1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the reason he did not raise the issue of the interest rate on the British loan with British Prime Minister David Cameron during his recent meeting. [13625/11]
1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the reason he did not raise the issue of the interest rate on the British loan with British Prime Minister David Cameron during his recent meeting. [13625/11]
2 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of British support for Ireland’s efforts to acquire a lower interest rate on the EU-IMF programme of support with British Prime Minister David Cameron during his recent meeting; and if not, the reason therefor. [13626/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
As I outlined in my response to questions in this House on 24 May, I met with Prime Minister Cameron in Government Buildings on the evening of Wednesday, 18 May. Our discussions focused on the complete transformation of the relationship between Britain and Ireland in recent years. The closeness of that relationship has been demonstrated by the warmth with which the Queen was received in this country. We also discussed EU issues and our shared economic difficulties.
There was no explicit discussion about the interest rate on the bilateral loan extended from Britain, nor was it intended that there should be. We did, however, discuss broader EU and international economic and political developments and the Government's approach to getting an improved deal from our external partners. I am satisfied that the UK Government understands our position and will be as supportive as it can.
We continue to negotiate with our colleagues at European level about the conditions and the extent of the improvements that might be made on the IMF-EU bailout deal.
I will make a number of comments before moving on to specific questions. In this session, only six questions are on the Order Paper because of the aggressive approach taken by the Taoiseach's office and the Department in disallowing and transferring questions. Will the Taoiseach examine the issue? For example, last week we asked the Taoiseach about his opinion on EU enlargement, which is a matter for the EU Heads of State, but the question was referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade where the Tánaiste——
I am sorry, Deputy.
We are discussing the policy on responses.
This is Taoiseach's Question Time.
I know. That is why I am raising it.
This is not the place to do it. I am sorry.
Last week, six questions were grouped together.
Okay, but we are now on Taoiseach's questions.
There is a deliberate policy of disallowing and transferring questions, which is reducing accountability in the House.
The two questions I have tabled relate to an important issue, one that was caught in the wider set of questions tabled last week but was not answered. I want a straight and clear answer as to why the issue identified by the Government from the outset as being its first priority has not been raised in important bilateral meetings, particularly with Prime Minister David Cameron. Last week, the Taoiseach told me he was leaving the general negotiation on the interest rate to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, because of the eurozone decision of 11 March, but the same excuse cannot be used in respect of bilateral loans.
If the British Government unilaterally moved to new terms and reduced its interest rate, does the Taoiseach not agree that the hands of other EU governments and Heads of State would be forced to act? Has the Taoiseach done anything at all to negotiate with, for example, the British to intervene with the French and the Germans in respect of a reduced interest rate? We have had enough of the Taoiseach's standard reply of recent weeks, namely, "If it comes up, I will raise it". Last week, the Taoiseach stated he would raise the matter at the European Council.
In terms of the meetings with the British Prime Minister, it is incredible that the Taoiseach has not raised the issue of the reduced interest rate or enlisted his support for Ireland's case for better terms under the EU-IMF programme, in particular the lower interest rate as agreed by the EU Heads of State as far back as last March. It is the Government's first priority, yet all of the Taoiseach's actions to date at meetings with the EU Heads of State and at bilateral meetings suggest his focus has been on photo calls and so on, with the dirty and more difficult work being handed to others while he avoids dealing with the crunch issues in the one-to-one meetings with Prime Minister Cameron and others.
Deputy Martin is wrong in his assertions. I did of course raise the question of Ireland's IMF-EU-ECB bailout deal with the British Prime Minister and told him of the changes that Ireland was making to comply with the conditions of that deal. He was favourably disposed towards Ireland and was forthright in his pronouncement that, by and large, the Treasury would be supportive of Ireland's position. He encouraged bilateral meetings between the Treasury and officials from the Department of Finance and Government. There is no big mystery.
The Government of which Deputy Martin was a member negotiated a deal with the IMF and the EU. That deal has been renegotiated in part by the current Government, which I have the honour to lead. Agreement was reached at Heads of Government level to devolve responsibility in respect of implementing the principle of an interest rate reduction to the Ministers for Finance. The Deputy is now suggesting that I take back that responsibility from the Minister for Finance and that I deal with the matter at Heads of Government level. The Heads of Government of 27 countries agreed this should happen. I have faith in the Minister for Finance being able to carry out his responsibilities in this regard.
