Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Review of Foreign Affairs Policy and External Relations: Discussion
I apologise for the interruption in proceedings, which was due to a division in the Dáil. We will now proceed to a discussion of the review of foreign affairs policy and external relations that will be undertaken by the Department in the coming months. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to make an opening statement.
I welcome the opportunity to engage with the committee on the review of Ireland's foreign policy and external engagement I have asked my Department to undertake. Ireland's foreign policy is an essential element of government, being the means by which we promote our values and pursue our interests abroad. Through it, we pursue Ireland's economic prosperity and promote peace and security, both at home and in the wider world. These are important tasks that require careful reflection and targeted action for a small state such as ours. Our foreign policy is also a statement of who we are as a people. It projects an image which shapes how others see us and engage with us. It also affects how we see ourselves and our place in the world - our place among the nations, as Robert Emmet famously declared in his speech from the dock. How we use that place, how we shape our international engagement, the relationships we seek to build, the goals we set ourselves and the resources we provide to pursue them are at the heart of this review.
We have just come through an extremely busy period in Irish diplomacy. Our successful EU Presidency in the first half of this year, our chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe last year and our election to the UN Human Rights Council enabled us to raise our profile, build our international reputation and demonstrate the positive international contribution we make. The Government is committed to strengthening relationships with our partners in Europe and around the globe through interaction at political level, developing personal ties with key leaders and renewal of our policy engagement across a broad range of issues. As political representatives, we all recognise the value of building strong relationships that enable us to influence decisions which affect our interests. This approach has paid dividends in our policy within the EU, as evidenced during the Presidency, and our work in other areas.
The Taoiseach is in Japan today leading a trade mission and meeting with Prime Minister Abe and key business leaders. To mention just a few of my own recent meetings, I hosted the visiting Chinese Vice Premier, Ma Kai, in October for a series of in-depth discussions on the economy, bilateral trade and international issues, and facilitated meetings with Irish companies. Last month, I hosted the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah, and discussed the international situation, trade and economic relations. I speak with my European counterparts on a range of issues at our regular meetings in Brussels. We are relentlessly promoting our trade, tourism and investment, using the embassy network and working with State agencies to support Irish business and contribute to the Government's agenda for jobs and growth. Our embassy network is engaged on a daily basis providing services, support and assistance to our citizens abroad, sometimes in difficult or tragic circumstances.
As we look to the future, and as we exit the EU-IMF programme, it is timely to reflect on the future direction of our foreign policy, the values and interests we seek to promote through it, and how it contributes to achieving Government objectives. We are also all aware that our external environment and the international system in which we operate are experiencing rapid change. For some time, economic and political power and influence have been shifting from the West to the East and south. The increasing influence of Asian, Latin American and African countries is reshaping the way the world works, as are groups of countries working together in formats such as the G20 or on an informal and ad hoc basis. The global financial crisis has accelerated these trends. Many of today's challenges, such as cyber security, climate change, and migration, are not defined by borders and regions, but require global solutions. These facts are not new, but they are coming into ever sharper focus. The fast-moving pace of the global economy and the need to keep pace with technological change and innovation are also factors with which we are familiar.
Through my work as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am conscious of what these changes mean for how we pursue our international goals. This is the context in which the review of our foreign policy is taking place. The purpose of the review, which I launched on 8 October, is to provide an updated statement of Ireland's foreign policy and external relations and identify a series of recommendations for its conduct. It will consider a broad range of issues which reflect the breadth of our external engagement, including how we set our external priorities, how we engage as an EU member state, how we contribute to economic recovery and growth through promoting our trade, tourism and investment, the pursuit of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland, the services we provide to our citizens abroad and our relationship with the Irish diaspora, the contribution of our international development policy, and how we ensure Ireland is a respected international actor. These are all important issues, as are other aspects of our foreign policy which the review will consider.
Membership of the European Union is fundamental to our national interests, both in foreign policy and domestic terms. Indeed, our EU membership is inseparable from the pursuit of our foreign policy, as it is from so many aspects of domestic policy. As our engagement with the Union is wider than the foreign policy sphere, being at the core of the day-to-day business of all Departments, the review will not examine our EU policy in detail. Instead, the focus will be on the contribution of our foreign policy and external relations, as well as the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade across Government, to the promotion of Ireland's interests within the EU and to ensuring Europe's voice is stronger at a global level.
