Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade

EU Presidency Objectives, Foreign Affairs Council and Membership of Human Rights Council: Discussion

5:00 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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The main purpose of this evening's meeting is for a discussion with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the achievements of the EU Presidency, the Foreign Affairs Council in the second quarter of 2013 and the objectives of the membership of the Human Rights Council. We have quite a busy agenda so I am quite anxious to get the proceedings started quickly.

On behalf of the committee, Tánaiste, I want to welcome you here this afternoon. The subject matter for the meeting is quite extensive. I am sure there will be many questions from members on it. I know we had a very successful Presidency of the European Union. It did not cost as much as we anticipated it would cost, and that is a sign of all the work that went into it by the officials and yourself. We have a lot of experience in that area, given that this is our seventh Presidency. Well done to all concerned in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and to our diplomats abroad for the work they did during the Presidency, and to everybody else concerned. I now ask you to make your presentation.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I thank the Chairperson and the members of the committee. I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with the committee today to bring members up to date on foreign policy developments in recent months.

I propose to focus on three areas in my opening statement: discussions at the Foreign Affairs Council for the second quarter of 2013 and a forward look to the Council on 22 July; Ireland's recently concluded Presidency of the Council of the European Union and specifically the achievements in the external policy area and priorities for Ireland's membership of the UN Human Rights Council.

During the period of our EU Presidency, the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council remained as busy as ever. In particular, developments in regard to countries in the Middle East and North Africa region which are undergoing transition continued to feature prominently on the EU's foreign policy agenda. Most attention focussed on the ongoing crisis in Syria, though developments in Egypt and Lebanon and the EU's overall response to the "Arab Spring" were also the subject of extensive discussion in the Foreign Affairs Council.

At the meeting of the Council next Monday, a heavy emphasis on Middle East issues is again likely. Under the southern neighbourhood item, the Council will discuss developments in relation to the Syrian conflict and the situation in Egypt following the military intervention which removed President Morsi and his government earlier this month. Committee members will recall that there was an extensive discussion of Syria at the May Council. It unfortunately did not prove possible to get agreement to renew the arms embargo. Apart from this, however, all elements of the EU's current sanctions regime against Syria were renewed. In line with the political declaration adopted at its May meeting, the Council is committed to reviewing its overall policy on Syria before 1 August. It will do so on the basis of an oral report by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on developments in respect of the planned Geneva II peace conference which the US and Russia, in conjunction with the UN, are seeking to advance.

The overall situation in Syria remains dire, with no early end in sight to the military conflict and the humanitarian situation on the ground continuing to worsen. A political resolution remains absolutely essential. The US, Russia and the UN are working to advance the Geneva II initiative. Realistically, however, it is likely to be the autumn at the earliest before any peace conference takes place. The main Syria opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, SNC, has now elected a new leader, Ahmed Jarba. However, given military advances by the regime in recent weeks, the SNC is for the moment unwilling to contemplate participation in Geneva II until such time as it is in a militarily stronger position. Geneva II remains the only realistic hope for achieving a political breakthrough which might end the conflict. I have no doubt that the Council, through the High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, will wish to reiterate the EU's full support for this effort.

Turning to Egypt, the situation there remains of great concern and will be a major item of discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council. I have already made clear my views on the events which resulted in the removal from office of President Morsi and his government. I believe that no one who truly subscribes to democratic values can view with equanimity the military takeover which has taken place in Egypt. The primary emphasis now, however, must be on what the EU and the international community can do to assist the Egyptian people to emerge from this current crisis and to keep them firmly on the path of transition towards stronger democratic institutions and improved governance in Egypt.

In common with our EU partners, the Government strongly believes that the only solution to the situation with which we are now confronted in Egypt is to promote a fully inclusive process of political dialogue and reconciliation aimed at the swiftest possible restoration of democratic rule and civilian-led government. All political forces, including of course the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, must be encouraged to sit down together and work out a credible timetable for early parliamentary and presidential elections as well as any necessary constitutional reforms.

The security situation in Egypt remains tense and highly volatile. All sides have a duty to act with restraint at this time. I would encourage the interim authorities to undertake conciliatory measures to defuse the crisis, including the release of all political detainees and the re-opening of media stations which were closed following the military's intervention. Fundamental freedoms and the rule of law must also be clearly upheld. Egypt and its people are experiencing a difficult transition to full democracy. Ireland and its EU partners want to provide whatever support we can for the Egyptian people as they undergo this transition. I should add that my Department and the Irish embassy in Cairo are keeping our travel advice under constant review. For the moment, my Department is recommending against any non-essential travel to Egypt with the exception, however, of the Red Sea resorts, where the situation remains stable.

Next week's Foreign Affairs Council will consider the Middle East peace process over lunch. There was an in-depth discussion of recent developments at the June Council, though no conclusions were adopted on that occasion. It remains unclear at this stage whether conclusions will be adopted at next week's Council or exactly how wide-ranging a discussion the High Representative is planning. The primary focus at present is on the US Secretary of State's efforts to get substantive negotiations between the two sides resumed. Ireland and its EU partners strongly support these efforts and appreciate greatly Secretary of State, John Kerry's personal commitment to this work. We understand that he is continuing to work on proposals which might form the basis for a resumption of talks, though no details have yet been released as his talks with both sides are continuing and there is a possibility that he may visit the region again over the coming days.

Ministers will be paying much attention to the US initiative and its prospects in their discussion next Monday. However, I also consider it important that the Council should address the deteriorating situation on the ground, which is a serious obstacle in the way of a resumption of meaningful peace talks. There is much that the EU can, and should, do in order to provide momentum and leadership in the Middle East peace process. We should seek in particular to persuade Israel to come forward with meaningful confidence-building measures and to desist from its destructive settlement policy. I therefore hope that the Council can engage in a wide-ranging discussion next Monday which will address the Middle East peace process in its entirety. There are strong expectations in the region and more generally that the EU would play a more active role. Any conclusions adopted should be comprehensive in their scope. Time is moving on and the real fear is that continued inaction on the Middle East peace process will only heighten tensions, including on the ground, and imperil whatever prospects may exist at present for political progress.

