Thursday, 25 January 2018
My question relates to the EU Union-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, on which the EU has been working for some years. Where does Ireland and the EU stand on ratifying the agreement?
The Government fully supports the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, PDCA, which was signed by each EU member state and the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council in December 2016. This is the first bilateral agreement between the EU and Cuba. Its signature marked a further positive step forward in relations between Cuba and the EU, which have improved considerably in recent years.
The agreement is robust and comprehensive, consisting of three main pillars, namely, political dialogue, co-operation and sectoral policy dialogue, and trade and trade co-operation. The core aim of the PDCA is to open channels of dialogue and co-operation between the EU and Cuba to assist the modernisation of the Cuban economy and society, strengthen human rights and democracy and work together to achieve the sustainable development goals.
In July 2017, the European Parliament voted to endorse the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement. While most of the agreement has been provisionally applied since November 2017, its full application will require ratification by the EU once member states have completed their internal legal procedures. As matters stand, nine member states have done so and the remaining member states, including Ireland, have yet to complete their internal procedures. I look forward to working with colleagues in the Oireachtas to complete Ireland's internal legal procedures and preparations are under way towards this objective.
The entry into force of the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement and improvements in the EU-Cuba relationship will, in turn, have helpful consequences for the Ireland-Cuba relationship. Ireland has a positive relationship with Cuba, which was further cemented by the successful visit of President Higgins to the island in February 2017, during which a memorandum of co-operation between the Government of the Republic of Cuba and the Government of Ireland was signed.
My assessment is that the PDCA provides a solid framework and welcome opportunity to strengthen both EU-Cuba and Ireland-Cuba relations. I look forward to continued positive developments in the period ahead, including the completion by Ireland of the internal legal procedures necessary for EU ratification.
The EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement is good because Cuba could certainly do with having a positive relationship with the European Union. We are all aware of the difficult position Cuba finds itself in as a result of its relationship with the large neighbour on its doorstep. The embargo imposed by the United States for many years affects the lives of ordinary Cubans and prevents economic growth on the island. While we had a chink of light during President Obama's period in office, the agenda of the United States appears to be driven by a small group of Cuban-American representatives. The general mood in Cuba is much softer.
It is good the European Union is working on the various areas covered by the agreement. Will the Minister indicate when he expects the agreement to be ratified? As he indicated, the President visited Cuba recently. I hope the Government will be able to welcome a ministerial delegation from Cuba at some stage.
It is positive that relationships are being normalised and we are moving away from Cuba's isolation. While I do not have an exact timeline on ratification of the agreement, I anticipate that we will try to progress the matter this year. I will revert to the Deputy with an accurate timeline because I do not want to give a date that we will not meet.
Cuba receives a bad press on the basis of its relationship with the United States. However, on humanitarian issues, it is often the first country to become involved when countries experience great humanitarian need. It never receives any recognition for this. Cuba was the first country to send humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone and Haiti. It also does much work training young men and women from the developing world as doctors and nurses. It played a key role in the Columbian peace process and was to the fore in supporting it and ensuring it could happen. It is facilitating the ongoing and necessary negotiations with other groups that have not bought into the peace process. It is positive that Ireland is moving on this issue and important that the agreement is ratified as soon as possible.
It is important to be upfront about the serious concerns about human rights issues in Cuba, particularly with regard to civil and political rights, the exercise of free speech and freedom of assembly. The way in which we address our concerns should be through political dialogue, rather than isolation. That is the direction in which the process is now moving. As I indicated, we will support ratification of the agreement and go through the necessary formal legal processes in the Houses to achieve it. I concur with the Deputy that engagement, dialogue and understanding are the direction in which EU-Cuba relations are moving, which is much different from the direction in which we were moving a decade ago.