Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Ceisteanna (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he intends to undertake during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12845/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the official trips he plans to make abroad up to the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14215/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

8 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his official visit to Spain on 28 April 2005. [14825/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

9 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Prime Minister Mr. Zapatero of Spain on 28 April 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14826/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

10 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Madrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14832/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

11 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Madrid with the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Zapatero; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14833/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister on 28 April 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14953/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

13 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he plans to make up to the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15069/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

14 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for his upcoming meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Jean Claude Juncker; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15205/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

15 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he plans to make during the current Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15224/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

16 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the role he envisages the National Forum of Europe playing in regard to the proposed new EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15229/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

17 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the Victory in Europe celebrations in Moscow. [15895/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

18 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the meeting of the European Council in June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15898/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

19 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he plans to hold on the margins of the EU summit of June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15899/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

20 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Russia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15905/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

21 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Emperor of Japan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15967/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

22 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of VE day in Moscow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15968/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

23 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Moscow and any discussions he had with other political leaders while there. [15977/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

24 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the EU summit of June 2005; if he has plans for meetings with other EU leaders in advance of the summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15979/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

25 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposed work of the Forum on Europe for the rest of 2005; if he envisages it playing any role in regard to informing members of the public on the proposed new EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15980/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

26 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he intends to take during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16063/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

27 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Moscow to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16064/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

28 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agenda for the June EU summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16065/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

29 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Jean Claude Juncker; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16066/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

30 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the role of the National Forum of Europe in regard to the proposed EU constitution referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16067/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

31 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the role which the National Forum on Europe will play during the referendum on the proposed EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16174/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (14 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 31, inclusive, together.

I travelled to Madrid on 28 April last to have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero. The meeting provided the opportunity to discuss various issues on the EU agenda, including the European constitution, the financial perspectives and UN reform. While in Madrid, I also had the opportunity to lay a wreath at the memorial for the victims of the Madrid bombings in Retiro Park.

On 9 May, I visited Moscow to attend the ceremony to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The ceremony was most moving. The events comprised a military parade followed by a lunch for heads of state or government. I did not have any meetings or discussions with other leaders in the course of the visit.

I also attended the third Council of Europe summit in Warsaw yesterday. At the summit, I stressed the continuing importance of the Council of Europe and the particular importance of the European Court of Human Rights. In the margins of the summit, I had a short meeting with Prime Minister Belka of Poland, where we discussed the current EU agenda, and with Prime Minister Sanader of Croatia, where we discussed Croatia's application for membership of the European Union.

With regard to foreign visits, I will undertake a number of engagements outside of Ireland over the remaining months of the year. This Friday, 20 May, I will travel to the Isle of Man to attend the British Irish Council. On 2 June, I will travel to both Luxembourg and Germany. In Luxembourg, it is intended that I will meet with Prime Minister Juncker as part of a series of bilateral meetings in the context of the negotiations on the European Union's financial perspectives for the period 2007-13. In Germany, I will have discussions with Chancellor Schröder on the European agenda and I will also deliver a lecture at Humboldt University.

I will visit the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Belgium, for an ecumenical service on 7 June. I will attend the European Council meetings in Brussels on 16-17 June, 27-28 October and on 15-16 December. I also intend to make a visit to Newfoundland and will attend the UN high level meeting to review the millennium goals in New York in September.

The June European Council will take place on 16-17 June. The Luxembourg Presidency recently issued a draft agenda for the European Council which includes the future financial perspectives, the Growth and Stability Pact, the proposed integrated guidelines for growth and jobs, the Hague programme on freedom, justice and security, enlargement and external relations. The Government's priority at the European Council is to have a successful outcome to the negotiations on the financial perspectives which meets the interests of Ireland. I have no plans at present to hold any bilateral meetings on the margins of the June European Council.

As an independent body, it is a matter for the National Forum on Europe to decide the role it intends to play in stimulating debate on the proposed European constitution. The National Forum on Europe has played a valuable role in facilitating open and independent debate on the work of the European convention and the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference that agreed the European constitution. The forum has already had a number of meetings, including regional meetings, on various aspects of the European constitution which are contributing to public debate on the issue.

However, I do not wish to get drawn into any debate on how the forum will conduct its business in the coming months. As I have said, the forum is an independent body and it is a matter for it to decide how best to continue facilitating debate on matters of importance on the European agenda.