Finally, on Middle East issues, the Council is due to discuss over lunch the current situation in Lebanon, which has been greatly impacted by the crisis in neighbouring Syria. Although the Lebanese Government and political parties are endeavouring to keep their country out of the crisis, they are finding this very difficult as political tensions rise and violence related to the crisis spills over into northern Lebanon and into Beirut itself, where there have been bombings targeting Hezbollah strongholds in recent days.

In considering the current unstable situation, the Council may also be asked to examine a proposal made by one partner that the EU would designate the military wing of Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. During the extensive discussion of this issue at working level in Brussels under the Irish Presidency, consensus did not prove possible among the EU member states. It remains unclear whether consensus will be possible if the proposal is now raised at political level. The High Representative and EAS are continuing efforts to fashion proposals which might provide a basis for compromise and obviously Ireland would welcome and give serious consideration to any such proposals which may be presented.

At the May Foreign Affairs Council, foreign affairs ministers discussed the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, over lunch as part of preparations for a planned discussion on defence issues at the European Council in December 2013. This followed on from the decision taken by the European Council in December last year which set out the parameters of this discussion. At that European Council meeting, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, was tasked with developing proposals and actions in the identified areas. The High Representative's interim report is expected to be published before the end of July and will feed into the discussions on CSDP at the December European Council. In the meantime, preparatory work is being undertaken in various formal and informal fora on the three clusters. At their discussion in May, Ministers agreed on the need to improve planning and management of CSDP missions to make them more effective.

In a discussion of Afghanistan at the June Council, Ministers took stock of the current security situation there following an announcement by President Karzai on 18 June about the final stage of the hand-over of responsibility for security from ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces. They confirmed also the EU's commitment to state-building and long-term development and stressed the importance of the Afghan Government's fulfilling the commitments it has given. Ireland supports continuing international efforts to develop Afghanistan into a peaceful, self-governing democratic nation, based on respect for human rights, including the rights of Afghan women, and respect for the rule of law. Our contribution to this process is made through support for humanitarian programmes and the deployment of civilian experts and members of the Defence Forces to international missions in Afghanistan.

We do not underestimate the daunting challenges facing Afghanistan in the period ahead. The international community must coordinate closely to maximise the impact and effectiveness of what we are doing.

Improving the day-to-day lives of the Afghan people is central to securing the people's support for their Government, removing the arguments for the illicit narcotics trade and undermining those who would advocate terrorism.

I will provide a brief report on the situation in the western Balkans. Croatia was formally welcomed as the EU's 28th member state on 1 July. I attended the celebrations which took place in Zagreb. I highlighted the importance of European Union membership for Croatia. The entry of Croatia into the Union demonstrates also what is possible when a country holds steadfastly to the difficult reform processes necessary for accession. The western Balkans was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council in June, where the focus was on the negotiations in the Belgrade Pristina Dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. The determination of the Serbian and Kosovan prime ministers to find a workable solution to normalising bilateral relations is to be commended. The dialogue, which was actively and ably facilitated by High Representative Ashton, resulted in an agreement on 19 April and an implementation plan on 21 May. The June European Council agreed to open accession negotiations with Serbia and the General Affairs Council agreed a negotiating framework for a stabilisation and association agreement with Kosovo, the first stage on the path towards EU membership.

Foreign Affairs Ministers have over the past year focused increasingly on the global challenges which we all face. They have considered how EU foreign policy can contribute to tackling these. The April meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council discussed the issue of energy security,which is essential to economic development and competitiveness. Ministers agreed on the need to pursue efforts to diversify our sources of supply and to develop our transport infrastructure. EU foreign policy has an important role to play in this regard, not least in terms of our relationship with key partner countries.

At our meeting in June, we discussed EU climate diplomacy in the presence of Commissioner Hedegaard. We adopted conclusions which restated the EU's support for a new legally binding climate agreement by 2015. Climate change impacts particularly on the most vulnerable countries and is intrinsically linked with sustainable development. The Ministers agreed on the need to ensure coherence with the post-2015 development agenda. I also took the opportunity to brief my counterparts on the very successful Dublin conference on hunger, nutrition and climate change, which I co-hosted with former President Mary Robinson last April, as part of our Presidency programme.

The July Council is also expected to adopt conclusions on EU water diplomacy. The conclusions acknowledge the potential security risks associated with the competition for water resources and set out the objectives for future EU engagement in water diplomacy, with particular reference to areas such as the Nile basin and Central Asia.

Myanmar-Burma is continuing to undergo a process of long-awaited transformation. Despite the undeniable complex challenges which remain, I have been encouraged by the manner in which the situation in Myanmar-Burma has improved in many respects. Ireland has always remained ready to respond positively to genuine progress towards democratisation and respect for human rights. Ireland stands ready to share its experiences and to assist the process of democratisation in Myanmar-Burma in whatever way possible.

From a development co-operation point of view, Ireland's recent experience in Asia is highly relevant to Myanmar-Burma. To this end, officials from my Department undertook a scoping mission in early July which focused on progressing development and other bilateral links between Ireland and Myanmar-Burma. This included an assessment of options for a small number of niche areas in which a development programme supported by Ireland could have an impact and be a response to local needs. There was close liaison with EU partners during this mission.

At the last Foreign Affairs Council Ministers decided to lift all sanctions against Myanmar-Burma, bar the arms embargo and the embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression. We also had a short discussion about the outstanding areas for progress which need to be addressed by the Government of Myanmar-Burma, such as addressing ethnic conflict and extremism and improving humanitarian access.

The Eastern Partnership featured on the agendas of the April and June Council meetings in preparation for the Vilnius summit on 28 and 29 November. It will also be discussed at our meeting next Monday. In particular, Ministers will hear reports on the state of play of the negotiations for association agreements and free trade agreements, known as DCFTA agreements, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. It is almost certain that agreements with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova will be initialled at Vilnius. The association agreement and DCFTA with Ukraine may also be signed at Vilnius if that country has fulfilled the conditions laid down by the December 2012 Foreign Affairs Council. Following the Council, there will be a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers with Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers which will include a round- table discussion on expectations for the Vilnius summit and beyond.

