Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
105. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in response to Rafif Jouejati's call for a No Fly Zone in Syria, if he intends to promote such an action both at the EU and UN level in order to hamper the Assad regime's overwhelming dominance in terms of air power; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26673/13]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 113, 118 and 119 together.
The crisis in Syria is undoubtedly the major challenge confronting the international community at present. It is being extensively discussed at EU level within the Foreign Affairs Council, including at the most recent Council which I attended in Brussels on 27 May.
All member States are united in their support for diplomatic efforts to reach a political solution to this appalling conflict. In particular, the EU is extending its full support to the initiative of the US and Russia aimed at bringing both sides in Syria to a further peace conference in Geneva, on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012, with a view to mapping out a genuine transition towards democracy in Syria. In its May 27 Conclusions, the Foreign Affairs Council urged both sides to respond positively to the US-Russia initiative and to engage openly in a genuine process of negotiation. It also reaffirmed that the EU will spare no effort in helping to create the appropriate conditions for a successful convening of the conference.
The renewal of the EU’s sanctions against Syria, including the arms embargo, was extensively discussed by the Council at its May 27 meeting. There are differing views among partners as to how the EU can best promote the search for a political solution, which remains the primary objective for us all. I reiterated on behalf of the Government our firm view that lifting the arms embargo would be unlikely to assist efforts to achieve a political solution. On the contrary, we believe that the provision of arms to the Syrian moderate opposition, even if well-intentioned, is likely to contribute to further militarisation of the conflict and to lead to greater levels of violence in Syria and in the wider region. I further stated my view that lifting the arms embargo ran the clear risk of endangering the “Geneva II” initiative led by the US and Russia.
It is obviously a matter of regret that the Foreign Affairs Council was unable to agree to renew the EU arms embargo against Syria, which, as a result, expired on 31 May. However, I welcome the fact that the Council did agree to renew the remainder of the existing sanctions directed against the Assad regime, which will remain in force for a further year.
It is important to underline that all 27 member States of the EU remain fully united in their desire to promote the earliest possible end to violence and a political resolution leading to transition and the establishment of a functioning democracy in Syria. In the Council Declaration that accompanied the Council Decision on renewal of the sanctions package, it was noted that no member State intending to do so will proceed at this stage with the delivery of arms to Syria. The Council also agreed to review its position before 1 August on the basis of a report from the High Representative on the developments related to the US-Russia initiative and on the engagement of the Syrian parties.
In relation to calls which have been made for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, this would obviously necessitate broad international agreement and could only be authorised through a UN Security Council Resolution specifically mandating such a step. Regrettably, the Security Council has not been able to agree any Resolution on Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011 and it appears most unlikely that the political will exists within the Council at present to reach agreement on such a proposal.
106. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he supports inclusive peace negotiations in Colombia that provide for a stronger role for civil society, and the creation of conditions for the safe participation of civil society in the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26700/13]
I strongly support the Colombian peace process and hope that the ongoing negotiations will bring an end to the long conflict there that has caused much suffering. I warmly welcome the agreement reached recently on the land reform element of these peace negotiations. I wish the parties success in reaching agreement on the other important items remaining on their agenda so that a final comprehensive peace agreement can be secured. When I met with Colombia’s President Santos earlier this year, I assured him of Ireland’s support for the peace process. I added that we stand ready, within available means, to share our experiences if invited to do so by the parties to the process. President Santos expressed his appreciation of our support, adding that he is very aware of our own peace process and that the Colombian process has incorporated some useful lessons from it.
At the recent Universal Periodic Review of Colombia at the Human Rights Council, Ireland expressed strong support for the Colombian peace process and encouraged all parties to ensure adequate space for civil society in the process, paying special attention to the participation of women and indigenous communities. I know that some trade unionists and civil society activists, such as those from the Patriotic March who visited Dublin recently, have expressed concerns that their activism places them at risk of attack.
