Dáil Debates – 12 March 2013

Dáil Debates Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Ceisteanna – Questions (Resumed)
International Relations

Watch Video of Dáil Debates 12 March 2013

Excerpts relating to Boston College archives:

Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail): To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the Boston papers with Secretary of State Clinton when they met recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55443/12]

Enda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael): [...] I met the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, on 6 December 2012 when she was in Dublin to attend the OSCE ministerial conference. [...]

We [also] discussed recent developments in Northern Ireland. I welcomed her planned visit to Belfast the following day and thanked her for her swift condemnation of the murder of the Northern Ireland prison officer David Black in November. I expressed the Government’s appreciation for her unwavering support for the process of building peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. We agreed that while we have seen significant progress in recent years, we could not allow complacency to take hold. We did not specifically discuss the cases of Marian Price, Pat Finucane or the Boston papers. I reiterated that international support has played a key role in what has been achieved so far in Northern Ireland and emphasised that we greatly value the sustained and continuing US interest in both parts of the island. For her part, she reiterated her strong support for the peace process and said that she was very much looking forward to her visit to Belfast.

Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail): [...] I am surprised the issue of the papers from the Boston College project was not raised. Those who conducted the interviews with those involved in violence in Northern Ireland over the past 30-odd years – I recommend the excellent documentary Voices from the Grave which documents the background to many of the atrocities and killings carried out – are fearful for their own lives because of the decision by the British authorities to seek the papers to help them in the pursuit of those involved in various cases, in particular the case of the murder of Jean McConville. This is a project that has shed light on many of the atrocities that occurred, but more is required. I am surprised the Taoiseach did not raise this issue and seek the American perspective on it. What is his own perspective on it and on the content of the Boston College papers and the degree to which that project can shed further light on many of the appalling things that happened over the past 30 years?

Enda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael): [...] Deputy Martin also referred to the Boston College papers. I hope to have an opportunity during my visit to the United States to cover a wide range of issues, including developments in Northern Ireland. We keep a watching brief on the Boston College research. The college has a long history of academic engagement in the field of Irish studies. It has played an important part in the recording of the history of Northern Ireland and the peace process. That will obviously be of value to historians, those who study conflict resolution and people in general. As Deputy Martin knows, the British Government on behalf of the PSNI initiated proceedings with the US Department of Justice under the mutual legal assistance treaty between the UK and the US to seek the release of archive records and interviews held in Boston College. The records, which were deposited in the Burns Library of Boston College, are part of the Belfast project, which is an oral history of republican and loyalist paramilitaries and paramilitary activities. Some of those whose testimonies are included in the project have since died, including Dolours Price, who passed away in recent months.

This entire issue is subject to legal proceedings. Legal challenges were launched by Boston College and separately by the researchers to prevent the release of the material. In December 2011, the US District Court dismissed those challenges. Further legal efforts were made on appeal, but the US Federal Court of Appeal turned them down on 6 July 2012. The court ruling means, in effect, that the archive material must be handed over by Boston College to the US authorities to be sent on to their British counterparts. I understand the lead project researchers are considering a motion for rehearing of the case. They are continuing to keep their legal options open in the Belfast courts. I assure Deputy Martin that the Irish Embassy in Washington and the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to monitor the matter closely.


Full text of debate:
Dáil Debates Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Ceisteanna – Questions (Resumed)
International Relations

  1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet with Secretary of State Clinton when she visits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55221/12]
  2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the developments in the Israel/Gaza region with Secretary of State Clinton when they met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55440/12]
  3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the developments in Syria with Secretary of State Clinton at their recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55441/12]
  4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the possibility of a statutory inquiry into the Finucane murder with Secretary of State Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55442/12]
  5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the Boston papers with Secretary of State Clinton when they met recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55443/12]
  6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met the Secretary of State Clinton when she was in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55545/12]
  7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked theTaoiseach if he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her recent visit here. [56531/12]
  8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has written to Secretary of State Clinton prior to her departure from her present post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2313/13]
  9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the need for an inquiry into the murder of human rights solicitor Pat Finucane during his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Government Buildings on the 6 December. [2335/13]
  10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict during his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Government Buildings on the 6 December. [2336/13]
  11. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her recent visit to Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2339/13]
  12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had bilateral meetings planned for his visit to Washington, USA, in respect of St Patrick’s Day celebrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6831/13]
  13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his meeting with President Obama in March has been confirmed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9704/13]
  14. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will visit the United States in March; and if so, his agenda for the visit. [12512/13]
  15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at their recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12837/13]
  16. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the issue of Marian Price’s internment at his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12838/13]
  17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the humanitarian crisis in Gaza at his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12839/13]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 17, inclusive, together.