The Foreign Affairs Council has also maintained a focus on African issues and Mali was the subject of intense discussions in the early part of the year. Ireland played a significant role in facilitating meetings on the crisis in Mali in our capacity as EU Presidency, including hosting important meetings of EU Development and Defence Ministers. The April Foreign Affairs Council adopted a further set of conclusions on Mali which welcomed the commitment by the Malian authorities to implementing the road map for transition. In a further recent positive development, an interim peace agreement was signed between the Malian Government authorities and Tuareg militant groups on 18 June, paving the way for presidential elections on 28 July. This is very welcome. We are consistent in our view that the crisis will not be resolved through military action alone. In this context we are pushing for full implementation of the political road map agreed by the Malians. The holding of presidential elections at the end of this month is an important step.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region continue to face one of the most complex and enduring humanitarian crises in the world and developments in the region will be discussed at the July Foreign Affairs Council. Ongoing instability, human rights violations and violence in the east of the DRC, continue to displace hundreds of thousands of people internally and across borders into Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. The challenges facing the DRC require the support of the international community, not just in terms of traditional humanitarian interventions but also longer term strategies which aim to build the lasting capacity and increase the ability of communities to withstand future shocks. Furthermore, the situation demands the attention and political support of the international community and regional actors.

In this regard, I have voiced Ireland's strong support for the appointment by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of Mary Robinson as his special envoy to oversee the implementation of the peace, security and co-operation framework agreement and the leadership offered by the United Nations in this renewed effort to break the cycle of violence in eastern DRC. I also recognise the constructive role the European Union is playing in the region. The EU is working through political and diplomatic engagement and development co-operation programmes in support of implementation of the peace, security and co-operation framework agreement and the strengthening of the UN peace-keeping force, MONUSCO.

Ireland is a significant humanitarian donor to the DRC. In 2012 alone, Ireland provided over €10 million in emergency and longer-term development funding to the country. Thus far in 2013, Ireland has provided €3.8 million in funding, with much of this directed at the provision of emergency food, water, health and protection to vulnerable groups in eastern DRC.

The current situation in Somalia will also be discussed by the July Foreign Affairs Council. The continuing fragility on the ground was tragically underlined by the attack on the UN compound in Mogadishu last month by the Al Shabaab terrorist group, which claimed 15 lives. The EU is implementing a comprehensive strategy for the Horn of Africa which was adopted in 2011 and which covers the entire region, including Somalia. It addresses all dimensions of the crisis including conflict, underdevelopment, and issues related to governance and human rights.

The EU's support in the area of security includes our funding for the African Union peace-keeping mission and direct engagement through a number of Common Security and Defence Policy missions including the EU training mission, EUTM Somalia, which is building the capacity of the Somali national security forces to enable them to take over responsibility for security and law and order. Ireland is providing the commanding officer and a significant contingent of personnel for EUTM Somalia. Ireland has contributed more than €41 million to efforts to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the region. We are committed to continuing to provide support and help in this area. We have also indicated, in the context of our new policy on international development, One World, One Future, which has a strengthened focus on fragile states, that Ireland will examine other opportunities for assisting Somalia's recovery in the period ahead.

I will provide a brief report on Ireland's recently concluded term as Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, attended the committee last month to discuss the development aspects of Ireland's Presidency. Accordingly, I do not propose to re-visit that topic. Rather, I will focus my comments on achievements in relation to the Common Foreign and Security Policy. As regards the work of the Foreign Affairs Council, Ireland's overriding priority during the Presidency was to support the work of the High Representative, Catherine Ashton and the European External Action Service.

A key feature of this support role was the substitution function which I undertook, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, and former Minister of State, Deputy Creighton. During the six months of the Presidency, we replaced the High Representative on a total of 18 occasions at meetings with third countries and the European Parliament.

From a policy perspective, the Presidency played an important role in co-ordinating complex EU positions, including at working groups chaired by the Presidency and not least at committee of permanent representatives to EU, COREPER. Ireland organised and hosted a number of very successful informal meetings at ministerial and official level. These focused on the Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, and Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, issues and included the "Gymnich" or informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers which I co-hosted at Dublin Castle on 22 and 23 March. The meetings to which I refer provided an opportunity to discuss sensitive issues away from the more formal environments which obtain in Brussels or Luxembourg. They also provided us with an opportunity to showcase Ireland and demonstrate our commitment to the European project.

During its EU Presidency, Ireland worked to advance the human rights agenda, including the effective implementation of the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights, which was adopted by the Council of the European Union on 25 June 2012. Key elements from the action plan which featured during our Presidency included two new sets of EU guidelines on human rights. The first of these relates to the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, while the second relates to the promotion and protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, persons. Ireland was extensively engaged in the drafting process of both sets of guidelines, and I was particularly pleased that they were adopted at the final Foreign Affairs Council of Ireland's Presidency on 24 June.

In the context of disarmament and non-proliferation issues, Ireland made a substantial contribution to a successful outcome at the Third Review Conference on the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took place in The Hague in April. During its Presidency, Ireland also worked closely with the EEAS during the negotiations at the UN in March which led to the adoption of an arms trade treaty on 2 April in New York. Ireland was in the first wave of countries to sign this new treaty when the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, attended a special signing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on 3 June. The Government will move to ratify the treaty in the second half of the year.

During its Presidency, Ireland placed a particular emphasis on strengthening the EU's capacity in the areas of conflict prevention and resolution. We worked closely with the EEAS and the European Parliament on the organisation of a joint conference in Brussels in May on "The EU as a Peacemaker", which I was pleased to address and at which I stressed the importance of joined-up action at EU level to assist in the prevention and resolution of conflict across the globe. This conference brought together over 200 high-level experts from the EU, the United Nations and civil society to examine how the EU's capacities in the areas of conflict prevention and mediation can be strengthened.

