Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Priority Questions.

United Nations Reform.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his discussions on reform of the United Nations, on behalf of the General Secretary, Mr. Kofi Annan, include dealing with the issue of the use and abuse of the veto by the permanent members of the Security Council; his views on the way in which to ameliorate this abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13732/05]

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Question 3: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his new role as special envoy for UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan; if he will further report on his April 2005 meeting with the EU's Mr. Javier Solana concerning UN reform; the Government's position on reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13649/05]

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's position on the proposed UN reform package, including Security Council reform; and his plans to involve the Irish people in the UN reform process. [13852/05]

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I understand Deputy Michael Higgins was in hospital when Question No. 2 was submitted. It was inadvertently submitted in his name rather than in Deputy Quinn's name. Consequently, I will allow the question.

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of all our colleagues and in particular those on my side of the House, I wish Deputy Michael Higgins a speedy recovery. We miss him from the Oireachtas. He has been a long-time friend and we hope he has a speedy return to full health as quickly as possible.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 3 and 5 together.

Deputies will be aware that a central element of Ireland's foreign policy has been the promotion of an effective multilateral system and the strengthening of the rules-based international order, with the United Nations at its centre.

The Government believes it is essential that the members of the United Nations take action to enhance the effectiveness and legitimacy of the United Nations and to endow the UN with the means necessary to confront today's global threats and challenges. Promoting such reform was a priority of the European Union during Ireland's Presidency in the first half of 2004.

The House will also be aware that this is a crucial year for the United Nations as members prepare for the summit that will take place at the UN next September at which Heads of State and Government will seek to restore momentum to the achievement of the millennium development goals, to agree on reforms that will strengthen the system of collective security, to enhance the human rights function of the United Nations and to reform its institutions and management structures. It is a central priority for the Government to do what it can to promote the success of the summit.

As a practical and substantial contribution to this process, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, travelled to New York in February to assure the UN Secretary General of Ireland's readiness to do its upmost to support his reform agenda. Accordingly, the Minister is honoured to have been appointed by him as one of five envoys to act on his behalf in encouraging governments to take the decisions necessary to ensure a satisfactory outcome at the September summit. The appointment is an indication of the esteem in which Ireland is held by the Secretary General and of its track record of commitment to the United Nations.

As envoy, the task of the Minister for Foreign Affairs is to make the case in visits to European capitals for the broad package of recommendations and reforms set out in the UN Secretary General's recent report, In Larger Freedom. In doing so, he will work with the Secretary General and with UN members to overcome the obstacles and challenges that confront the reform agenda, which the Secretary General has described as "bold but achievable". The Secretary General has asked the Minister to focus his efforts on Europe. However, none of the envoys is confined in their activities to any one geographic area.

The work of the envoys is vital to the preparatory process as it is evident that success in September 2005 will require governments to step back from hitherto entrenched positions and take decisions in the wider interest of all members and the multilateral system that serves them. The work the envoys are carrying out with governments is intended to complement the dialogue and debate in which members' delegations in New York are engaged, under the guidance of the President of the General Assembly.

The Minister commenced his series of envoy visits shortly after his appointment by the Secretary General on 4 April and his subsequent briefing of his EU colleagues at the recent informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. He has already met a number of foreign ministers, including those from within the European Union, as well as High Representative Javier Solana and the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, BenitaFerrero-Waldner.

Deputies will understand that I am not in a position to comment on the contents of the Minister's meetings with his foreign minister colleagues. He has undertaken to convey the views expressed in his meetings to the UN Secretary General in strict confidence. The effectiveness of his mission, and that of the other envoys, demands that the exchanges remain confidential. The meetings to date have been productive, informative and of value to the Secretary General and his support team.

