Rockall Island Ownership

Ceisteanna (34)

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

34. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the implications of the agreement reached between Ireland and the United Kingdom in 2013 regarding the setting of the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone; if the agreement of 2013 has possible implications for the present difficulties between Ireland and Scotland over fishing rights around Rockall either in the present context or future post-Brexit scenario; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25532/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I pose this question to the Minister to clear up any ambiguity. This has arisen since the Government of Scotland communicated with the Government here about Rockall. There were views about the agreement of 2013 on the exclusive economic zone. I want to give the Minister an opportunity to clarify the position and I look forward to his reply.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question because it is important to clarify it. It has been a high profile issue in the media in the last couple of weeks. I have been very direct in my response to it, as has the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed. I know that Deputy Gallagher has raised concerns about it and that he understands the fishing industry's concerns well.

The exclusive economic zone, EEZ, is the body of water that stretches from 12 nautical miles offshore out to a distance of 200 miles. The seabed beneath the EEZ is the continental shelf. Largely due to efforts made by Ireland through the 1970s, international law is now clear that uninhabitable rocks such as Rockall have no entitlement to a continental shelf or an EEZ and so sovereignty over such a rock is irrelevant for the purposes of establishing boundaries between continental shelves and EEZs of neighbouring states. Sovereignty, and whether such a rock has a 12 mile territorial sea, are separate issues that do not arise in establishing boundaries between continental shelves and EEZs.

The issue of Rockall therefore did not arise in the 2013 agreement as it was not relevant. The 2013 agreement built on a 1988 agreement between Ireland and the UK that had already established continental shelf boundaries and provides that those boundaries, slightly adjusted to ensure that no waters were lost to the high seas, shall also be the EEZ boundaries. This created a single maritime boundary between 12 and 200 miles in the water and on the seabed beneath. As the Deputy is aware, Ireland has never made any claims to Rockall nor have we recognised British claims to sovereignty over it. Nothing in either agreement altered that position or represented a departure from our long-held view, nor does either agreement have any implications for the present difficulties between Ireland and Scotland over fishing rights around Rockall.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Regarding the situation following Brexit, the Irish and EU position is, as set out in the March 2018 European Council guidelines for negotiations on the future relationship, that existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained. The 2013 agreement between Ireland and the UK is not relevant for access by EU vessels to UK waters in that context.

The main purpose of the 2013 agreement was to resolve jurisdictional uncertainty. It addressed the situation of fishing vessels seeking to avoid inspection in Irish EEZ areas that overlapped with the UK-claimed areas. Importantly, however, it also provides the legal certainty necessary for raising finance to develop renewable energy projects in the areas concerned and it resolved confusion over responsibility for dealing with marine pollution incidents in those areas.

It is important that the Tánaiste had an opportunity to clarify this for all of us because whether intentionally or otherwise, the impression was given that in 2013, without us knowing, we had forfeited our claim, which we obviously have not. What is the Minister's view of the statement and letters to the Irish authorities stating that Scotland had exclusive rights around Rockall to a 12 mile limit, which we have of course never recognised? I support the Government in its view that our boats should continue to fish there. We have had a right there for decades. It intrigues me that a meeting took place at the highest level between the Taoiseach and the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It was not even on the agenda despite the fact that letters have been exchanged and meetings have taken place over the two year period. Where does that stand?

I will make sure that the Deputy gets the technical answer in writing. This issue was first raised with Ireland by Scotland in 2017.

It was raised with me by my counterpart in the Scottish Government, Fiona Hyslop, last September when she indicated that the Scottish Government had made a decision that it would be enforcing the rules as it understood them in the 12-mile limit around Rockall, which it regarded as an exclusive fishing zone for British and Scottish boats. I made it very clear to her that I disagreed with that interpretation and that the waters around Rockall were waters that were subject to the Common Fisheries Policy, and that quotas had been allocated, in this case for haddock, for Irish boats and also for British boats.

I thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The time is up.

It was in the weeks subsequent to the Nicola Sturgeon meeting with the Taoiseach that we got a letter from Fiona Hyslop confirming that they were going to proceed with enforcement within a week, and that is what triggered the quite high profile disagreement on this issue which I am glad to say is now being dealt with through diplomacy rather than anything else.

I appreciate the importance of diplomacy but I still believe that either the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be in consultation with their counterparts in order to provide clarification. The language that was being used on the Friday and Saturday of two weeks ago was quite serious and amounted to unilateral illegal action at the time. Thankfully, it has toned down now and I hope it can be resolved. Has the European Union been informed by us of this situation and is it taking an interest in this case given that European quotas are being fished?

Where stands this after Brexit? If there is a deal, I hope something can be resolved but if there is no deal could we be excluded from those waters?

The European Commission is aware of the issue. The most important thing is that we have worked to de-escalate tension on this issue. This should not be dealt with through threats of enforcement. It should be dealt with through two friendly neighbours talking to each other. We have a different interpretation of the law on this issue and the fishing entitlements that go with that around Rockall. The Secretary General of my Department met his counterpart in Dublin in recent days and they will meet again in Scotland in the coming weeks to try to find a way forward that does not involve the kind of language that we heard in the past two weeks.

Colombian Peace Process

Ceisteanna (35)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

35. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on increased attacks and the killing of community and political activists in Colombia; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that since 2016 more than 500 political and community activists have been assassinated and include Afro-Colombian activists, indigenous leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC guerrillas among others; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that these attacks are damaging the peace process in Colombia; and if he has discussed the increased attacks on community and political activists with his Colombian counterpart. [25142/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I tabled this question because I am deeply concerned about the killing of community and political activists in Colombia. Civil society activists who speak up for the protection of their communities and against the interests of big business are being threatened, attacked, and in some cases murdered. The UN recently condemned the killings of reintegrated former FARC fighters. Considering our own history and increased links with Colombia what are we doing on this issue?

I thank Deputy Crowe for raising this issue. I know he has an interest in Colombia, as do I. I am aware of the difficult situation that exists for human rights defenders, social leaders and former combatants in Colombia, and of the worrying levels of violence, threats and intimidation carried out against these groups.

Our new resident embassy in Bogotá has been engaging with civil society, EU and multilateral partners on the human rights situation in the country, since it opened at the beginning of the year. We also regularly raise this issue in our exchanges with the Colombian Government. Ireland has a long-standing commitment to peace and security in Colombia. The Taoiseach underlined Ireland's continuing support for the Colombian peace process in his meeting with President Duque en marge of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018.

The peace process is fundamental to improving the human rights situation in the country and Ireland has contributed more than €14 million in support of that since 2007, mainly channelled through the United Nations, and Colombian and international NGOs focusing on human rights, conflict prevention, peace-building and supporting livelihoods for rural populations.

As well as financial support, Ireland has also provided ongoing support in the form of lesson-sharing based on our own experience of peace-building and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Most recently, this month my Department shared lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with Colombia, facilitating a series of discussions with the government around the implementation of the peace accords. Great strides have been made in the implementation of the peace accords in Colombia since they were signed in November 2016. However, significant challenges remain, including in the areas of rural reform, reincorporation of former combatants and the protection of human rights defenders, civil society activists and social leaders.

Not least among the lessons we have learned in 20 years of implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is how long it takes to build a sustainable peace and that it is not a linear process. Ireland will remain a committed supporter of Colombia and its efforts to secure long-lasting peace and security for its people. We will also continue to ask the important questions from a human rights defenders perspective.

The UN has documented that 172 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia last year and in the first four months of this year 51 were murdered. In addition, 139 former FARC members have been killed since the signing of a peace deal in 2016. The UN has described the killings as "a risk to the peace process" and "a violation of the guarantees made by Colombia".

