Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 Nov 2008

Vol. 666 No. 1

Other Questions.

European Neighbourhood Policy.

Emmet Stagg


101 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his medium-term policy perspective with regard to supporting central and eastern European countries as they balance their priorities between Russia and the European Union. [38398/08]

Since 2004, considerable efforts have been made through the EU's European neighbourhood policy, ENP, to offer our neighbours to the east a privileged relationship. This relationship is intended to build on a common commitment to democracy and human rights, the rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. Progress has been made in these areas, although different countries progress at their own pace. It is important to emphasise that the ENP remains distinct from EU membership. The EU nonetheless has a strong interest in ensuring peaceful and democratic development in the region, and most of the countries there wish to have closer relations with the EU. They have also had long relationships with Russia. The EU recognises this and at the same time believes that the countries' foreign relations are primarily a matter for themselves.

For its part, Ireland contributes between €8 million and €9 million annually to projects and programmes aimed at poverty alleviation, good governance, democratisation and the reform process in a number of countries in the region. I am greatly interested in developments in eastern Europe and the Caucasus and intend to visit the latter region later this month.

The recent European Council decided that proposals for a future "eastern partnership" of the ENP should be submitted by the Commission in November. This is likely to see a build-up of relations over the medium term, with further work being done in such areas as regulatory convergence, free trade agreements, enhanced people to people contacts, political co-operation and extended EU support for sectoral reforms in the countries covered. Some of these points are covered in the new EU-Ukraine association agreement, currently under negotiation, which is likely to serve as a model for advancing relations with other eastern European countries. This is the approach the EU will follow in the region in the period ahead.

The Minister mentioned the criteria for the European neighbourhood policy, but does he agree it might be worth reviewing these, particularly the priority given, for example, to transitions to market economy? Some of the former territories dominated by what was the Soviet Union and in the neighbourhood of Russia have seen disastrous abuses in the transition involved to the market economy from previously socialised assets. Taking Ossetia as an example, how does he envisage the balance of autonomous regions being achieved by the European Union among regions which formerly fell within the Russian sphere of influence? Ossetia, along with several other regions, enjoyed autonomous designation in Georgia under the USSR. Am I correct that the EU's definition of sovereignty considers the outer boundary of a state and ignores such forms of autonomy as might have existed? Perhaps the Minister will agree that recognising forms of autonomy is important not only along the borders of Russia but also in respect of Africa, Asia and, possibly, China-Tibet relations.

I am not sure the disastrous events to which Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred could be accurately described as transitions to a market economy.

They were transitions to the rackets.

The Deputy can describe these events however he likes but they did not give rise to a fully transparent market. Much of the asset privatisation which took place following the fall of the Soviet empire was unacceptable. The process gave rise to some difficult questions.

Fundamentally, the EU's engagement with our eastern partners is informed by a genuine commitment to human rights, systems of governance and the development of democratic parliamentary systems. That will continue to be the case as we seek to act as a force for good. We must be mindful of history, however. Recent events in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia reveal the complexity inherent in ethnic minorities within geographical boundaries and suggest that, while boundaries are important, perhaps the critical issue is how minorities are treated by particular jurisdictions in terms of parity of esteem and genuine respect. Failure to act appropriately in that regard will ultimately result in crises.

I met recently with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Mr. Sergey Lavrov, who outlined one version of the historical narrative of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia, and I recognise the existence of alternative narratives. It is clear from the map, however, that the situation in terms of ethnic minorities is complex.

Have the countries of central or eastern Europe shared with the Minister their views of the impact of our "No" vote to the Lisbon treaty on their aspirations to join the EU?

Have the Russian authorities ever sought to lobby the Minister to recognise South Ossetia, whether directly or through the European Union?

In answering the pertinent question put by my colleague, Deputy Timmins, the Minister might also indicate whether he perceives a contradiction between the speed at which recognition of Kosovo was achieved and the problems that have arisen in Ossetia. In regard to Somalia, for example, is it his intention to recognise Somaliland?

The Deputy has gone far beyond the scope of this question.

He certainly has. Deputy Timmins asked whether we are being lobbied.

While Kosovo was seeking recognition, its representatives were knocking on the door of the Minister's predecessor.

I will deal with Kosovo in reply to Deputy Michael D. Higgins's question.