While the reform agenda is many faceted, one very difficult but important element, and one that receives most public attention, is that of reform of the Security Council. There is general acceptance that the 60-year-old structure of the council, which derives from the immediate post-war situation, is not in accord with today's realities. The high-level panel that reported to the UN Secretary General in December 2004 on measures to enhance collective security put forward two models for reform — model A, which would extend the membership in both categories, permanent and non-permanent, and model B, which would retain the current permanent members and would, in addition, create a new category of member, elected for four year renewable terms.

The Secretary General has not recommended either of these models to the membership, but has urged UN members to reach a decision this year on the expansion of the Security Council for the sake of its credibility and legitimacy. The Government shares this view and would support an arrangement capable of securing the widest necessary support among the wider UN membership, as long as it preserved the possibility for smaller countries like Ireland, which make substantial contributions to the work of the United Nations, to serve on the Security Council at reasonable intervals.

As regards the veto powers of the permanent members, Ireland in its contributions to the UN General Assembly's open-ended working group on Security Council reform has long called for restraint in the use of the veto and has urged that it be used only when the issue under discussion was of vital national interest, taking into account the interests of the UN as a whole.

The Minister greatly welcomes the interest the House has taken in the Government's support for the Secretary General's reform agenda and very much appreciates the support for his role expressed by colleagues in this House. I am deeply conscious of the strong support in Irish civil society and among the Irish public generally for the work of the United Nations. This is reflected in, among other things, strong support for the participation of the Defence Forces and the Garda in international peacekeeping and for Ireland's work at the UN in support of development, human rights and disarmament.

Given the widespread interest in the current debate on the role and future of the UN, we expect considerable public interest in the progress of discussion in the run-up to the September summit. In view of the importance attached in Ireland to the United Nations, I assure the House that the Minister is fully prepared to engage with the Oireachtas and the public on the various issues that will arise in the course of this discussion. He is ready to participate in a debate here should the House so desire and he also intends to arrange for consultations with the NGOs.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for being so accommodating. The House will be pleased to hear that Deputy Michael Higgins is having a routine operation on his neck, which is a vulnerable part of any politician's body, and is making a good recovery. I will talk to him after this and will convey the Minister of State's good wishes.

In response to his comprehensive reply, can the Minister for State state whether the Government has formulated a preference for either of the two models for restructuring of the Security Council put forward in the report? Has the Minister of State any views with regard to the methods of voting, not simply the question of the exercise of the veto? Does he believe the Security Council should adopt a system of multi-layered voting, not unlike the system used by the Council of the European Union?

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Government has not yet formulated a view on either of the models. We have taken into account the record of the UN so far, the evidence and information available to us within the diplomatic service and the links we have through our diplomatic team in the UN. We are also giving an opportunity to the Minister for Foreign Affairs as the UN envoy to garner the maximum amount of information. The Taoiseach will consider the question in great detail with his Cabinet sub-committee and make a recommendation to the Cabinet before a final decision is taken.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Given that any change to the UN Charter requires a two thirds majority in the General Assembly of the UN, ratification of two thirds of UN members and the acceptance of the veto holders, would the Minister of State agree that it will be quite difficult to get the assent of the United States? Could the Minister of State tell the House if he has had discussions with two of the other veto holders — Great Britain and France — and the outcome of those discussions? Does the Government support Germany's campaign for a permanent seat on the Security Council? Would the Minister for State agree that he could show his support for the UN by enshrining the triple lock into the Constitution? Could he give us his view on that?

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The situation is very similar to that in the EU where the Government tries to achieve consensus. The UN is a very powerful group that is very representative of the world. As Deputy Gormley noted, it will not be easy to achieve consensus with so many UN members and the two thirds requirement. As a result of the efforts and the very forthright report of the Secretary General, the fact that he has appointed UN envoys across the world to have consultations will place the focus on each UN member state's responsibilities. Taking into account the fact that the UN needs to reform its structures after 60 years, every member state will be obliged to compromise to make progress. I am optimistic that through the ongoing dialogue and discussions, progress can and will be made. One can never be certain what the outcome will be.

