Other Questions.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Liz McManus


60 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, further to his interview in a newspaper (details supplied) on 9 May 2006, the Government position on Sinn Féin supporting the PSNI and joining the Northern Ireland Policing Board, has changed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19721/06]

Pat Rabbitte


70 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, further to his interview in a newspaper (details supplied) on 9 May 2006, he will clarify his position on Sinn Féin joining the Northern Ireland Policing Board; if the Government is demanding that Sinn Féin express its support publicly for the PSNI before the Executive is formed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19720/06]

Pat Rabbitte


147 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to Sinn Féin joining the Northern Ireland Policing Board; if the formation of a new Executive in Northern Ireland will be accompanied by Sinn Féin signalling support for the PSNI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19719/06]

Liz McManus


150 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs further to his interview in a newspaper (details supplied) on 9 May 2006, the elements of the Patten report that have to be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19722/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 60, 70, 147 and 150 together.

The Government has been clear and consistent on the issue of policing in Northern Ireland. Through the progressive implementation of the Patten report, the PSNI has undergone a wide-ranging transformation in recent years, and is now one of the most accountable policing services worldwide. It merits the active support of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, we have called on all political parties to support these new policing arrangements. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated in the Dáil on 4 April last, there are no substantive reasons in terms of policing reform for any further delay by Sinn Féin in endorsing the new policing arrangements. Such endorsement should include participation in the policing board and district policing partnerships. Sinn Féin should also encourage Nationalist communities to co-operate with the police in the prevention and detection of crime, thereby helping to implement the core Patten recommendations on policing within the community.

Regarding the degree of implementation of the Patten report, we fully agree with the assessment of the independent policing Oversight Commissioner that the policing reform process in Northern Ireland has been remarkable and unprecedented. I also acknowledge the unstinting efforts of the SDLP on the policing board on which, working together with such committed independent members as Denis Bradley and others, it has been instrumental in driving the Patten project forward over the past five years.

Given the complexity and ambition of the project, a number of outstanding issues remain which require attention and about which both Nationalist parties in Northern Ireland are concerned. For example, these include the low level of Nationalist representation among the civilian staff in the PSNI and the recent decision to give primacy to MI5 for intelligence matters. Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin seek reassurances that their concerns regarding these issues will be addressed. The Oversight Commissioner will report on the outstanding recommendations in his forthcoming report which is due out in the coming weeks.

However, I emphasise that these few outstanding issues should not preclude Sinn Féin from endorsing policing. The absence of that party from the policing board and district policing partnerships is the most significant omission in terms of implementing the Patten recommendations. In the context of the ongoing political process, support for policing remains a critical element in implementing a new political dispensation for Northern Ireland.

In the joint statement made in Armagh on 6 April last, both Governments recognised the importance of policing and the need for progress on that front. Clearly, the more progress made on policing the better the climate of trust and confidence that will be engendered. Both Governments want to see such progress and the Government wants Sinn Féin to take the necessary steps without delay. Equally, however, both Governments are clear that it is not helpful at this stage to set preconditions or to erect new barriers to political progress.

The Government wants the policing issue to be resolved in the context of a restored Executive later in the year and will continue to work to resolve this and other outstanding issues in the period ahead.

While I am grateful to the Minister of State, perhaps the clarification in the long reply was insufficient. After the meeting at Farmleigh, the joint statement issued by the two Governments suggested that Sinn Féin needed to confront the issue of policing once and for all. It noted that by the summer, the Governments wanted Sinn Féin to give full recognition to the PSNI for the first time and to join the policing boards. This would clear the way for the devolution of policing powers to a restored Northern Executive.

However, in an interview conducted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, withThe Irish Times — this is a separate issue on which I have my own view — he suggested that Sinn Féin’s participation in the policing board was not a precondition for the devolved functions and powers which will be assessed in November. Which is it? That is a straightforward question.

Is the Minister of State aware that he has described a kind of conundrum which cannot be resolved? Is the Government in favour of Sinn Féin joining the policing board so that afterwards powers would be devolved in respect of policing, its control and whatever would be satisfactory? Or can one have the institutions working first, with Sinn Féin's relationship with the policing board to follow, even though the Minister of State has paid tribute to the decision of the SDLP to participate? The Minister of State cannot have it both ways.

