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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Ceisteanna—Questions. - Ministerial Travel.

John Bruton


6 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to meet with the Luxembourg Prime Minister in advance of the EU summit in Luxembourg in mid December 1997. [21161/97]

Ruairí Quinn


7 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to travel abroad on official business in 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21435/97]

It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together. Prime Minister Juncker of Luxembourg will be making a tour of the capitals of the European Union in advance of the December European Council which will be held in Luxembourg on 12 and 13 December. The Prime Minister will visit Dublin on 8 December and I expect that, at the meeting, he will outline the agenda and objectives for the December Council.

In relation to my plans to travel abroad in 1998, apart from the normal European Councils which are planned for the UK and Austrian Presidencies, my confirmed travel plans for 1998 at this stage include: the Special European Summit on Enlargement Negotiations, London, 26 February, 1998; the Asia Europe Summit, London, 3 and 4 April, 1998; and the Special European Council on Economic and Monetary Union which is expected to be held in Brussels on 2 May, 1998.

Other engagements planned for 1998 but as yet unconfirmed include a visit to the United States for St. Patrick's Day and a visit to the Russian Federation.

Does the Taoiseach propose to raise at EU level the need to maintain trade links? I refer to the illegal blocking of Irish meat exports at Holyhead. Does he plan to seek compensation for Irish exporters who may permanently lose their market share? Their customers may switch to other sources if export lines are subject to this kind of disruption.

It is too early to say if that matter will be discussed next week, but the Minister for Agriculture and Food hopes to meet his British counterpart in London tomorrow to discuss this matter. Whether I raise this matter with Prime Minister Juncker or other European colleagues depends on what happens over the next few days. However, at this stage we must deal directly with the British Government on this issue.

Is the Taoiseach aware that this is the second occasion in less than six weeks that disruptions have occurred in large EU countries — first France, now Britain — which disrupt the normal legal methods of trade for small EU countries like Ireland? This is a serious practical issue for EU construction. If we cannot guarantee the transport of goods, the internal market means next to nothing. In modern business, "just in time" delivery means just that, and any disruption of that is very serious. The Taoiseach should take this matter on board. Even if the Welsh issue is resolved, he should raise the matter in Luxembourg.

There is no doubt that what happened last Sunday night and yesterday is extremely serious. It was an attack on Irish farmers and hauliers who were going about their business in a free market where there are no impediments other than the normal regulations and rules, which they followed. However, they were severely attacked and their merchandise was ruined. We made the strongest possible protest on that issue and we will continue to do so at whatever level necessary. The obligation to protect the movement of trade is on the country where such events happen under the rules of the single market. The Secretary of State for Wales has indicated that responsibility has been accepted and that these difficulties will be dealt with properly. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has already been in touch with his British counterpart, and, as I have said, they will meet soon to deal with these matters.

Will compensation be made available?

The meeting has not taken place yet. It is necessary that people meet and discuss the matter, and it would be inappropriate of me to pre-empt those discussions.

Deputy Bruton has suggested taking action to restore confidence in economic life, which has been dented by the illegal disruption in Wales. Does the Taoiseach believe that the convergence criteria will remain unchanged following the summit in Luxembourg? Also, in relation to his official visits abroad, does the Taoiseach intend to use commercial flights rather than the Government jet as much as possible?

The criteria for economic and monetary union and convergence remain the same as those set down in the Maastricht Treaty and expanded on in the Dublin summit. They will form the basis of the decisions to be made on currencies on 2 May.

It is normal to use the Government jet when going to meetings abroad if it is available.

Is the Taoiseach aware that the French Government is making compensation available to Irish hauliers affected by the strike there? At the summit between the French and Spanish Governments yesterday, the French Government also agreed to make compensation available to Spanish producers of tomatoes because of the interruption of their export trade. Does the Taoiseach agree that is a sound principle? I seek the Taoiseach's opinion, not his prediction about what will happen at the meeting. Does he agree that the British Government should make compensation available to those who suffered losses because of what happened in Wales?

We are fully fledged members of the EU. In relation to what happened at the Welsh farmers' blockade of Holyhead and Fishguard, does the Taoiseach not accept he is taking this matter too lightly? He should be putting down a marker at the highest level that we demand free access and expect that to be safeguarded. Does the Taoiseach accept that no police action was in evidence to protect the hauliers?

This matter was dealt with extensively yesterday in a Private Notice Question.

The issue of compensation as in both French disputes has been raised. I have no doubt the hauliers who have lost goods will make a case to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. We have already complained at the highest level. The Minister for Agriculture and Food intends to meet his counterpart on these issues tomorrow.

What about Mr. Blair?