Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs DebatePage of 4
Chairman: I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, and thank him for his attendance. I also welcome the following: Mr. Dermot Gallagher, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Adrian O’Neill, assistant secretary, corporate services division; Mr. Rory Montgomery, political director; Mr. Ray Bassett, assistant secretary, consular and passport services division; Ms Mary Whelan, assistant secretary, promoting Ireland abroad division; Mr. Brendan Rogers, director general of Irish Aid; Mr. Ciarán Madden, counsellor, head of finance unit, corporate services division; Ms Barbara Jones, counsellor, EU division; and Ms Julie Connell, first secretary, co-ordination unit, corporate services division. I congratulate Mr. Brendan Rogers on becoming director general of Irish Aid and wish him the best for the future.
Mr. Gallagher you recently announced that you plan to step down from your current position. I take this opportunity to recognise your contribution to public service throughout your career to date, and in particular during your tenure as Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs over the past seven and a half years. Under your leadership and strong management, the Department of Foreign Affairs has had many important successes. I mention in particular your role in advancing political progress in Northern Ireland, which paved the way for the restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. You also raised service standards within the Department, including through the introduction of an advanced passport service. You oversaw the advancement of an efficient and caring consular service for Irish citizens in times of difficulty, including following 11 September 2001 which happened during your first weeks as Secretary General, in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami and during the urgent evacuation of Irish citizens from Lebanon in 2006.
I am aware of your great dedication to the Irish abroad and recall on the occasion of the funeral of the former US President Nixon, which I attended on behalf of the Government with you as the then ambassador to the US, how at your suggestion that day I discussed with the chairman of the US foreign relations committee the possibility of Ireland being included under the US visa waiver programme. That conversation bore immediate fruit and Ireland was added to the list of eligible countries shortly afterwards. I am sure there are a thousand other stories that can be told of how you were instrumental in advancing Ireland’s interests and those of her citizens. For that, I take this opportunity to recognise and commend your leadership, acumen and service.
The Minister is here today to discuss the strategy statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the US-India agreement on peaceful nuclear co-operation. The terms of reference of this committee require that the committee consider the strategy statement laid before each House of the Oireachtas by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, pursuant to section 5(2) of the Public Service Management Act 1997. I am pleased the Minister is here to discuss with the committee the new revised strategy statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs for 2008 to 2010. In his foreword to the strategy statement, the Minister identifies the core fundamentals of Ireland’s foreign policy as the promotion and protection of human rights, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of the rule of law. The committee will be interested to hear how the Minister and his Department have established the high level goals and objectives of the Department within that framework.
At its meeting of 6 September, the Nuclear Suppliers Group approved unanimously a waiver for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s guidelines, opening the door to nuclear technology transfers to India, a non-signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Ireland’s support of a waiver for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting marked a new departure in Ireland’s policy on this issue. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has previously, including during the Twenty-ninth Dáil, taken a unanimous stance in support of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and has in the past expressed concern about the prospects of a US-India deal. Given the significance of the Nuclear Suppliers Group decision, I invite the Minister to outline to the committee the various factors and implications considered by him in coming to a decision to agree to a waiver for India at this time.
I invite the Minister to address the committee, first on his Department’s strategy statement for 2008 to 2010 and, second, on the US-India civil nuclear deal. That will be followed by questions on both topics from members.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I ask the committee to bear in mind there are two items on the agenda, the strategy statement and the US-India nuclear agreement. In a communication with the committee I indicated my intention to table a motion on the US-India nuclear agreement, so there will be more than questions on the matter. Chairman, you are right to point out that the committee, as late as 2006, passed a motion in support of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and also unanimously passed a motion stating that Ireland should not agree to a waiver in view of its implications for the non-proliferation treaty.
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): I associate myself with your eloquent tribute, Chairman, to the Secretary General of my Department. Obviously I will have an opportunity in another forum to elaborate on it.
Before making my contribution, I would like to congratulate US President-elect Obama on his historic election victory. Throughout his campaign, the President-elect has signalled his interest in maintaining and strengthening the excellent relationship which exists between Ireland and the United States. It is a relationship which has been enormously beneficial to Ireland and one which continues to evolve to our mutual benefit in line with changing realities. I look forward to working with the new President and the newly-elected Congress in the years ahead to underpin and deepen further the economic, cultural and social relations between our two countries.
Aware of the changing circumstances on both sides of the Atlantic, our ambassador in Washington has been asked by the Taoiseach to undertake a strategic review of Ireland-US relations. This review is intended to explore how our already close ties might be further enhanced in the future and will serve as a framework for dialogue with the incoming administration.
The President-elect has also spoken of his commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process over the past several months and has signalled that he will appoint a special envoy to Northern Ireland. This is a positive and welcome indication that his administration will seek to be fully engaged on the issue.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet the committee to present the Department’s recently published strategy statement and to discuss the US-India nuclear deal. I welcome the interest shown by the committee in the strategy statement. The document sets out six high level goals to guide the work of the Department over the next three years.
I will briefly address each of these goals in turn and then address the question of the US-India deal. The result of the referendum of 12 June 2008 created a complex and uncertain environment for Ireland’s EU policy. This new environment poses great challenges in the pursuit of our high level goal of securing Ireland’s best interests in a changing European Union. In the immediate future, the task facing the Department is to steer relations with our EU partners as we seek an agreed way forward.
Following the Lisbon treaty referendum, the Department’s priority for 2009 will be to secure Ireland’s interests in the European Union. With this in mind, it is imperative to find a way forward on the treaty that addresses the concerns of the people and reconciles these with the interests of the other member states. I believe we can reach such an outcome in the months ahead, although I do not underestimate the challenge we face. Given its importance for Ireland, it will be necessary to deepen public understanding of the EU by means of improved communications concerning the Union and Ireland’s role within it.
In the broader arena of international relations, the strategy statement reaffirms the guiding principles of our foreign policy, namely, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the promotion of human rights and the rule of law and disarmament and non-proliferation. We continue to pursue these goals both nationally and multilaterally through our membership of the European Union and United Nations. Ireland continues to argue for a stronger, reformed United Nations better equipped to meet the major global challenges of this century such as climate change, HIV-AIDS and food insecurity.
Disarmament and non-proliferation continue to be priority activities. I am pleased that this week the Oireachtas began its consideration of the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Bill intended to allow Ireland to ratify the historic convention on cluster munitions adopted in Croke Park last May. This is yet another example of where Ireland has performed a leadership role to great effect. I look forward to travelling to Oslo in early December in order to be one of the first signatories of the convention when it formally opens for signature.
We will maintain our active participation in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy over the period covered by the strategy statement, working to ensure that the Union remains actively engaged in the search for peace in conflict situations such as the Middle East, the Caucasus, Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe.
Through European Security and Defence Policy missions such as EUFOR Chad, under the operational command of Lieutenant General Pat Nash, and the EU civilian monitoring mission in Georgia, the EU is demonstrating how it is developing the capacity to intervene effectively in political and humanitarian crises. Ireland will continue to participate in the development of the ESDP in the period ahead.
Ireland has made a very significant contribution to the fight against global poverty and exclusion by proactively implementing the recommendations of the White Paper on Irish Aid over the past two years. These include the establishment of Malawi as Ireland’s ninth programme country. I welcome the visit the Chairman made to Malawi last week with a delegation from the committee and I look forward to receiving their report and recommendations.
Other important initiatives have been the opening of a volunteering and information centre, the launch of the rapid response initiative and the appointment of a hunger task force, which recently reported to the Taoiseach.
The Irish Aid programme is now more closely aligned than ever with our broader foreign policy objectives and values, including the promotion of international peace and security, justice and human rights.
