Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Priority Questions

Diplomatic Representation.

3:00 pm

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 70: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of embassies that are based here. [7358/10]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There are currently 56 resident bilateral diplomatic missions in Ireland. In addition, the Government last year approved the establishment of an embassy in Dublin by the United Arab Emirates and the first resident ambassador is expected to present credentials to President McAleese this week. A full list of resident bilateral diplomatic missions will be placed on the record of the House.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. I wish to ask some brief supplementary questions. Did the Minister have any forewarning that the Swedish embassy is to close in August this year and if so, has he taken any steps to address the matter? Does the Minister have regular contact with ambassadors based in Ireland? For example, we are aware of the well-documented difficulties with respect to Greece over the past few weeks and the doubts about its financial returns. Does the Minister have any contact with the Greek ambassador to express Irish concerns in that regard or is it an issue that would be taken up?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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This is a great broadening of the question about the number of embassies.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has a very broad remit and intellect and I am sure he will not be hassled in answering the questions. Does the Minister have any view on the recent controversy concerning our own embassy in Ottawa?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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On the matter of the Swedish embassy, I had contact with the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who made contact with me in advance of the decision, albeit only 24 hours in advance of the publication of the decision. I expressed my regret at the decision. I conveyed the view we had taken in Ireland that as members of the European Union and as a manifestation of solidarity between member states and a policy objective, there should be some presence of member states in other member states. This comes from the perspective of co-ordinating policies across Europe and so forth.

He explained that he is facing budgetary constraints and additional expenditure in a variety of locations, some relating to security. He was also closing facilities in Bratislava, Luxembourg, Sofia, Dakar and Ljubljana. There were other issues in the Caucuses, the Balkans and Africa and in that context, he made his decision. We do not decide on the basis of what others do. We decide in respect of our strengths. It is a matter for each country to decide where it locates according to its strategic objectives. However, we were disappointed and I articulated that to the Swedish foreign minister.

I have regular contact with embassies and we meet all ambassadors on a regular basis. I often meet them in groups, and I recently met with the African ambassadors for a working lunch, where we discussed diplomatic, political and economic issues. I also had meetings with Latin American ambassadors on similar themes, and on how to enhance relations between our two regions.

We are not just talking about a residence in Ottawa, but an embassy with very substantial conference facilities for use by State agencies such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, and Bord Bia to promote goods and services that we want to sell abroad. Canada is a particularly important location for our exports.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I do not doubt the importance of investing in proper facilities abroad. However, what happened in Ottawa seems to be over and above what was actually required.

The Minister mentioned that an ambassador from Dubai was coming to Ireland. Did the Minister have any contact with him?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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He is on his way.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister had any contact with the authorities?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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He is expected to present credentials to President McAleese this week. I was in Dubai last year with the President, and we indicated that we were opening an embassy in the UAE. The government in that country independently indicated its own decision to-----

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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When he meets the ambassador, will he speak about the alleged use of Irish passports in the assassination or murder of a member of Hamas in Dubai in the last few weeks? Does he have any concerns that Irish passports were falsely used in this? Does he have any information for the House on this matter?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That is a great use of a question.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I can relate some information on that to the Deputy. We have already had contact with officials in the UAE, and our ambassador, Mr. Ciarán Madden, has sought clarification on the media reports of the issue. We have not been able to verify any of these reports yet.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Did the Minister contact the ambassadors of other countries that used passports to find out the extent of all this? It is a very serious matter that Irish passports may have been falsely used.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should have no doubt that we will pursue these issues.