Does the Minister of State agree that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has handed an instrument to the DUP? That is to say, the Patten reforms have not been completely implemented and the Minister of State has clarified that point to an extent. However, one can hardly state that non-completion of the Patten reforms through the non-participation of Sinn Féin is a valid reason if one has resiled from the commitment of both Governments after the Farmleigh meeting to suggest that Sinn Féin should participate as quickly as possible.

The position is clear. The Government has been absolutely even-handed in its dealings in this regard and in all activities in Northern Ireland. It wants inclusiveness, engagement and participation. It wants all those with political mandates to discharge them and to fulfil their obligations to those who elected them by participating in the various structures at every level, including the policing board. This is extremely important.

Does the Minister of State wish to see much of this take place before November?

The Government fully agrees with the assessment of the policing Oversight Commissioner that the policing reform in Northern Ireland has been remarkable. One would be hard pressed to find an equivalent process of root and branch reform of policing in any other democratic country in the world. In such a major undertaking, it is not surprising that a number of recommendations have yet to be fully implemented. In his last major report, the Oversight Commissioner indicated that 114 out of the 175 recommendations have been fully implemented.

The remaining 61 recommendations are in varying degrees of implementation. As I noted earlier, the Oversight Commissioner will report on the outstanding issues in his next report, which is due shortly.

The outstanding issues include representativeness, including the PSNI civilian support staff, training and policing college, community policing, the question of the primacy of national security and the police reserve. It will be important to bring this process to fruition.

On behalf of the Government and this House, I again emphasise that the few outstanding issues should not preclude Sinn Féin from endorsing policing, nor should it prevent any part of the community from co-operating with the police. It is critically important that leadership is given and every opportunity is taken, including Sinn Féin's involvement with policing, to make the necessary progress and for the Executive to make its deadline by November. It is critically important and vital for the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland, for the representation of the nationalist community, for balance within the policing operation and for absolute totality of operation and representativeness for all, that Sinn Féin become involved. The Government wants this to take place as soon as possible.

On the 61 outstanding items on the Patten list, is it the Government's position that it asks Sinn Féin to make a gesture of trust and to become involved before the 61 items are completely resolved? Paradoxically, one of the items is the participation of Sinn Féin itself. Is that the position?

Second, does the Minister of State view such an act of trust as being essential before November? Does he accept there is a great danger that if such an action has not taken place, it would be used by those on the other side who may not be in any way committed to sufficient reforms? I refer to reforms, such as those outlined in the Patten report, that would provide the kind of police force that would enjoy the universal respect of people in Northern Ireland.

The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and my other colleagues have made it clear, on behalf of the Government, that it wants the policing issue to be resolved in the context of a restored Executive later in the year. The Government will do everything in its power to advance this issue to the greatest possible extent, bearing in mind the complexities and sensitivities surrounding the policing issue. While there can be no guarantees on the outcome, the Government will continue to press for a resolution of this extremely important issue. Trust is critical and respect is vital. Participation in and engagement with the policing authority would build trust and would help achieve an active, representative and engaged Executive that would fulfil the political mandate from the people. This would be a major boost for Northern Ireland. There is a great challenge here. There is a huge responsibility. However, this is a moment where people must take the steps that are critical and we want everybody to move together in all aspects, including Sinn Féin.

How did it help matters for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to suggest that none of this was really that important before November?

I believe that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been taken out of context in this matter. He has been very consistent on behalf of the Government. He has been critically involved in the mainstream negotiations at the highest level of detail with all the different actors, personalities, parties and groups. At all times the Minister for Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Government wants to ensure that everybody works together, which is critical for Northern Ireland. As individuals, political parties, Governments and community leaders both in Northern Ireland and here in the South it is vital that we all recognise this. We again make a special appeal to all those who have this in their hands, who have leadership responsibility and a political mandate to ensure they discharge that mandate, fulfil their obligation and participate so that we can achieve the progress that is critical to all the people in Northern Ireland and vital for the future of the island.