At the same time, the challenges currently facing the world’s least developed countries are unprecedented. Climate change, environmental degradation, rising food prices and conflict are undermining efforts to tackle poverty. Their impact is greatest on those who are least able to cope, namely, the billion people or more who still live on less than a dollar a day.
Ireland will continue to play a leading role in efforts to reach the UN millennium development goals. We are now the sixth largest donor per capita in the world and we remain committed to the 0.7°/o of GNP target.
An immediate priority is to see how to best implement the recommendations of the hunger task force report. Other goals include maintaining a strong focus on quality, on results and partnership with recipient countries and building a greater sense of public ownership for the programme at home.
The Government’s strong commitment to supporting our communities overseas, in particular elderly and vulnerable Irish emigrants, is reflected in the unprecedented level of funding secured for emigrant services in recent years. This year more than €15 million is being disbursed to assist Irish people living abroad. I am very pleased to confirm that, despite the very challenging budgetary situation, this level of funding will remain in 2009.
The working holiday agreement with the United States represents the first success in the Government’s efforts to secure a new comprehensive legal immigration framework for our citizens who wish to live and work in the United States. It is the first element in a three pronged approach in the area. We will continue to pursue opportunities for more long-term work visas and a solution for our undocumented citizens in the United States, which remains a key Government priority.
I attach the highest priority to ensuring that my Department, including its embassies and consulates, strongly supports the efforts of the Government to return our economy to the path of growth and prosperity. The Government’s Asia strategy has been highly successful in delivering the Government’s economic objectives on a regional basis. Most recently, my Department was involved in organising the highly successful visit by the Taoiseach to China, where he was accompanied by representatives of more than 90 companies.
Work continues to identify and exploit opportunities in other emerging markets, including the Gulf region, eastern Europe and Latin America. The economic role of our embassies and consulates continues to be strengthened. Co-operation with State agencies has further intensified.
The training programme for officials going abroad was improved in 2008 to include segments on science and technology, competitiveness, and sectors of particular importance to the Irish economy, such as financial services. We are equipping our officials to better assist Irish businesses and to promote investment.
Ten years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, great strides have been made in consolidating peace in Northern Ireland and in developing co-operation and understanding across this island. Sustaining and building upon that progress remains a priority for my Department.
In the years ahead, we will continue to work to ensure the full and effective operation of the institutions. In the current economic climate, there is an even greater imperative to work together on a North-South basis to deliver economies of scale, strengthen the all-island economy and agree infrastructural priorities. There are a number of challenging issues facing the Northern Ireland Executive at present, including the central question of the devolution of policing and justice powers. It is the shared view of the Irish and British Governments that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly should take on this responsibility as set out in the St. Andrews Agreement. We believe it is now time to complete the process of devolution and I look forward to an early agreement between the parties on this question.
Our work towards these ambitious goals must be seen against the background of the resource constraints faced by all Departments. In 2009, we will operate with a budget of 7% less than that with which we started this year. In this context, the efficient and effective management of resources is more important than ever. The Department must be ready to deploy resources where there is greatest need, ensuring an agility and flexibility in our response to evolving challenges and opportunities.
I am happy to have this opportunity to brief the committee on the US-India civil nuclear deal, on Ireland’s approach to it and to hear the views of members. Since the US-India civil nuclear co-operation deal was originally agreed in principle between the US President Bush and the Indian Prime Minister Singh in 2005, and during the lengthy and complex process which followed, Ireland was to the fore in raising concerns and asking questions in regard to its impact on the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime. However, we noted that the deal would extend the scope of IAEA safeguards over Indian nuclear facilities and also made clear that we understood the strong reasons which led the Indian Government to seek a secure and plentiful supply of energy to address poverty, promote development and combat climate change.
It was the consistent policy of the Government, reiterated several times by my predecessor, not to make any final decision until all elements were on the table. We also made clear that we would take into account the range of views among other Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG, members, in particular those with a similar approach to disarmament and non-proliferation issues.
After a lengthy delay due to domestic Indian political factors, the issue finally came to a head in the late summer, with meetings of the IAEA board of governors on 1 August and of the NSG on 21-22 August and 4-6 September. At the NSG, Ireland, which played a leading role among a group of like-minded countries, was active from the outset in seeking clarifications and conveying concerns about the proposed exemption of India from the NSG’s guidelines on civilian nuclear trade. We put forward an extensive series of proposals aimed at improving the text and meeting our concerns.
During this period, we had extensive contacts inside and outside the NSG, at both political and official level, with the United States, India and numerous other states. It became increasingly clear that a very large majority of NSG member states, including several normally like-minded countries, were in favour of granting the exemption, as were a very large majority of our EU partners. The Director General of the IAEA, Dr. El Baradei, also strongly supported the deal.
On 5 September, in response to the requests within the NSG from Ireland and a few other states, India issued a significant statement reiterating its key positions on disarmament and non-proliferation. These include a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and strong safeguards against nuclear proliferation to third countries.
On this basis, and following a number of further changes to the text of the NSG decision, Ireland reluctantly joined consensus in the NSG on 6 September. Ireland and several other states made it clear that we expect India to honour all of its commitments, and that any breach of them would require the NSG to review its decision.
There is no doubt that in the negotiations in August and September, Ireland and the small like-minded group secured a significant number of improvements to the text originally circulated by the US. Our decision was not an easy one to make. We would also have wished for a stronger and more automatic linkage between the maintenance of the exemption and India’s continued honouring of its commitments, but in the final analysis we could not be oblivious to India’s ever-growing energy needs. We are also conscious of its growing importance on the international stage and our developing bilateral relationship.
India is the largest, most populous, and economically most significant country in south Asia. It has a distinguished tradition of parliamentary democracy, responsible government, respect for pluralism and human rights and a vibrant independent media — traditions and values which India almost uniquely in the region embodies. It has played an important stabilising role in its region and more widely within the UN. It is a most active contributor to UN peacekeeping.
Such values, actions and mutual interests constitute the basis of Ireland’s relationship with India. They also form the basis of the important strategic partnership that exists between the EU and India. Our bilateral economic relationship with India is also of growing importance.
I am confident that in the new global financial architecture likely to emerge from the current crisis India will play an important part, commensurate with its rapidly developing economy. In this context, the overall judgment the NSG, and Ireland, made was that India is too significant to be left isolated. The general view is that the more closely it is bound into the system, the more likely its future behaviour is to conform to the expectations of the international community and its own voluntary commitments. We will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that this is indeed the case.
Deputy Billy Timmins: I join with the Minister in extending good wishes to President-elect Obama in the USA. I also join in the tributes to the Secretary General, Mr. Gallagher, who I have always found to be most courteous and helpful. I wish him well in his retirement. He has given long and distinguished service and I know that he has a major contribution still to make to Irish society.
There are a few issues I want to raise from the Minister’s contribution. They are in no particular order but based on the strategy statement itself. The first issue I want to deal with is the Government’s involvement in seeking progress in UN reform. Today on Question Time I raised my concerns about the peacekeeping mission in Africa, MONUC, which is made up of 17,000 troops and has a budget of €1 billion. It is the largest peacekeeping operation in the department of peacekeeping operations, and yet is not very effective. It is made up of troops from Pakistan, India and South Africa, but yet it has not obtained the confidence of the local population. It has been the subject of the establishment of an internal disciplinary organisation, particularly dealing with the issue of sexual exploitation.
