Ireland has consistently supported the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. Ireland has not taken a position on the future status of the territory, so long as that status is decided in a genuine exercise of self determination.
At present, Western Sahara is a non-self governing territory. Under international law, the economic resources of a non-self governing territory may only be exploited for the benefit of the people of the territory, on their behalf or in consultation with their representatives. Any exploration and exploitation activities that proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to natural resource activities in non-self governing territories.
I would expect that any Irish company operating abroad would have due regard to the principles of international law and the rights of the inhabitants of the territory in which it is operating. My Department has committed to develop a National Plan on Business and Human Rights, which will assist companies in advancing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
The UNGPs were adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 and as a member of the Council, Ireland along with all members of the EU, is committed to supporting the UNGPs on Business and Human Rights.
The National Plan will be designed to help Government departments, State agencies, Irish companies, Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) operating in Ireland and Irish enterprises operating abroad adhere to and promote the UNGPs.
The National Plan on Business and Human Rights will seek:
(i) to set out the current state of play in relation to actions which can be deemed to already assist in the implementation of the UNGPs; and
(ii) to set out actions which can be taken over a 2/3 year period in order to further implement the UNGPs.
The Human Rights Unit (HRU) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is leading the development of the plan. An inter-departmental working group has been formed consisting of focal points from each Government Department. A wide consultation process is being undertaken. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade NGO Forum on Human Rights which took place on 7 November 2014 provided the opportunity for NGOs, trade unions, academics and business to exchange views on the plan and possible actions. The Human Rights Unit has also established a dedicated e-mail inbox to which members of the public can send submissions in relation to the National Plan (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 1 March 2015. HRU will shortly begin the process of drafting the national plan.