I met the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, on 6 December 2012 when she was in Dublin to attend the OSCE ministerial conference. It was a great pleasure for me to welcome the Secretary of State back to Dublin. I took the opportunity to thank her in person, on behalf of the Irish people, for her long-standing commitment to and friendship with this country. Since I met her in Dublin, Mrs. Clinton has stepped down from her role as Secretary of State. I have written to her on behalf of the Irish Government to formally thank her for her sustained and invaluable contribution to the process of building peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland, convey the abiding regard that the Irish people hold for her and wish her well in whatever her future holds.

When we met in December, we had very useful and wide-ranging discussions. I updated her on the measures being undertaken by the Government to lead Ireland’s economy to a sustainable recovery. As our meeting took place on the day after the budget, it was a good opportunity to discuss the Government’s emphasis on jobs and growth. I also discussed the importance of Ireland’s bilateral economic relationship with the US. I reiterated that stronger trade and investment ties are a major strategic goal of our transatlantic alliance. I highlighted the welcome conclusion of an agreement between Ireland and the US on the foreign account tax compliance Act, FATCA. The FATCA agreement is important in demonstrating Ireland’s commitment to tax co-operation and international exchange of tax information. Mrs. Clinton commented specifically on the recent progress that has been made under the US-Ireland research and development partnership. I agreed this was a worthwhile programme and expressed my support for its future development.

We discussed the ongoing challenges facing the global economy and, in particular, the need for the EU to continue to work to resolve its economic and financial difficulties. I also briefed her on our plans and priorities for our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, including our hope to make real progress in advancing an EU-US free trade agreement. She expressed hope that significant progress would be made towards the free trade agreement during the Irish Presidency, as this would be a very important and positive development for the international economy. There has been significant progress in recent weeks on this agenda and we can now look forward to what I hope will be focused and successful negotiations on a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I look forward to Ireland’s playing a key role in instigating negotiations in the context of our Presidency.

The Secretary of State and I discussed our countries’ respective election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We reaffirmed our ongoing commitment to working together on a range of issues in the international arena, including global hunger, and further deepening and strengthening the US-Ireland relationship.

We also discussed recent developments in Northern Ireland. I welcomed her planned visit to Belfast the following day and thanked her for her swift condemnation of the murder of the Northern Ireland prison officer David Black in November. I expressed the Government’s appreciation for her unwavering support for the process of building peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. We agreed that while we have seen significant progress in recent years, we could not allow complacency to take hold. We did not specifically discuss the cases of Marian Price, Pat Finucane or the Boston papers. I reiterated that international support has played a key role in what has been achieved so far in Northern Ireland and emphasised that we greatly value the sustained and continuing US interest in both parts of the island. For her part, she reiterated her strong support for the peace process and said that she was very much looking forward to her visit to Belfast.

I also referred to the positive developments in the Ireland-UK relationship represented by the joint statement signed by myself and the UK Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, last March, and the very positive announcement by the Prime Minister that the G8 meeting in June would be held in County Fermanagh. At our bilateral meeting in London yesterday, the Prime Minister and I agreed that we would use our respective roles in the Presidency and the G8 chairmanship to press for the launch of negotiations on an EU-US free trade agreement this June.

I commended the Secretary of State on her efforts to end the violence in Syria and the conflict in Gaza. I also expressed solidarity with the victims of Hurricane Sandy and referred to the letters of support I had sent to the US on behalf of the Irish people. I expect to meet families from some of the areas affected next week. Finally, I thanked her for her extraordinary contribution to the peoples of this island and extended my best wishes to her for the future, in whatever path she chooses.

Later this week I will have the privilege of travelling to the United States for the annual St. Patrick’s Day visit. This year, my visit will run from Friday, 15 March to Friday, 22 March. Relations between Ireland and the United States are based on a deep and long-standing bond of friendship between our two countries, but they are also based on deeply-rooted economic, social and cultural ties. Strengthening these ties is a key priority for the Government and we will continue to work on ensuring that Ireland’s relations with the US remain vibrant. My upcoming visit to the US presents another opportunity to further strengthen these relations. My programme includes events in Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Seattle.