I met his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Japan at Farmleigh on 7 May. I was honoured to welcome him back to Ireland and referred to his visit here as Crown Prince in 1985. I also referred to my meeting with him in Tokyo last year during the EU-Japan Summit. The Emperor and I noted the excellent bilateral relations between Ireland and Japan and in particular the continued strengthening of bilateral trade and investment over the past few years. Japan is currently Ireland's largest trading partner in Asia.

The Emperor and I discussed our developing cultural relations. We welcomed the growing numbers of tourists in both directions. I informed him that Ireland is proposing to further increase our educational services as well as our tourism trade as we recognise the importance to Ireland of attracting Japanese students and visitors. We agreed that Expo 2005 and the EU-Japan year of people to people exchanges are very useful in enhancing Japan Ireland links, particularly for young people. Ireland is participating in Expo 2005 and our pavilion is displaying the Celtic heritage of Ireland through art and music. I congratulated the Emperor on the very successful Special Olympics Winter Games, which took place in Nagano in March this year.

I am exhausted listening to that list. Does the Taoiseach intend to meet President Bush either on the regulation of illegal Irish emigrants in the United States or on the resumption of discussions on the peace process in Northern Ireland? The President's special envoy is due to arrive today or tomorrow. Will there be an opportunity this year to meet President Bush in regard to those matters?

Does the Taoiseach believe the proposed lifting of the arms embargo against China will be a subject for discussion at the June meeting of the European Council? What is the Government's view on lifting the arms embargo?

I note the comment from the head of the Iranian parliamentary national security and foreign policy commission on Iran lifting its voluntary ban on uranium processing and enrichment. He said the continuation of negotiations with the EU will have no results except the loss of time. This is a serious development with Iran involving itself again in uranium processing and enrichment. It is a matter that the Taoiseach must bring to the attention of the European Council because of the delicate and sensitive nature of the region and the seriousness of what is involved.

I have no other meeting scheduled for this year with President Bush. I will meet Mitchell B. Reiss on Northern Ireland issues. There is ongoing contact with him, which we appreciate. He has been very active on issues over several months and particularly in recent weeks. Over the next few days, he will have a series of meetings in London, Belfast and Dublin.

Last month, following the St. Patrick's Day meeting with President Bush, I reported to the House that I had raised with him the issue of Irish illegal emigrants in the US. Since then the US ambassador has visited me and I have followed through on those discussions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has worked with our contacts in Capitol Hill to find support for this issue. President Bush is supportive but it is not just a case for Ireland as there is a problem with the Mexicans. However, we have to win support in the US Houses. There are two Bills being taken there and we are trying to feed this issue into the debates. We have been actively doing this since meeting President Bush in March.

I recently reported to Deputy Rabbitte on the changed position on the Chinese arms embargo. Recently, Mr. Javier Solana visited Capitol Hill in an attempt to put forward the EU and our position that there should be some changes on this matter. To the best of my knowledge and subject to updated reports, Capitol Hill has a closed mind on this issue, which President Bush has no intention of going against. Since Mr. Jack Straw has been re-appointed as British foreign secretary, I do not believe he will change his position either. This will greatly annoy and disappoint the Chinese authorities. I dealt with them directly on this issue during our EU Presidency term. It will have its own repercussions but it is not for me to go through these. I would rather another approach in dealing with this issue. I do not agree with the Americans' fears but I cannot influence them.

These new developments in the Iranian nuclear programme are a big change and it is a serious issue. Last year the Iranian authorities co-operated with the UN organisations on the matter. However, they now seem to have changed their position. It will probably be discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 13 June before the European Council meeting. I am not aware of why the Iranians have changed their position. Late last year it was a positive one. However, the Iranians have now changed and this will require attention. We will wait to see what happens at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 13 June.

A statement was issued on the Taoiseach's behalf stating that he intended to meet the Prime Minister Mr. Blair in Moscow during the recent VE Day commemorations. In the event, Mr. Blair did not go to Moscow. Has the Taoiseach any immediate plans to meet Mr. Blair? Has he had telephone or other communications with the Prime Minister Mr. Blair on the present circumstances in Northern Ireland?

The Taoiseach recently met the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero. The Spanish people have already made their decision on the EU constitution. What are the Taoiseach's plans for the National Forum on Europe coming up to the time the Irish people will be asked to decide on the EU constitution?