In regard to perspectives on our decision on the Lisbon treaty, engagement on that issue has not been significant. I suspect that the challenges with which the countries concerned must contend have pushed the treaty down their list of priorities. At present, the only pressing country in terms of membership applications is Croatia.

Are the Russians exerting pressure?

In regard to whether we were lobbied, the answer is "No". When I met the Minister, Mr. Lavrov, he was disposed to present the Russian perspective on the Georgian conflict. Our position is regarded as clear because we issued statements condemning Russian actions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and its recognition of the two regions as independent states. He understood our position.

I ask the Minister to address the provocations that led to these actions.

We believe that an international inquiry should be held. Perhaps there was an initial rush to judgment. Without taking a partisan view, I recognise the objective need for an international inquiry.

Certain issues arise in respect of Kosovo but, as I have argued previously, there are differences. The exercise of self-determination does not normally allow for changes to frontiers outside of decolonisation but there are grounds to conclude that exemptions are permitted in the case of fundamental abuses of human rights such as the mass killings and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo during the 1990s. From a practical perspective, the restoration of Serbian rule was unimaginable. The comparison is, therefore, not direct, although the Russians have questioned the level of consistency on the part of the EU.

Overseas Development Aid.

Phil Hogan


102 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the funding in his budget targeted at UNRWA; if the commitment given by the Government in 2007 for increased funding in 2008, 2009 and 2010 will be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38455/08]

I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to the vital work being undertaken by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, in support of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. UNRWA provides basic services to more than 4.6 million Palestinians and operates essential programmes in areas such as education and health care, relief and social services, micro-finance and the improvement of infrastructure.

Palestinian refugees represent a particularly vulnerable and marginalised group and for this reason remain a central focus of Irish Aid's programme of assistance to Palestine. In this regard, I am pleased to confirm that Ireland fully intends to honour the commitment we announced in January 2007 of providing over €11 million in support of UNRWA over the three year period between 2007 and 2009. Funding at this level will enable Ireland to become a member of UNRWA's advisory commission, which is composed of major donors and the Governments of the refugee host countries.

In 2007 and 2008, a total of €7.6 million was provided in core support to UNRWA, of which €2 million was earmarked for UNRWA activities in Lebanon. It is intended that a further €3.8 million will be provided to UNRWA in 2009. In addition to core support, a sum of €500,000 was provided to UNRWA in late 2007 to support the education sector in Gaza. This was in recognition of the particularly difficult circumstances with which refugee children in Gaza are confronted on a daily basis.

Our funding for UNRWA is a key element in Ireland's overall funding to the Palestinian people. Our funding has increased significantly in recent years, from €4.4 million in 2005 to €7.5 million last year, representing an increase of 70%. Thus far in 2008, €4.9 million has been allocated, and further disbursements are planned before the year's end.

I commend the Minister on maintaining funding for UNRWA at €11.4 million. Fine Gael would be supportive of preventing this figure from being reduced as a result of the contracting economy.

During my visit to the Middle East in July, I met representatives of UNRWA and was impressed by their work and commitment. We intend to continue our support for the agency.

Does the Minister agree that UNRWA's efforts among Palestinian refugees are required because of the ongoing unlawful aggression by the Israeli State against Palestinians? Israel's expansionist policies continue today, with the result that ever larger numbers of Palestinians are becoming refugees. Palestinians must pay the human cost of Israel's policies while we fork out financially for the good work being done by UNRWA.

Does the Minister agree the plight of Palestinian refugees will not be resolved until Israel feels the consequences of the occupation? Can the Minister clarify that the economic sanctions provided for in the EU-Mediterranean association agreements be implemented as a minium? This is why these sanctions were included, for where human rights were being abused and the territorial integrity of countries was not being respected.

Until there is a political settlement, the refugee problem will persist. I have had discussions with negotiators on both sides. There is acknowledgement that the refugee question is fundamental to any ultimate political resolution and the two state solution. As long as we do not have political resolution, we will need to provide comprehensive support via UNWRA to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. It is correct to say that the settlement policy is compounding the peace process and is undermining moderate opinion within the Palestinian movement, which is seeking to devise a way forward in terms of creating systems of governance and rule of law. There have been some successes in the West Bank, Jenin and elsewhere in terms of the performance of the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Fayyad, in particular, has had a significant impact and this has been widely acknowledged.