That is a most worthy sentiment. The Minister for Foreign Affairs also made some other comments to the effect that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, was on a kind of electoral stunt regarding the anti-criminality campaign. I believe the phrase used was "electoralism". He more or less said that certain things get said in the run-in to an election, which was how the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, referred to the much publicised campaign of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, against Sinn Féin criminality in his interview with Frank Millar. Is the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, also involved in electoralism when he speaks?

Perhaps the Minister for Foreign Affairs has a more informed view as well as being committed to the high principles the Minister of State has just outlined. The Minister of State spoke about unity and everybody working together. Is the division between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Defence just one of those trivial differences that might be expected in the Cabinet or is it more substantive? Which of the Ministers are we to believe? Is the criticism of references to Sinn Féin criminality electoralism or is it the view of Government?

There is no division within Government. There is a commonality of commitment in ensuring that all the Ministers discharge their obligations taking into account the different portfolios they have, the serious responsibilities they must discharge and the different responsibilities that are peculiar to those Ministries. Ultimately, there is a unity of purpose to ensure that not alone do we discharge our obligations here in the Republic, but that we also support on a North-South and east-west basis, the people of Northern Ireland to make progress and work together to get the structures to which they are democratically entitled so that we can have an executive in Northern Ireland delivering to the people of Northern Ireland.

Thankfully it will be the membership of Sinn Féin that will determine our response to policing as it presents at any given time in the North of Ireland and any plans and proposals regarding same.

Does the Minister of State agree that the most pressing issue at this time is to get the political institutions operating and that setting arbitrary preconditions is totally unhelpful? The Minister of State will be aware that during this week, the Sinn Féin president, Mr. Gerry Adams, proposed Mr. Ian Paisley for the position of First Minister and Mr. Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister. He set out our party's absolute intention to get the political institutions operating again as soon as possible. Would the Minister of State agree that the best way for that to work is for all parties, including those in this House, to play a constructive role? Can the Minister of State outline to the Dáil the steps the Government proposes to take to make progress towards the re-establishment of the Executive in the immediate period ahead? Is it a case — I hope not — of watching matters as they unfold? What steps, if any, are being considered or pursued by Government to achieve that end?

It is not only the 61-odd matters that have yet to be addressed within the Patten proposals. We have yet to see sight of the facilitation legislation from the British Government, which will be critical in informing Sinn Féin's response. The issue of policing has a personal resonance in my case. Allegations were made last night on a BBC television programme by a retired RUC CID member Trevor McIlwrath concerning the involvement of at least two British agents in an attempted bomb attack on the Sinn Féin office in Monaghan town, which happens to be my constituency office, in March 1997, shortly before my election to this House. There was advance knowledge on the part of both the RUC special branch and CID about that operation.

As a Member of this House, whose life and the lives of whose colleagues in his constituency office were clearly at risk by that operation with the full knowledge of the RUC and the CID in the North and was carried out by agents of same, I ask what steps have been taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise this matter with his counterpart in the North of Ireland? I take no pleasure in asking this question, but I must do so. With such certainty of foreknowledge now established on the part of the RUC and CID, is there any question that there was foreknowledge in the Garda of the intended attack on the Sinn Féin office in Dublin Street in Monaghan town? Has that been inquired into? Has it been established? Can we have an assurance, if not before the House this afternoon, at the earliest opportunity that there was no such knowledge?

I totally condemn the attack on that office, as any right-minded person or any leader of any type be it at community level or political level would. It is disastrous that these things happen. I am not aware of the programme and did not see it. I have no knowledge of that to which the Deputy has referred. I will do some research as a result of what he has said. I fully respect his point and in all my answers on this issue I have not said otherwise. The right of the membership of Sinn Féin to take its decision on this issue is a matter for that political party.