As members will be aware, last November Ireland was elected to the Human Rights Council, the UN's principal human rights body. This was the first occasion on which Ireland stood for election to the council. It was an especially hard-fought election and our success represents a major endorsement of Ireland's international standing, particularly in the context of our advocacy of human rights across the globe. Our period on the Human Rights Council began on 1 January 2013 and will run until December 2015. As a member of the HRC, Ireland will continue to prioritise engagement on country situation resolutions as well as on thematic human rights issues which are of concern to the Irish public. Ireland's approach to membership of the Human Rights Council will be guided by the pledges and commitments made during our election campaign, which reflect our well-established human rights priorities. These include but are not limited to: defending the universality of human rights; freedom of expression, particularly on the Internet; freedom of religion or belief; LGBTI rights; the promotion and protection of human rights defenders; women's rights; and combating discrimination and gender-based violence.

At the September 2013 session of the Human Rights Council, Ireland will present two new initiatives. The first of these will relate to civil society space, while the second will relate to child mortality. The new initiative on civil society space will emphasise the importance of the protection of this space in the context of the promotion and protection of all human rights, as well as elements which create, strengthen and ensure an enabling environment in which civil society can operate. The initiative on child mortality is intended to support the much needed engagement of the human rights community in ongoing efforts to strengthen accountability in respect of children's health. The aim of this initiative will be to highlight this important issue and to request the elaboration of technical guidance on the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce child mortality. This follows on from similar previous work on maternal mortality. I look forward to continuing my engagement with this committee on these and other human rights concerns during the course of our Membership of the Human Rights Council.

I will be happy to reply to any questions members may wish to pose.

5:20 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Before opening the floor to members, I wish to pose one question. As the Tánaiste is aware, the committee recently visited Jordan, Palestine and Israel and met the Foreign Ministers in each jurisdiction. People in Jordan and Palestine are treating the Middle East peace process and the initiative taken by US Secretary of State John Kerry as urgent. They see that latter as offering a great window of opportunity in the context of something happening in respect of Israel and Palestine. When we visited Israel, one obtained the impression that the sense of urgency or priority to which I refer was absent. Yesterday's announcement by the European Union was to the effect that all future agreements between it and Israel must exclude the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. How significant is the latter in the context of the overall Middle East peace process?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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It is a very clear signal on the part of the European Union at a number of levels. In the first instance, it is an indication that we are quite unhappy with the situation as it currently obtains - which we want Israel to address - and that we want to encourage both sides to engage with the peace initiative. Yesterday's decision largely relates to the funding of projects by the European Union. The essence of the agreement is that funding will only be provided in respect of projects in areas that are within the 1967 borders.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his detailed presentation. At the select committee's meeting in respect of the Revised Estimates, I had the opportunity to compliment the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, the former Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, their colleagues in the Department and all the relevant officials on a successful Presidency. The commitment shown by the officials to whom I refer was extremely important in this regard.

Ireland's membership of the Human Rights Council is a very progressive development and I welcome it. I also welcome the Tánaiste's indication that the two initiatives on which he will focus in respect of the September meeting relate to civil society space and child mortality. These are extremely important issues. As the Tánaiste is aware, the universal periodic review, UPR, involves a review carried out over a four-and-a-half-year period in each EU member state. In light of this country's long-standing commitment to ensuring that human rights are placed at the centre of its development co-operation programmes, its role within the Human Rights Council and the fact that it is an active participant in the UPR process, does the Government plan to incorporate recommendations from the latter process in its bilateral development co-operation programmes? I see this as a mechanism to promote UPR recommendations to greater effect and it is something which might be worth considering.

We have discussed the situation in Syria on Question Time in the Dáil and at all of the committee's meetings in recent months. The Tánaiste described the situation as "dire". Unfortunately, matters have been escalating and in excess of 100,000 people have been killed and millions more have been displaced. The Tánaiste stated that this will again be a major subject for consideration by him and his European counterparts at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. The European Union has lived up to the pledges it made in respect of this matter. However, has there been any improvement in the context of the major powers and the international community in general honouring the pledges made with regard to the provision of humanitarian aid? Has progress been made in the context of ensuring that such aid reaches those who most need it? Some months ago there were reports that the Assad regime was directing this aid to its own supporters.

At the end of 2011 the Tánaiste stated, "The Assad regime must make way for a genuine political transition". At that point, it appeared that a political solution would be found among the opposition groups and parties in Syria. In reply to a recent parliamentary question I tabled the Tánaiste stated:

Promoting a power-sharing agreement between the Syrian authorities and the opposition is clearly the only way to end the violence and to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for peace and democracy. Ireland and its EU partners will continue to work hard to achieve these vital objectives.

Is that Government policy and is it EU policy as well in terms of how it is envisaged a resolution could be achieved?

In his remarks the Tánaiste also mentioned that the EU would probably review its policy before 1 August. He said he was not confident about a Geneva II conference taking place until the autumn. We all know the urgency of the situation. There was some hope at the time the US Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, and his Russian counterpart made a joint statement that we might have a conference sooner rather than later. Based on the Tánaiste’s script, is he pessimistic about when a conference would be held?

The holding of a hunger and nutrition conference in this country in April under the Presidency was a welcome development. I am aware the Tánaiste will work closely with his Lithuanian counterparts during their Presidency. It would be desirable if they would ensure that climate change, bio-fuels and a potential Council conclusion on the area would continue to be given priority during the Lithuanian Presidency.

As the Chairman said, when Senator Kerry was appointed Secretary of State in early January, if not previous to that, the number of visits he made to the Middle East gave some hope that momentum would be created to get the negotiations going again. Time has elapsed and I gather from the Tánaiste’s contribution that he is worried about the lack or loss of momentum in recent months.

5:30 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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There are a lot of questions for the Tánaiste. Perhaps he could respond to some of them initially.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Smith for his compliments on the successful Presidency. I pay tribute to the officers and staff of my Department, both in Dublin and in Brussels, and to the officers of the Department of the Taoiseach for the work they have done.

On the universal periodic review, UPR, the implementation of the UPR recommendations is taken on board in our partnership with developing states and the recommendations inform our approach to our development relationship with states.

The European Union is the biggest contributor of humanitarian aid to Syria and the surrounding countries vis-à-vis the refugee crisis. From memory, approximately €1.25 billion has been committed by the EU. There has been some improvement in respect of countries honouring pledges but there is still a long way to go. The current situation is that more than 93,000 people have been killed. In excess of 6.8 million Syrians require immediate humanitarian assistance within the country. More than 4 million people have been internally displaced and more than 1.6 million Syrians have fled for sanctuary to neighbouring countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The countries hosting displaced Syrians have shown great generosity but they have limited resources to meet their growing needs.