The perspective of the Union for the Mediterranean is to try to develop stronger and more regular dialogue between the protagonists and between Arab countries and Israel so that eventually a better atmosphere, conducive to resolution, will be created. We have met the principals of both sides.

A former Irish Army colleague of Deputy Timmins, John Ging, plays a crucial role in UNWRA. While it is very important, ideally UNWRA should not be necessary if the Palestinian situation had been solved. The Irishman who does such good work there says that he is facing continual blocks on the most essential medical aid, essential aid for child nutrition and plastic bags. The Israeli authorities suggest that these commodities are being used by those involved in subversive activities. Would the Minister agree that what is happening in Gaza, and the situation Mr. Ging and UNWRA are forced to work in, is little less than a siege?

I agree. I have met with Mr. Ging and he has articulated those points to me. The most basic supplies necessary for education are denied. I raised those points with the Israeli Foreign Minister at the time, Ms Livni, who undertook to investigate this to ensure it would not happen. Others in UNWRA made the point that ultimately the policy in Gaza is fuelling fundamentalism more than anything else. From our experience of conflict on this island, we know there are ways and means of creating conditions that lead people to agreement and reconciliation. It is my contention that the policies being pursued are counter-productive in terms of the security of the peoples of the region.

James Bannon


103 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will confirm that the overseas development aid budget as a percentage portion of GNP will not be subject to cutbacks in the lifetime of this Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38450/08]

The programme for Government contains a commitment to the expansion of the overseas aid programme. We have set a target of spending 0.7% of gross national product, GNP, on official development assistance, ODA, by 2012. It is estimated that Ireland's spending on ODA for 2008 will reach 0.54% of GNP.

In 2009, the total allocation for ODA amounts to €891 million. The largest element of this funding — €754 million — falls under Vote 29, international co-operation, which is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs through Irish Aid. A further estimated €137 million will be spent by other Departments and through Ireland's contribution to the EU development co-operation budget. It is estimated that the allocation of €891 million in 2009 will represent 0.56% of GNP and is a clear indication of our commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNP on official development assistance by 2012.

I will not dwell on this matter, which has been addressed two or three times already. We support the Government in its commitment to 0.7% of GNP and the continuation of that with regard to the sum going to aid generally. Concern appeared at the meeting of the sub-committee on overseas development today and had a wish list of three topics. Top of the list was that other European countries were not signing up to the 0.7% target as Ireland has done. In some cases, aid budgets around Europe are shrinking. Concern asked that Ireland take a lead in the EU to maintain that target and ensure that there is no further reduction in the aid budget of member states. That was the main priority.

I share the concern of the sub-committee and Deputy Deasy. We will push strongly for the maintenance of the commitment to 2015 in an EU context and to 2012 in our context. Nonetheless, pressures are coming on and it is important to maintain momentum.

In the context of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Brown took a significant initiative in terms of instigating a summit of the UN on the millennium development goals. That was a useful opportunity to put pressure on countries to rededicate themselves to realise the objectives of those goals, which are not being realised at the speed they should be if we are to get to the ultimate timelines originally suggested.

The Eurobarometer report of less than two years ago showed that 80% of the citizens polled did not know what the world millennium development goals were, which is a cause of great concern. The Commission's publication of three years ago examined what was aid and what was not. In the Irish case, some of the money allocated ended up as aid but in the case of many member states money had been deflected to other heads. It was not real aid. It is not a matter of the proportion of GDP but also what was covered. This is a matter of real concern. I should be reluctant to mention countries but Italy, for example, would not bear a forensic examination of what was allocated in the name of aid but was not.

I take the Deputy's point, which refers to what Deputy Deasy said. I am sure Deputy Higgins agrees that there is a role for Ireland to probe the issue more at EU level. We will certainly do so.

I am glad that the percentage of GDP is heading in the right direction. Is the Minister confident that the money set aside is spent effectively and efficiently in promoting awareness? That is the budget that Irish Aid holds. One of the criticisms levelled at aid organisations was that they spent too much on administration and self-promoting propaganda. Most organisations have addressed that and most of the money from organisations goes to tackling the source.