The Government has not held discussions on a bilateral basis with any of the countries to which Deputy Gormley referred. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, in his position as UN envoy in Europe, will obviously have those discussions. These discussions will help to inform the Minister and ultimately the Government on the attitude that it will take. I am reasonably optimistic that progress can be made, taking into account the critical role the UN plays in global affairs.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Will the Minister of State answer my question regarding Germany's campaign for a seat on the Security Council and the enshrining of the triple lock in the Constitution?

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Regarding Germany's bid for a seat on the Security Council, Ireland would always be very positively disposed towards fellow EU members and would be guided by the attitude of the EU towards Germany's bid. We would have our own bilateral discussions with Germany. It is something that must be decided later. We have not formed any position so far.

The Government is very committed to the triple lock, which is a very assured mechanism for Ireland and very important to the country. Enshrining the triple lock in the Constitution is a matter for greater people than me and it is something we will give much consideration to as we discuss the EU constitution.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I was not aware that there was anyone greater than the Minister for State. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said that in his role as special envoy on UN reform, which we all congratulate him on, he will not promote Ireland's position. Who will promote Ireland's position in terms of UN reform and who will anchor the process of UN reform in the Oireachtas and in the country at large? How will we consult with the general public and the media to try and ascertain where the Irish population stands? Are we inviting submissions and will we have a road show, like the Forum on Europe?

Time is tight. When will the Government tell us its position on UN reform? The Minister of State has given the House some clarity about the Government's position in terms of the document produced by Kofi Annan but we need more clarity and specific answers. What is the Government's position on the proposed guidelines for authorising military action or the definition of terrorism, which is in ways broader and in other ways narrower than the EU's definition? The Government must be up front with the House on these issues. From the Whips' meeting, I know there will be a debate scheduled in May but I would like to have a full answer from the Government to prepare for the debate in advance and to allow the public to play its role.

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Government is opposed to every type of terrorism in any part of the world and is at one with the European Union. Regarding the Minister for Foreign Affairs' position, he is an envoy of the UN Secretary General and it would be unfair were he to bring an individual member state's opinion to the tables of the other member states. He is there in a consultative position to garner the most important information possible and to put forward the necessity for reforms. All of this information will assist him in reporting back to Cabinet to deal with the situation. An active dialogue on behalf of Ireland is exercised on a daily basis by our ambassador in the United Nations. He not only brings a positive contribution with him, as successive Irish ambassadors have done, but he reports to the Department of Foreign Affairs on a weekly basis. There is a constant two-way flow of information so Ireland can take the most positive, objective and effective decision to ensure we have a modern UN to serve the world.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Do we not get a chance to ask further supplementary questions? I thought three questions were being taken together. Have we no time left?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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There is a minute remaining if the Deputy has a short question.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Does the Minister of State agree that, by enshrining the triple lock in the Constitution, we would be showing support for the UN? Ireland has a proud record of UN peacekeeping. Could the Minister of State report back on the discussions that took place with Javier Solana this month? What was the outcome of these discussions? Does the Minister of State agree there is a difficulty in that the new rapid reaction force and the battle groups do not necessarily have to operate with a UN mandate?

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have any information pertaining to the discussions with Javier Solana. The Minister will make the case asserted by the Secretary General of the UN and long held by Ireland that no reform of the UN is complete without Security Council reform. Member states must take a hard look at the models that have been proposed by the UN Secretary General's high level panel or at any variant that can command broad support. The Minister will listen to the views of the various Governments and report them to the Secretary General.

On the issue of the triple lock, it is a strong and safe legal position for Ireland. There must be a UN mandate, a decision by the sovereign Government of Ireland and a decision by our Parliament. This is a triple protection for our people and country. We can react quickly to whatever requests are made by the UN. There is a strong Irish desire, by history, tradition and performance since the foundation of this State, to have the Defence Forces or the Garda Síochána involved in international peacekeeping. The triple lock has served us well and will continue to do so.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Did the Minister of State say that to the people of China?