The Government has pressed and will continue to press for clear tangible progress in this area in Northern Ireland in the period ahead. For its part, Sinn Féin recognises that the issue of policing must be resolved. It realises that it must take the necessary steps and face up to the policing issue, which we respect. There have been positive developments on that score, for example the recent remarks on the need to resolve this issue by Mr. Gerry Adams, to which the Deputy has already alluded, as well as unprecedented comments by the Sinn Féin leadership on criminality. There are also reports of some thawing of attitudes towards the PSNI in strong Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. While these are helpful developments they represent only a start and there are many more steps to take.

The Deputy asked what we will do. We will continue to press for greater movement in the coming months at every level — at prime minister level between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister; at foreign affairs level between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his colleagues in the UK, at justice minister level and at strand one level, in which I have been involved. We will use every possible opportunity to ensure progress is made. It is critically important that the political parties, including Sinn Féin, move forward, have confidence, respect their mandate, deliver on their obligations and participate to sustain the structures that will create the Executive, which will operate with a democratic mandate and deliver services to the people of Northern Ireland who deserve it. That can be achieved between now and November if we all move forward together.

Does the Minister of State agree it would be entirely helpful for him to ask his colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to clarify the issues raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin rather than leave them out there? If they are not clarified, they will become another obstacle to the decision that will be taken by the members of Sinn Féin, which should be avoided.

Overseas Development Aid.

Paul McGrath


61 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation in Zimbabwe; the number of Irish nationals resident in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19556/06]

The political, economic and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate and remains an issue of great concern for Ireland and its EU partners. Inflation in Zimbabwe has exceeded 1,000%, while unemployment is estimated to be 80%. Serious food shortages continue in the country, with the World Food Programme estimating that 4.4 million Zimbabweans, representing one third of the population, will require emergency food assistance this year. The dire political and economic conditions have led to large-scale emigration, with at least 2 million Zimbabweans living illegally in South Africa.

There is no indication that the Zimbabwean Government is willing to alter the policies which have brought about this situation or introduce those democratic and economic reforms long called for by the international community. On the contrary, we have seen increased repression, with large-scale arrests of peaceful demonstrators. In light of the current circumstances, the EU had no option but to renew its restrictive measures against Zimbabwe for a further 12 months last February. These are very much targeted at the Mugabe regime and not the people of Zimbabwe. It is clear that international pressure needs to be maintained on the Mugabe Government to alter its current policies. Ireland and its EU partners are determined to continue working with others in the international community, including our partners in Africa who can exert particular influence, to help promote democratic change in Zimbabwe. I particularly welcome the increased engagement by the UN Security Council and the efforts of Secretary General Annan and his humanitarian co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, to highlight the serious humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

The position of the approximately 3,000 Irish citizens resident in Zimbabwe is an issue of particular concern for the Government. The Irish Ambassador to South Africa, who is accredited to Zimbabwe, and the staff of the embassy in Pretoria pay regular visits to Zimbabwe to liaise with members of the Irish community and report on the situation in the country. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has also approved the appointment of an honorary consul in an effort to improve the provision of consular services to Irish citizens in Zimbabwe. The agreement of the Zimbabwean authorities to this appointment is still awaited.

The Government continues to make available humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe. Since 2004 Ireland has committed more than €12 million in aid to Zimbabwe, including €2.7 million this year to address emergency needs. The largest proportion of this funding is for immediate humanitarian needs, particularly the provision of food assistance.

I welcome the continuation of the EU sanctions against Zimbabwe, particularly the travel ban, the arms embargo and the seizure of assets. How much success has the EU had in seizing the assets of Mugabe and his cohorts? Despite the embargo, the situation is worsening in the country with repeated human rights abuses and a continuing food crisis. The Minister of State is known to fall asleep on the job but will he wake up to the fact that the sanctions are not effective? What steps do he and the EU propose to take to ensure Mugabe and his Government comply with normal standards of human behaviour and renew their citizens' rights? How sure is the Minister of State that the humanitarian aid provided to NGOs in Zimbabwe is reaching its intended target?

The Deputy has asked a number of difficult questions and I cannot answer the question about the effectiveness of the EU sanctions. However, they were reviewed last February and they are continually reviewed. The sanctions involve a travel ban and the seizure of assets of key figures associated with the Mugabe regime but I will forward the Deputy a detailed note about the monitoring and evaluation undertaken by the EU regarding the sanctions.

