I propose to take Questions Nos. 62, 78 and 165 together.
The Government is pleased at the recent positive turn of events in Nepal, with the restoration of parliament and of an accountable government, as well as a truce. The restored parliament has voted for Nepal to become a secular, as opposed to Hindu, state and it has also voted to curtail the powers of the king, including control over the army and the hereditary principle. While we have not had any recent direct bilateral contacts with Nepal, Ireland has been active within the EU framework and has contributed to discussions in relevant working groups. On 16 February, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, met in Dublin with Dr. Arjun Karki, president of the NGO Federation of Nepal and co-ordinator of the South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication, who provided a first-hand account of the situation on the ground in Nepal. Dr. Karki was assured that Ireland was closely following developments in Nepal.
The situation in Nepal was also discussed by Ministers at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council meetings on 30-31 January and on 15-16 May. Following the discussion by Ministers on 15-16 May, officials have been asked to examine and make recommendations to the GAERC on possible EU action. The EU has already decided to lift with immediate effect the freeze on ministerial visits which had been in place since March 2005.
On 3 May, the EU issued a statement welcoming the first meeting in four years of the House of Representatives in Nepal and the decisions taken at that meeting. It added that this was an important step towards full democracy and sustainable peace in the interest of the people of Nepal. The EU congratulated Girija PrasadKoirala on his appointment as Prime Minister. The statement welcomed steps taken towards the rapid formation of an effective government. The EU encouraged members of the seven-party alliance to continue to work together in implementing its roadmap as it has done to date. It stressed the importance that any processes leading to constituent assembly elections and subsequent reforms are inclusive and participatory and respect the sovereignty vested in the Nepalese people. The EU also welcomed the decision of the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal to call a unilateral ceasefire for three months with immediate effect. It called on it to renounce violence completely and to commit to decommissioning its weapons. Without such a commitment, free and fair elections to a constituent assembly would be impossible. The statement encouraged the new government to take reciprocal measures in response to the ceasefire. It stated that the EU continued to believe that a ceasefire would benefit from international facilitation and monitoring and that the EU was willing to assist any process leading to a durable negotiated solution.
While the situation in Nepal has not been discussed recently at the United Nations Security Council, the UN has been playing an important role on the ground in Kathmandu, including through the field office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ireland contributed €200,000 towards the establishment of the office in 2005. Ireland has proposed that the EU look at providing further support for the valuable work of this office.
Ireland assists a small number of non-governmental organisations and missionary groups which carry out important development and relief work in Nepal. These organisations include Action Aid, the Church Mission Society Ireland, Interserve Ireland, the Leprosy Mission and Plan Ireland. In 2004, approximately €450,000 was provided to these organisations while €400,000 was delivered in 2005. The latest information from these organisations indicates that they are currently able to conduct their operations normally.
As the situation in Nepal remains fluid and uncertain, the Department will continue to monitor closely developments in the country. Ireland will continue actively to participate in relevant discussions within the EU and UN frameworks and will urge all sides to pursue a peaceful, political solution and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.