda. Nobody may act outside Garda control or in a manner which is not in accordance with any decisions the Garda would make. The Garda will have the ultimate say and we are likely to agree with its advice on any issues it raises. These issues will be in the hands of the Garda.
I answered questions on Iraq in the House for a lengthy period. My prime concern throughout this issue and during our period on the Security Council, was to work hard to maintain the primacy of the Security Council and the UN at the heart of this issue. We did so all the way until the end. When it was no longer possible to do so, it broke down and nothing more could be done by us or by the UN. We are still actively involved in that process — I was involved in it yesterday. We are trying to get a new Security Council resolution in this crucial period as we head for an interim administration. The UN is fully, actively and completely involved in that process. The issues to which I have referred will arise in the weeks ahead.
A central issue for us is that Kofi Annan and the UN should play a key role. The UN should have the power, ability and resources to do a job that badly needs to be done. Mr. Brahimi's report, which will be produced shortly, will indicate whether that will happen. A new resolution will be required. It is obvious that the early stages of the discussion on the resolution are continuing in the background. A resolution has not been drafted — it is not even in a draft form. It is inevitable that a draft will be produced in the weeks ahead. We will support that position.
What about Shannon?
Six weeks have passed since the Taoiseach met the President of the United States in the White House. Believe it or not, this is the first opportunity we have had to question the Taoiseach on the meeting. It was his first visit to Mr. Bush since it was conclusively demonstrated in front of the world that claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were fraudulent. Did the Taoiseach ask Mr. Bush why he put fraudulent claims to him last year about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify his bloody invasion of that country? Did he tell Mr. Bush that he repeated the fraudulent claims to the Irish people on many occasions in the House and elsewhere to justify the practical assistance the Government gave to the US and British invasion? Did he demand an apology from Mr. Bush for the political fraud perpetrated on the Irish people? Did he receive such an apology?
Did he get a receipt?
In view of the cataclysmic circumstances into which the Bush-Blair invasion plunged the Iraqi people — I refer in particular to the massacre of hundreds of innocent men, women and children by US forces in Fallujah — does the Taoiseach feel any guilt for having helped the invasion and for continuing to facilitate the occupation of Iraq by allowing the US forces to continue to use the facilities at Shannon?
Deputy Higgins's statement that this is the first opportunity we have had to discuss my meeting with Mr. Bush is incorrect, as he raised the matter with me on Leaders' Questions. This is the first time that the matter has been discussed on Question Time.
The Deputy knows that the issue has not changed in the past year. The opinion of the EU and Ireland at the time was not just based on what the Americans were saying. It is obvious that what they said is now the subject of examinations and investigations in the UK and the US. The fact is that it went back to the 1991 position, which was clearly believed. The clear view was that there were weapons of mass destruction, which were used against the Kurds on several occasions by the Iraqi people.
Until the very end — until the 6 March report — Mr. Blix's view was that weapons existed, but he wanted more time. The difference of emphasis is that he wanted more time to continue his investigations, but the Americans would not give it to him. We support the view of the UN that there should have been more time. It was not, as Deputy Higgins continues to state, based only on a view of what the Americans were saying. It was based on a factual position that had gone back to 1991. It was based on what Hans Blix had said on many occasions in the preceding 12 months. As I have said, there was a difference of timing, as Mr. Blix wanted the period of investigation to continue.
Deputy Higgins misleads people when he says there were never weapons of mass destruction. It must be remembered that thousands of people were killed in Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein using weapons of mass destruction.
While he was kept in power by the US.
It does not matter who was helping him. A year later, the Deputy cannot continue to put forward a misleading position.
I am not making misleading comments.
Deputy Joe Higgins must allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.
Did the Taoiseach get an apology from President Bush for his misleading statements?
I raised the issue of flaws in US intelligence. The Deputy will be aware that there are congressional hearings into this matter. I will reiterate what the record states because I do not agree with the Deputy's point on the Government's approach to the issue of weapons of mass destruction. The Government did not rely on US intelligence, instead basing its approach on 12 years of UN Security Council resolutions that stated Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was adopted on the basis that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This belief was——
What about the 15,000 people killed in Iraq over the last nine months? The Taoiseach is misleading the Dáil.
I ask Deputy Finian McGrath to allow his colleague in the Technical Group, Deputy Ó Caoláin, the time to ask his question.
——widely shared in the international community. The General Affairs Council in November 2002 and the Security Council on 19 and 20 November 2002 could not have been clearer when they stated that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was despite that there was no agreement at the time.
Approximately 15,000 people were killed in the last nine months in Iraq while the US still uses Shannon Airport. The Taoiseach is ignoring the last nine months.
On 6 March, Dr. Blix, head of the arms inspection teams mandated to investigate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, informed the Security Council that many questions relating to this matter remained unanswered. That was the position at the time. We now know that US intelligence was not as near as what it claimed, and that is now being investigated. While I agree with the Deputies on these points, they should not purport that Iraq was a country clean of weapons of mass destruction.
