Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Estimates for Public Services 2021
Vote 27 - International Co-operation (Revised)
Vote 28 - Department of Foreign Affairs (Revised)
I thank the Minister for coming before the committee. I will touch on some specific areas and while there may be a little crossover between the areas of the Minister and the Minister of State, I will try my best to remain focused on Vote 28 for now. I commend all the work that has been and is being done by the Department. It has been an extremely busy year. I commend all the staff for their Trojan work. The example of the Passport Office highlighted the great challenges involved in trying to keep a system in place despite the impact of the public health restrictions. I congratulate and thank everyone for all their efforts.
Mentioning the passport issue, and in the context of the continuing and expected numbers of applications for passports from people in the North, especially post-Brexit, does the Minister have updated figures in that regard? Many in society in the North, including my party colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, have repeatedly asked about the possibility of opening a passport office in the North, maybe in Belfast. Are there such plans? If not, will the Minister and his Department examine establishing such an office in the North? The figures I received previously indicated that there is a major demand for such an office.
The Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, may touch on the issue of the diaspora later, but I will ask one question in this area now. The new President of the United States, Joe Biden, has Irish connections and is very proud of them. In that context, what approaches and discussions have occurred so far regarding undocumented Irish immigrants in the US? Is it likely that a deal of some sort will be put in place to ensure that those people can regularise their status in America? We do not need to reiterate the great difficulties undocumented Irish people living in the US have faced for many years.
Moving to the situation in the North, unionism now has new leaders. I congratulate the new leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and the Ulster Unionist Party, UUP. However, there is a crisis within unionism in the North. Historically, unionists have sought to find a route out of internal conflict through the manufacture of some sort of external crisis, and that nearly always comes at the expense of nationalists. Unfortunately, issues have arisen regarding the Northern Ireland protocol and the positions taken towards it by the unionist parties. The situation has escalated because the DUP is now boycotting the North-South Ministerial Council. I ask the Minister to comment on the backtracking on commitments regarding key institutions such as that council.
On the subject of the United Nations Security Council, the Minister recently and rightly expressed his disappointment concerning the events in Gaza and the failure by the Security Council to even agree a statement concerning the killing of civilians in Gaza. It was ten or 11 days before the Security Council came to some sort of agreement on issuing a statement. Last week, the Dáil passed an historic vote in respect of recognising that an illegal annexation has taken place in the Occupied Territories.
Obviously, declaring that Israel has broken international law is an important step. What are the Minister's intentions now to articulate the position taken by the Irish Parliament and the rationale behind it in respect of the Security Council? He might give a little more detail because while it is a welcome step, on its own it is meaningless unless we are willing and prepared to articulate our position and go forward in respect of the consequences for Israel of breaking international law. I would be interested to hear the Minister's view on that.
As for overseas missions, I welcome the move to establish consular services in Manchester. I think the Minister mentioned Manchester but I am happy to stand corrected.
There is also a commitment to reopen the Irish Embassy in Iran. That is a hugely important move and one I have called for previously, as have many other people, so I welcome that. We as a country have significant responsibilities in respect of the establishment of the Iran nuclear deal. The Minister recently met the Iranian President and foreign minister. Could I ask the Minister for a brief update on the nuclear deal? Could I ask him to pass comment specifically on Israel in respect of any future deal? I think there have been reports recently that Israel is prepared to abandon its bilateral approach with the US and to take unilateral action against Iran if a deal is reached. Will the Minister comment on that?
I have a lot of other questions, mostly referring to Vote 27, I think, so I will leave it at that for now.