Tuesday, 19 April 2005
European Council Meetings.
Bertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
I would like to take the second question first and return to Irish language provision thereafter. We want to have a PEACE programme after 2006 and raised the question over the last year. I managed to insert it into the conclusions of the European Council last June, when I was in the chair.
I would not have been able to do so had I not chaired the meeting. Since that time, the Irish and British Governments have made a joint submission. Prime Minister Blair and I signed that some time ago. Regarding the involvement of people in that programme, as I understand from a previous debate in this House — I believe on the 1994 programme — there is engagement by both Northern Ireland and the Southern Border counties and I have no difficulty with that. I am not sure what process is used by the relevant Departments regarding financing and putting it together, but I have no difficulty with involvement. I believe that we passed a resolution to that effect in the House.
Regarding the Irish language, since Christmas our permanent representative, Ambassador Anne Anderson, put forward a detailed position at COREPER regarding the paper that we commenced during Ireland's Presidency. That was well received although there were obviously a great many questions from people about its ramifications and whether it might affect issues in their countries. Subject to correction, I believe it is a fair assessment to say that we have answered most of those questions. Austria had several concerns. I have since spoken to the Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, and I hope that I have allayed his concerns about all the issues that he raised, subject to its being put in writing.
The Prime Minister of Spain, Mr. Zapatero, and his Foreign Minister, Mr. Moratinos, are fighting a separate battle that feeds into our issue, namely, that of regional Spanish languages gaining recognition. He had made a commitment and is fighting that issue which is not the same as ours. Irish is our constitutional language and Spanish is theirs. The regional languages are therefore part of a different context. However, those languages are spoken by substantial numbers of people and he wants to find a political resolution. That issue, which is connected with ours, although I will not call it unhelpful, does not make life easier since it opens the question of regional languages in other countries.
I intend to travel to speak to the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero. I am not sure exactly when that meeting will take place, but it will take place soon. We will examine the matter and try to find a way of making progress together. Spain does not oppose the Irish proposal by any means, but we need to consider how we can process the two issues separately because the legal base is different for each of them. I hope to have a meeting with Mr. Zapatero shortly to discuss the matter. Subject to that meeting, I think the Irish position is enjoying a good level of understanding and support on all sides. I do not wish to suggest that Spain opposes the Irish proposal, because it does not, but we have to be mindful of the Spanish position as we try to find a resolution to our issue.