The Taoiseach should not hide the last nine months.
The reality of the record shows Fianna Fáil Ministers in Baghdad negotiating with the beast.
Am I now accused of exporting weapons of mass destruction?
They marched on his beef.
In the course of the Taoiseach's meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister, what practical supports were offered by the Taoiseach on behalf of the Irish people, or in his role as President of the European Council, for the Palestinian people's ongoing campaign of opposition to the construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank? Did he reiterate and reassure the Palestinian Prime Minister in the course of their meeting of EU support for the orderly Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the direct handing over of the area's governance to the Palestinian Authority?
Was the ending of the special trade arrangements between the EU and Israel addressed? Does the Taoiseach believe that such special arrangements should end pending Israel's adherence to UN resolutions on the Palestinian question? Does he agree that real action on the part of the international community is the only hope for the Palestinian people, as it provides a real alternative to their own strategy of despair as represented by suicide bombings?
At the meeting with Mr. Bush for the St. Patrick's week celebrations, did the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity to express his and the Irish people's concerns about the continuing Anglo-American occupation of Iraq? Could the Taoiseach tell the House from where came the proposal to hold the EU-US summit in Ireland? Was it an Irish proposal or did it come from the Bush Administration? Does the Taoiseach agree with the statement of the UN representative in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has cautioned the US against implementing a full-scale military offensive on the cities of Falluja and Najaf as it would amount to a collective attack on their citizenry, potentially leading to many thousands of deaths? As holder of the Presidency of the European Union and as our Taoiseach, will he indicate his position? I hope he will back the call of the UN representative so that such a terrible vista will not be witnessed.
On the position in the Middle East, throughout last year, in preparation for the Presidency, the Government, mainly through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has been involved in a series of meetings with both sides, trying to assist in every possible way and make progress in an even-handed manner. As Deputies know, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, visited the region twice last year and again during the Presidency. During two separate visits last year he met representatives of Israel and of the Palestinian Authority. This year he met the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Sharon. In Ireland, we met the foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority. We have had lengthy meetings with these people.
During our time as holders of the European Presidency, we have followed an even-handed approach. We have tried to assist the Palestinians in being constructive in their position and in their opposition and in building a case that will win support not only from the Quartet but also internationally. We have been actively engaged in this process and the Israelis know the part we have been playing. We have also kept in touch with the Israelis and tried to help them as much as we can. We have kept in touch with the other members of the Quartet, Russia and the USA, in the context of our role in the EU. That has been useful.
However, there are still enormous difficulties. The Deputy asked whether I reiterated EU support for the orderly Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The answer is "Yes". Our position is that provided it is not seen as part of the final settlement and done in an orderly, constructive way, and that the international community is aware of it, it is a withdrawal which is acceptable to the international community. Five conditions were laid down for the withdrawal: it must be in the context of the road map it must be a step towards a two-nation state; it must not involve the transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised, negotiated hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza. In the spring European Council we put forward a resolution on how this should be handled and we have since followed that up at foreign affairs meetings. The position has been made clear. Obviously, the difficulties in the matter of extra-judicial killings have not helped.
I have already explained to Deputy Rabbitte the matter of trade and accession agreements. Economic sanctions would be seen as counter-productive and the people who would suffer most are the Palestinians. It would not work and there would probably not be full agreement on the matter.
Until the UN resolution——
Allow the Taoiseach to continue.
The meeting of the Quartet——
I would prefer if the Taoiseach did not answer questions that come by way of interruption. Deputy O'Keeffe has been waiting a long time.
The meeting of the Quartet takes place next week and it is to be hoped that will help with some of these matters. Hopefully, that will help on some of those issues.
On the United States and Iraq, our position is centred on the Brahimi report and getting all his work properly structured so that the UN will come in after 30 June and the terms of that and the settlement will be outlined. That was set out clearly in the statement by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is in the public domain following last week's issue.
I answered the question at the Forum on Europe a few weeks ago on the choice of Ireland as the location for the summit. I keep answering the question but people just ignore the answer. What has happened for years is that the council switches each time. This year it is in Ireland. Whenever a member state holds the Presidency, the council is held at a location it picks. Last year it was in Washington. In 2001 it was in Gothenburg, Sweden. Before that it was in Washington and the year before that it was in Portugal. The year before that it was in Washington while the year before that it was in Bonn, Germany. It alternates each year.
If we were to take the position, which I would not have dreamed about taking — I did not give it one second's consideration — that "Ireland does not want the President of the US", we would change something that has happened for 25 years and not invited him to this country. I did not give a second to it and I would not do so. I would be appalled to make such a decision and the fact that people ask me to make such a decision appals me even more.
I will allow brief questions from Deputies Jim O'Keeffe and Rabbitte followed by a final reply from the Taoiseach.