The Deputy asked if my meeting with the British Prime Minister was specifically in relation to the bilateral loan agreement made with Ireland by Britain, Sweden and Denmark. Were that the case, he would then be asking me why I did not raise the bigger issue of the IMF-EU bailout deal, which has been our priority. We have recognition of the reduction in principle and a decision that the matter should be dealt with by the Ministers for Finance, who are pursuing it. Beyond that, we discussed the general principle of where the European Union is headed. I was supportive of the stance taken by Prime Minister Cameron in his letter, supported by a number of other leaders, about the potential of the European Union Single Market cutting the cost for setting up business, eliminating red tape and bureaucracy and freeing up the trade inter-country so that the EU as a Union could realise its full potential based on the Single Market and be in a position to compete against other trading blocs around the world.
The relationship between Ireland and Britain and between myself and Prime Minister Cameron is strong. We will continue to pursue the issue of an interest rate reduction at EU level. There will be time at a later stage to discuss the specific issue of the bilateral loan. I might add that Britain has been forthright in saying there will be no further bilateral loans for other countries and made a specific issue of the special relationship between Ireland and Britain based on diaspora, trade and so on. There is no secret about that. That was the first meeting we had, short of the usual on the margins meetings at Council meetings and when the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, came to Ireland during the Queen's visit. We will continue that.
The Taoiseach said in his formal reply that there was no explicit discussion with the British Prime Minister on the interest rate on the British loan and nor was there intended to be. I find that revelation incredible.
Not at that stage.
It would seem to me that the logical and tactically correct strategy would be to seek a reduction on the bilateral loan with Britain as this would force the hand of other EU Heads of State to do likewise on the broader EU-IMF deal. The Taoiseach has from the outset identified this matter as the Government's number one priority. On 11 March, the EU Heads of State stated that funding costs should be lowered to better take into account debt sustainability of the recipient countries. As acknowledged by the Taoiseach last week, that is what was agreed in the communique by the outgoing Government, which was followed through by the current Government. That is what I find incredible. This begs the question of whether the Taoiseach as Head of Government has taken this issue as seriously as he should. I do not believe he has done so. It is no longer good enough to say this is a matter for the Ministers for Finance.
The Taoiseach confirmed this morning that almost half of the bailout funds will not now be subject to any reduction in interest rate. This was confirmed yesterday by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, who said the issue was over-hyped. It is the Taoiseach and no one else who over-hyped it and made it a red line issue going into EU Council of State meetings. We now find that at all of the bilateral meetings he had with British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, and others, the Taoiseach did not pursue the issue. When asked if he would raise it at EU Council level he said that if the matter was raised, he would discuss it.
Will the Taoiseach agree that he has a responsibility and obligation to set and contribute to the setting of the agenda of these EU meetings? In my view, given it has taken so long to get any meaningful follow through on the meeting of 11 March, it is time the Taoiseach asserted his position at the next EU Heads of State meeting and raised the issue of the sustainability of the programme under which Ireland is working with the EU-IMF, in line with the conclusions arrived at in the EU Heads of State meeting on 11 March.
Again, I disagree with the Deputy. When I met the Prime Minister in Downing Street, I thanked him for the bilateral loan from Britain and a number of other countries to Ireland. I did not go there specifically to seek a reduction in the interest rate on that loan. I thanked the Prime Minister for the expeditious manner in which his Government, along with Sweden and Denmark, made the bilateral loan available. We discussed the wider implications of the EU-IMF bailout deal.
I accept, as the Deputy stated, that I have particular responsibilities. The Deputy also asked if I take this matter seriously. The day after I was appointed Head of Government I attended a meeting in Brussels at which I set out in a serious fashion my priorities. I told the other leaders present that they were not in attendance as Heads of Government of 40 million, 70 million or 80 million but as equals. It is my responsibility to defend Ireland's interests in the context of the European Union. I made the point that the issue of taxation is a matter of national competence and that I would not concede on the matter of an increase in the 12.5% corporate tax rate, which, as the Deputy will be well aware, is being demanded. I accepted my responsibility and dealt with the issue in a serious manner. I am not prepared to back down from that. The IMF, OECD, European Commissioners and Ministers for Finance from other countries are in agreement with our position.
