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 Header Item Northern Ireland Marching Season (Continued)
 Header Item European Union Foreign Policy
 Header Item Other Questions
 Header Item European Union Accession

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 803 No. 3

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore] There is a long parades season ahead and of course there are many other parades planned for various venues. I urge that discussions take place between the organisers and residents where there are issues to be resolved, that efforts are made to resolve them and that when the Parades Commission makes a determination, it is respected by everybody.

European Union Foreign Policy

 5. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore in view of the rate of expansion of Israeli settlements, and the deterioration of the situation on the ground in the past 12 months since the EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of May 2012, if he will use the opportunity of the upcoming EU Foreign Affairs Council to formally propose an EU-wide ban on settlement goods. [23371/13]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Deputies will be aware of my deep concerns about continued settlement expansion. There has been a worrying increase in settlement announcements in the last year, although few of these have, as yet, begun construction. It is clear, however, that settlements are now very close to making the creation of a Palestinian state, and thus a two-State solution, physically impossible, as indeed they are intended to do.

Within the EU, Ireland has focused attention on settlements and surrounding issues such as exclusions and demolitions. The Foreign Affairs Council addressed these issues in a strong set of conclusions which it adopted in May 2012. I have emphasised to my colleagues the need for an early review by the council of these conclusions. At official level, work is proceeding in a number of areas in preparation for such a review, which I hope can take place at this month’s meeting or at the June meeting.

I believe that in the absence of a positive response by Israel to the EU’s concerns, the council should consider stronger measures. I have stated before, and do so again, that a reasonable measure to be considered in this context would be a ban on settlement goods entering the EU. However, Deputies must be clear that there is no prospect of EU agreement on such a ban and as long as this is not a viable prospect, it would be a mistake for Ireland to concentrate our efforts on this aspect.

Work is, however, proceeding on possible EU guidelines on place-of-origin labelling for settlement goods, so that consumers can recognise and decide whether or not to buy them. I have joined other EU colleagues in writing to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to support this move. I hope these can be agreed in the near future and believe that this would send an important political signal of the unacceptability of the settlement project.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe I thank the Minister and welcome the statement he made last Friday following his meeting with the so-called Elders group that goods from illegal Israeli settlement colonies or colonies in the West Bank should be clearly labelled in all EU countries. This would give consumers a real choice as to whether they want to buy, boycott or bin such goods. However, I believe the EU should go further and ban such goods. Would the Minister accept that politically, a ban would have a greater impact on Israeli policy? I believe such a ban would send a strong message to the Israeli Government should it continue to ignore or defy international law. Many people speculated about possible initiatives during our Presidency but we are in month five of our six-month term now. Will the initiative centre on labelling, and will we go our own way in terms of a ban? The Minister said he is hoping to reach consensus on the issue of a ban. I presume that is his favoured position in that regard. Which comes first, the labelling or the ban? Many people are looking to Ireland for leadership on this issue.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Last May, the European Union adopted a very strong set of conclusions regarding settlements. At the end of that meeting I stated my belief that if the settlements did not stop, the EU would have to consider stronger measures. I suggested at that stage that we would have to consider the possibility of imposing a ban on settlement products entering the EU. In my judgment, we will not get agreement at EU level for an EU-wide ban on settlement products. Therefore, we have concentrated our energies and efforts on introducing a labelling regime. The EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, has circulated a set of proposals and guidelines on labelling. A number of colleague foreign Ministers and I have responded to that initiative and expressed our support for an EU-wide set of guidelines on the labelling of products from settlement areas. I believe that would be most effective as it would operate on an EU-wide basis. I have also begun discussions with other Departments here with a view to pursuing national guidelines, if needs be. However, it is preferable that we do this on an EU-wide basis, for obvious reasons. Ireland is a market of only 4.5 million, whereas the EU is a market of over 500 million, so an EU-wide labelling regime would have a much bigger impact. The state of play at the moment is that proposals have been circulated by the EU High Representative. A number of member states, including Ireland, have expressed support for those proposals. I do not expect that we will have a full discussion on this at the May Foreign Affairs Council meeting but I do expect us to have a full discussion on it at the June meeting.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe On Tuesday of last week, there were media reports that the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had ordered a freeze on the construction of illegal colonial settlements. Has the Minister heard anything in that regard? Two days later, however, on Thursday of last week, the Israeli Government signed off on plans to build nearly 300 new settlements near Ramallah, which dashed the hopes of many.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has outlined a timescale with regard to the introduction of a labelling regime. However, I believe a ban is the best way forward and would have the most impact. It might not have an enormous impact economically but it would help to raise awareness of the settlement issue and, hopefully, put a halt to the construction of many illegal settlements.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I have seen the various reports to which Deputy Crowe referred. We must be conscious of the fact that in the background, we need to get a renewed effort at a peace settlement moving again. I am encouraged by the fact that the United States has now re-engaged with that. President Obama has been to Israel recently and the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, has visited on a number of occasions. I have had discussions with Mr. Kerry on the approach being taken to the issue. It is important that there is a co-ordinated EU-USA approach to the issue. It is a case of getting peace talks moving again. At the same time, we must be mindful of the situation on the ground. The continuation of the building of settlements in the West Bank will make the two-State solution physically impossible. That is why it is so critically important that the settlements are halted.

Other Questions

European Union Accession

 6. Deputy Patrick Nulty Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he will support the urgent need for the European Union to conduct a strategic re-assessment of its approach in Bosnia in view of the serious concerns raised by leading civil society activists in the country and the Bosnian community here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23098/13]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Ireland, and indeed all 27 member states of the European Union, fully and firmly support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU perspective as a future member state. It was with the intention of further strengthening its policy and its presence on the ground that the EU took the decision in July 2011 to establish a single, reinforced EU representative who would take a lead in supporting the country’s progress towards integration with the EU. Peter Sorensen took up the double-hatted role as EU Special Representative and head of the EU Delegation on 1 September 2011, with a four-year mandate. As we approach the halfway stage in that mandate it is appropriate that we look at the progress made and assess our strategic approach in Bosnia. There is no doubt that progress has been disappointing. There had been hope that the transformative power of EU accession and the attractiveness of membership of the European Union would encourage Bosnia’s leaders to make the painful reforms required to move towards accession. While there has been progress in some areas, there has been no agreement on implementing the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the Sejdić-Finci case. Failure to implement this ruling hurts the citizens of the country first and foremost.

I agree with the Deputy that now is the time for a comprehensive review of the EU’s engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. I believe this can best be done in the context of a review of the EU Special Representative’s mandate.

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