I refer to the security arrangements for next Saturday, 1 May, and the presidential visit. Approximately 5,000 gardaí will be on duty in Dublin. Fine Gael supports whatever security arrangements are necessary and I hope everything goes well. However, I am concerned about the rest of the country.
The Deputy is rambling well outside the content of the 32 questions.
Five questions have been tabled regarding the security issues arising next Saturday and during the Bush visit. If the Garda operation is centred on Dublin, a skeleton police force will operate throughout the rest of the State. How will that be handled? Will the Taoiseach issue a public appeal to criminals to take a day off and stay at home on Saturday? How does the Taoiseach propose to deal with the rest of the country?
The Government is hyping it up and is trying to provoke violence.
I thank Deputy Jim O'Keeffe for his constructive comments and we hope that all goes well during the upcoming events. We dropped an EU summit during the Presidency because it would have taken place over two days and it would have involved two or three days of closures in Dublin. The troops are additional and all Garda leave has been cancelled. The entire force will be deployed next Saturday and leave arrangements for the bank holiday weekend will not be in place. The numbers are not reduced in all respects.
What about the lurid security briefings——
I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. He was not called.
The Chair would not allow me to ask a legitimate question.
The Deputy had an opportunity to ask questions.
Not according to——
The time for Taoiseach's questions has concluded.
The Government wants violence on Saturday to keep people from coming to the country.
The Deputy could be constructive and call on some of the organisations in the United Kingdom not to come here.
The Deputy knows some of them.
I ask Deputy Higgins to resume his seat.
What organisations do I have anything to do with?
The Deputy should call on them not to come.
The Taoiseach wants violence.
I sure do not want violence. I do not think anyone here would cause violence. The Deputy should tell some of the organisations not to come. He should say the Socialist Party does not welcome people coming to this country. Say it.
Security sources are provoking it and the Taoiseach is-——
I ask Deputy Higgins to resume his seat.
The Deputy should say the Socialist Party in Ireland does not want troublemakers here.
Just like in Gothenberg, nobody should lift a finger or throw stones. They should not be provoked by security people deployed by the Government who are trying to provoke them into violence.
Just say that they should not come here. Why do you not tell them not to come here?
The Taoiseach should address his remarks through the Chair.
I am sorry. I was provoked.
Anybody who protests should do so in a disciplined and peaceful manner.
I know the Taoiseach is very busy, but while flying, he might have the opportunity to read Hans Blix's book. Hans Blix is the man whom the Taoiseach said a few minutes ago believed there were weapons of mass destruction which necessitated the invasion of Iraq. It will come as one hell of a shock to the author to hear that he is the cause of the invasion.
I did not say that.
That is what I scribbled down, and Hans Blix's name was in the middle of the explanation. Is it not a fact that there was a belief that there were weapons of mass destruction and in the need for the Americans to deal with it, to bring peace and stability to the region? There were no weapons of mass destruction, and instead, a cycle of death and destruction has been unleashed in the region. Even at this late stage, will the Taoiseach say that he will represent that view unequivocally to the American Government, and that he will stop trying to go a bit of the road with everyone? No weapons of mass destruction have been discovered, and the situation is deteriorating daily.
Will the Taoiseach, as President of the EU, say if any initiative is contemplated that acknowledges that the United States and its allies cannot deal with this situation as it worsens, and that there is a need to persuade the American Government to get a new UN mandate in terms of dealing with the situation that now obtains in Iraq? The whole situation has been disastrous for world peace.
In Hans Blix's main report, just before the war started, he stated that many questions relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remained unanswered. He said that the country was outside the disarmament obligations. Obviously Hans Blix wanted more time, but he believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was not listened to. I have not yet read his book, but I heard his extended television interview some four weeks ago, and I am aware of the distinction.
I agree with Deputy Rabbitte in his latter comments. It is now essential that the United Nations obtain a new, clear resolution, not one which gives them control on paper but not in reality. If the United Nations is to implement the Brahimi report, and if there is to be a new resolution to back up a new interim administration, that will have its own difficulties, because that administration will in effect be selected by Mr. Brahimi. Naturally I hope, as no doubt does Deputy Rabbitte, that it will work, but there will be difficulties, and I doubt if a six-month period will allow for elections. However, that is the plan. I do not think it will work in such a short period, nor do most of the people to whom I have spoken in the region.
Yesterday I spoke to the Lebanese Prime Minister, who has toured the region. He has been Prime Minister for 12 years, and except for a short period, his country has been the only democracy recognised as such in the Middle East region. He told me that the process would take a year or two, and he is probably correct. Deputy Rabbitte is therefore correct too. The United Nations needs a clear resolution which gives the autonomy to move towards a peaceful position, despite all the surrounding difficulties. As I said, that resolution is being discussed, though it is not yet in draft form. It will need to be a powerful resolution, and if it is not, the difficulties and instabilities will continue. From the EU Presidency point of view, we are doing everything we can, in every way, to emphasise that message. There is agreement across the EU that this is how it should be.