The Deputy stated that I did not take my responsibilities seriously at that first meeting. Were that the case, we would be in a different position.
I do accept and take seriously my responsibilities. As I stated previously, as the stress tests on the banks here were not completed prior to the next meeting that responsibility was given to the Ministers for Finance. That is where the negotiations are now. The Deputy will be aware that many countries, individuals and organisations outside Europe agree with Ireland's position.
I understand that in the general discussions that take place at the Heads of Government meeting one can and will contribute. I do not draw up the agenda myself. In the context of where Europe is headed, European political leaders should look at how assistance and support can be given and in this regard how schemes can be redesigned, which is a requirement of the ESM. Europe will have to look at this in the interest of assisting countries and supporting them, which is part of the solidarity principle which is central to the European Union.
I did not go to Downing Street looking for an interest rate reduction on the bilateral loan. It was the first meeting and we discussed a range of issues.
I thanked the Prime Minister for his support for Ireland. We will continue to build on those very good relationships. I expect the issue of the ESM and the progress in Europe's position will of course be central to the Heads of Government meeting this month and I expect to contribute strongly to that.
I do not have any sense of urgency from the Taoiseach in regard to this matter. I never had him chalked down as the shy, retiring, shrinking violet type, so I do not think it was this that led to his failure to raise this matter directly with the British Prime Minister. The Taoiseach said he discussed the bigger implications of the bailout deal. Did he discuss the issue of burden sharing, which is the bigger issue here? The Taoiseach is reluctant, hesitant and slow to make any sort of measurable progress on the interest rate and he refuses, as I see it, to deal with the issue of burden sharing and the core issue of the unsustainability of the debt. All the while, cutbacks bite and people suffer. The Taoiseach knows this as well as I do.
Sorry, Deputy. This is Question Time.
The Taoiseach last week told Irish diplomatic staff to go back to their posts internationally and tell everybody the happy news — not — that the Irish people will continue to bail out bankers, speculators and people who gambled and lost. He was not shy about setting out that message — a bad message, as far as I am concerned.
At what point, then, does the Taoiseach engage the British Prime Minister and others, not just on the interest rate but on the issue of debt sustainability and the ESM? As he and I know, Europe clearly envisages debt restructuring, burden sharing and default post-2013. The danger for us, as the Taoiseach well knows, is that by the time 2013 comes around, the damage done, not just to the economy of this State but to its society and people, will be immense.
This is Question Time. Will you pose a supplementary question?
It is not a time to be shy. When will the Taoiseach raise this with the British Prime Minister? Will he put the issues of burden sharing and debt on the agenda?
It is already on the agenda. The Government is in court over this because we have taken a decision that there should be burden sharing with subordinated bondholders. I discussed the question of other burden sharing with Mr. Trichet and, as we have two pillar banks in AIB and Bank of Ireland, the Government decided not to have burden sharing with senior bondholders there. The ECB recognised Ireland's position and confirmed that, irrespective of downgrading or not, funding would continue to be made available. I pointed out at all the meetings I have had that Ireland was pursuing burden sharing with subordinated bondholders and there is considerable scope for further savings in that regard. As the Deputy knows, two court cases were taken, one of which has been withdrawn and I cannot give the Deputy confirmation on the second one as I am speaking here. The position in so far as Ireland is concerned is that we want to get on with meeting the conditions the country has signed up to in the IMF-EU bailout deal.
The Deputy referred to the decision of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to call together all of the ambassadors and diplomats from abroad, together with trade personnel, for what was a very successful occasion. Far from the Deputy's interpretation of it, the message was very clear, namely, this country is open for business, it continues to be an attractive location for foreign direct investment, it continues to have a serious potential in terms of further exports and it will not be changing its 12.5% corporate tax rate. That clear and positive message has gone out around the world.
In respect of all of those who work for this country abroad, often in difficult circumstances, we appreciate the efforts they make and we appreciate the continuous commitment they show, beyond normal working hours, on a daily basis in giving evidence to other countries about Ireland's true position. We have been through adversity before and this is an economic challenge that we will get through. From that point of view, I differ entirely from the Deputy's interpretation of the outcome of the meeting at which she was not present.