In my view, it is essential to any democratic society that all citizens, regardless of political affiliation, who engage peacefully in the political and social developments of their society, can do so without fear of threat or persecution, in particular in the form of risks to their personal security. For this reason, I urge all parties in Colombia to address issues of insecurity so as to foster conditions that best support peace building. I understand that a series of consultations with civil society facilitated by the UN Development Programme and the National University of Colombia are taking place. From an Irish perspective, we see considerable value in a peace process being as inclusive as is possible, in particular as we recognise the positive contribution made by civil society in our own peace process.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) of Ireland compiles external trade figures for Ireland, which are available at . The trade figures outlined below for China include total merchandise trade and total trade in services between Ireland and China, including Hong Kong and Macau, for the period January 2008 to December 2012. In 2008, total bilateral trade between Ireland and China was €8,907 million (m). Total bilateral merchandise trade was valued at €6,600m; with exports worth €2,325m and imports worth €4,275 m. Total bilateral trade in services was valued at €2,307m; exports were worth €1,625m and imports worth €682m.Total bilateral trade in 2009 was valued at €7,144m; with total bilateral merchandise trade valued at €5,209m. Of this figure €2,330m were exports and €2,879m were imports. Bilateral trade in services totalled €1,935 m; exports at €1,648m and imports at €317m.
Total bilateral trade with China totalled €7,603m in 2010. Total bilateral merchandise trade valued €5,249m; with exports at €2,494m and imports at €2,755m. Total bilateral trade in services were valued at €2,354m with exports worth €1,943m and imports worth €411m.
In 2011, total bilateral trade with China was valued at €7,824m. Total bilateral merchandise trade was worth €5,155m with exports worth €2,453m and imports worth €2,702m. Total bilateral trade in services was worth €2,669m; exports and imports were valued at €2,471m and €325m respectively.
In 2012, total bilateral merchandise trade between Ireland and China was valued at €5,027m; exports €2,167 and imports €2,860. Figures for trade in services for this period will become available from the CSO in September of this year.
From a broader perspective, in 2012, total bilateral trade (imports to and exports from Ireland) increased by 4.7% to €318.5 billion. Total exports increased by over 5% in 2011 in nominal terms and by over 5.5% in 2012. Exports are almost evenly divided between goods and services, with almost all of our export growth in 2012 accounted for by services exports, which grew by 11%. This overall trend is evident in trade with China where our merchandise exports decreased in 2012; in large part due to the 'patent cliff' in respect of pharmaceuticals while our exports of services increased by 52% over the period 2008-2011.
108. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the engagements the Minister of State for Trade and Development had at the United Nations in New York on 3 June, specifically around the signing of the Arms Trade Treaty on behalf of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26790/13]
Ireland was one of sixty-seven UN Member States to sign the new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on 3 June 2013. The Government was represented at the signing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York by the Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Trade and Development, Joe Costello T.D. The Treaty is the first legally binding instrument to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. States which sign up to the Treaty are prohibited from exporting arms to countries if they know those weapons will be used to commit gross violations of human rights. Minister of State Costello signed the Treaty on the morning of 3 June at a special ceremony in the UN's Trusteeship Council Chamber. In the afternoon, he attended a high-level Ministerial segment, at which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was present, and delivered Ireland's national statement. Highlighting its humanitarian provisions in particular, he described the Treaty as a “strong, robust and comprehensive instrument” that, when fully implemented, “will reduce human suffering and save lives.”
Ireland's statement at the UN has been well received, including by international civil society organisations, which played such an important role in promoting the ATT process since its inception over six years ago.
In the evening, Minister of State Costello attended a reception to mark the opening for signature of the new Treaty, co-hosted by Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Norway.
In between his ATT-related engagements, the Minister of State attended a working lunch on the Post-2015 development agenda hosted by Ireland's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Ambassador Anne Anderson. A number of key stakeholders involved in the ongoing discussions on a new international development framework to succeed the UN Millennium Development Goalswere present at the working lunch. Later in the afternoon, following his ATT statement at the UN, Minister of State Costello attended an Irish community event at the Emerald Isle Community Centrein the Bronx, organised by the Consulate-General.
It is encouraging that so many States were in a position to sign the Arms Trade Treaty with us on 3 June and that others, including the United States of America, have indicated their intention to sign. There have already been additional signatures and I am hopeful this will continue in the coming months. The Treaty will come into force ninety days following ratification by the fiftieth State. I believe that the signing ceremony marks a significant step along the way to the ATT's entry into force and becoming a reality on the ground - perhaps as soon as 2014.
