Dáil debates

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Priority Questions.

Middle East Peace Process.

3:00 pm

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 85: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and humanitarian situation in the Middle East; the level of Irish and European aid to those most affected within the Gaza strip; the steps being taken to broker an agreement and stabilisation of the current crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18775/07]

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Before turning to the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, I would like to emphasise our continuing strong support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and for its democratically-elected Government, a sentiment which I believe is shared on all sides of the House. The recent violence, in an already tense political situation, is a reminder of the dangers of instability in Lebanon. I would like in particular to express the sympathy of the Government with the families of the six members of the Spanish UNIFIL contingent who were killed in a car bomb explosion in southern Lebanon on 24 June. It is important that I also place on record again the appreciation of the Government for the dedication of the members of the Permanent Defence Force, who are serving with such distinction in Ireland's UNIFIL contingent.

The appalling violence in Gaza last month represents a further tragedy for the Palestinian people. The root cause of the current crisis is the absence of a credible political process leading to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 June condemned the violence and the takeover by Hamas in Gaza. It supported the call by the Arab League for the restoration of Palestinian national unity and the unity of Palestinian territory.

The European Union has expressed its full support for President Mahmoud Abbas and underlined the need for a political solution to the crisis. The Union has supported the President's decision to form an emergency government and the Council decided to begin work on developing the conditions for urgent practical and financial assistance, including direct financial support to the Palestinian Authority.

The European Union increased its overall assistance to the Palestinian people last year to almost €700 million, of which some €340 million came from the Community budget. Already this year, €320 million has been allocated in Community aid for humanitarian assistance, direct payments to Palestinians through the temporary international mechanism, and technical assistance and institution building.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The EU is determined to continue to provide emergency and humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza, which is facing a serious humanitarian crisis. The majority of the population in Gaza is dependent on services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, to which the EU has already contributed €90 million this year. It is essential that all parties, including the Israeli authorities, guarantee unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

I should add that the main cause of the financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority has been the withholding by Israel of tax and customs revenues since April 2006. The EU has called on the Israeli Government to release these revenues immediately, and Prime Minister Olmert indicated at last week's summit in Sharm El Sheikh that some funds would be unfrozen. I welcome the transfer of €119 million on 1 July, and I call on Israel to release the total remaining amount without further delay. I also welcome the Israeli Government's announcement that the normal monthly transfer of revenues will be resumed this month.

The Government increased Ireland's assistance to the Palestinians by 40% in 2006 to €6.4 million. Ireland's assistance will increase further this year. In January, during a visit to Bethlehem, the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a 25% increase in support for UNRWA to €3.8 million this year. We have made a clear commitment to maintaining this increased level of funding over the next three years.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Reference was made earlier to accountability with regard to decisions. One of the most disgraceful decisions made without accountability to this House was the support of the Government for the decision made by the European Union to terminate funding to the Palestinian Authority last year. Some of us in the House forecast that the serious humanitarian situation brought about in Palestine would undermine the credibility and support for the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, and would strengthen the presence of the extremist groups, such as Hamas. This has come to fruition. What has happened in Palestine in recent times is as a direct result of the undermining of Fatah and the curtailment of funding, which proceeded from the holding of funds by Israel. Does the Minister accept there is a need for a new initiative to strengthen, if belatedly, the position of Fatah?

Was the Government consulted about the appointment of the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, as special envoy to the Middle East and, if so, what was the opinion of the Government?

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy raises two separate issues. First, the most practical example of support for the Government in Palestine is the €320 million which the Union has provided. In so far as the Government is concerned, we increased our assistance to the Palestinians by 40% last year to €6.4 million. The Deputy made a passing reference to the withholding of tax moneys by the Israeli authorities. Thankfully, that has stopped——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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It is too late.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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——and there has been a transfer, which I believe took place yesterday, which is late in the day. I agree with the Deputy it was disgraceful, but thankfully it is now over.

On 27 June the Taoiseach assured Mr. Tony Blair of his full support for his efforts in the Middle East. We personally strongly support the appointment which is a good one. We wish him well.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Was the Government consulted on this question?

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Following consultations, High Representative Solana and the Foreign Minister of Germany representing the European Union, the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Russia, the UN Secretary General and members of the Quartet announced the appointment. Therefore, the European Union was represented by High Representative Solana and the Presidency.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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We had no input and were not consulted. It is obvious from the Minister of State's response that there was no consultation with the Government and that its attitude is moulded by that of the Quartet.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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That misrepresents what I said. The European Union was represented, as it is in all these matters, by the Presidency and High Representative Solana.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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The Quartet is not accountable.