Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Priorities of Latvian Presidency of European Council: Latvian Ambassador to Ireland
The ambassador and his colleague are very welcome. The ambassador is doing a great job on behalf of his country. I have met him at many events. He has been very active and I congratulate him on that. I hope the Ministry for foreign affairs in Latvia recognise his hard work.
To follow on from what Deputy Smith said, Latvia plays a very important role in a very sensitive political period. Ukraine and the Eastern Partnership were mentioned. A summit will be held in Riga on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Can I be a little provocative and ask the ambassador a number of questions? We are collectively aware of the difficulties of those emerging democracies from under the yoke of communism but we are also very conscious of mistakes Europe might have made in the past in its relationship with the Eastern Partnership and in the relationship with Ukraine. I have just come back from there and this committee has addressed the issue off the largest successful political party in the recent Moldovan elections being a pro-Putin, a pro-Soviet party. In that region there are great sensibilities which require the utmost diplomatic skills. Those are the skills of Europe's relationship with the Russia Federation.
Latvia has a substantial Russian speaking population. By way of background and to counterpose what I am going to ask the ambassador, I am sure he will be aware that this country in the past four years has granted citizenship to 70,000 new Irish citizens from 126 countries in the world. He may know that we advocate new communities and immigrants to participate in local elections. If they have been living here for six months or longer, they are eligible to vote.
I might counterpose our position with Latvia's position regarding its Russian-speaking community, which is quite substantial, maybe in the region of 26% of the population, who do not have these basic democratic rights. How does the ambassador view the role of Europe under the presidency of Latvia vis-à-vis the relationship of Putin and the Russian Federation to Europe, given what they allege has happened in eastern Ukraine, namely, discrimination against Russian speakers, and the possibility that the same argument would be used against the Latvian authorities?
What are the key areas of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga and the European neighbourhood policy? What will be different after those debates in Riga? Where will they lead?
On a domestic, but also international, front, I am conscious of being lobbied when in Latvia by politicians who argue that we are facilitating sham marriages of Latvian women, predominantly to non-Europeans. We have the statistics here. They are mainly Pakistani, Nigerian, Brazilian and Bangladeshi men. Is the ambassador happy that we are taking the necessary steps to prevent these sham marriages? It is alleged that these women are being trafficked from Latvia to Ireland. What are the Latvian authorities doing at their end to prevent the trafficking of women into Ireland to enable non-Irish citizens to avail of residency?