Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Other Questions.

Colombian Peace Process.

3:00 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the European Union will issue a declaration on the Colombian peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26903/05]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted conclusions on Colombia at its meeting this Monday, 3 October 2005. Ireland was actively involved in the negotiation of these conclusions, which principally address the recently enacted Colombian justice and peace law. That law provides an overall legal framework for demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of illegal armed groups into society. The law, which was adopted through a lengthy democratic political process, strikes a difficult balance between peace and justice. The overall assessment of the council was that, if implemented effectively and in a transparent manner, the law will have a positive effect on peace-building in Colombia.

The conclusions also address the need for a negotiated peace settlement and call for illegal armed groups to demobilise. They also call on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and international humanitarian law and commend the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. The conclusions also confirm the readiness of the European Union and its member states to assist the Colombian Government and civil society in providing support for communities affected by the internal conflict, victims groups, local reconciliation activities and the reinsertion and demobilisation of child soldiers.

In addition, the European Union welcomes the continued involvement of the Organisation of American States, OAS, in supporting the demobilisation of paramilitary groups. Ireland has committed €390,000 over a three-year period to the OAS peace and verification mission in Colombia. The OAS mission's mandate is to provide comprehensive support to the Colombian peace process with a focus both on the demobilisation process and on the strengthening of institutions concerned with the rule of law. Our support was welcomed by the Foreign Minister of Colombia when I met her in New York on 19 September. In our discussions of the overall political situation in her country, she explained that her Government has found the Irish experience of similar issues very informative.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Can the Minister elaborate on his discussions with the Colombian Foreign Minister? Were the activities of the Colombia three resurrected during the EU discussions earlier this week? Did the Minister have any discussions with the Colombian Foreign Minister about the damage done to Ireland's reputation by the activities of the Colombia three? Was the question of possible discrimination against Irish citizens raised at any level? Irish citizens are the only people in the EU who have to apply for visas if they wish to travel to Colombia. They have to go to London for an interview if they wish to visit Colombia for reasons of business or pleasure. Visas are not required by the citizens of 44 non-EU countries if they wish to go to Colombia, but they are required by Irish citizens. Surely the Minister agrees that the visa requirement for Irish citizens is an indication of the damage that has been done to Ireland's reputation as a member of the international community. Has the plight of our citizens, who have to travel to London in advance of any visit to Colombia, been raised at any level? What action does the Minister propose to take on this issue?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The issue of the Colombia three was not raised at EU level, at least not in my presence, during the discussion on the Colombian peace process last Monday. As I said earlier, it was raised during my meeting with the Colombian Foreign Minister, Ms Barco. During that meeting, I outlined the Government's position on the issue, which has been enunciated clearly by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I on many occasions.

Deputy Allen also asked about the visa requirements for Irish citizens. It has been the case since November 2001, shortly after the arrest of the Colombia three, that all EU citizens other than Irish citizens can travel to Colombia for tourism and business purposes without a visa. I intend to raise the issue with the Colombian authorities. Colombia no longer has an honorary consul in situ in Ireland, unfortunately, although I understand that it intends to appoint a new honorary consul. In the meantime, it appears that Ireland citizens who want to go to Colombia have to travel to London in advance. I understand that we will revert to the previous arrangements after a new Colombian honorary consul has been appointed in Ireland.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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However, Irish citizens will continue to be required to apply for visas if they wish to go to Colombia.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, they will. That requirement is an unfortunate consequence of what has happened.