Last year, a sum of €250,000, which could have been spent on saving lives, rebuilding communities and addressing humanitarian issues, was spent on circulating the summary of the White Paper on Irish Aid. Only recently, €40,000 was spent on the annual report of Irish Aid. Very few people will read this and it could have been put on a website more cheaply, with the money going directly to the source for which it was intended. Does the Minister agree with the point I am making? In this era there should be more efficient and effective spending of the money directed towards Irish Aid.

The budget for Irish Aid is substantial, at over €800 million. One can argue a point in terms of an annual report or the White Paper, but we need to disseminate a message in this respect across the country.

I did not question some of the other ones which are effective——

We are all birds of passage here. What will sustain this country's ongoing and long-term commitment to Africa and to the poorest of the poor is the generation of sufficient awareness of what we are doing domestically to inform subsequent public policy to ensure our commitment in that respect remains at the core as one of our primary objectives. I saw the annual report and I thought it was a good one compared to some other documents we get. Its pictures told a thousand stories.

One of the greatest things I have witnessed since I took up this position is the great awareness among young people of our commitment to Irish Aid. I visited a school last week where 15 young boys are going to Ghana to meet with those in a partner school there.

They might as well do it when they can.

They will do it any way. They are raising funds. Many schools are engaged in the WorldWise programme, which is administered by Irish Aid. That represents the future. If we can inspire our young people in that manner, it will be money well spent, provided we do it well and effectively.

As a bird of passage, I am not sure if I am a dove or a hawk — I am definitely a dove. The term "birds of passage" used by the Minister is a nice one. It must come from the Mardyke.


Is the Minister confident that we can achieve the millennium development goals within the timeframe laid down? I mean "we" in the sense of the universal we.

Yes, in the sense of the world. I am pessimistic about achieving them. The summit that was convened in September was important to shake up and refocus people on attaining those goals. I pay contribute to the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in that respect. He led well on that issue and continues to do so. He is a good example of an international leader who brings a global perspective to the domestic agenda. The Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, did likewise in his capacity when Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Finance and also when he attended the summit and launched our own taskforce on hunger. It had a significant launch and demonstrates a particular commitment we can make to the overall attainment of the millennium development goals.

Diplomatic Representation.

John Deasy


104 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to strengthen Ireland’s level of representation in the US Federal Government and on Capitol Hill in order to safeguard Ireland’s strategic national economic interests, with the upcoming inauguration of a new US president. [38476/08]

The relationship between Ireland and the United States is deep, close and enduring. Successive presidents and their administrations, and Ireland's many friends on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle, have made an enormous contribution to bringing peace and economic prosperity to this island. These efforts have been greatly assisted by the distinguished individuals who have served as the President's Special Envoy on Northern Ireland, including the current esteemed incumbent Paula Dobriansky.

Following yesterday's election I congratulate President-elect Barack Obama on his victory. I look forward to working with the new President and his Administration in the years ahead to underpin and deepen further the economic, cultural and social relations between the United States and Ireland. President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain have both underlined during the campaign their continuing commitment to maintaining and developing relations between our two countries. Likewise, I will continue to work closely with the bi-partisan Friends of Ireland in Congress, chaired by Congressman Richard Neal.

This close co-operation is underpinned by the network of relations with members of Congress and their staff maintained by the embassy in Washington. The ambassador and his colleagues attach the highest priority to their work in this area and, following yesterday's US elections, will be active in ensuring that Ireland's interests continue to be effectively advanced with the new Administration and Congress. In this regard, the level of staffing in our missions in the United States and our honorary consul system is kept under ongoing review.

Aware of the need to constantly update the relationship and recognising the changing circumstances on both sides of the Atlantic, our ambassador in Washington has been asked by the Taoiseach to lead a strategic review of Ireland-US relations and to report on this by the end of the year. The review is intended to facilitate the further development of this important relationship and to explore how our already close ties might be further enhanced into the future. Considerable work on the review has already taken place and our ambassador in Washington has invited organisations and individuals across the United States to contribute their views.

I tabled this question in the expectation that Senator Obama would win yesterday and he did. I listened to the US Ambassador's interview on "Morning Ireland" this morning and he made an interesting comment. He said what somebody said on a campaign trail and what he or she did on being elected were two different things. I am not sure this will be the case with President-elect Obama. There is a danger he might follow through on what said on the campaign trail. That is a concept that is quite alien to the Fianna Fáil.

And its manifesto.

I challenge the Deputy on that.