Diplomacy can, at times, seem remote from our daily lives. However, as the recent breakthrough in the talks with Iran has shown, quiet and skilled diplomacy can yield results. We know this from our own experience in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland, during our EU Presidency and in the important negotiations in Europe on banking and fiscal issues. These are important skills which we must preserve and develop if we are to advance our strategic interests, including in the EU and on issues directly related to the growth and development of our economy. Our embassy network is making a vital contribution to these efforts, building relations, supporting Irish business and influencing decisions that affect us. It is an important national resource at the service of Government and the Irish people.
We must be both flexible and adaptable if we are to influence the international agenda.
While international relations can often favour the large, Ireland's flexibility and adaptability have been two of its traditional strengths. These are advantages we enjoy as a small state and I am of the view that we have used them well.
I will now comment on how the review will be taken forward. Given the wide-ranging nature of our foreign policy and external relations, it is important that we consult extensively. I have asked my Department to facilitate a broad-based consultation process, involving all Departments, the State agencies, academics and experts, business organisations, interested stakeholders and civil society. This is being complemented by a detailed process of consultation and analysis within my Department, involving our network of embassies and other offices abroad. Today I will launch a process of public consultation, inviting written input from members of the public and stakeholders with an interest in Ireland's foreign policy. Details about the review and how to make submissions are available on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As stated at the outset, our foreign policy is a statement of who we are as a people and I encourage members of the public and anyone with an interest in our foreign policy to contribute views and inputs. The review will also take account of a number of recently concluded or ongoing review processes including the Government's new policy for international development, One World, One Future, adopted in May this year; the Green Paper on Defence currently being prepared by my colleague, the Minister for Defence; the review of the Government's trade tourism and investment strategy, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy; and the review of our diaspora policy, which I announced at the Global Irish Economic Forum in October.
The Oireachtas has traditionally played an important role in shaping our foreign policy and holding the Government to account for its conduct and implementation, through debates in both Houses and the work of this committee and those of its counterparts which deal with different aspects of our external relations. I am of the opinion that our foreign policy is the stronger for this oversight and engagement. Today's meeting is a valuable opportunity to engage in a first exchange of views and to hear inputs on the issues covered by this review. I also welcome written inputs from this committee and from individual members of the Oireachtas. Meetings will also take place with the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and the Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to discuss the Review. Issues raised at these meetings will also constitute an important input to the review process.
Our foreign policy is important. Much depends on our getting it right, namely, our peace and prosperity, growth in our economy, our place in Europe and the world and our well being as a people. This is a timely and important review. Its outcome will guide our external engagement in the years ahead. I look forward to working with the Chairman, members and the Oireachtas in to ensure that we craft the right polices to promote our values and our interests. I look forward to the discussion we are about to have, to hearing the views of members and to receiving further input in due course. With the agreement of the committee, I do not propose to respond in detail to policy suggestions at this time. I assure members, however, that I and my officials will take careful note of all proposals and that these will be fully taken into account when preparing the outcome of the review.
The committee has not discussed this matter yet but we do intend to discuss it in private session next week. The committee is anxious to have an input, to make a presentation and, probably, to hold hearings. Perhaps the Tánaiste's officials will liaise with the clerk to the committee in respect of this issue. The Tánaiste will be aware - from what transpired during the earlier part of the meeting - that we have a deep interest in this issue. I welcome the review, which is a very good idea. I hope the committee will be able to have an input and that its views will be taken on board.
I wish to ask a couple of questions before opening the floor to members. Our network of embassies are very important in the context of trade and our affairs abroad. Following our Presidency of the EU, the Tánaiste announced a review of our embassy network. Croatia is one of the newer member states of the EU and Ireland does not have an embassy there yet. I presume the need to open new embassies will be considered during the review. As the Tánaiste indicated, a new deal has just been completed in respect of Iran's nuclear capability. Ireland closed its embassy in Tehran some time ago and I presume it could potentially be reopened in the wake of the deal to which I refer. An issue which is, I suppose, to the forefront of many people's minds is that which relates to our Vatican Embassy. The latter was closed some time ago but, obviously, this matter could be revisited in the future. We would welcome positive developments in these areas because, as committee members, we are aware of the very important role our embassies abroad play in the context of trade, bilateral relations and working in conjunction with the development agencies. We know that our network is small and that only a few officials serve in each embassy. However, they have an important role to play. I accept that the officials in question are competing against their counterparts from the larger countries but it must be stated that they work really hard. Will the Tánaiste comment on these matters before I open the floor to members?