Ireland has been a leader in terms of the international humanitarian response to the crisis. In recent weeks the Government announced a further humanitarian assistance package of €1.65 million, bringing our overall assistance to almost €10 million. To date, EU member states have contributed €1 billion in emergency funding and recently announced an additional €400 million in response to the deteriorating situation. I welcome the collective agreement made by G8 leaders when they met in County Fermanagh last month to provide an additional €1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance. That was in support of the latest UN appeal for €5.2 billion, which represents the largest such appeal that has ever been launched by the UN.

On the policy position, Deputy Smith is aware the situation in Syria has moved on significantly since 2011. The international response has not been as we would have liked. At all times we wanted to see a much more robust UN position adopted. It was not possible to get a strong UN response because of the exercise of vetoes at the Security Council. A succession of attempts have been made at getting a political resolution. The most recent before the current one was conducted by Dr. Brahimi. The advantage of the Geneva II process is that it involves both the United States and Russia. It is clear that for the process to work the participants in the conflict must be willing to participate in it. It does not appear as though the conference will be convened prior to early autumn at the latest but it is still the only prospect for a political solution to be found.

The hunger and nutrition conference was a priority for us during the Presidency. I have briefed the foreign Ministers on the conclusions which emerged from the conference and that will inform the way in which we will approach discussion on the issue of hunger and nutrition at the Foreign Affairs Council and also at the United Nations later in the year.

On the efforts the US Secretary of State is making to try to get talks under way again on the Middle East peace process, he has been deeply engaged in the process. We very much welcome the initiative taken by the US Administration following the last presidential election and the appointment of Mr. Kerry as Secretary of State. In March, President Obama spoke directly to the Israeli public about the need for renewed engagement. The Secretary of State has made repeated visits to the region and held extensive discussions with Israeli, Palestinian and regional leaders. He has already made five or six visits to the region in the space of three months.

The European Union is supportive of the effort. I have discussed the matter with the Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry. We must also assert the priorities of the EU on the issue. When we come to discuss the matter on Monday I expect that we will be updated by the High Representative on her information as to where the initiative of the Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, is at this point. We will also consider such issues, for example, as guidelines on settlement products and consider the situation on the ground.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the Tánaiste. He referred to the settlements in Palestine. I welcomed his comments following the meeting with the so-called elders during the Presidency. He stated that the Israeli settlements in Palestine are illegal and the products from them should be treated as illegal in the European Union.

There was an agreement on an EU ban on those goods. Our Government adopted the position that legal opinion indicated that would be difficult, despite the fact that many organisations have an alternative legal view in that regard. In a recent parliamentary reply, which was probably not written by him, the Tánaiste stated that the importation of settlement goods into the EU was a less significant issue than stopping settlement growth and that EU trade with Israeli settlements was not significant. The value of the trade with the EU is €230 million. That is not an insignificant sum but, more important, EU imports from illegal settlements are 15 times those from Palestinians. It is a crucial issue. The illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley region are only economically viable because they can export to European supermarkets. What the Tánaiste stated does not add up.

The Chairman referred to the EU directive that prohibits grants, funding, prizes and so on. I ask the Tánaiste to expand on that because it represents a moving from rhetoric to action in that regard. Is the Tánaiste confident that will be fully implemented? Does it cover the areas of economics, science, culture, sports and academia?

The Tánaiste mentioned Syria. Twenty-five out of 27 member states were in favour of renewing the embargo. Britain and France appeared to have got their way in that regard. In other conflict zones such as Iraq there are private companies involved in training, etc. Basically, they are an alternative to the army in terms of troops on the ground. Is the Tánaiste aware of that happening in Syria?

On the arms embargo, we are told that no EU country has formally sent weapons. Is that the Tánaiste's view of the situation on the ground?

The Tánaiste mentioned the deteriorating situation in Egypt. Language is very important. The EU was talking in terms of military intervention but the Tánaiste spoke earlier about military take-over. Does he regard what happened in Egypt as a military coup? Is it difficult for a country like Ireland to say that a military coup occurred in the country? Has Ireland publicly called for President Mursi's release?

Regarding the Human Rights Council, the Tánaiste spoke in terms of freedom of religion or belief and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, rights. Again, the EU adopted a strategic framework and action plan. The Tánaiste hoped that would be covered under the Lithuanian Presidency but the difficulty, according to the 2013 Rainbow Europe index, is that Lithuania is one of the worst countries in the EU in terms of laws and policies to protect LGBT people. EU figures also indicate it is the worst country in the EU in that regard.

During the EU Presidency guidelines were issued on overseas EU missions committed to during the Irish Presidency, which referred to freedom of assembly without excessive political and administrative obstacles and police protection in the event of public hostility. That is in respect of EU missions but there does not appear to be a similar view taken on EU member states. There is a gap in that regard.

Regarding LGBT rights in Russia, draconian legislation has been introduced against the LGBT community under which information that views LGBT people in a positive and neutral light is banned. An example of that is the attack by the authorities on the recent gay pride march in Moscow. Does the Tánaiste see that as a Human Rights Council issue?

The Tánaiste mentioned Hezbollah in regard to one member state. He might put on record the name of that state. He spoke also in terms of a proposal to designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. I would be interested to hear from where that is coming.

5:40 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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On the issue of illegal settlements, we would support a ban at EU level on settlement goods entering the European Union market. What is being developed by the High Representative and the External Action Service is a set of guidelines for the labelling of settlement products, which we support. Work on that is well advanced and our intention is to work with that.

On the reference in the parliamentary question, which I do not have before me, the issue is not so much the impact from an economic and a trade point of view of the labelling of settlement goods but to send a clear message from the European Union about the illegality of the settlements and the necessity to halt settlement activity in the context of trying to get discussions going on a peace initiative.