America is facing a $400 or $500 billion deficit this year. It has a choice between increasing personal taxation or pursing what President-elect Obama talked about, namely, ending tax breaks for US companies that invest and create jobs overseas. I have nothing but regard for Ambassador Collins, as the Minister will be aware. I worked with him many years ago on legislation in Washington. However, I am not sure that we have the capabilities to prevent the passing of tax legislation that would injure our vital economic interests in this country.

The Minister, in his response to Deputy Timmins, mentioned the word "over-reaction". There is no over-reaction here. There is a stark realisation that we have become uncompetitive and anything that affects US companies doing business here will have a drastic impact on our economy. I am glad the Minister said that there will be a strategic review by the ambassador. That needs to happen. We need to review our capability on Capitol Hill in particular and the way we lobby in Congress.

I wish to make it clear that I take seriously the campaign platforms of both President-elect Obama and the defeated candidate Senator John McCain. We have analysed them, we are mindful of them and will not ignore them. There are up to 474 US companies in Ireland employing approximately 95,000 people.

I do not wish to digress but there has been a significant assault on the public service generally in recent times. We have 29 staff in the US. If one considers the extent of American investment in Ireland and the number of Irish companies that wish to trade and engage with the US, that represents an extraordinary performance by those staff.

The Deputy's question raises the issue of deployment and securing value for money. We will work with our contacts on Capitol Hill. If there are other ways of adding to that effort at parliamentary level or otherwise, we are open to suggestions. We are keen to do all we can in that respect. The changes that will be required will also involve legislative changes. There would be an element of congress involved in this. We have established contacts and we will continue to do that. Ultimately, I argue that what will determine American's fundamental self-interest will be the key issue here. It will be the making of intelligent arguments, which corporate America will make in terms of what is the best interest of America of US multinationals. They need a presence in markets across the globe. They also need to access the brains of the world in other locations and so on. They need to see how that adds to their global profitability.

A few years ago Bord Bia had only one member of its organisation based in the United States, which I thought was outrageous. The Minister mentioned there are only 29 staff in the US. Am I correct on that?

That is what I said.

That is 29 staff.

In my Department.

The Minister has 1,500 or 1,600 staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and he should reappraise how they are allocated. In view of the connections and the volume of trade between the two countries, the staff in the US should be strengthened.

I acknowledge this point is not directly related, but with the new regime we should push to deal with the difficulty of the undocumented Irish. There is a window of opportunity to do that, particularly based on the percentage and breakdown of the vote for President-elect Obama. He got a great number of votes from members of the Hispanic community. Perhaps more compassion would be shown on this issue and we could benefit from that.

On the economic side, IDA Ireland has significant bases in the US, but in relative terms, compared to some of our competitors it has nothing exorbitant in terms of numbers. Enterprise Ireland has a team in the US, as has the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. There is a broad spread of such personnel.

I am undertaking the review to which the Deputy alluded. We are reviewing how our resources are spread with a view to getting better value from them, with a very strong economic dimension in focus in terms of the changing world, where we should be and how to best use our human resources in that regard.

Foreign Conflicts.

Andrew Doyle


105 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the comments of Sir John Holmes, UN Under Secretary General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, expressed to the Security Council on 26 February 2008 (details supplied); the action he has taken in view of the comments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38459/08]

Phil Hogan


119 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there have been recent developments in the case of a person (details supplied); if he will call on Hamas to arrange an immediate Red Cross visitation to the person as required under international law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38456/08]

Mary Upton


127 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether a monitoring group should be established to review compliance with the human rights clauses in the existing co-operation agreement between the EU and Israel and that such a group should report before the end of the current French Presidency of the EU and make recommendations on the basis of its findings. [38373/08]

Mary Upton


143 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the economic and human siege of Gaza constitutes collective punishment on the part of Israel; and the proposals he has to end this situation. [38374/08]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


145 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will take steps to upgrade the relationship between Ireland and the Palestinian Authority; and if so, what these steps involve. [38324/08]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


149 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the EU decision in June 2008 to upgrade relations with Israel despite Israel’s failure to fulfil its obligations under EU-Israel partnership agreements as evidenced by a report published in March 2008 by a group of non-governmental organisations (details supplied); and if he will use the earliest opportunity to press the EU to reverse its decision of June 2008. [38323/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 119, 127, 143, 145 and 149 together.

