Written answers

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Foreign Policy

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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274. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he intends to hold a referendum on Irish neutrality; and if so, when he intends to hold the referendum. [31934/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Ireland has a longstanding policy of military neutrality, meaning that we do not participate in military alliances or common or mutual defence arrangements. This policy, which has been implemented by successive governments, informs our active approach to peace support operations, crisis management, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. There are no plans to alter this policy at this time and the Government has no plans to hold a referendum on neutrality.

However, it is clear that the security situation in Europe has changed fundamentally. The war in Ukraine, the decisions by Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership, and the upcoming response to the recommendations by the Commission on the Defence Forces have all brought security and defence issues to the fore domestically. 

In this context, there is undoubtedly a need for debate on security and defence policy in Ireland, to reflect on the security and defence challenges we face as a country and the best way for us to respond to those challenges. The Taoiseach has indicated that the issues involved could potentially be discussed through a Citizens Assembly or a similar framework. It is important that this debate take place in an open and evidence-based way, and at an appropriate time.  The Taoiseach has already noted that this could happen during the lifetime of the current Government.   

As I have said previously, the Government’s immediate focus in the meantime remains on easing the plight of the Ukrainian people and holding the Russian leadership to account for its war of aggression against Ukraine.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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275. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views in relation to Ukrainian oligarchs and organised crime in the State given his advocacy for early accession to the European Union.; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31777/22]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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On 17 June, the European Commission published its formal Opinion on Ukraine's application for membership of the European Union. As the Opinion states, the aspiration to belong to the European Union has for many years been an important priority for Ukraine, its governments and citizens. It has been an underlying motive for democratic changes over the past decade and a driver of a number of key reforms founded on European values.

The decision in late 2013, of the then-President of Ukraine not to sign, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which symbolised for many Ukrainians a path towards the European Union, led to large-scale protests against the authorities. Subsequently, the Russian Federation moved against Ukraine, not accepting the independent choice of the Ukrainian people. While losing control over part of its territory and suffering human and economic losses because of the conflict in the eastern part of the country, Ukraine continued throughout the years as a resilient democracy, gradually aligning with the EU acquis.

Since 2014, the main framework for the EU’s partnership and cooperation with Ukraine was the Association Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Implementation of reforms by Ukraine, as envisaged in the Association Agreement (AA), has been an core element of Ukraine's EU prospective. Ireland consistently encouraged Ukraine on its reform path.

In September 2021, new de-oligarchisation legislation was passed in Ukraine which allows for the creation of a registry of oligarchs. Those on the registry are forbidden to make contributions in support of political parties or participate in large-scale privatization. Also, persons from this Register have to submit a declaration of income.  In addition, civil servants are required to file "declarations of contact" if they have been in contact with the oligarch or their representative. Failure to file such a declaration may result in political or disciplinary action. 

Ukraine has approved a Strategy on Combating Organised Crime in 2020; the Action Plan for the Strategy is under development. A government regulation on Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessments (SOCTA) was adopted in 2022 and Regional Organized Crime Threat Assessment Task Forces (ROCTAFs) were launched nation-wide.

My Department is carefully studying the opinion of the European Commission on Ukraine's application for EU membership.  The Irish Government hopes for a positive response on Ukraine's application at the European Council meeting of 23-24 June.  Ireland will continue to emphasise the importance of reforms in Ukraine, including in the areas of rule of law, good governance and combatting corruption.

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