On the issue of the arms embargo and the discussion that took place on that at the Foreign Affairs Council, all of the sanctions against Syria, which included the arms embargo, came up for renewal. That requires unanimity at the Foreign Affairs Council; foreign policy decisions at the Foreign Affairs Council are decided by unanimity. It was clear in the course of that discussion that unanimity would not be reached on the renewal of the arms embargo. There was unanimity on the renewal of all the remaining sanctions but not on the arms embargo. It was agreed that there would be a further review of the position prior to 1 August, and I expect that we will discuss that on Monday. My understanding is that as of now, no member state has supplied arms to the Syrian opposition but it is an issue that will come up for discussion on Monday.

With regard to Egypt, the point I made is that we stand for democracy. Our support for what happened in the Arab Spring and in the transition was to have democratic regimes respecting the rule of law and human rights in place across north Africa, including in Egypt. A military take-over flies in the face of that, and we must be clear in saying that. We have called for the release of all political prisoners, and that includes President Mursi, but it is more than that. It is not just about giving our view on a military take-over. There must be a transition to democracy, and that transition to democracy must be a real transition that clearly respects the rights of all citizens in Egypt, including women. Getting to that point is complicated now. The European Union has an important role to play in that regard. We also must be mindful of the economic circumstances that have given rise to the difficulties in Egypt, for example, the degree of poverty and the economic problems that country faces.

Regarding the application of human rights standards throughout the European Union, that is a condition of EU membership. There are criteria for membership of the European Union, which involve human rights standards. Incidentally, that has been the subject of discussion at the General Affairs Council.

During the course of our EU Presidency, I received a letter from four foreign ministers who sought a discussion on how the EU is dealing with the application of democratic standards in human rights issues within the EU itself. We have had much discussion in Europe about the application of economic conditions and standards, but the issues of democracy and human rights standards are also conditions of EU membership. Under my chairmanship, the General Affairs Council commenced a discussion process on that issue, which will continue into the autumn.

As regards the designation of Hezbollah, the issue arose following a bomb attack in Bulgaria which is being investigated by the Bulgarian authorities. Arising from that, one member state asked that the designation of Hezbollah would be considered by the Council. It is being discussed at COREPER level and I expect there will be a discussion on it at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

5:50 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I will take Deputy Olivia Mitchell first, followed by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his wide-ranging presentation. There is a lot of material for questions but I will confine myself to one which interests me. The Tánaiste mentioned that the July Council is expected to adopt conclusions on EU water diplomacy. He also said that the conclusions would acknowledge the potential security risk associated with competition for water resources. That is a big understatement given that water is fundamental to progress on any front. Lack of access to water - in a place such as Lake Chad, for example - can be largely for environmental and economic reasons but also for political reasons. It has been suggested that it can be used almost as a weapon of domination. There are suggestions that it may be happening in the Middle East. What are the aspirations for diplomacy in this area, when the reasons can be so diverse?

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his report today and for the other occasions on which he has presented the committee with comprehensive reports on what has been happening, in particular during Ireland's EU Presidency. How many more people have to die in Syria, or leave the country for neighbouring refugee camps, before some real action is taken? As the committee discovered when it visited one such camp, there are huge problems. The refugee camps are putting an enormous strain on neighbouring countries. It is all very well to talk about unanimity and a political solution, but it is becoming increasingly clear that only a military solution will bring it to an end. We know who has the superior military strength in that situation, but what is being said about the use of chemical weapons and scud missiles? There is no doubt but that, as the situation continues, there will be further radicalisation of certain elements within the opposition.

Who is talking to Mr. Assad and who is trying to work with him on a political solution? Or is he only listening to the Russians and Iranians? If, as could happen, there is to be a military solution in his favour and Assad wins, are discussions taking place on what will happen to the population in Syria? There are major issues concerning the Syrian population. What is Ireland's view on the designation of Hezbollah's military wing as a terrorist organisation?

When the Tánaiste brought the conference on climate change to his counterparts, what was their view on our support for the reduction to 5%? Was that view shared across Europe?

I note from what the Tánaiste said that he is positive about the long-awaited transformation in Burma. He is also encouraged about progress towards democratisation there, but genocide is taking place in Burma at the moment concerning the Rohingya people. I have tabled questions to the Tánaiste about this but the answers are not getting to the truth of the matter. There are serious human rights abuses, including the murder of children by the authorities. A blind eye is being turned towards it.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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During our own visit to Jordan, Israel and Palestine, most local experts said the situation in Syria will go on and on, perhaps for up to ten years. There seems to be a sense of hopelessness about the current Syrian situation.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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A number of issues have been raised. Deputy Mitchell asked about water diplomacy and security. On Monday, I expect that the EU's High Representative will provide an update on recent policy developments on water security. The discussion on this issue is part of an increased focus by the High Representative and EU foreign ministers on integrating non-traditional security challenges into the common security and defence policy, particularly concerning conflict prevention, mediation and crisis management. This was the subject of a lengthy discussion at the informal meeting of foreign affairs Ministers that was held in Cyprus during their EU Presidency last September.

Essentially, one examines the areas that have the potential to give rise to conflict. We were mindful at that stage that there was an issue in central Asia, for example, concerning two countries where the flow of water was diverted, dammed or halted, and which gave rise to tension.

The EU has at its disposal a unique range of policies and tools - including development, trade, security and diplomacy - which can enable it to play a significant role in this regard. That is the objective of regular Foreign Affairs Council discussions on this issue. As global demand for natural resources, including water, continues to increase, so does their potential role concerning inter and intra-state conflict. That is why Ireland supports the effective management of water resources in countries like Ethiopia, for example, where we actively contribute to the development of water infrastructure through the productive safety nets programme.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked about Syria. There are no superlatives left to describe the horror of the situation there. Almost 100,000 people have been killed, that we know of, and in addition we must also consider the extent of displacement. What can be done? One step would be for the international community to respond as one, but it has not been able to do so due to the veto being exercised by two countries at the UN Security Council. Deputy O'Sullivan said that we are witnessing this slaughter and she asked how many more people must be killed before some intervention action is taken. That was the rationale and argument we had at the Foreign Affairs Council in respect of renewing the arms embargo.