I have already set out the very difficult situation in the Gaza Strip in my earlier reply to a priority question. The Government agrees with those who state that the effective isolation of Gaza constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law.

There is also a political dimension to the problems in Gaza and, in this regard, the Government strongly supports efforts being made by Egypt, on behalf of the Arab League, to work with all Palestinian factions to bring about reconciliation. I understand that a meeting is to take place in Cairo on 9 November between the different factions. Egypt is also making efforts to broker a deal which would secure the release by Hamas of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in return for the release of prisoners by Israel.

Positive developments in these efforts would no doubt significantly contribute to an end to all violence in and from the occupied territories and facilitate a lifting of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, both in Gaza and in the West Bank. The EU will give every possible support to the process. It has already stated that it is ready to resume the border assistance mission at the Rafah crossing-point in the event of agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt. In the meantime, I would urge Hamas to ensure the humane treatment of Gilad Shalit, and to permit access by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Government will continue to work with our partners to strengthen the political role of the European Union in the promotion of a negotiated two-state solution. The agreement at the EU-Israel Association Council on 16 June to upgrade relations with Israel was placed firmly in this context. Discussions with Israel on the precise elements of the upgrading are only just beginning and will continue in the months ahead. They are likely to include intensified political and human rights discussions. In particular, it is hoped to establish in the near future an EU-Israel sub-committee on human rights, which would complement the work of existing bodies such as the Association Council, the Association Committee and the EU-Israel Sub-Committee on Political Dialogue and Co-operation, in monitoring implementation of the EU-Israel Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement.

The Government believes that the peace process must remain at the heart of the European Union's relations with Israel and the Palestinians. Ireland strongly hopes that the Interim Association Agreement between the EU and Palestine Liberation Organisation, which entered into force on 1 July 1997, can be implemented as soon as possible. Its objective is to create a free-trade area between the European Union and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to establish a comprehensive framework for political, trade, economic and financial co-operation. Together with our European Union partners, we have urged Israel to facilitate its implementation and to join a trilateral dialogue with the EU and the Palestinian Authority. We would very much hope to see moves towards negotiation of a full association agreement as soon as conditions permit. We already enjoy excellent bilateral relations with the Palestinian Authority and look forward to these developing in the period ahead.

I compliment Sir John Holmes on the very stark presentation he gave to the Security Council. I believe we all support what he said. In areas of conflict we often talk about confidence-building measures. In the Middle East the only solution is the two-state solution, the return of the refugees, a return to the pre-1967 borders and the demolition of the settlements that have been created since March 2001. That settlement must be pushed because there will never be peace until agreement is reached on those matters. It is not possible to build up to it. In this case we must start at the top and work back.

Is it not the case that deepening the agreement and facilitating its extension without having insisted on a monitoring mechanism to report within a defined period of time on breaches of human rights conventions represented a capitulation to continuing Israeli aggression in Gaza?

On 1 September the EU decided that meetings with Russia about a new partnership agreement would be postponed, which I welcome. Should the same approach not be implemented if the Minister believes, as he has said, that there is collective punishment in Gaza at the moment? The EU-Israel Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement should be suspended as a means of making progress and forcing Israel to respond.

I have already made my points about Ireland having a strong position within the European Union in tying any trade agreement between Israel and the EU firmly in the political context and particularly linking it to the creation of a two-state solution and the peace settlement. There have been talks under the Annapolis process between the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister. Those talks offered hope if one talked to both sides, although others in the region were far more sceptical about the outcome. Nonetheless, there is a process in place and there is commitment on both sides to reaching agreement. Where that remains the position there is merit in arguments advanced by other states that there is a need to continue the dialogue and create a framework that ultimately would be facilitative of the outcome we all desire and to which Deputy Timmins alluded in terms of a political settlement.

Given the result of yesterday's US presidential election, one of the key issues for the European Union in its relationship with the US is to ensure the Middle East becomes an immediate and key priority of the new Administration. There is always a danger that with other priorities it could get relegated and it might only become a priority in the second or third year of the presidency. It is imperative that the Middle East becomes an immediate priority of the new Administration and that it is attended to. With that type of commitment allied to a stronger EU engagement we could push the process to a position where it might be possible to get the settlement we all desire.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.