I put it to the Taoiseach that the admission he has made that he did not raise the need for a reduction in interest on the British loan with the British Prime Minister will leave taxpayers and the citizens of this country open-mouthed and raise a serious question about the Taoiseach's competence——
This is Question Time.
Against a background of much hyperbole about the visit of Prime Minister Cameron and the Queen solidifying a new relationship between Ireland and Britain — now best friends forever — the Taoiseach said he and the Prime Minister discussed the IMF-EU deal. Presumably, the Taoiseach told him about the difficulties and about the fact he was taking money from disabled people to pay off the bankers' debts and the interest, but he did not ask his new best friend forever to deal with the one issue he has competence over, namely, the level of interest on the loan from the British Government to the Irish Government, a loan that was of course made for the economic interest of the British establishment, not for the love of the Irish people. Nor did the Taoiseach ask the British Prime Minister to reduce this punitive level of interest——
A question, Deputy.
Given what the Taoiseach has now admitted and what was revealed yesterday by the Minister for Finance, does the Taoiseach agree that his Government is in full flight before the EU establishment, which has dictated that working people and the poor in this country will be the beasts of burden to pay off and rescue the European bankers? The Taoiseach is in full flight before them.
I do not accept the Deputy putting words in my mouth. The bilateral loan, as the Deputy knows, is part of a loan arrangement between Denmark, Sweden and Britain. From that point of view, it is clearly connected to the greater position concerning Europe. The Deputy continuously forgets to mention the fact the Government renegotiated an element of the bailout deal in that it intends to reverse the cut in the minimum wage.
This has nothing to do with my question.
He conveniently forgets to mention the fact the Government put a levy on the pension industry to bring in €450 million for each of the next four years so people in his constituency who do not have a job will be able to get off the dole and get a job or career.
Why did the Taoiseach not ask the British Prime Minister for a reduction in the interest rate? That is the question.
I am sure the Deputy wants to see those people who are unfortunately on the live register have the opportunity to get a job and be able to contribute meaningfully to our society and country, as they want to do.
The focus here is on achieving the principle, which has been agreed, of a reduction in interest rates of countries in the EFSF bailout situation, which includes Ireland. We are measuring up to those commitments and conditions. The point has been accepted and agreed by practically everybody that an interest rate reduction should be applied here but there is the principle of unanimity, which works both ways. From that point of view, the Ministers for Finance were given the responsibility, devolved from the Heads of Government, and I have every confidence in our Minister for Finance to conclude that successfully.
In light of the Taoiseach's reply to the questions, will he explain where is the consistency in his policy on this matter of the so-called bailout deals, either with the IMF-EU or with Britain, Sweden and Denmark? Prior to the election, the Taoiseach's party policy was that it was neither morally right nor economically sustainable to beggar the Irish taxpayers to enrich speculators.
I again remind the Deputy this is Question Time.
Where is the consistency——
I seek a supplementary question.
——between the loans and the answer just given by the Taoiseach, to the effect that he refuses even to raise the issue of this punitive interest rate? Why on earth would we thank the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, for imposing a punitive interest rate on the working and vulnerable people of our society in order to pay back bankers and bondholders? This is punishment imposed on Irish working people for the reckless gambling of bankers and speculators.
Thank you, Deputy.
May I ask a final question?
No. Will the Taoiseach reply to the supplementary question?
Originally, I stated the deal was bad both for Ireland and for Europe and, from that point of view, renegotiating elements of it would be very important. That is what has happened. I reiterate we renegotiated the conditions of the deal to some extent, in respect of the reversal in the minimum wage, no further transfers to NAMA and acceptance of a jobs initiative. I am sure the Deputy supports all these measures.
The question of interest rate reduction is obviously important and is being pursued by the Ministers for Finance. I clearly stated that I did not meet the British Prime Minister in order to seek an interest rate reduction in our bilateral loan. We opted for a first meeting between two Heads of Government, during which we discussed the European question and what Ireland was doing in terms of decisions made about banks, pursuit of subordinated bond investors and our attitude towards Europe. We thanked the British Government for its support for Ireland's position. Since then that Government has pointed out it will not make bilateral loans available to other countries as it did to ours because of the connections between Ireland and Britain on an entire range of fronts.