Some member states have argued that in a set of circumstances where the Assad regime has available to it a huge amount of weaponry, the answer is to equip the opposition forces. There are a number of difficulties with that. The first is that it would increase the militarisation of the situation on the ground. One would not have control over where those weapons would end up. There is a very fractured nature to the opposition, although I know that the Syrian National Coalition is together. However, by increasing the amount of arms one is increasing the potential for a huge civil war, which could go on for a very long time. It would have major implications for destabilisation in the region.

It is well known that we would wish to have seen the arms embargo continued.

I very much regret it was not possible to get unanimity on it. The only show in town in getting some progress on Syria is the Geneva II conference. That has the advantage that it involves the United States and Russia.

The issue of Hezbollah has been extensively discussed at official level in Brussels in recent months. To date, no agreement has been possible, despite extensive efforts in the relevant working groups that Ireland chaired during its EU Presidency. Several countries, including Ireland, have expressed concerns about the potentially destabilising impact of designation. There are also concerns about other impacts. Discussions are continuing in advance of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting next Monday with a view to reaching a compromise on this difficult issue. We are engaging constructively in those efforts to reach an agreed EU position.

I have noted the point made by Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan on Myanmar-Burma. During the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi, we agreed to renew our diplomatic relations with Myanmar-Burma. The Irish ambassador to Vietnam is also designated ambassador to Myanmar-Burma. We had a scoping mission by departmental officials several weeks ago and we are considering its report.

6:00 pm

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for his comprehensive report. I commend him and his officials, as well as the rest of the Government, on the work done during the EU Presidency. Yesterday, I heard the Romanian ambassador openly praise the work of the Irish EU Presidency.

There were attempts several years ago by an Irish diplomat to open talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. I read recently that the Americans are now interested in engaging in discussions with the Taliban which has resulted in talks between the Americans and the Afghan Government being scuppered. Does Ireland or the EU have a position on initiating discussions with the Taliban with the view to securing a long-term, stable independent Afghanistan?

Two years ago the committee heard from Paddy Ashdown, the former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He pleaded with us that the peace efforts there were going down the drain and that it was not developing the way the European Union claimed. At a recent meeting in Dublin Castle, the current high representative, Mr. Valentin Inzko, conceded to me that they had made mistakes and that they had expected progress with the Croats and the Serbs moving towards European Union membership but it did not materialise. Does Ireland have a position on Bosnia-Herzegovina? Does the EU now recognise that its policies there have been a failure and its response needs to be reconfigured?

I remember meeting some constituents from Myanmar-Burma celebrating the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2010. They were refugees here and were Muslims who had been persecuted by Buddhists in Burma. I have seen reports that the ethnic conflict there is getting worse in certain regions. Will the Tánaiste confirm we have had programme refugees from there and how many there are? How are we handling this complex issue? There are 136 ethnic minorities in the country, so it is not a plain cakewalk.

I did not hear Cyprus mentioned in the presentation. I am shocked at the silence around Cyprus and Famagusta, a ghost city which is lying mothballed because of the conflict there. What is Europe doing about this issue? Are there discussions on the plight of this city?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. He knows that I am not an unqualified admirer of this Government or its policies. When I give praise, it is thought out, however. I congratulate the Tánaiste on his nuanced response to recent events in Egypt. It was very significant. The Morsi regime may be unattractive. It was incompetent and failed to deal with the economy. It had obnoxious views about women and all the rest of it. However, the lead general in the overthrow of the Morsi regime was one of those who proposed forced virginity tests on those protesting in Tahrir Square. It is a very complicated situation. When we talk about democracy, it is remarkable that over the past 30 years every time an Islamic regime has been legitimately elected it has been subverted by the West. It happened in Algeria, Libya, disastrously in Iraq and Palestine. All these regimes were elected by a mass vote of the people but then the West got in and undermined them. They may be horrible regimes. They may contain people about whom we might have reservations. I certainly have reservations about the ones who supplanted them, however.

It is ludicrous for us to talk about democracy unless we are prepared to face the history in the region. If we had not stuck our noses in and made a bags of it - if one is allowed to say “bags” - maybe the regimes would have worked and have been tempered by the experience of government. Has the Minister sought and received support from any of our EU colleagues for his stance on Egypt? I doubt there will be unanimous support for his stand but it was courageous, dignified and 100% warranted.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Ireland has been very clear on the need for a strong inclusive political process to help resolve the conflict in Afghanistan.

That includes dialogue with the Taliban. We are in agreement with the emerging consensus that dialogue with the Taliban is necessary as part of the overall effort to convince Taliban leaders to relinquish the armed struggle and to reintegrate into Afghan society. One key challenge in bringing former Taliban closer into that process will be to maintain and advance the gains made over recent years in the area of human rights and in particular women's rights. Any political solution must also respect the spirit of the Afghan constitution and be compatible with internationally accepted standards of human rights. That said, there is still the fear that while there may be talks with the Taliban at one level as part of the peace process, it may not speak for all of the fighters in the field. We must be particularly mindful of statements made by the Taliban spokesperson that fighting will continue despite the recent opening of a Taliban office in Doha. We must involve the Taliban in the process but that process must be on terms that clearly respect human rights and are about bringing an end to the violence.

In June 2012, the government and political leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the European Commission agreed to a road map which, if implemented, could lead to the conditions for a credible application for EU membership. Important elements in that road map include an amendment to the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina to make it compliant with the Sejdic-Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and establishing an effective co-ordination mechanism on EU affairs among the levels of government of Bosnia-Herzogivina. Implementation of the Sejdic-Finci ruling is essential for a decision of the European Council on the entry into force of the stabilisation and association agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina. While the timetable for that road map has slipped, the commitments entered into by the political leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina remain valid. I did say in response to a Dáil question recently that I believed that there needs to be a review of the EU position on Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As I mentioned earlier, a scoping mission recently visited Burma-Myanmar. It focused on progressing development and other bilateral links between Ireland and Burma-Myanmar. The mission included an assessment of options for a small number of niche areas in which a development programme supported by Ireland could have impact and respond to local needs. In terms of our relationship with Burma-Myanmar, we are at quite an early stage. If we can get a programme up and running, we will then be in a much better position to assess the situation on the ground. Otherwise, we are relying largely on the reports coming through the EU and which are publicly available.

