Dáil Éireann - Volume 562 - 27 February, 2003

Written Answers - Diplomatic Representation.

  108. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the representa[764]tive arrangements for Irish nationals in Cuba; his plans to establish a full embassy presence in Havana; and the details of existing and planned agreements with the Cuban Government, including joint overseas humanitarian programmes. [5965/03]

  109. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's position within the European Union regarding the EU's policy towards the Government and people of Cuba. [5966/03]

  110. Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's position on the United States' attempts to damage the people and economy of Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6033/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 to 110, inclusive, together.

  Ireland has diplomatic relations with Cuba since October 1999, on a non-resident basis. The Irish ambassador to Mexico is also accredited to Cuba.

  The opening of Irish missions abroad is considered by the Government on an ongoing basis. As Deputy Ó Caoláin will appreciate, however, constraints on Government expenditure and the limits on the resources that could be made available for opening new missions require that any expansion of our diplomatic network must be incremental and be based on a thorough assessment of the costs and benefits involved. At present, there are no plans to change the status of our accreditation to Cuba.

  As regards agreements between Ireland and Cuba, an agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of Cuba on air transport, entered into force on 8 June 1991. This provides for the establishment of air services between and beyond our respective territories. Proposals have been received by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform from the Cuban authorities for the conclusion of agreements between the two Governments in the areas of criminal mutual legal assistance, co-operation against drugs and the transfer of sentenced prisoners. These proposals are being examined in consultation with the relevant Departments, Offices and Agencies. It is anticipated that consultations will conclude in the near future in the case of the agreements concerning criminal mutual legal assistance and co-operation against drugs, when an appropriate response will issue to the Cuban authorities. Following consultations with the relevant authorities, a response will also issue in relation to the proposed agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons.

  As far as the question of joint overseas humanitarian programmes is concerned, the situation is that Ireland's overseas development co-operation assists some of the poorest countries and people in the world through long-term [765]development activities aimed at tackling the root causes of poverty in a sustainable manner. Ireland also delivers humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations affected by natural and man-made disasters and emergencies. This development and humanitarian assistance is delivered through a number of channels, namely, directly through Ireland Aid's bilateral aid programme, and indirectly through non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and through the multilateral system such as the United Nations agencies. Working with UN agencies like UNICEF, UNHCR and ILO, the World Food Programme provides the optimal setting for partnership with other UN member states, such as Cuba, in addressing global development and humanitarian needs.

  EU policy towards Cuba is defined by the common position on Cuba, to the shaping of which Ireland contributed. The common position aims to encourage through dialogue and not by external pressure a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, a lasting economic recovery and an improvement in living standards of the Cuban people.

  The common position was re-affirmed by the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 9 to 10 December 2002, when the Council noted that since the previous evaluation in June 2002, there had been no significant positive progress in reform towards the introduction of a political system respecting civil and political freedom. The Council strongly urged the Cuban Government to take the necessary steps to ratify the UN Covenants on Political and Civil Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In order to promote the aims of the common position, the Council encouraged the strengthening of EU development co-operation with Cuba in areas that promote the transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights as well as an improvement in living standards. Ireland has directly assisted Cuba in 2001 and 2002 through UNICEF and Trócaire.

  The Irish Government, together with our EU partners, are keen to see the development of relations with Cuba across the full spectrum of contacts from trade to culture. In fact, the 15 member states have actively developed their economic relationship with the island to such an extent that the EU is now Cuba's leading foreign investor, principal trade partner, premier source of tourists, and largest provider of development aid and humanitarian assistance.

  As regards United States policy towards Cuba, Deputies will be aware of the Government's very clear position regarding the US economic embargo against Cuba. Together with our EU partners, we have consistently supported resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for the embargo to be lifted. Most recently, on 12 November 2002, all EU member states voted in favour of the Resolution tabled by Cuba calling for the abolition of the embargo. The Assembly [766]adopted the resolution by a vote of 173 in favour to three against, with four abstentions.

  It is regrettable that the partial easing of the US embargo, after a vote by the US Congress in October 2000 to lift the ban on the sale of food and medicines, has not been followed up by the embargo's complete removal. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the relaxation of the embargo has enabled Cuba to purchase a considerable volume of US food products; for which, however, Havana has had to pay cash, as US financial institutions remain prohibited from extending credits for such sales.

  Ireland wishes to see a full and final end to the embargo. It is our belief that the effect of the embargo even in its now somewhat modified form is to work contrary to stated EU and US aspirations for a democratic and prosperous Cuba.