I would welcome the committee's input to the review, which is the entire purpose of my making a presentation to it. I invite the committee and individual members to make their views known on the matter. A number of reviews are taking place and the one to which my presentation relates is an overall review of our foreign policy and external relations. It is part of a wider review that is taking place. As already stated, we are also reviewing our trade strategy and, as announced in October, our engagement with the diaspora. The review is also taking place in the context of the European External Action Service and a number of other developments. As I have informed the committee on previous occasions, we have a very small diplomatic footprint throughout the world encompassing 58 bilateral missions. When our EU Presidency concluded, I indicated that we would examine the position with regard to our mission network. Issues in respect of existing missions and the possibility of opening or reopening other missions will be addressed in that context. The reconsideration of our mission network and the review of our foreign policy, our trade strategy and our engagement with the diaspora are interlinked.
No. I stated previously that we would consider the position with regard to our mission network when our EU Presidency had concluded. When we closed three missions in 2011, I stated that the review of the mission network would be an ongoing process. Work in respect of this matter is ongoing and this is not unconnected to the wider review of foreign policy, trade strategy and engagement with the diaspora.
I welcome the review. Will the Tánaiste indicate the timescale relating to it? I agree with what he said in respect of increased globalisation, interdependency, etc. However, I do not know if he is over-egging the pudding in the context of his statement to the effect that "The Oireachtas has traditionally played an important role in shaping our foreign policy and holding the Government to account". If we do have an influence, that is nice but there is a view among Members of the Oireachtas that the Houses and many of their committees do not have much of a say in respect of this matter. This committee is probably somewhat different in that it operates more on the basis of consensus and that it tends not to have to resort to votes.
There must be change in terms of what is happening in regard to the House itself. One concern that has come up many times is EU scrutiny and we have still not got it right. I accept there have been recent changes but there is so much information coming across our desks that we must focus on the issue. It is extremely worrying for anyone who is interested in the European Parliament that a recent survey on the recognition of EU Members of Parliament in Dublin revealed that less than 20% of those surveyed recognised their MEPs. That is a weakness and the matter must be addressed in the overall context of foreign affairs and the importance of such institutions.
The increased militarisation of the EU and Ireland’s perceived decreased neutrality are of concern, in particular the continued use of Shannon Airport, for example, by the Canadian military, and countries using it while in transit to areas of conflict around the world. Northern Ireland comes under the Tánaiste’s foreign affairs remit but I am not comfortable discussing the matter in such a context. Outstanding issues arise in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace dividend. Many people feel they have not seen the peace dividend. Difficulties still remain in terms of dealing with the past. Other outstanding issues that remain to be addressed include human rights and trying to build an inclusive society.
In terms of Irish influence, the Chairman referred to the expansion of the influence of embassy personnel. It would be helpful to the discussion if we had a map showing the location of embassies and the personnel located in them. Usually, one only gets a sense of an area if one visits it. In some cases one individual can cover an area involving millions of people.
We have seen the positive influence of the Friends of Ireland in terms of The Gathering. Goodwill is evident from the Irish diaspora and others who have links with this country and want it to develop. Such an approach could be developed by the Department and the Government as a whole. They are some of the areas we must examine. We must be flexible and adapt on certain issues but we must take a strong stance on other issues. People seek leadership that does not come from the United States. They want small, independent countries and the EU to take a stance in conflicts around the world, including the Middle East. I welcome the discussion, which has been a long time coming. I hope the Tánaiste will take on board the views of all parties on the issue.
The review that is taking place is both important and timely. The Tánaiste put his finger on the issues. The best way to review foreign policy is to review its success in recent years. If we consider the position we were in such a short time ago, economically, and in the radar of our European colleagues, it has been tremendously successful. In my time in this House I have never seen the degree of activity by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and individual Ministers in pursuing Ireland’s cause internationally at every level. Every single Minister and their civil servants have all been doing the same thing at the same time for the one cause. That is hugely important. I have never seen it before. I reject criticism from any quarter as to whether we were going in the right direction. First, we were held up as an example two and a half to three years ago as to what might happen in Europe and in this country. Not only did the Tánaiste excel nationally but also internationally in establishing an accord and a rapport with the diaspora in a way that has not happened previously.
