Dáil Éireann - Volume 456 - 10 October, 1995

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Official Visit to Canada.

2. Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Canada. [13371/95]

3. Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Canada, in particular his discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister. [13409/95]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

I undertook an official visit to Canada from 11 to 14 September. The objectives of my visit were to further develop the ties between Ireland and Canada and to promote Ireland's economic interests by strengthening Ireland-Canada trade and investment links.

During my visit I met with Mr. Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister of Canada. We had a very constructive discussion on recent developments in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister expressed his support for the continuing efforts to consolidate and advance the peace process and assured me of his desire to assist our efforts in a meaningful way. I conveyed my appreciation for his support and offer of assistance and for the high level of Canadian involvement in areas such as the International Fund for Ireland. In relation to decommissioning, we discussed possible roles for an international commission. The Prime Minister responded very positively, stressing Canada's interest in participating, and he referred to his country's long historical links with both Britain and Ireland. I pointed out that the international commission proposal is still under consideration.

[1410] Among the other issues we covered were relations between Canada and Europe and the possibility of a more structured relationship between the European Union and North America. I also raised the issue of United Nations reform with the Prime Minister and we discussed the problems with the current system in relation to funding and peacekeeping.

In addition I referred to the issue of boneless beef exports from Ireland to Canada and indicated to the Prime Minister that Ireland was anxious to resume access to Canadian markets which Canada is blocking in reaction to European Union subsidies on those products. I was informed that Canada remains open to pursuing a resolution of this issue in bilateral consultations with the European Union.

One of the aims of my visit was to bring senior Canadian politicians, business leaders and decision-makers up-to-date on the peace process. I achieved this through my meetings with the premier of Ontario, the Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the House of Commons in Ottawa, my attendance at functions organised by the Apostles Group and at a function organised by the chairman and chief executive of the Bank of Montreal in Toronto.

In the course of my visit I met with Mr. Michael Harris, the premier of Ontario. I briefed him fully on the current situation in Northern Ireland. Our discussions focused principally on investment and trade between Canada and Ireland and the Canadian political situation.

While in Ottawa, I had a meeting with the Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I availed of that opportunity to inform them of the present position on the peace process and general issues relating to Canada-Ireland relations.

In Toronto I addressed the Apostles, a group of business people.

Mrs. O'Rourke: All 12 of them?

[1411] The Taoiseach: It is a well named group.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Are any of them women?

The Taoiseach: There were women there, but I must admit the majority were men.

Mrs. O'Rourke: They were not among the Apostles.

The Taoiseach: The majority were men, but I am sure that will change as a result of my visit.

A further key objective of my visit was to promote Ireland's economic interests. This was achieved by attendance at a trade function organised by An Bord Tráchtála.

In order to maximise the gains from my official visit, An Bord Tráchtála organised a trade delegation to Canada to coincide with my visit. Most of the participants on the trade mission were established exporters to Canada who used the opportunity to further develop contacts in the Toronto area. New business developed during the mission included a joint venture arrangement by a software company with a Canadian partner, registration of a new liquor product in Toronto and extended distribution arrangements for a tool company throughout Canada.

I had the opportunity to meet with many representatives of the Irish-Canadian community at community receptions in Ottawa and Toronto and to express my appreciation for their contribution. I also gave media interviews which centred primarily on the peace process and the attractions of Ireland for investment.

I was very impressed and heartened by the goodwill and support expressed for our efforts to consolidate and advance the peace process and to work towards an agreed political settlement. I am satisfied that I have achieved the objectives of my visit despite the fact that, as the House will recollect, it was shorter than that originally planned. [1412] The visit was due to extend over eight days but had to be reduced to three. Nevertheless, I believe the principal objectives of the visit were achieved.

Miss Harney: The Taoiseach referred to discussions about Canada's possible role in an international commission on decommissioning. Are the two Governments close to agreement on the composition and role of such a commission? They appear to be the main outstanding issues.

The Taoiseach: The purpose of such a commission is to break the logjam on the road towards all party talks. While there is increasing movement towards agreement on the concept of some international body being involved, there remain differences not only between Governments but among others whose concerns about the composition of the commission are of importance to us. The terms of reference of the commission, whether the emphasis will be primarily military, political or a combination of both, are issues of concern. We have been working hard to find a solution acceptable to everybody because we believe the twin track approach is the right one to reach talks. A generally constructive approach to the subject has been taken by all contributors in recent times. The meeting I had the privilege to attend with Unionist representatives, the first between a Taoiseach and leaders of that party for a quarter of a century, was also important in establishing a mechanism for being satisfied about Unionist opinions and concerns as well as outlining the concerns of the Nationalist community.

Mr. B. Ahern: Did the Taoiseach discuss with the Canadian Prime Minister the possible involvement of Canada or a Canadian representative being involved in the work of the commission?