The Prime Minister Mr. Blair did not go to Moscow that weekend because that was when he appointed his Cabinet and other Ministers. I have spoken to him by telephone and he has reiterated his commitment to making progress on the North and to give time and effort to it. He has a series of meetings this week and next week with the Northern Ireland parties. That engagement has been re-established. Now on the other side of the British general election, all parties are back into a series of meetings and actions. Nothing extraordinary has happened yet. I hope we will back into dialogue. The Government is anxious to make progress before the summer. The summer in Northern Ireland comes early as July and August are always dead months for negotiations.

We hope to bring legislation on the EU constitution to the House shortly. This will help in making the information process on the constitution and the Referendum Commission operational. I am anxious to do this with the co-operation of all party leaders. I have not made any decision on the date but we are working on it. The explanatory memorandum has already been circulated. The constitution is available on several websites and also on demand from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission offices. A White Paper is being prepared which it is hoped to have ready for next month. It will be circulated to every household. We have not finalised the date on this.

When will the legislation on the referendum be put before the Dáil? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the proposed referendum wording will allow the Government with Oireachtas approval to join the EU's new permanent structured co-operation——

Deputy, this is going well outside the questions.

I will leave it for another day.

There are 26 questions and I do not believe we can squeeze in that one.

I may have been trying my luck there. However, the Ceann Comhairle is wide awake and on to me.

Will the Taoiseach clarify where he sees the European Court of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights having a role and where there should not be a conflict or confusion arising between each? In Warsaw, the Council of Europe opened several conventions for signing. These included conventions on the prevention of terrorism, money laundering, search, seizure and confiscation of proceeds from crime, financing terrorism and the action against trafficking in human beings. Will the Government sign up to these conventions immediately or will there be a delay? Amnesty International has asked that all 46 members of the Council sign the convention on the action against trafficking in human beings without delay. Will Ireland be one of those signing without delay?

Prior to his meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero, the Taoiseach told us that he intended to discuss, among other issues, the proposals regarding the status of the Irish language in the European Union. This is the first opportunity the Taoiseach has had to report back to the House on the matter. Can he tell us the outcome of those talks and the current state of play regarding the status of Gaeilge san Aontas Eorpaigh?

The Taoiseach has pointed out that there were concerns in the Spanish Administration regarding other language interests. Will he join me in expressing support for different national languages in Spain such as Catalan and Euskara and indeed for all minority languages throughout the EU, so that there is some level of formal recognition for them? My primary concern relates to the Irish language and I would appreciate if the Taoiseach would advise us exactly where we now stand following his meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero.

Regarding Deputy Sargent's question on legislation for the referendum, I had hoped to bring it forward. I have listened to the points made by party leaders in discussions and speeches and I have been trying to ensure we will have legislation which will have the support of the House. That is what I wish for.

Regarding the Council of Europe, I do not know precisely how quickly we can ratify the various conventions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs attended the full sessions and working sessions on Sunday and remains in attendance today. We have agreement on certain issues and there is a process for ratification. I agree that such ratification should ensue as quickly as possible.

I believe the charter of fundamental rights helps the position. When first prepared, that document did not have EU legislative status but was there as a guide some four or five years ago. It subsequently became part of the European constitution treaty, so it gives an even stronger position, and protection, to the issues now in the Council of Europe guidelines. That was warmly welcomed yesterday by many speakers and seen as a positive move. It applies to the 25 EU countries but those outside the EU are not bound by the charter. The Council of Europe would like to see all these issues of human rights and the rule of law in the broader picture, with every country signed up to the agreements in the convention. While the EU signs up by means of the constitution, the broader Council of Europe is not covered.

Does confusion arise with regard to the European Court of Human Rights?

I do not think so. That court answers to the Council of Europe, which will probably enshrine in its own constitution the commitments of the charter. It has probably done much of that already. The bigger issue of the court is a different question, with so many new cases coming to it, which is causing difficulties.

In reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin, I took part in the discussions referred to. I referred only to some matters in my reply but I asked in particular for support on the Irish language issue. We now have a clearer understanding in that area. I am supportive of what the Spanish Government is trying to do, but a different emphasis is involved and I did not want that issue to delay our argument. We made that clear. I will support Prime Minister Zapatero in terms of the regional languages, but I did not want Ireland to become bogged down in that. We have now cleared that issue, which will help us to make progress. The next COREPER meeting is in June. There are some other issues to resolve with other countries but we are narrowing them down.