Arising from Deputy Crowe’s point on the degree of influence of Parliament, it is not so many years ago when I as a Member of this House was made to feel that Parliament had no function at all and that on a regular basis we were something that should be suffered in silence. On numerous occasions I was rebuffed by individual Departments to the effect that the Minister had no responsibility to the House. What a famous phrase. The Tánaiste would have experienced that as well. There has been a tremendous improvement. John Donne said that no man is an island. I presume he applied that to women as well in modern parlance. It is true, and now is a timely period for the review both to continue our efforts in that regard nationally and internationally as a small country and as a member state of the European Union carrying with us the importance of such membership. We should not apologise and pretend we are a substandard, lower class nation. We are still one of the leading contenders in the globe. We are one of the seven most sought after places to live in the world at present. Our GDP per capita is higher than most of our European colleagues with one or two exceptions, for instance Luxembourg and the Scandinavian countries. That has always been the case. We also have a higher per capita GDP than France, Germany, the United Kingdom and most other countries. One of the things that we need to stop doing-----
I will explain that to Senator Norris at length if he wants to go that route. The Tánaiste has succeeded and he must take the credit for it. He also has a serious role to pursue in Europe because there are other countries in the European Union and on the periphery that require the same kind of leadership this country has got in the past two and a half years.
I very much welcome this review, which as Deputy Durkan said is timely. To the best of my recollection the previous review took place some time ago during the 1990s. Much has changed since then, in particular our circumstances. It is important to reflect on the fact that this review takes place against a backdrop of this country regaining its economic sovereignty. It is a timely opportunity to restate, renew and review our values on how we relate to the outside world and our global partners.
As Deputy Durkan said, the impact of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been extremely significant in terms of restoring this country’s reputation. The Tánaiste and staff with whom we have developed relationships right across the globe must take significant credit for that. One could not but be impressed by the dedication and commitment of those who represent us abroad at all levels. It is extremely impressive. Such work, by its nature is slow. It is not immediately evident but it is extremely significant and has a cumulative impact over a period. We have all witnessed that when we have gone abroad to represent the committee.
The inclusion of trade has been a significant development in terms of the operational organisation of the Department. I have taken the view in the past two and a half years that the inclusion of trade in the remit has not just complemented the work of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland but has allowed the Department to do different things and has allowed the State to expand on its trade policy in a different way, in ways that the IDA and Enterprise Ireland cannot do. The Department engages in longer term diplomatic work which is most effective. I accept that the Tánaiste will not go into policy detail at the meeting as it would not be appropriate.
However, there is huge potential for the Department to extend its remit in terms of promoting and advancing Irish cultural interests abroad. The Department does that quite effectively, as does Culture Ireland, but there is a range of opportunities in that area we can exploit. Personally and as a member of this committee I look forward to being involved in a review to which I will contribute.
It is an excellent idea to have an assessment and a review because it means we can develop opportunities, not just to look at mistakes - I am not sure there have been many mistakes - but also for carrying out the Government's vision in this area.
I find myself in a slightly surprising position because I welcomed the courage displayed by the Government in the closure of the Vatican Embassy, and I still do not understand the reason the Papal Nuncio is regarded de jure as the doyenne of the diplomatic corps. However, to my enormous surprise the Holy Spirit managed the impossible and found among the cardinals appointed by the two previous Popes a man of extraordinary prophetic vision and stature. It would be an appropriate moment to examine the question of the Vatican Embassy, first, because of the man but, second, because of a network of valuable diplomatic contacts there.
When I refer to the Pope himself it is not just a question of the public relations shots, such as seeing him get into a Fiat car. I could not care less about that but I am interested in his thought and in what he says. The Minister would certainly agree with him about the current economic system being unjust at its root and uncaring. He is rather to the left in these areas in terms of the business of financial speculation, the throwaway culture where individual workers are not valued and the talk about excessive clericalism. While urging Christians to avoid hateful generalisations about Islam, the Pope called humbly on Islamic countries to guarantee full religious freedom to Christians. That is a very important development. His approach and the timbre of his words is very interesting and very different from that of his predecessors.
This is all to do with the question of whether the embassy should be open. I am just giving a few reasons. It is important that somebody says that humbly and objects to the vulgar abuse of Muslim people, and I put that in the context of a woman whose name I regret I cannot remember but she is a junior minster in the British Administration. She is a Muslim Member of Parliament and she has spoken out against the discrimination against the Christian peoples of the Middle East and their practical extinction in certain countries. This Pope is on the same wavelength.