While in Washington I will meet with President Obama in the White House and also attend the traditional Speaker’s lunch on Capitol Hill. My programme also includes a breakfast meeting with Vice President Biden as well as a number of meetings with political and business leaders and the Irish-American community. However, the Vice President may be in attendance in Rome if the conclave has elected a pope and the installation mass is on 19 March, the day scheduled for our proposed meeting. In New York I will meet with Mayor Bloomberg and visit the Rockaways area in Queens which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

My west coast engagements will include a series of meetings with US companies as well as indigenous Irish companies operating in the US. My main focus throughout the trip will be to highlight the very significant progress made towards Ireland’s economic recovery and to emphasise Ireland’s strengths as a location for foreign direct investment and overseas visitors and to promote Irish companies as a source of high quality products and services. I will also use my visit to highlight the importance of an EU-US transatlantic trade and investment partnership and to advance our efforts to see formal negotiations launched during the Irish Presidency of the EU.

I also anticipate that recent events in Northern Ireland will feature in my discussions. I hope to meet the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Washington DC. Both Prime Minister Cameron and I agreed yesterday on the centrality of the values and principles of the Good Friday Agreement and the importance of the institutions that it created. We intend to continue working with the US Administration to consolidate and build on the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over many years.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Nine of the 17 questions in this grouping are in my name.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am very conscious of that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: We must reform how we are doing our work here because most of these questions relate to the visit of Secretary of State Clinton and were asked over three months ago. What are the Taoiseach’s plans to meet with Secretary of State Clinton while in the US? One of the reasons we are only getting to these questions is that the Taoiseach decided to halve the time for questions to the Taoiseach when he came into office. In the previous Dáil, these questions were taken on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter that can be dealt with between the Whips. This is Question Time.

Deputy Micheál Martin: With respect, it is a matter of Government diktat, not a matter for the Whips, because the Government dictates what happens in the House. It is a crazy situation that we are now only answering questions three months after they were asked. This is unsatisfactory.

I echo what the Taoiseach said and pay tribute to Secretary of State Clinton for her wonderful work during the past four years as Secretary of State. She was significant in terms of the US role as a partner in the multilateral search for peace between states and her work, particularly for human rights and equality, will stand the test of time. I had the privilege of working with her in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs. She was an unstinting friend of Ireland and continues to be so.

On the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation now is probably at its worst level since the Oslo Accords. For millions of people the situation is fast becoming hopeless. In terms of raising this issue with Secretary of State Clinton, was the Taoiseach in a position to brief her on the European response to the issue? Israel acts with impunity in terms of continued settlements and ignores international agreements and the consensus at the United Nations. The US has a cental role to play in the region. Indeed, President Obama was publicly rebuffed in his first peace effort via George Mitchell. In the Taoiseach’s discussion with the Secretary of State, was there any sense of a potential breakthrough in the crisis or any sense of a breakthrough in terms of the policy with regard to the blockade or the issue of the acceleration of settlements whose purpose seem to be to deny and make unviable a two-state solution? I would appreciate hearing the Taoiseach’s view and perspective on that with regard to the talks he had with her.

I am surprised the issue of the papers from the Boston College project was not raised. Those who conducted the interviews with those involved in violence in Northern Ireland over the past 30-odd years – I recommend the excellent documentary Voices from the Grave which documents the background to many of the atrocities and killings carried out – are fearful for their own lives because of the decision by the British authorities to seek the papers to help them in the pursuit of those involved in various cases, in particular the case of the murder of Jean McConville. This is a project that has shed light on many of the atrocities that occurred, but more is required. I am surprised the Taoiseach did not raise this issue and seek the American perspective on it. What is his own perspective on it and on the content of the Boston College papers and the degree to which that project can shed further light on many of the appalling things that happened over the past 30 years?

Did the Taoiseach raise the issue of the Finucane case with Secretary of State Clinton and did he endeavour to enlist her support for a statutory inquiry into the Finucane murder? This is part of an international and solemn agreement between Ireland and Great Britain, but Britain is resiling from that agreement in an unacceptable way and in violation of the agreement. Did the Taoiseach enlist the support of the Secretary of State in bringing pressure to bear on the British Government to relent in this case and to fulfil the agreement it signed up to in good faith with the Irish Government?

My final question relates to the Taoiseach’s forthcoming meetings with President Obama. The International Monetary Fund is undertaking some significant reforms, but America has held up those reforms despite the fact it initiated them originally. Congress is holding them up. We asked previously whether the Taoiseach could shed some light on the role that Secretary of the Treasury Geithner played in insisting at an IMF meeting that no bondholders would be burned, particularly with regard to the Irish context. We know the ECB position on that. It has been consistent from the beginning that no bondholder would be burned. However, it is alleged that the intervention of the Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, was crucial in ensuring that position held. We have never got a satisfactory response on this. Will the Taoiseach commit to asking President Obama whether that was the case?