Right wing paramilitaries are carrying out these murders with impunity and sometimes the Colombian army is involved. Last month The New York Times revealed new orders instructing top army commanders to "double the results" of their military missions and to lower the standard under which they launched them. That is basically an order to encourage human rights abuses.

Is the Tánaiste aware that a member of the Wayúu indigenous community in the north east of Colombia who visited Ireland received death threats when she returned to Colombia? Jakeline Romero visited Leinster House for an informal meeting with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. She delivered a moving presentation detailing the reality of life in her community, how the community has been damaged by the Cerrejón mine, and the daily harassment she faces. I believe the threats against her are real and credible. She is now at a heightened risk of being seriously injured or killed. I have been informed that the Colombian Government has responded by saying that Ms Romero's security risk assessment remains "ordinary" and is not deserving of increased security. I believe Ireland must insist on increased protection being provided.

Two and a half years after the signing of the Colombian peace agreement between the government and FARC, substantial progress has been achieved and it is important to recognise that. Colombia has had the most peaceful elections in decades, the demobilisation of FARC and the beginning of its transition to a political party. That is saving many lives.

According to a recent independent review on the implementation of the peace agreement, the vast majority of the commitments - 400 of the 578 - in the peace agreement are under way. The commitment of the president and his government to implementation of the peace accords has been continuously reaffirmed, but it is important to recognise that serious challenges to peace persist, in particular in rural areas, including political polarisation, increased illicit crop cultivation, lack of evidence of peace dividends, insecurity, leading to the killing of human rights defenders and social leaders, lack of progress on rural reform, a safe and enabling space for civil society and stagnation in negotiations for peace with the other remaining guerrilla group, the ELN, following a car bomb attack on the police academy in Bogotá in January. There is still much work to do here. If there are individual cases the Deputy should share them with me and I will send the information to our embassy in Bogotá.

Ms Romero attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. She is one of the activists involved in the Cerrejón mine controversy. The mine is one of the largest in Latin America and it has destroyed the traditional lands of 35 indigenous communities, like Ms Romero's.

The mine has destroyed the natural environment and cut off communities. We are worried about the latest threat. I understand a legal case against the mine is being prepared by lawyers who are going to submit it to the International Criminal Court. I do not know if the Minister is aware of that. As we speak here today, Ms Romero and other members of her community are under threat. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to do anything he can to assist with the case, the details of which I will pass on to the Department.

Considering that the Tánaiste launched the Government's business and human rights policy, which includes a commitment to semi-State companies respecting human rights in supply chains and given that the coal for the ESB's Moneypoint plant comes from the area in question, will he discuss its importing of this blood coal and will he call for an urgent end the practice? It appears to be a contradiction that, on the one hand, we are launching this policy, while, on the other, we are importing coal from a region such as this.

Perhaps the Deputy will send me the details relating to Ms Romero. I did not hear her evidence to the committee but if the Deputy shares that evidence and any other information he has with me, we will seek to raise it through our new embassy in Bogotá, which I hope to be able to visit before the end of the year.

The Deputy has raised the Cerrejón mine previously. I am aware of the situation. The ESB does not come under my Department's remit. Given that I am Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, however, I should make it my business if it is an issue. I have indicated to the Deputy that I will raise the matter with the ESB.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (36)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

36. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the Brexit process and preparations for all Brexit scenarios, including no deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25184/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

We are approaching the new Brexit deadline of 31 October and there is still much work to be done. My question seeks an update on the current state of the Brexit process and preparations for all Brexit scenarios, including the possibility of no deal.

I could give the Deputy a long written answer, which she will receive in any event, but instead I will speak directly on the matter. While in many ways the public debate on Brexit has lessened somewhat since the middle of April and the putting in place of an extension to the end of October, the Government has not taken its focus away from the issue. Everybody is waiting to see who the next British Prime Minister will be and what approach he will take on trying to find a way of getting a Brexit deal agreed and ratified in Westminster and supported by Brussels and Dublin. While we wait for that new approach, if there is one, we continue to focus on no-deal Brexit preparations. It is a worst-case scenario but a real possibility, particularly in view of the language being used in the current debates relating to the election of a new leader of the Conservative Party.

