Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Ceisteanna (141)

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

197 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding developing Ireland’s social economic and political relationship with Cuba. [25759/07]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

As I informed the Deputy in my response to Parliamentary Question Number 517 on 26 September 2007, relations between Ireland and Cuba have developed in recent years, particularly since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1999. Our Ambassador in Mexico City is accredited to Cuba. In 2001, Cuba established a resident Embassy in Dublin, which has been headed by a resident Ambassador since October 2005. Prior to that the Embassy was headed at Chargé d'Affaires level, with the Cuban Ambassador to Ireland resident in London. The Cuban Chargé d'Affaires and, subsequently, the Cuban Ambassador have been very active in seeking to promote links between our two countries based, inter alia, on people-to-people contact and cultural activities.

My Department and our Embassy in Mexico City also support the development of such links. In July 2005, the International Joyce exhibition, commissioned by my Department, was opened for display at the National Library in Havana and a donation of Spanish translations of the plays of Samuel Beckett was also presented on the occasion. And of course, many Irish people have visited Cuba in recent years. I welcome these developments and I would certainly wish to see the bilateral relationship between Ireland and Cuba develop further.

As the Deputy will be aware, the European Union's 1996 Common Position on Cuba remains the basis of both the European Union's and Ireland's approach to relations with that country. The overriding objective of Ireland and our European Union partners in our relations with Cuba is to encourage, but not to enforce by external coercion, a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Common Position was most recently reviewed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 June 2007, at which I participated. The Council's Conclusions deplored the fact that the human rights situation in Cuba has not fundamentally changed, and noted that the Cuban Government continues to deny its citizens internationally recognised civil, political and economic rights and freedoms. We also recognised the right of Cuban citizens to decide independently about their future. While the European Union will continue to pursue its dialogue with Cuba's civil society and to offer to all sectors of society practical support towards peaceful change in Cuba, the Council also emphasised the Union's willingness to resume a comprehensive and open political dialogue with the Cuban authorities on all areas of mutual interest. In order to sound out the potential for such a dialogue, which should take place on a reciprocal and non-discriminatory basis, the Council decided to invite a Cuban delegation to Brussels.

The Council Conclusions represent a balanced approach, which is in accordance with the principles of the Common Position. The decision which we took in Council to invite a Cuban delegation to Brussels would provide an opportunity for establishing an open political dialogue with the Cuban authorities. The Cuban authorities have rejected this invitation. However, we remain hopeful that such a dialogue will be established in the future. In this regard, on foot of a further initiative of the European Union, a Ministerial-level meeting between the European Union Troika and Cuba was held en marge of the 62nd United Nations General Assembly in New York on 24 September 2007.