The Taoiseach: With regard to the questions raised in the House, it is perfectly in order for any Deputy to ask on the Order of Business, arising from legislation, whether it is intended to meet a Secretary of State about immigration legislation into the States or wherever else. I am not responsible for the number of questions put down here. In previous times, many questions were lumped together. Everything to do with Europe, the United States and anywhere else around the world, up to 50 questions, could have been put together. However, I have tried, following representations made by Deputies to split the questions into groups. These questions are about the United States and about the Secretary of State and her visit here. If the questions are three months out of date, perhaps we should give a briefer response. However, if these questions have been asked, it is legitimate for us to respond to those put by each Deputy.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, we need to look at further reforms of the way we go about our business in here and consider the amount of time we devote to legitimate questions from Deputies and issues they might want to raise, vociferously or otherwise.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Who could the Taoiseach be talking about?

The Taoiseach: The Tánaiste is monitoring the question of Gaza very closely. It is a welcome reprieve that with one exception, there has not been any rocket fire into Israel from Gaza in the past month. I suppose the calm that is there for the moment is an advance. Some of the measures enacted by Israel to relax aspects of the blockade after last November’s ceasefire are to be welcomed. They need to go much further and much faster, especially in light of the absence of any rocket fire. There may well be a rare opportunity to convert this pause into a durable cessation of violence in both directions. I think that would be of interest to everybody. I join the Tánaiste in encouraging both sides, and anybody else who can influence the situation, to work to this end. The people of Gaza and southern Israel, some of whom I have met, deserve to live in a normal situation.

The Government has made it very clear that the blockade of Gaza, as currently enforced, has no justification and must be ended. While Israel is quite entitled to defend itself and to block the supply of military materials to Gaza, the measures enforced since 2006 have gone much further than anything that could be justified strictly on the basis of security need. We have consistently drawn the international attention of others to this matter. We have supported the EU in its repeated calls for the full opening of crossing points into Gaza to allow for the normal movement of goods and people. There have been some relaxations of the blockade in recent years, most notably in November following the ceasefire. Clearly, this needs to be accelerated. In the meantime, Ireland has maintained its provision of substantial humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza through the UNRWA and other agencies. As I have said, the Tánaiste is keeping a close eye on this issue.

I do not have any further information on the allegation about former US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. I have not raised it with Christine Lagarde, whom I met last week. There are much more immediate challenges and obstacles to be dealt with. I do not know whether any further information about the allegation, which we have discussed in this House on a number of occasions, has become available.

As the Deputy knows, a motion on the Pat Finucane case was unanimously agreed without dissent in this House. I have disagreed publicly with the British Prime Minister about the fact that both Governments committed at Weston Park to follow through on the recommendations made by Judge Cory. We stand by that. I will raise this with the US authorities when I meet them next week.

Deputy Martin also referred to the Boston College papers. I hope to have an opportunity during my visit to the United States to cover a wide range of issues, including developments in Northern Ireland. We keep a watching brief on the Boston College research. The college has a long history of academic engagement in the field of Irish studies. It has played an important part in the recording of the history of Northern Ireland and the peace process. That will obviously be of value to historians, those who study conflict resolution and people in general. As Deputy Martin knows, the British Government on behalf of the PSNI initiated proceedings with the US Department of Justice under the mutual legal assistance treaty between the UK and the US to seek the release of archive records and interviews held in Boston College. The records, which were deposited in the Burns Library of Boston College, are part of the Belfast project, which is an oral history of republican and loyalist paramilitaries and paramilitary activities. Some of those whose testimonies are included in the project have since died, including Dolours Price, who passed away in recent months.

This entire issue is subject to legal proceedings. Legal challenges were launched by Boston College and separately by the researchers to prevent the release of the material. In December 2011, the US District Court dismissed those challenges. Further legal efforts were made on appeal, but the US Federal Court of Appeal turned them down on 6 July 2012. The court ruling means, in effect, that the archive material must be handed over by Boston College to the US authorities to be sent on to their British counterparts. I understand the lead project researchers are considering a motion for rehearing of the case. They are continuing to keep their legal options open in the Belfast courts. I assure Deputy Martin that the Irish Embassy in Washington and the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to monitor the matter closely.