We are continuing to prepare in the many areas with which the Deputy is familiar, such as finalising port arrangements and ensuring to speak to the small to medium-sized enterprises which are trading with the UK every week but which have, in many cases, not yet registered with customs. They may have to adapt to a very different type of trading environment. Our focus will continue to be on working with our EU partners to find a way to ensure that there will be a managed, sensible Brexit that will be predictable and that will bring us into a new transition period that will provide the necessary legal certainty to Government, businesses and citizens. However, we have worked hard to ensure that we do everything we can within our control to protect Irish citizens should there be no agreement.

Probably the most significant occurrence since we last spoke was the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the British Government in advance of the last British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference which essentially is about protecting the free movement of Irish and British people in both countries and recognising a series of other rights that are linked to the common travel area.

One of the matters we discussed on many occasions was the possibility of a change of Prime Minister in the UK. We are now in the middle of that process and waiting to see who will take over. There appears to be no moderate candidate coming forward, if I can put it that way. It is worrying to hear almost all of the candidates for the position openly talking about a no-deal Brexit as a viable option and stating that it is something they are willing to progress if they do not get a new deal or a change in the withdrawal treaty. I note and welcome that the position of Ireland and the EU remains unchanged. We have been steadfast that the withdrawal treaty is the only deal available if the UK wants a managed exit, but they persist in discussing the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and even, as recently as a few hours ago, the possibility of a managed no-deal exit.

The Tánaiste mentioned citizens' rights. The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, is still indicating that he wants an agreement on citizens' rights to be separate from the Brexit process in the event of a no-deal scenario. Mr. Michel Barnier has rejected that. In a recent interview with the Sunday Independent, the Taoiseach discussed the possibility of being open to alternative arrangements on the backstop. Can the Tánaiste confirm that there has been no change in the Government's position on the backstop?

Let me be crystal clear on this: the Government's position has not changed and it will not change because there is about to be a change of British Prime Minister. This has never been about personalities. It has always been about evidence, facts and trying to deal with the complexity of the decision of a country and economy the size of the UK to leave the European Union, of which it has been a part for 47 years. The approximately 57 trade deals it has in place, the €70 billion trade relationship it has with Ireland and the fact that we share responsibility for a peace process on this island make the UK's exit from the European Union very complicated. That is why the withdrawal agreement, which deals with that complexity in terms of the divorce arrangements for leaving, if one wishes to call it that, took two and a half years to negotiate. That is the position of the EU and Ireland and it is not going to change with a new person taking charge, regardless of what is being said or claimed. The facts do not change. We have to be respectful in how we say that to the UK because we must be respectful of the decisions it makes, but we also must be firm and consistent. That is what we are doing.

I agree. To return to our preparations domestically, in a reply to a parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance, the Revenue Commissioners identified that in a central-case scenario, where a deal is done, they will need 600 additional staff. I am aware that 500 have been hired. Has anything else been done in terms of planning for no deal? How many staff will be needed in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

The Tánaiste mentioned that there has been something of a break from the Brexit discussions since April. The elections were probably a distraction from the issue. Figures released to my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, last May show that 45% of businesses which engage in some level of trade through the UK have not yet acquired an economic operator registration and identification number, the Revenue Commissioners number they require if they wish to continue trading. That is worrying. It would indicate a degree of complacency or perhaps a hope that it will not be needed. An extra push from the Government to try to get that figure up is most definitely required.