Has the Minister or his representative raised with the UN this matter, and that this is one of the reasons people have concerns about the traditional style of UN peacekeeping and was one of the reasons for the Brahemi report, commissioned in 1999 and produced in 2000? That report basically spoke about sub-contracting peacekeeping missions to regional organisation and stated that there is merit in the EU looking to provide a force to this area. I want to hear the Minister’s views on how the UN could be reformed to ensure that there are not such operations. No matter what way we look at it, this expensive force does not have the confidence of the local people and certainly does not have the confidence of the 1 million plus displaced people in that region.
The Minister, in the strategy document, makes reference to awareness of Ireland’s location for inward investment. I want to deal with this in the context of the allocation of human resources. It has been pointed out to me today that the Department of Foreign Affairs has just 29 officials in the USA, which is a very important area. I am aware that the Minister is looking at the best allocation of resources within the Department. In the context of public sector reform to which he alluded earlier, when looking at where he could make cutbacks in the Department did the Minister consider staffing levels? Is he satisfied that they are adequate? Does he need more staff? Perhaps there are too many. The Department has got a good few numbers over the past few years. Is the Department of Foreign Affairs understaffed? I look forward to the Minister’s view on this.
Deputy Billy Timmins: I refer to probably the first holder of Mr. Gallagher’s office. According to an article I read recently, when the first cutbacks came, in 1925 or 1926, the Department of External Affairs was a slash and burn case. There was either a 40% or 50% reduction in numbers when Department of Finance took a 2% or 3% reduction. Notwithstanding that the budget was only £70,000 or £80,000 at the time, Mr. Joe Walshe was the Secretary trying to build up the Department, but it suffered grievously.
Does the Minister have a view on this aspect? It is important. Inward investment plays a big role of the Department of Foreign Affairs although it is often forgotten and notwithstanding the role of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Does the Minister intend to extend that role?
On the Irish diaspora and consular assistance, that section has been strengthened in recent years due to the increase in Irish people travelling abroad. I want to hear the Minister’s views on that. Has he had more requests for assistance?
With regard to the issue of the undocumented Irish in America, the Minister is probably weary of people bringing this up. Is there a window of opportunity or a strategy in place through which we could address the need of the 50,000 Irish who are in the United States, mainly along the east coast, to regularise their status? In addition, has the Minister had many inquiries about the newly-arranged student visa agreement since it was established?
An issue I come across regularly, as do other Members, concerns the Irish diaspora in Argentina. Many of us received a letter from a lady from Argentina, whose name escapes me, who is third generation Irish. There are many Irish in Argentina. Are there any plans to look at how we can amend the current situation on the granting of Irish citizenship because some people, particularly in South America, seem to have a fair and just case? What is prohibiting us from granting citizenship to such people?
The conflict resolution unit was set up in the recent past and was allocated a budget of €29 million or €30 million. What is the position with regard to unit, which was established by the Minister’s predecessor?
Deputy Billy Timmins: On Irish Aid, will the recommendations of the hunger task force be taken on board? Will there be a change of policy in the context of the reallocation of funding from programme countries to the world food programme? Is the Minister considering appointing an envoy? What level of success has the aid office that was opened in O’Connell Street this time last year enjoyed?
Will the Minister elaborate on the position regarding the rapid reaction force, an extremely worthwhile group? I am of the view that this group could be developed further. Will the Minister indicate the type and number of people deployed with this group?
The strategy statement refers to the tradition of neutrality. I have always been conscious of Ireland’s vulnerability to attack. I am not expecting such an attack but we do not have the capability to protect ourselves against certain forms of aggression. If the Lisbon treaty had been passed, Ireland would have been covered by the solidarity clause. Certain people tried to scaremonger by stating that our armed forces would be called upon to protect others, when they would not be in a position to do so, under this clause. However, Ireland would only really have been a beneficiary under its provisions. Is there a plan B in place with regard to protecting this country from outside aggression?
Due to the economic downturn there may be an implication as regards the cost of UN missions. I understand the costs relating to such missions are met out of the budget of the Department of Defence. If so, that is fair enough. Will the Minister comment on the observer mission in Georgia and indicate how successful or otherwise it has been?
The Minister stated that Ireland’s position within the EU is changing. He also referred to keeping Ireland at the heart of the Union and protecting our essential interests. Ireland’s involvement in Europe forms the main plank of its foreign policy. In order to keep Ireland at the heart of Europe and maintain that aspect of our foreign policy, it would have been desirable to have the Lisbon treaty ratified. If Ireland does not ratify the treaty, would the Minister consider such an eventuality to represent the failure of one of the main planks of our foreign policy? Numerous groups and individuals have come before the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union in recent weeks and stated that Ireland’s interests and its position of influence have been damaged by the vote on Lisbon. They also indicated that these will be damaged further, be it economically, politically or in terms of the goodwill we enjoy.
Deputy Higgins indicated his intention to table a motion in respect of the US-India nuclear agreement. The Minister indicated that he has a difficulty with the agreement. He stated that Ireland and like-minded countries secured a significant number of improvements in the text originally circulated by the US authorities. Will the Minister outline the nature of those improvements? In view of the unanimous opposition among members of the committee to this agreement in the past, would it not have been better if the Minister had come before the committee or the Dáil to discuss this issue before an agreement was reached? One of the reasons people have difficulty with European or international affairs because deals are often done behind closed doors or insufficient information relating to them is provided.
Does the Minister agree that if he had tabled a motion before the Dáil, people could have articulated their views on this issue? It is important to realise how the committee’s policy, which is representative of Government policy, developed over a number of years. Disregarding the committee’s policy and failing to consult its members is not the way to do business. I say this notwithstanding the fact that the Minister put forward a fairly reasonable argument in respect of this matter in the document circulated.
Deputy Darragh O’Brien: I was only joking. I join Deputy Timmins in wishing the Secretary General, Mr. Gallagher, best wishes for his retirement. He and his Department have been most courteous and helpful to me in any dealings I have had with them during my short time in the Oireachtas.
On Irish Aid and remaining committed to our target of 0.7% of GNP, we are living in difficult economic times and there is an onus on Departments to save money. We have a duty, therefore, to ensure that members of the public are even better informed with regard to how aid money is spent. There is a view — I do not agree with it — that we should row back on the level of funding being made available to Irish Aid. I accept that the figure changes each year because our contribution is based on a target of 0.7% of GNP. However, the Department should continue to seek additional ways by which members of the public can be informed as to how their moneys are being spent abroad through Irish Aid.
Will the Minister outline how the public is informed as to how aid money is spent? Are ways to improve the dissemination of information in this regard under consideration? Will the Minister also indicate how transparent are the systems relating to this aid and outline the level of success enjoyed by Irish Aid in bringing such aid to the programme countries. It is important to ensure that the public is still with us in respect of our commitment to reaching the target of 0.7% of GNP.
On the Irish abroad, President-elect Obama will be taking over the reins in the US in January. That country will also have a new Congress and a new Senate. I am glad that there is a reassessment under way with regard to how we can further strengthen our economic and cultural links with the United States. In the Dáil earlier today, reference was made to the taxation of profits of US multinationals abroad. This would have major implications for Ireland. What will the Department of Foreign Affairs and the other relevant Departments be doing with regard to this matter? Senator Obama clearly indicated in his election manifesto that he will be considering this aspect. In the national interest, we must ensure that everything is done to protect the jobs US multinationals have created here. Will the Minister outline the form the reassessment process will take?
Deputy Timmins referred to the number of people working on Ireland’s behalf in the United States. Are there enough such people? All members have been involved in working with the undocumented Irish. I had the privilege to visit the US Congress and I met Congressmen and Senators who would be favourable to a resolution being found in respect of this matter. However, I met others who are sitting on the fence. There is an onus on us to further strengthen the Irish-American caucus in the US Congress among Democrats and Republicans alike. While I very much welcome the steps taken by the Minister on the new working holiday agreement, further change will only happen with the support of the Congress and Senate. How will we go about that? The Irish-American caucus needs to be strengthened in Congress. What steps will the Department of Foreign Affairs take in this regard?