I am not a Roman Catholic. I am an Anglican because I always believed in being on the right team but when the Pope talks about a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church concerned with being at the centre, and about dispersing power from the Vatican, I believe he is one of the most remarkable people of our generation. He deserves support because his ideas are humane and politically in the right direction. They are against power and in favour of humility. It was the arrogance of the church and its representative here that, if we are honest, helped lead to the closure of the Vatican Embassy. I find myself in the surprising position of saying that I would welcome a review that took into account the reopening of the embassy.
The review process is welcome and positive. We saw what happened when we had the review of Irish Aid in terms of the engagement by people and the fruitful discussions that took place.
My first question is on the lack of policy coherence between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the matter of biofuels. We know that biofuels are undermining food security and that they are having major negative effects on food production. That is at a time when Ireland is extremely supportive of aid to reduce poverty and hunger. The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, told me some months ago that Ireland was supporting the 5% figure in that regard. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, appears to have moved to the 7% figure. The European Commission is supporting the 5% figure, with the European Union Parliaments supporting the 6% figure. It appears that Ireland will take the 7% figure because the view is that this is the lowest that can be achieved. That is not good enough. I ask the Minister to discuss that with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to the effect that Ireland will support the 5% figure at the meeting on 12 December.
Second, as a member of this committee and as chair of the Irish section of UEPA I made two visits abroad recently. One was to Ghana, with the Chairman, and the other was to Mozambique from where I returned this morning. I compliment and acknowledge the work of the two ambassadors, Paddy Fay and Ruairi de Burca, and their staffs for the way in which they are presenting Ireland and enhancing our reputation not just on a diplomatic level but also with civil society and with groups in the two respective countries. What comes across is that Ireland's reputation is second to none, certainly in Ghana where we saw major interest in pursuing business interests with Ireland.
The Mozambique visit was in regard to aid effectiveness and parliamentary oversight about which we could be much more positive. There is a definite lack of knowledge in African countries on aid in general in terms of where it is coming from, where it is going and the amounts. We know what we are giving here because we have transparency and accountability but the Department of Foreign Affairs, with Irish Aid, could be more progressive on that by meeting members of the budget committees where they exist because some Parliaments do not have budget committees or finance committees. Opposition parties certainly do not know the amount of aid going in. There was a general meeting in Johannesburg of quite a number of the African parliamentarians at which we pushed the idea that there would be a debate in African Parliaments on aid because there is not doubt that there is a change in the aid relationship. It is no longer the case that we are just the giver and they are the receivers. There is much more of a partnership in that regard and because of Ireland's reputation, I believe we can do very well with African countries. We know the resources they have compared to us.
It was interesting that because there are tensions in Mozambique we had requests from opposition parliamentarians that Ireland would engage in facilitating discussion between the two parties, such was Ireland's reputation, and that Irish Aid would meet the members of the committees and opposition leaders to ensure they would know exactly what is going on.
My third point, and Latin America was mentioned, is on Colombia. There are major human rights issues in Colombia, particularly regarding trade unionists and community activists. Trade agreement talks are taking place. Ireland must commit to human rights being very much part of any trade agreement.
I thank the Minster for attending to deal with this important issue. I note the external arrangements and engagements we have in terms of EU member states, and I thank the Minister for coming into the Seanad to take the EU Scrutiny and Transparency in Government Bill. I note he made some comments on the legislation, one of which was on our EU scrutiny. Our scrutiny of EU legislation has been appalling, although it was generally a failing of previous Governments also. In his response the Minister referred to the innovation of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in giving the members of the transport committee draft statutory instruments prior to that Minister signing them. That should be an automatic process. It is a fact that 596 statutory instruments were signed by Ministers without anybody ever seeing them, including the Minister for Health. Not one Member of the Oireachtas saw our first law on organ donation in the history of the State prior to it being signed into law. The EU scrutiny committee admitted that in the first six months of this Government's term there was no scrutiny of any EU legislation because the committees were not established. Our structures in terms of EU scrutiny are sadly lacking.
The Minister also raised the issue of the yellow card system where EU member states can comment on EU legislation proposed by the Parliament and stated that of the 428 submissions made by EU member states on 139 legislative measures from the EU Parliament, Ireland managed to make one submission in the first two years.
This is how poor is Ireland's scrutiny in this area. The Tánaiste might comment on that because it is necessary for all committees and Ministers to do what the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, are doing. Statutory instruments must be seen by the Parliament before they are signed with the most extreme example being the first law on organ donation in the history of the State. No Member of the Oireachtas had sight of it before the relevant European Union directive was signed into Irish law. The Minister made all the changes he desired, put in place all the infrastructure and no one saw it in advance. My concern pertains to the process.
