Tuesday, 8 February 2005
I welcome my friend and colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Treacy, to the House. I am happy that a Minister from the west is now at the forefront of developments in Europe, especially in light of the upcoming constitutional treaty debate. We could not be in safer hands. I have not had the opportunity to do so previously but I would like to wish the Minister of State every success in his portfolio.
It is rather unfortunate in an Adjournment debate that I almost know what the Minister is going to tell me because questions were asked in the Dáil last week on this issue by a number of Deputies. While I appreciate there are a certain amount of international niceties and diplomacy involved, I hope there will be a few more bones on the Minister of State's reply than was the case last week, although I am not suggesting there was anything wrong with it.
There is a painting in the State apartments in Dublin Castle with which both the Minister of State and I will become more familiar because the National Forum on Europe meets there and it is part of the Minister's portfolio to be present; he made an excellent contribution to the forum last week. I had the occasion to go on a tour with some visiting friends of mine and one of the paintings is a magnificent depiction of one of the saddest events in Irish history, the Flight of the Earls, when the chieftains of old Gaelic Ireland, having fought the good fight, were defeated militarily and psychologically dejected following the Battle of Kinsale, and set sail from Lough Swilly. Every Irish schoolboy and girl knows the story. What were left behind were standing armies, families, kinsmen and women, but, most important of all, land that belonged to the people of Ireland. As a result of the spoils of war and the manner of doing things then, and up to not that long ago, the land was appropriated, taken from the native Irish and given to a planter people. Another political debate opened up because of the legacy of that plantation, the consequences of which we are living with today.
That is what has been happening in the occupied part of Cyprus since the illegal occupation by the Turkish army in 1974. It has been exacerbated in recent years because of the thawing of hostilities, initially between Turkey and the European Union, and most recently with the passing of the referendum in one part of Cyprus. This was on the Annan plan and the UN initiative, which sadly ended in failure but was an attempt to reunite the island in advance of the Republic of Cyprus acceding to the European Union in May of last year. The facts on the ground are complex but are of great concern to those of us who would like to see a peaceful resolution and a reunification of the beautiful island of Cyprus.
Recent data has shown that over 1,700 applications were lodged with the so-called Turkish Cypriot authorities for the purchase and construction of property in the first eight months of 2004, equalling the total number of applications for the previous three years. Those engaging in such activities are liable to legal and economic ramifications as evidenced by a recent court decision against a British couple in the Republic of Cyprus. In addition, the property and ownership rights of Greek Cypriots with property in the occupied area has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights in the Loizidou case and other similar cases which confirmed, inter alia, that Turkey bears responsibility for the continuing violation of their property rights.
There is an old saying — it is a bit of a cliché now but is nonetheless relevant — that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. There is a moral dimension to this argument for those of us in this country because of our history. Given our heavy involvement in the European Union and our influential role during the Presidency in embracing the concept of Turkey joining the European Union — this country's stated foreign policy is to support Turkish accession — we cannot stand aside and witness the effective rape of a country in the manner in which it is happening in the occupied part of the island of Cyprus.
Whenever issues like this are raised in the House, I always get the feeling there are people outside it who think along the lines of Neville Chamberlain who, when Czechoslovakia was about to be handed over to the Nazis, asked why Britain should concern itself with a country of which it knew little. That comment was about a country in Europe. I would hate to think there was not an awareness within Government circles here of the real and deep concern of the Republic of Cyprus Government about what is happening on its island and the consequences of permitting this unauthorised sequence of events.
As a result of the growing affluence in western Europe, people are looking for places to build houses. Advertisements are now appearing in Irish and British newspapers encouraging people to buy land and build houses in the occupied part of the island of Cyprus. That is being done on the basis of the movements in international diplomacy. The attitude appears to be, "It will be alright on the night", and "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." However, that does not take account of the unfortunate people who own the land. They were driven off it in 1974 and have not been allowed back since.
