1 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will a make statement on the outcome of his meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. [42604/06]
Vol. 631 No. 1
1 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will a make statement on the outcome of his meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. [42604/06]
2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings planned by the National Forum on Europe during 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43876/06]
3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he plans to undertake during 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43893/06]
4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he will next meet the President of the European Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43894/06]
5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the December 2006 European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43898/06]
6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Egyptian President, Mr. Mubarak; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43913/06]
7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the December 2006 EU summit in Brussels. [43950/06]
8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on meetings he had with other EU leaders on the margins of the EU summit in Brussels. [43951/06]
9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his plans for official trips abroad during the first five months of 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43956/06]
10 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his visit to the Gulf states. [43957/06]
11 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he has scheduled for 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1128/07]
12 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1581/07]
13 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. [1604/07]
14 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he plans to undertake during 2007. [1606/07]
15 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his recent visit to Saudi Arabia. [2034/07]
16 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the Middle East; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2341/07]
17 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the visits abroad planned for 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2347/07]
18 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his participation in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. [2691/07]
19 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2712/07]
20 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3671/07]
21 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3672/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 21, inclusive, together.
I met the President of Egypt, Mr. Hosni Mubarak on 7 December last. We discussed the need to strengthen economic and trade links between Ireland and Egypt and reviewed the situation across the Middle East in general. President Mubarak expressed his appreciation for Ireland's strong position on the Middle East peace process, both internationally and within the EU.
I made official visits to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from 14 to 19 January. This was one of the largest trade missions ever to travel from Ireland and it involved a total of 114 companies, as well as representatives of Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland. Twenty companies from Northern Ireland participated in the trip, accompanied by representatives of Invest Northern Ireland. Their participation emphasises the increasing level of economic co-operation on an all-island basis.
My colleagues, the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Education and Science, and Agriculture and Food, accompanied me on the mission. The key aim of the visits was to enhance bilateral political and economic relations between Ireland and the region. The response to the visits, both at official and business levels, was very positive.
During my visit to Saudi Arabia, I met the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, and Crown Prince Sultan, in addition to paying a courtesy call to the Governor of Riyadh. I also addressed an audience at the King Faisal Foundation in Riyadh on the theme of Ireland and the Middle East. The text of my address is available on my Department's website and in the Oireachtas Library.
Immediately following my visit to Saudi Arabia, I made an official visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. During the course of this visit, I met the Vice President and Prime Minister of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The main trade events were two business breakfasts hosted by Enterprise Ireland in Riyadh and Dubai. At these events, I met many Irish companies and organisations together with their Saudi and United Arab Emirates contacts and I witnessed a number of business signings at these meetings. During the course of my visits, I also had the opportunity to meet many members of the Irish community who live and work in the region.
I attended the European Council in Brussels on 14 and 15 December. As I will make a statement on the Council later today, I will at this stage merely give a summary account of its proceedings. The main focus of the Council was a debate on enlargement in terms of overall strategy, in respect of which the Council discussed the Commission's report on the Union's capacity to integrate new members, and in terms of individual applicant countries. The Council welcomed Romania and Bulgaria to the EU as new members with effect from 1 January 2007.
On the accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, the Council adopted the conclusions agreed by the Foreign Ministers at the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC. The conclusions suspend part of the negotiations with Turkey. The Council also focused on a number of topics within the broad area of justice and home affairs, particularly migration, decision making and Schengen.
I met with the President of the European Commission and the College of Commissioners when I visited Brussels on 8 November. I have no immediate plans for a further meeting. I attended the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 24-25 January 2007. The invitation to participate was extended in the context of the high levels of interest that exist as regards the dynamism of Ireland's economic performance. During the course of my visit, I attended the opening session which heard a keynote address by Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in the context of Germany's Presidency of both the G8 and the European Union.
I also participated in a dedicated session on Building the Skills of Tomorrow, which explored the deepening importance of skills training and lifelong learning more generally in responding to the pressures of globalisation. This also provided an opportunity to outline the remarkable transformation of the Irish economy since the 1980s, including the key role of our social partnership process.
I took the opportunity while in Davos to have a meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, which provided a useful follow-up to President Mubarak's recent visit, and with the President of Switzerland. I also had meetings with Dr. Klaus Schwab, Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and with a number of senior executives from leading companies with operations in Ireland.
In mid-March, I will be travelling to New York and Washington for St. Patrick's Day events. There will be European Council meetings on 8-9 March and on 21-22 June. On 24-25 March there will be an informal meeting of Heads of State or Government in Berlin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
I am sure that the National Forum on Europe will hold a number of meetings during 2007, continuing its good work in promoting public debate on the European Union in furtherance of Ireland's place in it. However, as the national forum is an independent body and I have no function in its day-to-day operations, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on its planned work programme for the year.
During the exchanges earlier, I mentioned that Deputy Sargent was deliberately misleading the House. I do not believe he was deliberately misleading the House, but I certainly believe he inadvertently misled the House.