The situation in Cyprus remains a concern. We want to see the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions and continue to call on Turkey to comply with those resolutions. I understand that there have been contacts between the parties under the aegis of the UN and we look forward to positive developments emerging from that.

In respect of the point made by Senator Norris, we believe in the universality of human rights and have a very consistent position on them irrespective of the country concerned. It is important that political progress is made in Egypt. There will be a lengthy discussion on this on Monday. Some other European foreign Ministers have expressed themselves in terms similar to those used by me in respect of the military takeover.

6:10 pm

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join my colleagues in congratulating the Tánaiste and his officials on a very successful Irish Presidency and for enhancing the reputation of the country internationally. It is inevitable that we would all want to say something on Syria given the worsening situation, the volumes of people pouring out of that country on a daily basis and the fact that neighbouring countries are under serious pressure to cope with the volumes of refugees they are attempting to assist. What other plans are being put in place to deal with the worsening crisis or to assist those neighbouring countries? Has consideration been given to trying to relocate some of these people to other parts of Europe? It was roughly this time last year when we spoke about the potential peace process in Syria. I remember that at the time I asked the Tánaiste whether there was a plan B and referred to the possibility of military intervention. The Tánaiste replied at the time that military intervention would lead to an escalation of militarisation and thereby make the situation worse and that our national position is that if we put more arms into the situation, we will increase militarisation and move away from trying to find a political solution and the number of casualties will increase. At that time, approximately 19,000 people had been killed. Today, that figure is close to 100,000. Does the Tánaiste have a different view today? Is he disappointed that it is likely that it will be late autumn before the Geneva peace initiative convenes? How optimistic is he that progress can be made there?

I very much welcome the stance the Tánaiste has taken on Egypt. Is there any indication that the interim regime is likely to reopen the media stations or release any of the political prisoners? What progress is likely to occur in the next number of months?

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I join with others in thanking the Tánaiste for his comprehensive report to us. I commend the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, visited the UN to sign the ATT. I think he was one of only 12 ministers who attended, which was acknowledged and recognised. I note that the Tánaiste intends ratifying it in the second half of the year. I would encourage him to do so as soon as possible. Given the standing of Ireland on human rights issues over many decades, other countries look to us so we give an example and lead when we do that.

I had a meeting in the past few days with the UN ambassadors from Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Argentina. The issue of the International Criminal Court was discussed, in particular the Kampala declaration. What is our position on the Kampala declaration? We are anxious that as many countries as possible support the declaration, sign it and see that it comes into full effect.

With regard to Syria, the Chairman and another member mentioned that the indication we got when we were in the Middle East was that this war will go on for many years. We saw the sad effects of it on individuals and families, many of whom are destitute as a consequence. They are living in the best conditions that can be provided, but appalling conditions when one looks at Zaatari refugee camp. Last July there was nobody there and the camp was just being established. The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, said when he was there in January there were only 15,000; now there are 120,000. The effects that will have on Jordan, one of the few stable countries in that region, and particularly on Lebanon, which the Minister mentioned, are mind-boggling.

At a recent meeting I attended, Turkish parliamentarians expressed their concerns that the war in Syria might engulf the region. They are particularly concerned about Turkey and how it might affect them. They made the following suggestion, which I will put to the Tánaiste without evaluating it myself. They felt the effort and initiative with Russia and the US is very important to try to bring closure to that conflict and not allow it to go on for ten years. They said it would enhance the prospects of success if Iran, Turkey and Israel participated with Russia and the US. The inclusion of some of the countries to which they referred surprised me and I queried them but their honest opinion was that these countries would assist and that having them involved would promote the prospect of a resolution. The Tánaiste, with his officials, can evaluate whether they would concur with that. I am giving this to the Tánaiste for what it is worth, as I received it.

I appeal that we in Ireland would do our utmost, with the international community and our EU partners, to try to ensure that war does not continue, as people in the region feel it will, almost indefinitely. It will have consequences for the other countries in the region.

6:20 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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As Senator Walsh mentioned, with the President-elect of Iran, Hassan Rouhani to take office on 3 August, will the situation with the new President be discussed at the Council meeting on Monday and what efforts will the EU make to reach out to Iran, particularly as the President-elect is a former nuclear negotiator?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I will deal first with Syria, raised by Senators Mullen and Walsh. Some 1.6 million people have had to flee the country and are living in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. That is equivalent to the population of Northern Ireland. When I was in Turkey in April, I visited Gaziantep refugee camp. It was very well managed. As refugee camps go it provided secure accommodation, but it is not where any of us would want to live. One could feel the tension of people who had been displaced from their homes, some of them in very traumatic circumstances. The UN has appealed for €5.2 billion, its estimate of the cost of supporting the humanitarian effort just to the end of the year. This is a major burden on the countries, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The Minister of State, Deputy Costello visited refugee camps in Jordan. There must be a mobilisation of international effort to provide support and finance. One of the issues that must be considered is where this is going in the long term and the amount that will be required to address this humanitarian crisis. The loss of human life and the suffering of the Syrian people must end. Neighbouring countries such as Iran, Turkey and Israel clearly have a role to play in this.

Iran is not on the agenda for Monday's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. There have been a number of discussions on Iran, particularly on the E3+3 process. I hope that process will improve and progress.

With regard to Egypt, there is no indication yet about the release of political prisoners and the re-opening of television stations but the EU is continuing to press hard on that. The EU High Representative Cathy Ashton is in Cairo today and I expect we will hear her report on that visit on Monday.

I will come back to the Senator on the Kampala declaration. The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, attended the signature ceremony for the arms trade treaty in New York. This country has a long record, going back to Frank Aiken in particular, of promoting disarmament and we are very active in the development of the arms trade treaty. Therefore, we were anxious to be among the first signatories to it. We intend to ratify it later in the year.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his direct answers to the members' questions. It was an interesting discussion and we raised many issues, particularly on the Middle East process which the committee will revisit from time to time, particularly when we come back in September until Christmas, when it will dominate our agenda.

The joint committee went into private session at 6.40 p.m. and adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 18 September 2013.