Second, I agree with the Tánaiste's statement that consideration should be given to having a Minister responsible for the Irish overseas and the diaspora. On foot of his meeting with the French equivalent, who is Irish born and who encouraged Ireland to follow suit, perhaps the Tánaiste will comment on how he would envisage this in the next Government? He might be in the next Government himself, perhaps with Fianna Fáil and our new-found member from the Labour Party.
Perhaps we all could be in Cabinet together. How does the Tánaiste envisage such a Minister working? Is this Labour Party policy? In this regard, does the Tánaiste envisage votes for the Irish overseas and those in the North in a reformed Seanad?
On the North, I note the appointment of Richard Haass but is progress being made with the White House and the State Department on the appointment of an ambassador from the United States to assist him on this side of the Border? Finally, in respect of the Weston Park Agreement, members noted the report that was published today. The aforementioned agreement is an international agreement, signed by both governments, which made specific reference to the Pat Finucane case and stated there would be an investigation into that. Although it is an international agreement, however, that never happened.
Finally, I refer to a documentary, which I am sure the Tánaiste saw-----
This pertains to our near neighbours. I am sure the Tánaiste saw the documentary broadcast on the BBC "Panorama" programme. I was amazed by the contents of a memorandum - I am sure the Tánaiste will be able to get a copy from the British Prime Minister's office - in which, when they were getting rid of what could only be described as a murder or death squad, namely, the military reaction force that was featured in the documentary, former Prime Minister Ted Heath wrote that special care should be taken that the replacement squad-----
This is an important issue to debate. I believe it is on the agenda because I read a press statement in The Irish Times, which I brought to the attention of the joint committee asking what it was all about. Consequently, the debate has now started and it is very important. I can apologise for being a relatively new Member of the Dáil but to this day, I still do not fully understand the structures vis-à-vis trade. For example, the Taoiseach is currently engaged in wonderful work in Japan, creating trade links and so on. I am unsure how this task in respect of the Tánaiste's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is broken up between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. In addition, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, keeps leading trade delegations, while the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Costello, has led trade delegations to Ghana or Nigeria. As for this committee, which carries the title "Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade" do its members lead trade delegations? I ask this question because the issue of trade and how it is handled should be considered centrally.
On foreign policy, I concur with many of the sentiments expressed. I have recently returned from Korea, China, Lithuania, Sierra Leone and Latvia, where members dealt and interacted-----
I have, both as a private individual and as a representative of the joint committee on occasions, dealt directly with the embassies, which are wonderful. The quality of Ireland's embassy staff is second to none. They are liked, they interact wonderfully and do a great job for Ireland. The problem is that there are too few of them. As the Tánaiste is aware, the joint committee regularly meets visiting delegations and the ambassadors. There have been pleas for embassy representation and one country has been mentioned here in this regard, namely, Croatia. However, the good news is the joint committee is planning to visit Iran and India in the near future. Whatever about the Vatican, Iran is in the centre of a region that has 800 million people. Markets can be developed, as can international foreign policy and we can influence the region if we open an embassy there. I note it already has been closed but given the way Iran is opening up, this is coming down the line. The question then focuses on trade. I believe Ireland has missed out by being very traditional in where its embassies have been located, that is, in traditional African countries, some French-speaking, some English-speaking. Members are almost embarrassed when dealing with embassy officials who tell them of huge potential markets of 126 million people or 80 million people and I do not believe we have really tapped into them as yet.
As for the diaspora, I have a suggestion. As a politician, it is an embarrassment for me to know the embassies of some countries, about which we always are talking in a negative way, perhaps Ukraine, Romania or Bulgaria, open their door for their expatriates to vote. As a sophisticated First World country, Ireland has not got that far yet. The Seanad is sitting in a state of semi-suspension upstairs and perhaps consideration -----
I welcome this review, the significant point of which is the broad-based consultation process the Tánaiste has outlined today. It is also timely, in that the Tánaiste is undertaking it from a position of strength having had a successful Presidency of the European Council, the chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, as well as Ireland's membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I presume that what is sought from the review is a policy that will ensure Ireland inserts even greater influence on the world stage, particularly where it can make a contribution to peace, that is, in the troubled parts of the world. I remind Deputy Eric Byrne the reason so many Ministers are involved in trade is that the Action Plan for Jobs specifically places an onus on all Departments to make a contribution towards economic recovery and towards the efforts at job creation.