I will update the House on staffing and recruitment. The Revenue Commissioners had accelerated and expanded recruitment and training schedules to meet the previous 12 April deadline for Brexit. They are now on track to have more than 450 additional staff in place by the new 31 October 2019 deadline. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will have approximately 200 staff trained and in place to conduct import controls by the end of October. The HSE had 59 staff trained and available as a first tranche to conduct no-deal Brexit import and export activities for the 12 April deadline. Approval has been given recently for 68 environmental health service staff and the HSE will shortly advise of the requirement for a further tranche needed before the end of October. We are using the extra time to build up the staff numbers and ensure that we have the physical infrastructure which might be required in place by the end of October. With regard to businesses getting ready, the Deputy is correct that not enough of them have registered with the Revenue Commissioners to prepare for no deal. It does not cost them anything and it can be done in ten minutes online. We will have a communications strategy through the summer to ensure that it happens.

Foreign Policy

Ceisteanna (37)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

37. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he has had with the Chinese Ambassador and-or his counterparts across the EU in response to the recent anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25587/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

The power of mass movements and people power to face down repressive, brutal and authoritarian governments has been demonstrated in spectacular fashion in the past couple of weeks in Hong Kong. I mention also in passing the similar heroic protests against brutal repression in Sudan. However, I have to say that although the question is about Singapore, there is a deafening silence from the Government and European-----

It is about Hong Kong, not Singapore.

Sorry, it is Hong Kong. There is deafening silence about this repression and I wonder why that is the case. Are we so silent when this fantastic movement of people power faces brutal repression because we feel compromised by our significant trade relations with China?

I am glad the Deputy has given me the opportunity to put a statement on the record concerning what has been happening in Hong Kong. The disturbances in Hong Kong last week are a matter of deep concern. However, I welcome that the demonstration which took place on 16 June passed off by and large peacefully. Public demonstration and protest are an important element of any democracy and the right to protest should not be curtailed. These rights come with responsibilities and it is important that the demonstrators protest peacefully. It is equally important that security forces respond to demonstrations with full respect for citizens' rights and the utmost restraint. I hope the situation develops calmly and the authorities and demonstrators find ways to accommodate legitimate protest, which is a hallmark of democracy.

The European Union released a statement concerning the disturbances in Hong Kong through the spokesperson for High Representative Mogherini on 12 June in which Ms Mogherini reiterated that the fundamental right to assembly and freedom of expression must be respected while calling for restraint on all sides. The statement set out that the EU shares the concerns of the citizens of Hong Kong regarding the extradition reforms and that it has conveyed these concerns to the Government of Hong Kong. Ireland fully supports this statement.

While I have not had any direct contact with Chinese ambassador or my Chinese counterpart on this matter, our consul general in Hong Kong, together with the EU office and other EU member states, has engaged directly with the Hong Kong authorities with regard to the proposed Bill. Officials in the consulate general in Hong Kong, the embassy of Ireland in Beijing and my Department are closely following developments relating to the demonstrations.

An updated travel advice notice alerting people to the demonstrations and advising that areas of potential unrest should be avoided has been issued by the Department. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and, together with our EU partners, we will engage with the Hong Kong authorities and others. The statement by the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region that this legislation has been suspended indefinitely is a very welcome development

The persistence of millions of protesters, mostly young people, on the streets of Hong Kong forced the Chief Executive, Ms Carrie Lam, very reluctantly to back off, after first trying brutal repression involving rubber bullets that injured about 80 people. Ms Lam did so because the protesters did not give up, although she will still not resign after what she has done. Let us be clear. Carrie Lam is dancing to the tune of a brutal, authoritarian and undemocratic regime in China. It is interesting that this is occurring close to the 30th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square when the Chinese authorities butchered students and rolled over them with tanks. Since then, they have ruled with an iron fist, attacking civil rights activists and lawyers who defend people and their human rights. They have also been responsible for the persecution of about 13 million Turkic Muslims, the Uighurs, the people of Tibet and Kazakhs. They use vicious repression. The extradition Bill in Hong Kong was an attempt to go after and extradite many people who have fled to Hong Kong from China. What are we saying about China's ruthless authoritarianism?

