Senator Byrne: I welcome the Minister and hope he will go off script when I ask him some questions that have not been covered by him to date. I concur with the Minister, and I think the Chairman would concur also, that the embassy staff in Sierra Leone, mainly under the leadership of women, is spectacular. I join the Minister in praising the phenomenal work by that delegation. We knew about the really tough conditions there, even before Ebola hit the region. I would like our views and opinions to be added to the Minister’s remarks.
I will turn now to more thorny issues, leaving Ebola aside. We should look at Ukraine and I want to ask the Minister some direct questions. As he is aware, Estonia ratified the association agreement with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. He knows the mess that has resulted in Ukraine, partly because of the EU’s unsophisticated intelligence. Leaving that aside, however, has the Minister signed that agreement? He knows that Ukraine has lost the Crimea and has incredible difficulties in the east.
Moldova is in the eastern partnership with Transnistria on the border. Georgia, which confronted the Russians in the past, has South Ossetia. Does the Minister or the Government generally have any handle on understanding the mind of President Putin in Russia? That may be difficult until such time as we in Europe understand his political philosophy and if he feels threatened by Europe and NATO. There is an argument that we are now reverting rapidly back to a Cold War scenario. The Minister’s opinions on that would be interesting.
The saviour of the world is the US Government. Will the Minister use his influence on the American Administration concerning what to me is the most outrageous contempt for international law? Small Irish companies are trying to establish trade links with Cuba. However, Irish banks have ceased allowing business people to use accounts for such trade because of the worldwide threat by the United States that any country daring to engage in trade links with Cuba will suffer phenomenal economic retaliation. We know how vulnerable we are to American investment in Ireland. The point that has been swept under the carpet is that one country, without the support of any international body, can determine who trades with Cuba.
We are discussing the relationship between Iran, the Baha’i and the plight of Christians throughout the world. The Baha’i have argued that there is a strong need to counter Islamophobia and I concur with them. Ireland has been transformed in such a short period from a monocultural society to a multicultural one. We have afforded Irish citizenship to 60,000 foreign nationals in the past four years. We have a hugely diverse country, including Sunni and Shia Moslems in Dublin and we want to engage with them. Is the Minister aware of the potential tensions existing on the ground between, for example, the relatively new Islamic group, Ahmadiyya, who have felt threatened since opening their mosque in Galway?
They feel that the mainstream Muslim groups are targeting them in a very threatening way.
I know that Irish Aid funds Africa Day, and it is also aware of the Diwali festival for Indians and various other ethnic festivals, including the Chinese spring festival. At this stage, however, could the Minister not recognise that rather than individual nations, such as the Chinese, Indians and others having their own days, including Africa Day, it is time for us to bring together all 120 diverse communities that exist in Ireland under the umbrella of this State and make it a wholesome, welcoming, warm, multidenominational, interdenominational, intercultural society? The Minister might use some funds from Irish Aid to that end. We do a lot of work in trying to bring peace and development all over the world, but we cannot forget what is going on in our own backyard.
I will conclude by asking the Minister one final question. He knows that we have to endorse an EU-Colombia free trade agreement. Some 18 countries in Europe have already signed it, while this country is waiting to sign it. I ask the Minister to do two things. First, he should recognise that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for NGOs, Christian groups, trade unionists, academics, sociologists and philosophers. The murder rate is phenomenal. There is a parliamentarian in Colombia who is a senator, as is the former president of Colombia. He has had strong words in their parliament about conflict and the role that former President Uribe has played in the past with terrorists. He had his security guards removed from him. There is a policy over there whereby if one’s life is threatened, they will afford the person security. His name is Ivan Zapata and he is an opposition senator. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to ask the authorities in Colombia to reinstate the security he requires.
The Minister might also offer his good services, and I said this when I was in Colombia, given that President Santos is in a complex, detailed peace process which is being held in Cuba. They are dealing with issues that we ourselves have dealt with in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister agree to help the Santos government with an offer of assistance to try to work with them to create a long-term, sustainable peace process? Part of that quid pro quowould be that we would recognise the need for security. I ask the Minister to intervene on behalf of Senator Ivan Zapata.
Senator Daly: I welcome the Minister to the committee. I will follow on from what Deputy Byrne said about Colombia. We have a Euro-Med trade agreement with Israel which contains a human rights clause. It is entirely unenforceable, however, and does not have any trigger mechanism or review process. It simply does not work. We know that because following the last six attacks in Gaza there has been no triggering of the Euro-Med agreement’s human rights clause, despite attacks on UN compounds. I would ask, therefore, that before Ireland signs up to any trade agreement with Colombia, we would ensure that the human rights clause for which Ireland fought is actually workable and includes trigger and review mechanisms.
I also wish to ask for an update on the situation of undocumented Irish in America. President Obama is about to sign an executive order concerning his powers and what he can do for the 50,000 undocumented Irish people. Perhaps the Minister would consider pushing for a humanitarian visa not only for the 50,000 undocumented Irish but also the 12 million others residing in the United States who cannot leave and return. A humanitarian visa should be part of the executive order, which would allow them to leave in time of bereavement and distress to their families at home while being able to return to the United States. The Government should push for that.
I would like to get the Minister’s views on votes for the Irish diaspora overseas. The Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, has been talking about this matter, but having it solely in presidential elections is simply not enough. There are only eight countries in the world that confine votes for their diaspora to presidential elections, and all of those have executive presidents with powers similar to those of President Obama. Perhaps the Minister would consider expanding that option for the Irish overseas and those living in Northern Ireland to vote not only in presidential elections but also in Seanad elections.
Is it possible to upgrade our mission in Ramallah to embassy status, thus taking a step towards recognition?
At some future date, could we have a joint meeting with the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement? I know the Minister is very much engaged in the process at the moment, but it is one of the biggest and longest-lasting conflicts in Europe. We are hoping that it is at a permanent peace but because of the historical legacy and issues over flags and parades, it has the potential to come back with a vengeance at any time. I ask the Minister to addresses this matter in his reply, including how the situation is progressing and how he sees it evolving.
Recently, I attended an interparliamentary conference in Rome. If the Minister had been there, he would have been disturbed to hear the language coming from our Italian hosts. They were essentially talking about a European army and the ability of Europe to intervene in the same way as the United States intervenes at the moment. They were not talking about having a common defence policy in the short term, but they obviously want to have such a policy in the long term. In addition, they said that we need to gradually create a European army.
On 12 September 2013, a European Parliament resolution referred to efforts within the Council to increase the flexibility and usability of battle groups, transfer of authority and removal of national caveats. That would basically remove Ireland’s veto over the deployment of battle groups. That was the language being used not just by the Italians but also by members of other parliaments. I tried to insert language in the communiqué of that conference to mention Irish neutrality and our insistence that there would not be a European army. We have a triple lock mechanism, so we do not and will not deploy our troops unless there is a UN mandate to do so. That was resisted, however.
Worse again is talk in the European Parliament about removing Ireland’s national caveat, that is, our veto over the deployment of troops. They were even talking about having a blank cheque, basically, the ability to get a resolution passed for the deployment of troops on undetermined future missions for unspecified causes. I do not know how the European Parliament passed a resolution talking about the transfer of authority and the removal of national caveats, but it certainly did.
Senator Daly: Could the Minister raise that matter with his colleagues in the Council? In future, all language in such resolutions should refer to Irish neutrality, which they refused to insert in that resolution.