The Taoiseach: Yes, we did. Indeed the Canadian Prime Minister, in his [1413] initial address of welcome on the tarmac of the airport in Ottawa, brought that matter up specifically and we followed it through in our discussions. I indicated to him we would be interested in having Canadian participation but obviously it is not solely a matter for us and we have not finalised the issue, the terms of reference or the type of personnel we need. That matter is subject to ongoing discussions as I indicated in my response to Deputy Harney. I was heartened by the positive attitude of the Canadian Prime Minister in particular and the Government in general to helping the peace process in any way they can. What struck me most forcibly during my visit to Canada, in all my informal discussions, was the balanced view the Canadians have of the problems in Ireland. They understand this is a problem with more than one dimension. There is an understanding of the points of view of both sections of the community in Northern Ireland, for example, which is particularly helpful in so far as Canadian involvement in the peace process is concerned.

Mr. M. McDowell: In relation to the Taoiseach's statement that his discussions involved consideration of a more structured approach to North American-European Union relations, will he indicate the nature of those discussions, whether the Canadians proposed some kind of North Atlantic community and if this Government has evolved any independent view as to whether it favours a closer institutional relationship between the North American Free Trade Area and the European Union?

The Taoiseach: My recollection is that prior to my meeting — not during the meeting — the Canadian Prime Minister indicated he would be interested in the concept of a North Atlantic free trade area; I think that was more the proposal than an institutional structure. That would link the NAFTA, which now includes Mexico and may [1414] possibly include Chile, with the European Union in making it by far the biggest market in the world. We discussed that proposal and I indicated I was favourably disposed towards the idea but suggested there were certain difficulties for Ireland in particular and for Europe in general in areas such as agriculture, where there are differences in agricultural pricing practices, and steel. I indicated that while these difficulties were not insuperable, it would take some time to overcome them. The Deputy will also be aware that one of the five priorities identified by the Spanish Presidency is the promotion of EUUS relations. One of my predecessors, Mr. Haughey, was instrumental in institutionalising that for the first time during the Irish Presidency when he was acting on Europe's behalf. I hope that will become something of an Irish tradition and that when Ireland holds the EU Presidency next year, we will be able to carry forward work on intensifying relations between Ireland and North America generally rather than specifically and solely with the United States.

Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach identify the remaining part of the trio? He has already said Senator George Mitchell will be the chairman and that the Canadians will possibly hold the second position. Who will be given the third position? On another matter, I notice the Canadian Prime Minister and his Finance Minister have been taking the lead on the International Development Association and lobbying vigorously on behalf of the World Bank; I assume the Minister for Finance will be speaking on that issue today or tomorrow in Washington. Did the Canadian Prime Minister raise that matter with the Taoiseach and, if so, did the Taoiseach reiterate Ireland's support for the IDA fund, our continuing support for the NGOs and the alleviation of the debt problem in Third World countries?

[1415] The Taoiseach: I do not have any recollection of Prime Minister Chrétien raising that matter specifically. However, we discussed the general question of UN subscriptions to international organisations not being up-to-date. We agreed that we were among the minority of countries whose contributions are up-to-date but we did not specifically discuss the International Development Association. As the Deputy said, this matter will be addressed by the Minister for Finance during his annual meetings with the World Bank. As the Deputy is a former Minister for Finance he will be aware that Ireland and Canada are members of the same constituency — at least they were when I was Minister for Finance — in the IMF and World Bank and, therefore, we will be working particularly closely with Canada on this matter.

Miss Harney: Much of the Taoiseach's visit concerned investment in Ireland. Did those investors whom the Taoiseach met ask about the Government's view on ending the 10 per cent manufacturing tax, and what view did the Taoiseach express about that matter?

The Taoiseach: I believe I was asked that question by one of the people but I do not remember exactly. My position is that of successive Governments, namely, that we have given a commitment to maintain the 10 per cent manufacturing tax up to the year 2010. That position has not changed. It makes Ireland particularly attractive for foreign investment, particularly profitable foreign investment.

Mr. B. Ahern:The Taoiseach referred to the involvement of a previous Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. During his discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister, did he mention a predecessor of his John A. Costello who, in 1948, made the sudden [1416] announcement to pull out of the Commonwealth? Did any such announcement cross the Taoiseach's mind?

The Taoiseach: No, although in the course of the discussion John A. Costello's name did crop up a few times as did the name of my other predecessor who visited Canada.

Mr. M. McDowell: Did it cross the Taoiseach's mind to announce in Ottawa that we would be rejoining the Commonwealth?

The Taoiseach: No, that did not flash across my screen but Canada is a member of the Commonwealth and obviously is one of the international organisations with which it is involved.

Mr. Allen: We will have to get an apology first.