Ireland's relationship with China is probably better now than it has ever been. It is also more honest than it has ever been. I have met many Chinese ministers during my time in a number of Departments, including the Chinese foreign minister. In recent months, the Chinese foreign minister attended a Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels where he opened up to questions over lunch from anyone who wanted to ask about the economic relationship and human rights issues. Based on my experience as human rights spokesperson in the European Parliament and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I believe the way to engage with China is through respectful dialogue and discussion. It is a huge country. We have concerns relating to certain human rights issues and we raise those matters. As long as they are raised in a way that is not lecturing but involves honest and straight discussion, I find that we are listened to. The kind of language we have heard from Deputy Boyd Barrett is not the way to deal with this.

I find that approach amazing.

I do actually because in certain circumstances, we would be very happy to condemn and denounce violence, repression and the destruction of human rights but then we want to pedal softly with China because we have many trade relationships with it. The same goes for Saudi Arabia and I suspect the reason for the silence around Sudan is not dissimilar. The problem with that approach is that if the Hong Kong regime, operating on behalf of the Chinese regime, had succeeded in using violence to repress the mass protest movement, we would have done nothing about it. Thankfully, the people power movement overcame that - for now - but let us remember Tiananmen Square and think about the millions who are being oppressed by the Chinese regime. Should we not be a little more robust in calling out this stuff? Do we take a soft pedalling approach because we think we must develop our trade relations with China and that, therefore, we should just be silent about this stuff? Very little was said at the height of this by the Government or European leaders.

I just quoted the statement from the European Union, which came from the highest foreign policy source in the EU. The Deputy chooses to ignore that because it does not suit his argument.

No, I am saying it was a weak statement.

I have not said that we pedal softly. That is the Deputy's language. What I said was that in terms of getting a real response from China on issues, I have found it more effective to raise them directly and face to face rather than using megaphone diplomacy. If the outcomes in Hong Kong had been different and there had been a lot of violence as part of an inappropriate response to a huge public demonstration of legitimate concern, we would have been very vocal about that but that did not happen. I am glad that, for now, the outcome seems to have calmed public concern regarding this issue. The approach Ireland takes to its relationship with China is much more effective than approaches we have taken in the past.

Trade Sanctions

Ceisteanna (38)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

38. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the Helms-Burton Act; the way in which it has been causing hardship for Cubans for decades; the way in which Ireland and the EU will support trade and solidarity with Cuba in light of US treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25165/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

My question relates to the Helms-Burton Act, the way in which it has caused hardship for Cubans for decades and how Ireland and the EU will support trade and solidarity with Cuba in light of US treatment.

I know the Deputy has a real concern with and knowledge of Cuba. Ireland and our EU partners have been following developments on the Helms-Burton Act in recent months and the issue has been discussed on several occasions at the EU Council Working Party on Transatlantic Relations, COTRA, at which Ireland has been represented at official level. It was also discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, which was attended by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, because I was in Belfast.

Ireland’s reaction to the suspension of waivers remains in lockstep with that of our EU partners. We also echo the statement made on 2 May by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini, that the "EU considers the extra-territorial application of unilateral restrictive measures to be contrary to international law and will draw on all appropriate measures to address the effects of the Helms-Burton Act, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute."

Fundamentally, Ireland believes that the US embargo on Cuba serves no constructive purpose and that its lifting would facilitate an opening of Cuba’s economy to the benefit of its people. In addition, we are not persuaded that the continued embargo is contributing in a positive way to the democratic transition in Cuba. With our EU partners, Ireland has also firmly and continuously opposed extraterritorial measures that seek to extend the US embargo against Cuba to third countries as contrary to commonly accepted rules of international trade.