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I would like to be associated with earlier remarks. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States offers an opportunity for a new relationship between the US and the rest of the world in diplomatic matters, in multilateral institutions and in the prosecution of dialogic resolution to conflict as opposed to militarism and so forth, which is to be welcomed. The generous speech of Senator McCain in accepting the result should be noted. Those of us who visited the Senator noted his helpful view on immigration issues, in particular. I very much agree with the tributes to the Secretary General of the Department, Mr. Gallagher, who has always been thoughtful and occasionally flexible.
A great number of issues have been put forward for answer and I do not intend to revisit issues raised. I would like to concentrate on the US-India nuclear agreement, on the Department’s statement of strategy and its ODA section. I welcome that the Government has repeated and sustained its commitment to the achievement of the UN development aid target of 0.7% of GNP. I recall a cost cutting measure whereby staff in our embassies were directed not to buy newspapers and to discontinue subscriptions. The Department is under staffed. With regard to the title of the conflict resolution unit, more and more the lesson is being learned that conflicts are amenable to management but not necessarily to resolution, ultimately, and, therefore, one must approach conflict tactics and strategies in a way that respects their complexity.
I refer to the role of the committee and its relationship with the Department. Last year I undertook to carry out a survey of the role and strength of foreign affairs committees in the European Union. I had discussions with committees in more than 20 countries and, in many cases, they came across as extraordinarily weak. I also analysed the Australian and New Zealand committees. The then Prime Minister of Australia had a particular view in which one hid everything under the rubric of security and, thankfully, he is no longer in office. However, the general result of the survey was that foreign affairs committees are weak and the issue arises as to whether their role is to scrutinise, initiate proposals, discuss policy or conduct studies and so on. They are under staffed but we can take this up again. With regard to the statement of strategy, that struck me as an issue.
However, we should also discuss the issue of what are people’s different estimations of what is emerging globally in terms of a new multipolar geometry of international relations. That will affect my later comments about the US-India agreement. The world has crucially changed and it should be part of general consideration by the committee. I find it extraordinary the manner in which we are not adverting enormously to the huge changes taking place in Latin America and in South America, in particular, many of which are beneficial and hugely complex. The arrangements differ and discussions must take place as to the role of one-party states. However, the world has changed with massive benefits in different conditions and with different threats as well as promises from the base. When I first became a Member and spoke on Foreign Affairs, Latin America was run by competing forms of military oppression. In Paraguay, as late as the 1980s, a meeting was held to discuss the US sending money to different Christian democratic entities in South American rather than to the military. Significant changes are taking place and it is a complexity to which we are not adequately represented. The committee rarely discusses the issues although this should be part of our general discussion.
The promotion of disarmament and non-proliferation will remain a core activity for the UN and a priority for Ireland. One of the main challenges in the period ahead will be to achieve progress in the lead up to the review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2010.
It is a case of preparing an elegant justification of our contradictions and while the 2005 review was not positive in regard to the failure to even agree on an effective agenda, in 2000 Ireland was an activist country in creating an initiative relating to non-proliferation. This was acknowledged when Dr. Blix visited the committee. He made a number of positive suggestions to us. For example, he corrected a common assumption that the IAEA is the secretariat of the non-nuclear proliferation treaty when it is not. He suggested positively to us that if the treaty had a secretariat, it would be able to drive forward the agenda that had been agreed in the 2000 review. It also became clear there was a difference between Dr. Baradei and Dr. Blix regarding the detailed US-India nuclear agreement.
During this meeting, as in previous meetings, Ireland raised a number of concerns over the proposed arrangements. There is a basic concern regarding the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and whether the proposed deal undermines its core principles and obligations, including the decisions made when the treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995. There is also concern with the type of safeguards agreement to be negotiated with the IAEA and plans for its implementation and duration. There has been little detailed information on this aspect and there are concerns that what was ultimately agreed may fall short of the currently acceptable international verification standard. [We have not been satisfied on this] The relationship with India’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing to the agreement also raises questions such as the extent to which this is linked to terms of the agreement. Concern at possible future tests has been heightened by recent actions of the DPRK. A moratorium on testing has been observed globally since the India and Pakistan tests in 1991.
Finally, there continues to be uncertainty as to what is to be included under full civil nuclear energy co-operation and whether this would extend to the contentious issue of enrichment and reprocessing the most proliferation-sensitive element of the nuclear fuel cycle. That statement was prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs for 16 October 2006. After that, I prepared a motion for this committee that was adopted unanimously. That motion said we would be against any action that interfered with the non-proliferation treaty and towards that end we were not facilitating the proposal. We wanted no concessions to be made with regard to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG.
The Minister described in his comments today what I might call the “seduction” of the Government. In this seduction we find that the principles announced in 1996 are suddenly very malleable and there is not much protesting going on. To explain to newer members of the committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group operates by consensus. This means in practice that a single veto could have stopped the deal. The issue was then, in what circumstances should we have considered using our veto.
It is very important for me to say what I believe in my head and heart with regard to India. I want India’s poverty issues to be able to be addressed and I am deeply respectful of India’s right to development. I am also aware of the danger to the world of, for example, Pakistan, India, Israel and other countries with nuclear capacity that are outside the control of international disciplines. I am over 20 years in politics and very much appreciate and respect the connection, for example, between the writing of the Indian constitution and the Irish Constitution. I respect the legal relationships that existed in India, its long tradition of parliamentary democracy and so on. These are all mentioned in the Minister’s speech.
However, this respect does not take from my essential argument. The question is whether the nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been damaged over the years. It has principally been damaged by the most dishonest possible interpretation by some of its principal signatories. It was originally supposed to be not only about non-proliferation, but about nuclear disarmament. However, we still face a nuclear threat and all the arguments about the treaty are dishonest. How many countries want to possess nuclear capacity? It should be regarded as a blemish on a country’s reputation to want to possess forms of nuclear deterrents. We could spend a week discussing deterrents and the place of nuclear deterrents.
When the treaty was originally signed — Finland may have been the second signatory — it was welcomed as the high point of Irish foreign policy. The treaty has been let down by those who did not go for just simply disarming themselves of nuclear capacity. I have not got my notes in front of me, but I think that issue is dealt with in chapter 6. No progress was made on that. We are in the position therefore where the main powers refuse to disarm in terms of nuclear capacity, which brings us to the argument about non-proliferation.
I cannot but conclude but that Dr. El Baradei has facilitated a twin-track approach. It is that we can deal with all those who have stayed outside of the international disciplines, including the IAEA and the non-proliferation treaties, in a different way and that this is, somehow or another, a clever sideways strategy of bringing them in to some form of commitment on testing and whatever. That is what is being suggested. However, if we do that, we weaken the basic treaty. It is diplomatically a bad mistake to have gone down that road.
Questions raised in the Government’s document in 2006, that I and others have listed, have not been answered. We are talking about 22 reactors, 14 of which have been offered for possible examination with regard to use for civilian purposes. There is a problem about the information in this regard.
With respect to the Chairman, Fianna Fáil is a pragmatic party and it and the Government hoped for a while this deal would fall apart. I know this because I have been raising the issue for a long time. The first hope was that they would never get around to amending the 1954 Act in the United States and we would not have to take a decision. Then things began to fall apart in India because partners had left the continent and it was thought it might fall apart that way. Then it was thought that if we kept producing clever observations, like the ones we did in 2006, we might get to the point when we would not have to take a decision. Unfortunately, between August and September 2008, a decision was taken.
