Dáil Éireann - Volume 651 - 09 April, 2008

Written Answers. - Diplomatic Relations.

Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the diplomatic relations Ireland has with Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13618/08]

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: It has been the Government’s consistent position that no steps will be taken to develop diplomatic relations with Burma until Aung San Suu Kyi is released. While the issue was examined in 2004, on the basis of promised political and human rights progress by the Burmese authorities, including the release of Ms Suu Kyi, the lack of progress on these issues saw the process quickly stopped.

The Government subsequently made it clear to the Burmese authorities that diplomatic relations will not be advanced, including and in particular the accreditation of Ambassadors, until a number of developments in that country have taken place, in particular the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the diplomatic contact Ireland has had with Zimbabwe in 2008; if he will use his contacts in the Southern African development community to express concern regarding the situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13619/08]

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: The presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe on 29 March passed off in a peaceful and orderly fashion. Despite serious concerns about the context in which the election was held, and despite the fact that neither the EU nor any of its Member States were invited to observe the election, the people of Zimbabwe showed great courage and determination in casting their votes on polling day.

Parliamentary results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission show that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has lost control of the House of Assembly for the first time since taking power after independence in 1980. No official announcements have as yet been made on the outcome of the presidential election. I remain extremely concerned at the delays by the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission in issuing the results of the presidential election. This delay can only give rise to serious apprehension and fuel suspicions that the democratic will of the Zimbabwean people may not be respected. I fully supported the call made by the EU Presidency on 4 April for the results of the Presidential election to be issued without further delay, and in a statement yesterday I urged the member countries of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to use their influence upon Zimbabwe to secure early release of the results.

If a second round of the Presidential election is required, Ireland and the EU will be anxious to see every effort made to improve electoral conditions so as to ensure a fully free, fair and transparent vote. Reports of raids on opposition offices on 3 April and arrests of international media covering the election give cause for concern and indicate the level of improvement required on the ground in Zimbabwe.

[711] SADC and its members have a key role to play in the developing situation in Zimbabwe, including through their election monitoring activities. In the run-up to the recent elections, local EU Presidencies in many SADC countries made contact with their host governments to emphasise the importance of SADC monitoring of the election. A member of High Representative Solana’s staff travelled to the region for talks with South Africa and with SADC in advance of the election. The Irish Ambassador in Zambia made contact with the Zambian Government, which is currently Chair of SADC, to express Ireland’s concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe on a national basis in advance of the elections, and to convey our support for full adherence to the SADC election guidelines and principles.

As I stated in a statement issued on 28 March, SADC has issued important principles and guidelines concerning the conduct of democratic elections which all its members, including Zimbabwe, should uphold. These principles will be more important than ever if a second round of the Presidential election is required. We must continue to work closely with Zimbabwe’s neighbours, in particular South Africa, since they are in the best position to influence the situation.

Diplomatic contact between Ireland and Zimbabwe has been limited for several years now. However, the Ambassador and officers from the Embassy in Pretoria regularly visit Zimbabwe and raise issues of concern with the Zimbabwean government at every available opportunity. An Irish official met with Zimbabwean officials in February this year to discuss the issue of election observation. The Irish Ambassador to Zimbabwe travelled to Harare for the election period, and the Embassy continues to monitor the situation closely.