The EU-Cuba agreement, which will be ratified shortly, is the best mechanism to support trade with Cuba and show solidarity with its people. Last week, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, was before the Oireachtas on this very issue to support the internal Irish legislative process which is required to enact the agreement within the EU. It is my hope that this process in Ireland and across the EU will be completed swiftly to allow for this important and timely agreement to come into full effect for the mutual benefit of EU and Cuban citizens.

The Deputy has asked me in previous parliamentary questions about the legislation the Government had to approve here. I hope she can see that it is now moving through the process.

We know the Helms-Burton Act is a law of the United States and, therefore, its jurisdiction should be confined to the United States. It is akin to Ireland making a law and expecting it to be applied in another country. As the Tánaiste said, the Act shows no respect for international law. It is also a violation of Cuban sovereignty and undermines Cuba's constitution, which is about abiding by a commitment to international law, including territorial integrity. It also runs contrary to the principles of the UN charter. Experts have noted that the Helms-Burton Act smacks of imperialism, and I agree. There is no doubt it is intended to strangle the Cuban economy, which the United States has been doing for many years.

Our group, Independents 4 Change, will introduce a motion in this respect. The US is now trying to internationalise its unilateral blockade against Cuba. It is doing so by taking severe measures against third countries, including the imposition of hefty fines, some of which we have already seen. As of last month, very serious measures will be taken, which will see individuals and companies that try to trade with Cuba severely punished. This will deter such trade. People could also be denied entry into the United States. Lawsuits are already under way in the United States. While the European Union is saying the right things, in the meantime the blockade continues to do irreparable damage in Cuba.

I hope the Deputy is not suggesting the EU is not trying to find a way forward because I believe it is. From an Irish perspective, we are not currently aware of any Irish entities or individuals being affected by the changes to the Helms-Burton Act. There is an EU blocking statute which prohibits the compliance with any US court judgments relating to Title III or IV or the Helms-Burton Act and allows EU companies sued in the US to recover any damage through legal proceedings against US claimants before EU courts. This is a protective measure which applies to Irish entities and individuals. I fully accept the Deputy's point that while there may be some legal protections and legal recourse if an Irish or EU company is subject to this Act, it certainly has the impact of discouraging trade and engagement with the Cuban economy, which is damaging. The EU will continue to do what is in its powers to facilitate that trade. It will also seek to speak directly to the US to try to change its mind on the broad approach towards Cuba.

It is rather ironic that, only last week, members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence, including me, were delighted to support and approve the terms of the political dialogue and co-operation agreement between the EU and Cuba. The Cuban ambassador and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, were in attendance at the meeting. We were all very positive that the agreement marked a good step forward. However, Irish companies which want to trade with Cuba are being prevented from doing so. We suggested that Cuba be included in any future trade missions to the region. This would send a signal that Ireland is not kowtowing to or agreeing with the Helms-Burton Act, which is really just out to do Cuba. In previous replies to me, the Tánaiste indicated there was no constructive purpose to the embargo. However, the embargo continues and is preventing progress. Ireland-Cuban relations have developed and we will celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations in September or October. Canada, the EU, UK and other US trading partners issued statements of concern about the Helms-Burton Act. While statements of concern are welcome and valuable, they are not enough. We need stronger action on this to show that people can trade with Cuba and will not be punished for doing so.

It is important that I respond honestly to the Deputy. We are doing quite a lot. The Deputy has just heard my statement, including on the actions the EU is taking. Ultimately, the reach and power of the US is very significant, particularly in that region. Cuba is very close to the United States. Many companies that may seek to trade with Cuba will also, in all likelihood, be trading into the US. We should not pretend we can simply bypass this Act and the approach the US has taken. These pose real difficulty but the EU is trying to give as much cover and support as it can to companies that want to legitimately trade with Cuba. We do not agree that the approach the US is taking, for which it has its own reasons, is effective or appropriate in 2019. We will continue to make that case and do what we can in practical terms to support companies that want to trade with Cuba.