The evidence is that this all points, particularly the hyperbole towards the end of the Minister’s speech when he speaks about the professional and political context, to Condoleezza Rice doing her best to get some agreement from the different people who were part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. My information is that Ireland held out for a long time before finally agreeing, until it was down to the last three or four, three in particular. Then it was, as the Minister said, very difficult to hold out.
What the Minister says therefore is that the principle of consensus is gone and he will not use the veto on this, irrespective of the non-proliferation implications. Then when explaining it, all he has to say is India is a growing economy — it is and I wish it well — and he is confident that in the new global financial architecture likely to emerge from the current crisis, India will play an important part, commensurate with its rapidly developing economy. I wish India well in that. However, we can see how the game has been played with regard to the question of economics and the new financial architecture we are talking about. My wish for the Indian people is that it will be Indian economists who participate in the new financial architecture, and not solely the nominees of those who have served time in the IMF and the World Bank, who are more committed to global issues that have arisen within a failed model than the welfare of the Indian people.
I was not going to speak about the US-India nuclear deal until I heard what Deputy Higgins had to say. His contribution was comprehensive, well researched and a knowledgeable exposition of what he sees as the position. That said, the arguments put forward by the Minister as to why Ireland acquiesced in the agreement are coherent. India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel are all outside of the controls as far as nuclear weapons are concerned and with regard to India, there is a question as to its safety.
That said, this deal is strictly a civil deal that allows the scope of the IAEA safeguards to be extended. We must also look at the size of the population of India and the need for a plentiful supply of clean energy to address the poverty situation there and to promote development. The whole world is in a financial and economic crisis and we all hope that India will be in a position to assist the world to move forward in terms of economics.
What work is being done in the Department and under the auspices of the Department with regard to better informing the people about what is included in the Lisbon treaty? Like Deputy Timmins, I am interested in the EU foreign and security policy on the Democratic Republic of Congo where the situation is very serious.
I refer to Deputy O’Brien’s questions which were very comprehensive. With regard to reducing costs in State agencies, what work has been done on the possible integration of the State agencies with embassy staff in countries where there are embassies and consulates, with the intention of creating synergy and benefits rather than just for the sake of integration? Is there a possibility of improved output with a reduction in staff?
The final matter I wish to raise is the current Anglo-Irish situation. Peter Robinson seemed to be quite positive last weekend about the return of the Northern Ireland Executive to a working situation. It appears from what he said that the question of the devolution of policing and justice powers will be resolved. What is the Minister’s view on the situation?
Chairman: We have a slight problem now in that we have at least four or five more people wishing to speak and the Minister must leave by 6 p.m. I ask members to keep their contributions brief and I am not trying to curtail people but No. 1 was 12 minutes and No. 2 was five minutes, No. 3 was 17 minutes, No. 4 was four or five minutes. I ask members to keep their contributions a bit more succinct.
Senator David Norris: Indeed our respect for the Minister is reflected in the numbers here. I hope I am showing no disrespect when I have to leave to take part in Private Members’ time. I welcome this opportunity and I join in the congratulations to Mr. Rogers and also the compliments which were very appropriately paid to Mr. Gallagher. In addition, that well-known son of County Offaly, Mr. Barack Obama, received the correct admiration for his very remarkable performance and what a day it is for all of us. I think we can all breathe a little bit more freely now that the days of the criminal regime — I mean really criminal — in Washington are ended. I can quote the laws that I believe have been broken if the Minister wishes. I imagine the shredders will be busy in Washington today.
May I go back to striking a positive note and commend the Minister and his predecessor with regard to the cluster munitions legislation. I think Ireland played a significant part, as did this committee, Seanad Éireann and the Dáil. It is a matter of considerable pride to many of us that it is known as the Dublin Agreement because we played a significant role and that is to be welcomed.
The Lisbon treaty was mentioned by other speakers. With some reluctance I opposed the treaty on the basis of my concern about an allied subject, the increasing militarisation, in particular the coy re-naming of the European armaments group as the European Defence Association, and the comments of some people centrally involved in that group which certainly would lead one to believe they wished to establish a centralised and commercial munitions industry with export potential to go into competition with the United States of America. I knew nothing whatsoever about Mr. Declan Ganley and Libertas and I was accused of being in bed, so to speak, with all kinds of very peculiar people of right-wing and very strict views. I am not referring to Mr. Ganley in that context. People were also suggesting that he had associations through business with the munitions industry in the United States. This would confirm my view. If the United States military industrial complex is interested, from its own selfish point of view, in extending some of degree of muscle into Ireland with regard to the Lisbon treaty, that would confirm my view that we are right to be concerned and I hope the Minister, in advance of any reappraisal of this situation, will be able to reassure us that this militarisation will be scrutinised very carefully, limited and not become a major export factor in the European Union.
With regard to the matter before us today and India’s nuclear capacity and derogations of various kinds, I had the opportunity while I was out of the room to listen to a lot of what Deputy Higgins had to say and I strongly agree with him. I share his reservations and worries. I understand the practicalities when we are in a dwindling situation and in particular when we feel we may have lost a few friends over Lisbon and we want to keep as many friends as possible when it gets down to two or three and the considerable talents of the American diplomatic service have been employed in neutering much of the opposition. It is a lonely and isolated position but I do not think that is sufficient moral reason for giving in. Deputy Mulcahy from Fianna Fáil was a very strong person in this regard and were he here today, his views would be very sharp indeed.
We attach great importance to the fulfilment of the nuclear disarmament obligations set out in Article 6 of the NPT. We regard disarmament and non-proliferation as mutually reinforcing the processes requiring irreversible progress on both fronts. Put simply, what does not exist, cannot proliferate. Therefore we have continued to endeavour with like-minded partners to promote nuclear disarmament at the United Nations New York, the conference on disarmament in Geneva, other multinational fora. We were active in the new agenda coalition and in promoting debate through seminars and conferences.
In deference to the Chairman’s request to us not to hog the time I will just ask one question to the Minister. We were told we could give in to this and it was a kind of civilian use and so on. That may or may not be true and I am not in a position to say. However, there has been a significant shift from Hans Blix to Mr. El Baradei with regard to these procedures. God knows I am not a friend of the regime in Iran.
However, the Minister makes the argument about supply of clean electricity in a population like this and appears to regard that as a cogent argument despite imperfect enforcement, incomplete inspection and a kind of voluntary suspension by the Indians. What is the difference between that and the situation for the Iranian people who likewise have broken no international treaty but are being held up to very hostile scrutiny and perhaps punishment in the same area? If we are going to take a principled stance on Iran we need to do the same for India. Otherwise we are exposed once again as being at the behest of the United States and kowtowing to a particular point of view.
I compliment the Government and in particular the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, and Justice, Equality and Law Reform on appearing to establish some kind of regime at Shannon Airport regarding extraordinary rendition. It was extraordinarily gracious of the Government to permit the Green Party to close the door after the horses have bolted. I am sure they were immensely grateful. However, it still does not answer the question to which no government ever responds. We were not saying that we had information that anybody had been taken through in chains. That would be too obvious and easy. However, we know, as does the Minister, that during the unbroken circuit of rendition Irish airports were used to facilitate aeroplanes. His adviser, Mr. Montgomery, will give him the facts on that matter. Although I need to leave the meeting, I ask the Minister not to suggest in his reply that nobody was taken through. We facilitated them by refuelling.
Senator Mark Daly: Most questions have already been asked. I pay tribute to Mr. Gallagher, who is a man of great ability. A recently published book stated he came from the most impoverished county in Ireland. In the same paragraph it stated how Kerrymen and one Kerryman in particular lacked a great degree of tact. As a Kerryman with little tact, the only advice I could give him on his retirement is a Kerry saying that the key to a successful retirement is to know how to spend time without spending money.