I beg the House's pardon. I do not know what the Minister is referring to, but I did not mislead the House. I was just reading out correspondence from his Department.
I call Deputy Rabbitte.
On the figure of 98%, the Deputy is wrong.
We are relying on the media for that.
That is a fair admission.
It is a fair admission. The Deputy does not have a clue. He relies on the media for a lot.
I have called Deputy Rabbitte on the questions before the House.
That is a wonderful apology.
Deputy Gormley will have to leave the House if he does not allow Deputy Rabbitte to speak without interruption, please.
Will the Ceann Comhairle ask the Minister, Deputy Roche, to leave the House?
There are two infallible Ministers in this House, Deputies McDowell and Roche. They are both infallible.
They are a step above the Mayomen anyway.
Regarding the Taoiseach's meeting with President Mubarak in particular, did he discuss the Palestinian question with him? President Mubarak is on record as saying that he fully supports the position of Palestinian President Abbas for the negotiation of a government of national unity. Since then, the Taoiseach will know that matters have severely deteriorated. There is a state of virtual civil war between Hamas and Fatah. Has the Taoiseach had any contact with President Mubarak since then?
It was the understanding of us all at the time of the invasion of Iraq that the United States and Britain were to take steps to address the Palestinian situation, which most people see as the main cause of the instability in the Middle East. Have these efforts been abandoned and does the Government have a view, either at EU or UN level, as regards taking any initiative in this regard? Did the Taoiseach discuss the invasion of Iraq with President Mubarak? Does he support President Mubarak's statement during his visit to Ireland that there now ought to be "a phased withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Iraq"? What is the Government's position now on that issue?
During his meeting in Saudi Arabia, did he raise with the Saudi leaders the shocking human rights situation in that country? In particular, did he raise what Amnesty International has described as "discriminatory practices against women" which are "not only prevalent" but in some cases "required by law"?
In the aftermath of the summit, is the Taoiseach able to give the House any more information on what is the position now in relation to the draft treaty? Are we any further advanced and does the Government have any clarity in respect of its intentions in that regard?
I met President Mubarak on 7 December and the Prime Minister of Egypt two weeks ago. With each of them, most of the discussions focused on the Palestinian question and the Middle East issue. Ireland is one of three countries that Egypt has high regard for because of the position we have taken historically in support of the Middle East — from the time of our declared position 27 years ago in supporting calls for a Palestinian state and a two-state solution. The Minister for Foreign Affairs visited the Middle East last week to follow up on the situation.
The Deputy is correct that the situation has deteriorated, even since the meeting of 7 December. President Mubarak and King Abdullah, whom I also met, as well as a number of others, are endeavouring to put pressure on world opinion in an effort to try to bring forward some solution. The US Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, was in the Middle East at the same time that I was there and she visited ten countries. There is an effort in train to try to find some new way forward, although it will be extremely difficult.
They have to get the ceasefire within Palestine to hold and then some real momentum must be injected into the talks. I have been supportive of President Mubarak's position for some years in a number of areas and we have built a good relationship with the Egyptians. They have put tremendous effort into the situation.
President Mubarak declines to give a personal view of events. He believes what happened in Iraq was fundamentally wrong. He has always opposed it and his advice from the start has been consistent in this regard. However, he also holds the position that a unilateral withdrawal at this stage by the United States would be equally wrong. He does not want a fast withdrawal and he is concerned that the United States would change policy and move out. He is more concerned about this than the invasion in the first place, which he opposed. That is his stated position.
In all of these countries where there are issues of human rights, we always follow the same line, through the Department of Foreign Affairs. We raise our concerns and state our position from an EU position, which is accepted by the various countries. While I do not agree with the positions they take in Saudi Arabia, they believe they are reforming at their own pace. That is not how we would view such issues but they are moving along, regardless of how slow is progress. The last time I was in Saudi Arabia was almost 20 years ago. Things have changed, but they have their own pace and way of doing things. They talk openly about their past and they accept the position of the EU and our views. The work of Amnesty International and of the EU certainly helps to open their minds. I was there this time without any interference and I was able to meet and have direct dialogue with the women's business group, without the presence of anyone from the administration. This was unheard of three or four years ago. Members of the women's business group pointed out to me that many of the discriminatory practices were against men and they were anxious not to categorise the whole situation as a gender issue.
The German Chancellor has made the proposed EU constitution and energy the key issues of her Presidency. She has put much effort in to the constitution with her key negotiators. She wants to reach a position where a statement can be issued on where the EU should go, and this position was outlined in the Berlin declaration of 25 March. That will be taken forward from there for the second half the German Presidency. An extensive weekly contact is being carried out with all member states which is very helpful, and I appreciate the effort they are putting in with key people in every country. They hope to get agreement with everyone and they are making extensive efforts to influence the debate on the constitution among the presidential candidates in France.
There is little point in speculating. There are so many ideas and arrangements about what would happen, some of which I have no difficulty with, others with which I have a lot of difficulty. We will have to keep that closely monitored in the weeks ahead.