He raised the larger issue of how effective sanctions are generally. If sanctions regimes are properly operated, they can be successful, depending on the circumstances. The humanitarian aid provided by Ireland and the EU is effective but the situation in Zimbabwe is difficult. Millions of people are facing hunger because of this disastrous and badly led regime and the solution is to maintain pressure. The greatest disappointment among European donor governments is the tardiness of African leaders to condemn Mr. Mugabe. However, theFinancial Times reports today that President Mbeki of South Africa has thrown his weight behind the UN Secretary General’s proposal to visit Harare to meet Mr. Mugabe and his cohorts. I hope this initiative will succeed because Zimbabweans are facing the appalling vista of further misery, poverty and hunger, which will not let up. There is nothing to be up-beat about and the only scrap of hope is that President Mbeki and other African leaders will bring pressure to bear on the Mugabe regime and that Kofi Annan will prove effective in persuading Mr. Mugabe to alter his course.

There has been speculation, according to the Financial Times report, that a putative deal may be arranged as part of Kofi Annan’s visit whereby Mr. Mugabe will give a clear timetable for his own retirement and, in exchange, he may not be the subject of a prosecution for the various misdeeds he has perpetrated in the recent past. Hopefully, that will succeed. I share the Deputy’s concern and I will get back to him regarding a detailed evaluation of the sanctions by the EU, if it exists. It is timely to discuss the evaluation of humanitarian assistance because the EU is evaluating its emergency intervention in the Asian tsunami. Each crisis is different and it is difficult to evaluate how effective is humanitarian aid, but we reckon it is fairly effective.

Ireland has provided €12 million in aid to Zimbabwe since 2004 and we have not done so blindly or blithely. The money has been donated to NGOs on the ground, which have formed strong local partnerships. Generally, the money is disbursed through the UN family of aid agencies, including the World Food Programme and UNICEF. The remaining money is expended by Irish NGOs in Zimbabwe. The International Red Cross is always reliable when emergencies and disasters occur and we support that organisation because it has a strong track record.

Human Rights Issues.

Brian O'Shea


62 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contributions Ireland has made at United Nations level to progress the cause of democracy in Nepal; and the position in that country. [19734/06]

Billy Timmins


78 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the situation in Nepal; if Ireland gives grant aid to organisations or groups there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19448/06]

Olivia Mitchell


165 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the ongoing diplomatic contacts he or his Department have had with Nepal; the security situation in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19539/06]

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.

Will the Minister of State consider increasing significantly the aid to Nepal that provides institutional assistance that is needed in the short term, such as personnel and technical assistance?

I received an e-mail today from Nepal which states, "What an afternoon, but in the end we got 22 children with a promise of 15 more tomorrow". The e-mail describes the children, some of whom have awful skin infections, some of whom are very hungry, scared kids. There are organisations from Ireland working out there and I am involved with one of them, the Umbrella Foundation, which has four orphanages in Nepal. The Minister of State said the Government donated €200,000 towards setting up an office in Nepal, but will he look into the idea of liasing with these groups? Things have improved in Nepal in the last couple of weeks, but there are many difficulties with children in poor circumstances. I would like the Minister of State to appoint someone from the Department to liaise with some of these groups.

We gave €200,000 for the establishment of the UNCHR office and over €400,000 each year to the different Irish aid agencies in Nepal. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is constantly looking at the situation and we will review it with regard to communicating with these bodies. They have some good people doing a good job under difficult circumstances.

In the intervening period, the focus has been on humanitarian aid. The European Commission Directorate for Development and Humanitarian Aid increased its financial support for Nepal from €1.675 million in 2002 to €4 million in 2005. Around €2 million has been provided by ECHO in support of Bhutanese refugees since 2001 through the distribution of food aid. An ECHO office was opened in Nepal in 2005 to ensure much closer monitoring and co-ordination with donors. Up to €5 million will be spent in the next 12 to 18 months in support of these objectives. Ireland will not be found wanting in making the case at EU level and doing what we can to give extra resources where feasible.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.