I am my party’s spokesperson for overseas development in the Seanad. We have a very large overseas development budget relative to the rest of the world. My colleague has spoken about our ability to promote this in Ireland at a time when the budget is decreasing all around us. In recent years in Zambia along with the Dutch our work has produced 6,000 teachers each year with the Zambian Department of Education. In the current economic climate how do we get that message to taxpayers, who might feel that money might be better spent at home, with which I disagree? Obviously our overseas development budget is an important part of Ireland’s commitment to the world.
Deputy Rory O’Hanlon: I compliment Mr. Dermot Gallagher on the work he has done for the Department. The chairman has listed a number of his achievements. I wish to single out his work on the Good Friday Agreement. It is only when the history books are written — not the one Senator Daly read — that we will understand the true input of Dermot Gallagher. Coming from a Border constituency we are very conscious of his input and appreciate the work done.
What efforts are being made to restructure the United Nations and make it more meaningful, including, perhaps, changing the permanent members of the Security Council? I compliment Mr. Brendan Rogers on his appointment as director general of Irish Aid. We can all be very proud of the work done by Irish Aid. In the case of Irish Aid we do this ourselves, but with the multiplicity of other agencies, including Government agencies, international agencies, bilateral agencies, NGOs and numerous people involved, what effort is being made to co-ordinate the activity so the aid will find its way to the people who need it?
I agree with the Minister that it is time for devolution of policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland. We are all somewhat disappointed that there is still some bitterness under the surface as we have witnessed as recently as last weekend. I commend the Stormont Assembly on taking a decision not to hold any commemorations in Stormont itself unless there is cross-community support. That was a very wise decision in the Northern Ireland context. Is there any chance that Belfast City Council might adopt the same approach? It would be very good for community relations not to have these parades leading to counter-parades that raise the tension.
I accept the Minister’s reasoning on the US-India nuclear deal as to why we supported the NSG consensus. He said the situation would be monitored and that the decision could be reviewed if India were to breach its commitment. How will that be monitored?
I pay tribute to the Department of Foreign Affairs staff abroad. In the different roles I have held in this House on a number of occasions I have been abroad and visited different embassies. Even before our arrival the ambassador and his or her staff did great work. I was always very proud of our staff. Comparing them with other countries’ embassy staff with much larger numbers, ours punched well above their weight in their achievements. They had a commitment and dedication to ensure they supported everything that would be good for the country.
Chairman: I have just returned from Malawi. There is a great duo in the ambassador, Liam MacGabhann, and Vincent O’Neill, the director for Irish Aid there. They are fantastic and do tremendous work. We can be very proud of them.
Deputy John Deasy: I join others in wishing the Secretary General well on his retirement. I have a serious question that I will get to later. My favourite memory of Dermot Gallagher was about 14 years ago when we worked together on the visa waiver Bill in Washington. On the day we got the Bill passed on the last day of Congress, Mr. Gallagher invited me to the embassy for a celebration drink. I have a memory of him with a bottle of whiskey tucked under one arm and a glass of champagne in the other hand kicking the door open for me. I got a kick out of it. We had a good night and it was well deserved.
Deputy John Deasy: Seriously I would like to touch on something Deputy O’Brien mentioned. In the Dáil earlier today I raised what the American President-elect said on the campaign trail and how it potentially might affect US multinational companies in Ireland. I listened to the US ambassador speaking on “Morning Ireland” this morning. He said that in his opinion what was said on the campaign trail and what people do when they get elected are entirely different. I am not sure that will be the case in this instance. There is a danger that Mr. Obama might act on what he promised on the campaign trail. We need to be ready for that.
The United States is suffering a massive budget deficit this year. It will have to consider increasing personal taxation or going after the tax breaks available to US companies doing business in places like Ireland, which were mentioned by Mr. Obama. The Minister said in response to Deputy Timmins that we should not over-react to this. That is fair enough. Nobody is over-reacting to this. People are starting to realise the stark truth, which is that Ireland is becoming incredibly uncompetitive. We would have a serious problem if the business environment in which the US multinationals in Ireland operate was to be affected in any way.
I wish to speak about this country’s operation in the United States. I refer to our interests who lobby the US Congress and the US Federal Government. The Minister mentioned that 29 staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs have been seconded to work in the United States. It is not a question of the number of people we have on the ground but of what they do and how effective and active they are within Congress. That is the issue.
I am concerned that we may not be able to prevent tax legislation from being passed in the US. If legislation is pushed by the White House through the US Senate finance and ways and means committees, it may gather sufficient momentum to become law. This serious concern, which is shared by people on all sides of this country’s political divide, has been expressed privately and in public.
The retirement of the Secretary General of the Department, Mr. Gallagher, has been mentioned. I understand that he tried to retire three or four years ago but was persuaded to stay in office. More recently, I have tried to persuade him to stay on for another couple of years. We need somebody who is very experienced to hold that position. He or she should have experience of Washington. Mr. Gallagher was there for six years. He will not thank me for saying that. We need experience when we are dealing with various matters over the next year or two. Perhaps my suggestion can be considered by the Government.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Most of the questions I was going to ask have been asked by other speakers. I echo some of the points made by Deputy O’Hanlon. I wish Mr. Gallagher every success in the new phase of his life. I will not use the word “retirement”. That word should be banished from our vocabularies. People like Mr. Gallagher do not retire. I hope his experience will be used in another way. I have no doubt that will happen.
I wish Mr. Rogers every success. I had dealings with him when I visited Uganda and Tanzania earlier this year. I congratulate the three embassies I have dealt with on the excellent work and preparation they do when deputations, groups and delegations from Ireland visit the countries they cover. The ambassadors and staff of all embassies I have had association with do excellent work.
I wish to comment on the new scene in the US. I refer to the election of a new President in that country. The Minister has outlined the strategy of the Department of Foreign Affairs in that regard. The new President’s vision of change for the future may lead to a change of emphasis in the US. The Minister mentioned in his address that the reformed United States will have to deal with challenges such as HIV/AIDS and climate change. It will probably change the way it deals with developing countries. I understand that the Minister cannot comment on such matters now. He will have to reflect on where the President-elect is coming from. The new thinking in Washington will lead to a fresh process of negotiation. There may be a different emphasis on the issue of the undocumented Irish now that there is a new scene. I would like the Minister’s views on that.
Deputy Frank Fahey: I join other members of the committee in congratulating Mr. Gallagher. He has had a highly distinguished career. He has made a huge contribution to this country. He epitomises the team in the Department of Foreign Affairs, which provides a fine service.
I understood that it was planned to open an embassy in the United Arab Emirates. Perhaps I am not up to speed with recent developments in that regard. Has an embassy been opened in that country? That region of the Middle East is the most significant region in the world. The Irish economy can benefit from the huge potential it offers in areas like foreign trade. We do not have any representation in countries like Libya and Qatar. I feel strongly that we need significant representation in such places. We should open embassies in states like the UAE and Libya. The Western world is moving into such countries to help them fulfil their major economic potential. It strikes me that Ireland will be the last in, once again. We will lose significant opportunities if that is the case.
What changes are taking place with regard to the ownership of embassies? I am aware that Ireland has bought some of its embassies over recent years. If we had shown foresight and had the money over the years, we could have bought embassies for the price we now pay for a couple of months’ rent. I put it to the Minister that in this time of significant downturn in the global property business, it would be appropriate to try to gain ownership of as many of our embassies throughout the world as possible. While a capital contribution would be required, it would make eminent good sense in a time of economic difficulty to stop paying the massive rents we appear to be paying in locations across the world.