We have an obsessive attitude to land because of the historic events that resonate down through the past 400 years, the Irish experience of land being appropriated, the importance of land in the Irish psyche and because we were denied ownership of it for so long — people would nearly go to war over a plot of ground. Be that as it may, because of our unique position on the periphery of Europe and the historic parallels between what happened here and what is happening in Cyprus, there is a moral responsibility on this Government to ensure that the European Union puts as much pressure as possible on the Turkish authorities to desist from this action.
I understand there is no consensus in Europe on this issue in that Ireland can and does act unilaterally in its bilateral relations with Turkey on this and a number of other issues. I want to ask a specific question, and I know I am supporting the official Republic of Cyprus line in this regard. In a recent letter to me, the Cypriot Ambassador to Ireland, Andreas Kakouris, stated:
The Republic of Cyprus fully expects that Turkey, a country that aspires to EU membership and to opening negotiations this Autumn, put an immediate end to its systematic usurpation and unlawful exploitation of Greek Cypriot properties found in the occupied area.
If Turkey wants to be part of the European family, subscribe to the concepts of the European Convention on Human Rights — to which Ireland is a signatory and to which, as a member of the Council of Europe, it has strong adherence — and acknowledge the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, it must desist and see the folly of its ways. However, I have regrettably come to the conclusion — Senator Norris and I discussed this on a previous occasion in respect of Iraq — that there is little morality left in international relations.
All I can do is plead on behalf of those who cannot do so for themselves. I make that plea as a representative of this sovereign Parliament and as a citizen of this country, the history of which closely parallels that of Cyprus. I ask that the Government take a stand on this issue not in the interests of fair play, but, in view of our history, on moral grounds.
I thank Senator Mooney for his kind remarks. I hope I will have the opportunity of working with him and all other Members of the Seanad to ensure that we achieve a positive conclusion in terms of ratification of the constitution of the European Union. The latter would be of major benefit in terms of the issue under discussion.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. The Government maintains regular contact with its partners in the Government of the Republic of Cyprus. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I regularly take the opportunity of attending the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council to review the situation in Cyprus with its Foreign Minister, George Lacovou, whom I regard as a friend. He and his colleagues have kept us fully briefed on their serious concern at the increased levels of activity in the property market in the northern part of the island. The Cypriot authorities are particularly concerned that much of the property development undertaken in recent years has involved land which is legally owned by citizens of Cyprus who were forced to leave their homes and the area in 1974.
It was a source of great pride for the people of Ireland that the historic enlargement of the European Union, which formally ended the tragic and wasteful post-war division of Europe, took place during our Presidency. The Day of Welcomes on 1 May 2004 was one of the central events of the Presidency. On that day, ten new member states, including the Republic of Cyprus, acceded to the European Union. The House will be aware that it had been the clear preference of the Union that a united Cyprus could have acceded on the basis of an agreed comprehensive settlement. We regret that this did not prove possible. During its EU Presidency, Ireland worked closely in support of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, in his efforts to obtain agreement on a settlement. The European Union will continue to give its full support to the Secretary General's mission of good offices. The United Nations retains the lead in the search for a comprehensive settlement and the issue remains under consideration at the Security Council. The Government and its EU partners continue to hope that the people of Cyprus will, before long, achieve their shared destiny as citizens of a united island in the European Union.
The issue of property rights is a crucial element in the search for a comprehensive settlement and it will not be resolved in the absence of such a settlement. The Government maintains contact with the various parties involved including the Turkish Government, which has an important role to play in encouraging agreement on a settlement. During the recent consideration of the decision to enter into negotiations with Turkey, we had regular daily communications with the Turks. The European Union has recognised the positive contribution of Turkey to the Secretary General's efforts last year. In the context of the historic decision of the December European Council to open accession negotiations with Turkey, we and our partners strongly encouraged the Turkish Government to move as soon as possible to start a process that will lead to the normalising of Turkey's relations with the Republic of Cyprus.
I recognise that, historically, this is an exceptionally difficult issue for Turkey. It is also the case, however, that on 3 October next Turkey will open accession negotiations with the European Union, of which Cyprus is a full member. The Government therefore warmly welcomes the decision by the Turkish Government that it will sign the protocol on the adaptation of the Ankara agreement of association with the EU to take account of the accession of the new member states, including the Republic of Cyprus. We have stressed the importance of this during our discussions with Turkish diplomats and our colleagues in Europe.