I am certainly pleased to see so many of the Ministers are involved in promoting the country and our companies throughout the world.
I very much share the Tánaiste's positive view of the contribution the embassies make to trade throughout the world. I welcome his intention to look at the missions to see where he can possible improve, and maybe open some new missions.
Senator Norris made a strong case for reopening the embassy to the Holy See. Generally, the people would like to see us seriously consider that. Traditionally, there have been strong links and the performance of the new pontiff, to which Senator Norris referred, should put pressure on us to look at that again.
There are several successful embassies and missions throughout the world, but I have one question for the Tánaiste. Is he satisfied that there are sufficient resources in all of them to promote the level of trade that we would like to see? I got an indication recently that the staff are stretched in many of the embassies throughout the world. I am aware the Government wants to increase the number of missions, but are the ones in place adequately resourced? We are heading in the right direction. I assume that the committee and Members of the Oireachtas will have sufficient opportunities to contribute to this review process in the coming months.
I thank the members for their questions. Some of the suggestions had nothing to do with the foreign policy area and I do not expect the Tánaiste to answer any of those questions. The Tánaiste stated at the beginning of his remarks that he did not want to go into these in detail but if he wants to make a few closing remarks on some of the issues, he can do so.
First, the purpose of today's exercise is to set out for the committee the nature of the review of foreign policy and our external engagement that we are conducting and to locate it also in the context of the review of trade, the White Paper on development, the review of the EAS and a number of other developments that are taking place.
I join members of the committee in paying tribute to the staff of the Department and the staff of the embassies. It is encouraging to hear the complimentary remarks that have been made here by several members of the committee.
We are stretched. We have 58 bilateral missions and a total of 73 missions altogether when one takes into account the multilateral organisations. Compared to countries of similar size, it is small. They do a great job. They have had a particularly difficult job to do - Deputy Durkan made reference to this - over the course of the past couple of years where we had this moment of crisis and we had to try and restore the country's reputation. They have very successfully done that. We have talked a great deal about exit from the bailout, the renegotiation of it, the terms of it, etc., and one cannot do that successfully unless one has had strong diplomatic engagement, both with other countries and with international organisations. That has been successfully done. The success of the European Union Presidency, the OSCE chairmanship and Ireland's election to the Human Rights Council all have added to our reputation as a country and we can build on that.
We now must look forward to where we are going. As I stated earlier, our engagement with Europe is hugely important. That is one part of our external engagement. If one looks at where trade is developing, and one looks at Asia and Africa, for example, we have an Africa strategy. One may look at Latin America. These are all parts of the world where the potential for expanded trade is quite significant.
In response to the point that Deputy Eric Byrne made, there are a range of Departments that have a trade dimension to them. There are obvious ones such as Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and my Department, but, for example, in the Department of Education and Skills, which would not have been traditionally been regarded as a trade Department, there is now a significant level of trade in education. My Department brings together all of the Departments and State agencies and representatives of the private sector, including the Irish Exporters' Association, into a single Export Trade Council, which I chair, where we consider trade strategy, etc. For example, trade missions are co-ordinated by us. Those are agreed between myself and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Proposals are made, mainly from Enterprise Ireland, but from some of the other agencies as well, and we look at them. We have a co-ordinated strategy across government in terms of how we do our trade. We have a joined-up approach to it.
For the first time in six years, there is a recruitment process underway for third secretaries in the Department. The intention is to recruit 40 third secretaries. That will assist in the exercise.
I will not get into individual embassies or missions, other than to say that the decision on location of embassies is not based on whether we agree with the Government or leadership of the country concerned from time to time because these aspects will change. Some of the decisions that we have had to make in recent years have had to be made for financial reasons. Given that we have a small team, we must be focused and adaptable and we have to be willing to change. We will continue to make those changes and to ensure that we have a presence where it matters and that is appropriate to the size of our overall diplomatic effort.
On a practical question, the closing date for public submissions is 4 February. My intention would be to have the review of foreign policy completed in the early part of next year and I hope to be in a position by the middle of next year to set out an updated statement of Irish foreign policy and our external relations. The last review of this kind was done as part of the White Paper exercise in 1996. The country has changed, the world has changed and Europe has changed since 1996 and we need to update it.