Deputy Micheál Martin: A substantial number of questions have been asked, I will endeavour to deal as best I can with all the points that have been articulated by members. Deputy Timmins spoke about UN reform and the role of MONUC. I dealt with much of that during Question Time in the Dáil Chamber earlier today. The 17,000 members of the peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo come from 20 different countries. The force is running the UN’s largest current peacekeeping initiative at a cost of €1 billion. I respectfully suggest that if the force were not in that country, things would be far worse than they currently are. I do not deny that the force needs to be enhanced and improved. As I said earlier in the House, the question of EU participation in the force needs to be examined carefully. There is a desire at EU level to support enhanced security and stabilise the situation in any way it can. The Union needs to put pressure on the regional actors to engage collectively in reaching an agreement that can facilitate stability in the region. It has been suggested that one or two EU battle groups should be deployed in the short term. A careful security analysis is needed before that can happen.
I wish to return to a point made by Senator Norris. Deputy Timmins will be aware that when the debate on the Lisbon treaty took place, some people were concerned about the sections of the treaty dealing with the enhancement of military capability. They took the view that the treaty would lead to the creation of an aggressive European military force. The reality is that enhanced military capability is needed in Europe to ensure effective peacekeeping missions can be undertaken. We need improved logistical support and increased numbers of aircraft, for example. The French Foreign Minister, Mr. Kouchner, said at a meeting of foreign affairs ministers last Monday that the aircraft available to MONUC are not of the standard people might think. Helicopters are critical to the mobility of the EUFOR troops in Chad. It can be strongly argued that the enhancement of military capability involves ensuring that Irish troops have the best equipment when they go abroad on peacekeeping missions. It is a question of security and safety. That point is never made in the debate on enhanced military capability. Some people prefer to get involved in fantasy conspiracies when they are talking about enhanced military capability. Many of them are woefully unaware of the realities on the ground for many peacekeeping forces.
The information we are receiving is that the EUFOR mission in Chad is overstretched in terms of personnel, equipment and logistical support. The key issue for us, in the context of our EU membership, is to determine how we can improve and enhance the force’s effectiveness in the short term. In addition, we must also ascertain which other countries are prepared to contribute troops. Twenty countries have contributed to the current force, which numbers 17,000. We must ascertain which other countries will contribute troops. There is a moral responsibility on the world to ensure the horrors and genocidal atrocities of the past do not recur in the location in question. This responsibility is uppermost in our minds and was certainly uppermost in the mind of Mr. Bernard Kouchner when he chaired the Foreign Ministers’ Council last Monday.
Deputes Timmins, O’Brien and Deasy, Senator Daly and other members referred to staffing in the United States in the context of the lobbying that may be required. During questions today, I cited a figure of 29 departmental staff working in the US. I did so deliberately when I read the relevant material because we have had much commentary on public service reform. Many of these comments are justified and reform is necessary because the public service would be more usefully engaged in some areas rather than others. However, there is little focus on the extraordinary work a relatively small number of public and civil servants — when viewed against international standards — do in the Department of Foreign Affairs overseas. A figure of 29 people to cover the United States is by no means excessive.
I appreciate the comments of all members and the Chairman concerning the quality of our overseas staff. Every now and again we need to articulate the excellent service the Civil Service provides. While there may be shortcomings here and there, overall we get great value for money from this human resource. Some of the commentary on the public service is superficial. Last evening, I heard so-called economists argue that while they did not want to touch frontline staff, a large number of people were employed in the public service. When one counts the number we have in our industrial development agencies or embassies, and considers that this country exports 85% of the goods it produces, a contrary argument can probably be made about this aspect of the public service. Members gave me an opportunity to get this issue off my chest.
The consular section has expanded recently and provides strong customer services, as members will be aware. I outlined the three-pronged approach to migration reform. To develop a bilateral framework, we have concluded what is known as the holiday agreement. While we have completed arrangements on this Irish side, the United States has not yet completed arrangements on its side. We are working with the US to try to have the matter, on which we have received many queries, concluded. In addition, we recently concluded an agreement with Argentina.
The Deputy raised the issue of citizenship. Ireland has one of the most generous citizenship arrangements in the world. The question of how liberal countries should be on citizenship has given rise to debates in a number of contexts, including during a referendum on the issue. There are no further plans to amend provisions on citizenship.
I met recently with the conflict resolution unit. We envisage a significant role for conflict resolution activities, which are a key part of the Department’s future agenda. We hope to apply the lessons we have learned from the experience of the Northern Ireland conflict across the globe in the most effective manner possible. Ms Nuala O’Loan whom I met recently is working in Timor-Leste as a special envoy under the conflict resolution initiative. Our work in Timor-Leste involves providing advice on the rule of law, systems of governance and so forth. We are also examining the possibility of creating a virtual academic input into conflict resolution by identifying how best we can draw from the disparate disciplines across our universities and institutes of technology to contribute to the conflict resolution agenda. We are taking a focused approach to UN Resolution 1325 on the role of women in conflicts. We seek to engage in a joint approach with Timor-Leste and Liberia to establish a common agenda on the implementation of the resolution and have worked with former President Mary Robinson in this respect.
On development aid, the volunteering centre has been a great success and has generated considerable interest. Thousands of children visit the centre on a regular basis. This is an important development in creating enhanced awareness about what is being done with Irish aid, which then feeds back into the policies that emerge from the joint committee and Government. I note Deputy O’Brien’s points on awareness and Irish aid.
On this issue of the taxation of US profits, we faced a similar challenge in 1993. I have a copy of a newspaper headline from the time which states that Washington will limit tax concessions for US companies abroad and the Irish ambassador has made an appeal to Clinton. The ambassador in question was the much-lauded Secretary General of the Department, Mr. Dermot Gallagher, who has considerable experience in approaching this type of scenario. At the time the previous attempt was made to reduce the facility available in this country, the lobbying campaign carried out by Irish representatives was successful.
Deputy Deasy should note that I do not underestimate the challenge facing us and in that regard I do not want him to take my response out of context. We need to follow this matter very carefully. There is a legislative element to the issue which must be addressed in Congress if it is to be taken further. The proposition being made is a serious one. There are serious economic papers behind the campaign platform adopted by President-elect Obama on the issue. It is not an issue we will ignore in any shape or form. We will monitor events carefully and use our contacts to arrive at a position we believe to be in the mutual best interests of the United States and Ireland.
I have lobbied hard for American investment in the past four years. The last sentence I say to every American corporation is that the only reason they are in Ireland is if it adds to the bottom line of their profitability and the quality of their products and services. For as long as Irish companies continue to do this, they will retain American investment in this country.
The issue of undocumented Irish people is a strong priority for the Department. We will have to see how President-elect moves on the agenda on which there are difficulties. As part of our three-pronged approach, we have indicated we will concentrate on the E-3 visa approach, establishing a reciprocal agreement with the United States. We had good meetings in September with members of the House and Senate and made good progress in pursuing this issue. We look forward to taking it up with the newly-elected members and those members with whom we already have contacts to try to progress this aspect of the agenda, that is, the issue of a renewable work visa on a reciprocal basis. We will then work on the broader immigration reform issue. The Department has provided funds to the Irish lobby reform group to pursue this issue in the United States.
Deputy Ardagh raised issues such as the coherence of the message on the Lisbon treaty and the need to better inform people. We have worked with the Vice President of the European Commission, Margot Wallström, on the communications agenda and I have held a series of meetings with the Commissioner. Research clearly shows the problem communicating Europe in Ireland and across the European Union is a fundamental issue, irrespective of the Lisbon treaty. We need to inform people better about the European Union, its activities and institutions. This message came across strongly in recent research.