The December European Council welcomed the important declaration by the Turkish Government that it will sign the protocol before the actual commencement of negotiations. The European Union has given a firm commitment that it will open negotiations with Turkey with the clear objective of accession, if Turkey meets the requirements of membership. These negotiations will inevitably be lengthy, difficult and complex. However, I hope that over time the reality of the accession process, together with the experience of membership for the Republic of Cyprus, will contribute to an atmosphere in which the people of both parts of the island can endorse an agreed comprehensive settlement, based on the proposals of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Annan.
Following the referendums in Cyprus on 24 April last, the European Union agreed that it would work to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and facilitate the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging the economic development of that community. The position at this point is that the Republic of Cyprus is a member state and, in the absence of a comprehensive settlement, the application of the laws and regulations of the European Union to the northern part of the island is suspended. Ireland, together with its partners in the EU, does not recognise the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", in line with UN Security Council Resolutions 541 of 1983 and 550 of 1984. These resolutions are binding on all members of the United Nations.
In this context, I should refer to the issue of the purchase of property, in the northern part of Cyprus, by Irish and other citizens of EU member states. Any Irish citizen considering the purchase of property in the areas in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control should consider very carefully all the complex legal issues involved. It is important also to take full account of the political background. Any future comprehensive settlement in Cyprus will include detailed provisions on property rights which, depending on the particular circumstances, could have significant practical or financial implications for people who have purchased property in the northern part of the island of Cyprus.
The Government will continue to follow closely the development of the situation in Cyprus, in consultation with the Government of the Republic of Cyprus and the various parties involved. I hope that in the spirit of our European future together, all parties will ensure that their policies and actions are directed towards the goal we all share, namely, a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of the UN Secretary General's proposals which will end the division of the island of Cyprus and ensure a common future for both communities as citizens of a united island in the European Union.
Do the Minister of State and the Government seriously believe that the reunification of Cyprus will take place on the basis of the UN proposals which were overwhelmingly rejected by a majority of the people of the Republic of Cyprus? In my opinion the Government must return to the drawing board in respect of this matter. I ask the Minister to make his best efforts to ensure that the Turks come on board in regard to any settlement. If we subscribe to, acknowledge and enshrine in our law decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey must accept — if it wants to join the Union, a move I support — that a normal rule of law applies.
I am glad the Minister of State highlighted the dangers involved for Irish people who might potentially invest money in property in northern Cyprus. These people may believe that all they need to do is travel to the area, purchase a plot of land without caring who owns it and that everything will be hunky dory when, as the Minister of State indicated, the comprehensive settlement comes to address the property issues. There are property difficulties in this country which date back 300 years. Will such difficulties be resolved quickly in Cyprus? I do not believe so.
My contribution may seem somewhat impassioned. I appreciate and understand the diplomatic constraints under which the Minister of State must operate as a representative of the Government. I hope, however, he will take something from this debate and will make his best efforts to ensure that the Turks fully appreciate the depth of anger that exists within the Republic of Cyprus in respect of this issue.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence and for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment.
I am at one with Senator Mooney on this matter. We have made our position absolutely clear to the Turks on numerous occasions in the past and during recent negotiations. It was decided at the recent European Council meeting that the European Union would enter into negotiations with Turkey on 3 October next. During the debate at that meeting and after the contribution of the Heads of State of Turkey and Cyprus at its conclusion, the Taoiseach made Ireland's position clear. We made quite clear where we stood, during and after the Council debate, after the contributions by the Heads of State of Turkey and Cyprus. There is no progress to be made on this. There is a recognition of the rights of the people of the Republic of Cyprus and this must be acknowledged by the Turkish people vis-À-vis the future evolution and enlargement of the European Union. We anticipate it will take ten to 15 years to conclude the difficulties and complexities vis-À-vis Turkey joining the European Union. If we all work together, hopefully there will be a consensual conclusion to the satisfaction of the people of Cyprus, Turkey and all of us as citizens of the European Union.