Nationally, the Government will move to ratify the ATT in the second half of the year. I have instructed officials in my Department to begin preparations to ensure that the requisite steps are taken in good time to allow for early ratification.
Encouraging other countries to sign and ratify the ATT will be of critical importance in the period ahead. Together with our EU partners, Ireland will work towards the entry into force and ultimate universalisation of the Treaty. Discussions are already underway within the EU on how we can best focus our collective efforts and resources to make that a reality. Ireland is playing its full part in those discussions.
109. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will ensure that medicines are exported to Iran, that while there is no specific ban on the exportation of medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, essential medicines are not getting into the country because of the current restriction on financial transactions with Iran which means Iranian citizens are being deprived of life-saving procedures; his views on the assurances given by the Government there that their nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and well monitored by IAEA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26843/13]
There is widespread international concern about the nature and intent of Iran's nuclear programme. A number of aspects of Iran's choices and behaviour in relation to that programme, and related policy areas, are difficult to understand other than as efforts to achieve a military nuclear capability. Ireland shares those concerns.Many of these concerns relate specifically to activities which are or may be contrary to Iran's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and these have been set out in detail in a long series of reports by the IAEA. The Agency continues to report that, despite nine years of talks with Iran to try to clarify these questions, the IAEA has been unable to confirm that Iran's programme is purely peaceful, essentially because Iran has refused to engage with the Agency in substance on these matters.Similarly, a lengthy series of political discussions with Iran by the E3+3 group, led in recent years by the EU High Representative, has also been unable to make any progress with Iran in rebuilding confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.
Iran's assurances about the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme have unfortunately been belied by both its refusal to discuss the aspects of its programme which are giving rise to concern, and indeed its continuation and intensification of those activities throughout this period.
In relation to the import of medicines into Iran, I have received no substantive information on this issue which would alter the terms of my reply to Question No 229 (5954/13) from the Deputy on this topic on 5 February 2013.
As our own peace process in Ireland has shown, reconciliation on the ground between two communities who have been in sustained conflict remains a deeply sensitive process even after the successful conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement. I commend those who are working to promote reconciliation between Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs, and between Jews, Muslims and Christians, in the Holy Land. Irish Aid continues to support work on the ground designed to support this objective. There are people on both sides who promote such work. And there are others on both sides, regrettably, who actively exacerbate tensions between the communities. It is disappointing, but hardly surprising, that there may be some Palestinians who are not supportive of reconciliation efforts in a context in which no peace agreement has been concluded or is even in prospect, in which the Israeli occupation is continuing (seemingly indefinitely), illegal Israeli dispossession of Palestinian land continues unabated, and in which the impact of occupation on Palestinians is steadily worsening. I consider that the continual injustices and dispossessions meted out to Palestinians by the occupation are the most active force working against reconciliation between the two peoples. The specific incident alluded to does not appear to have received any widespread coverage in either Israeli or Palestinian media, and is itself reported in very vague terms. Neither our Representative Office in Ramallah nor our Embassy in Tel Aviv have been able to yield further information on, or to corroborate, this story. In the circumstances, I do not believe there is any basis for further comment or action in relation to this particular episode.
111. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline his Minister of State's recent engagements at the May Plenary session of the European Parliament held in Strasbourg; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26959/13]
The Minister of State for European Affairs attended the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg on 21-22 May 2013. The Minister represented the Council in plenary debates on preparations for the European Council meeting of 22 May, Banking union-Single Supervisory Mechanism, the draft World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaty on copyright exceptions for the visually impaired, implementation of the Stockholm Programme and establishment of the area of freedom, security and justice, 2012 Progress Reports on enlargement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the EU trade and investment agreement negotiations with the US.While in Strasbourg, the Minister met with members of the Parliament's negotiating team on the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) and bilaterally with key MEPs to discuss the MFF. She also met with the Chair of the European Parliament's Conference of Committee Chairs and with Irish MEPs.
The number of passports issued by month in 2012 and 2013 is detailed in the table below.
PASSPORT ISSUED 2012 - 2013
The table shows a huge difference in passport demand across months with almost four times more passports produced in May 2012 than those issued in December of the same year.