We must also increase engagement with our European partners. For example, the Finnish Foreign Minister, Mr. Alexander Stubb, will shortly visit Ireland to speak to students in UCD and carry out other engagements and the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. David Miliband, visited recently. I am anxious to encourage more people to visit, not with a view to lecturing Irish people but to discuss European issues with them, on which there has been an absence of engagement across the board. We need to develop that. Currently we are working to develop a communications strategy on the European Union project. I hope I have dealt with the point on the Congo.
In terms of the integration of State agencies overseas, New York, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Madrid are all examples of cities where we have combined resources to varying extents between Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia and the embassies. In Asia, for example, we have added a strong economic dimension to the embassies because of the strong focus vis-à-vis the Asia strategy. We have been endeavouring to utilise our resources to best impact. Given the size of Asia it makes sense for the Irish agencies to work together as a cohesive unit, and that is what we are endeavouring to do on an ongoing basis.
Regarding the Anglo-Irish situation, I read the speech of Peter Robinson. This week is critical. We urge the main parties, especially the DUP and Sinn Féin, to work extremely hard this week to resolve their differences. Both Governments are very concerned about the vacuum that has been created. Last week’s marches and parades gave an illustration of the alternative to constructive, positive engagement in politics. We need the institutions to work and we are anxious that the institutions created under the Good Friday Agreement are effective and work well. The Taoiseach and I have impressed that on both parties. We have had ongoing meetings in recent weeks on the issue both with the Governments and the parties. We will continue to engage to ensure we can get a resolution to the outstanding issues. It is critical that this happens.
Senator Ormonde referred to the retirement of the Secretary General. I will pay a warm tribute to Mr. Gallagher later. I hope his experience will continue to be available to the country in other capacities in the future.
Comments were made about President Bush by Senator Norris. President Bush was faithful to, and strongly supportive of, the peace process in Ireland. He continued the commitment of the Clinton Administration in terms of the appointment of special envoys. We should not underestimate that and we should be appreciative of it. I personally witnessed the input of Paula Dobriansky, for example, for her genuine interest, who has given selflessly of her time in her constructive engagement with the political parties in Northern Ireland. We cannot understate the importance of the American dimension to the resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland or, dare I say, to the management of the peace process there.
President Bush also left a strong legacy in terms of Third World policy and commitment to Africa. In the past three or four years he doubled aid to Africa. He was strongly committed to the eradication of malaria and HIV-AIDS. That should be put on record and acknowledged. The election of Senator Obama is a wonderful opportunity to build on that strong platform from the United States in terms of the millennium development goals and the commitment to Africa. In assessing the legacy of George Bush — others will do it in time to come — his commitment to the Third World and to Africa will emerge.
I very much respect the views and sincerity of Deputy Michael D. Higgins on the US-India deal, and of other members of the committee who expressed a view on the matter. The Government’s position is as has been articulated. We reluctantly agreed to join the consensus and we worked extremely hard to get certain concessions. Deputy Timmins inquired what improvements were due to our engagement. We sought a significant number of improvements to the original text circulated through deletions, the addition of phrases, etc. Our proposals, as reflected in the final text, will help to ensure that the non-proliferation treaty remains the cornerstone of the disarmament-non-proliferation regime; that India is kept to its existing commitments, including those set out in its separation plan; that transfers of sensitive technologies will be ruled out entirely once agreement is reached on the revision of paragraphs 6 and 7 of the NSG guidelines, which is a separate ongoing exercise; that all states engaged in nuclear commerce with India must notify other participating governments of each and every transfer made to India as a transparency measure; that India’s observance of its commitments will be monitored on an ongoing basis; that a single participating government may convene and extraordinary meeting to consider such implementation; and that India will not be granted any decision-making role in the NSG, as it had sought. Those improvements were brought about, in principle by Ireland and a number of other like-minded countries. We are down to three countries, in essence, at the end of what was a long process. That occurred in August and the opportunity to reconvene was not immediately apparent.
It might be interesting for the committee to note that Daryl Kimball, a director of a leading US NGO who was quoted in The Irish Times on 9 October stated: “The Irish Government did all it could. In my view no other country played a more energetic role in identifying the problems with this deal”. Hans Blix, to whom Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred, reflected on the US-India deal that there are several aspects to it, the non-proliferation aspect, the environmental aspect and the energy security aspect. He said the ban on trade with NTP members was adopted in the NSG in order to induce states such as Israel, India and Pakistan to give up their nuclear weapon status or to deter others from seeking nuclear weapons and that in return they would have access to the most advanced civilian technology.
Mr. Blix indicated that for many years it has been clear that neither India, Pakistan nor Israel would walk back from their nuclear status. In that circumstance the NSG rule has become a punishment instead of an inducement. The question then is whether anything can be gained from getting away from this rule in terms of keeping the lid on proliferation. The answer to that is “Yes”. Mr. Bilx said it is true that with a population of 1 billion people, India can reduce the pressure for oil and gas consumption by expanding its nuclear industry. He suggested that is good for India’s energy security and it is good for the environment because it will help stem global warming. These are the positive aspects of the deal. The issue is not entirely black and white.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Let us take, for example, a comment in the Indian Express as to what was the response in India to Ireland’s position. That newspaper is close to the governing party and the comment is headed “Unfriendly Ireland”. It was posted on-line on 6 October 2008 and states:
Ireland may have been voted ’the friendliest country in the world’ by Lonely Planet but what was a touch insensitive and definitely bad diplomacy, was Irish authorities here trying to make capital of it by running loud advertisements across India declaring that ’the friendliest country ... welcomes you’ just after Dublin left no stone unturned to quell India’s nuclear energy ambitions. Surely if there is one place where the friendliest country slogan is not going to work it is India, where wounds from the backstab are still fresh. Let us not forget, the Irish had promised not to stand in the way of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, just like China [which is not quite true] and in a quite a similar fashion did just the opposite.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The point I am trying to make is that this was not by any objective criteria an easy decision to make. Equally, there are benefits in terms of the IAEA as far more comes under its supervision. Senator Norris pointed to the contrast with Iran. India has not threatened the existence of any state in the way Iran has and Iran has not been as transparent with the IAEA——
Deputy Micheál Martin: I did not say that. I make the point about the differences between the two countries. The IAEA is not happy with the transparency of Iran in terms of its enrichment process. There is an absence of transparency in that regard.
Deputy Fahey referred to the ownership of embassies. We now own 34. The value is €140 million, which I do not like highlighting. I do not know if the Department of Finance knows it. I was in the UN permanent representative residence in September — I admire the foresight of former Minister, Frank Aiken, who purchased it — and the embassy in Paris. We are making purchases where we can and I accept the Deputy’s general point.
Chairman: Some premises might be particularly easy to purchase at present. We would very much support the Minister in this. He might find a very cheap one in Malawi. This issue is not new to me because I fought very hard to have embassies purchased at a time when there was plenty of money and when property was very cheap in many places.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I agree with the point on the United Arab Emirates. I stated in the House that we are reviewing the deployment of our resources at present. We organise and re-prioritise according to existing resources. We will be working on this and will revert to the Oireachtas when we have full details.
Deputy Micheál Martin: There is no date yet but we are working towards it. It will be quite soon. In the context of Deputy Fahey’s point, we must decide where we can best deploy our resources, given both diplomatic and economic imperatives.
Chairman: I thank the Minister for his presentation and the work he has put into replying, and I thank his officials for being available to provide the information. No doubt we will have other opportunities to speak to the Minister regarding various other aspects of the committee’s work. I thank the Minister for his time.
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