This work is proceeding and I intend to go to the meeting later this month to articulate very clearly the progress our country has made, the challenge we face and the seriousness with which Europe should approach its responsibilities collectively, as a union. The Deputy obviously has different views on that but I intend to articulate mine very strongly and clearly on behalf of the Government and the people.
Deputy Martin may ask a supplementary question.
I asked the Taoiseach the reason he did not raise with the British Prime Minister the issue of the interest rate on the British loan but I do not believe I received a specific answer — nor has anybody else. I asked the question on the basis that if one believes the interest rate under the EU-IMF programme is too high, as the Taoiseach clearly does, surely he would apply the same logic to the bilateral loan with Britain where the interest rates and premiums are similar. The logical application of the Taoiseach's thinking on the EU-IMF programme as it applies to the British bilateral loan would be that it also is too high. Therefore, logically, the Taoiseach should have asked the Prime Minister for a reduction in the interest rate on the same basis we are pursuing a reduction in the interest rate with other Heads of State in the European Union. That would have had the desired impact of forcing the hands of others to move on this specific issue which goes to the heart of the sustainability of the programme all Heads of Government signed up to on 11 March.
Deputy Martin was part of an outfit that denied the IMF was in the country and part of a Government that caused a situation where greed, recklessness and lack of accountability resulted in a bailout deal being forced on this country by the IMF, the EU and the ECB because matters could not have continued as they were. They were out of control.
That bailout deal was agreed between the Government of which the Deputy was a member and the troika. The British, Swedish and Danish bilateral deals were not forced on this country in the same fashion as that in which the troika was obliged to act. My priority, therefore, clearly was, and remains, to deal with that and, in the context of the interest rate reduction, it was the only issue discussed at the meeting of the Heads of Government. The first person to speak was the Greek Prime Minister, who made a case for a 2% reduction, for a longer period, because of the challenges his country faced. Following that, there was an agreement in principle that countries in the European Financial Stability Facility, EFSF, were entitled to an interest rate reduction. I was not prepared to accept an interest rate reduction on the basis of being obliged to increase the country's corporation tax rate.
In respect of the conditions attached to the troika bailout, now renegotiated, Ireland measured up on the first assessment. We are rightly in pursuit of the principle accepted by the heads of government that there should be an interest rate reduction for the countries in the EFSF bailout situation. In that context, the IMF came to Ireland as part of that troika — with the resulting outcome. That situation was different from the bilateral loan arrangement offered by Britain, Sweden and Denmark which was not forced on the country. My priority was, and remains, to deal with the interest rate and gain improvements in the IMF-EU bailout. We spoke with the British Government and will continue to do so on a very regular basis.
There is no logic or sense to that.
3 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the speech he delivered at College Green Dublin, on 23 May 2011 with the US President Barack Obama. [14525/11]
I had no particular discussions with President Obama about my speech at College Green on 23 May.
It was a very good and welcome visit, carried out in a very positive manner and, in my view, the Taoiseach made a good speech. I did not refer to the aspect of his quotation from the President's speech, which tells us a great deal. Clearly, when the Taoiseach implements all the policies of his predecessor without acknowledging them he pays homage to the policies of the outgoing Government. We can understand that.
That is a new one on me.
We can take some solace that this was really what the Taoiseach means, now that subordinated bondholders are being burned and Deputy Brian Lenihan's policy is being acted upon. However, the real issue, the core of my question, concerns a serious allegation. The Taoiseach's speech did not mention this — it was clearly decided not to mention it — namely, that the United States Administration intervened to stop Ireland moving against certain senior bank bondholders last year. Given that this was not mentioned in the Taoiseach's speech, in his discussion with the President about the speech, or elsewhere, is it the Taoiseach's official position that he has no intention of asking President Obama about this allegation which has been in circulation for some weeks? Did the Taoiseach ask President Obama about the assertion concerning Mr. Timothy Geithner's intervention to stop Ireland from burning bank bondholders? What happened at the meeting in that regard?
I have no evidence concerning any discussion which took place at that meeting in Asia. Professor Kelly made an assertion in his article that Mr. Geithner made comments at a meeting about the matter in question.
Why did you not ask him?
I was not aware of this allegation when I met Mr. Geithner in Washington. As the Deputy knows, this was not referred to, either in the speech of welcome I made to the President or in his speech, which spoke for itself. We discussed with him the corporate tax rate in this country, the issue of the undocumented Irish, the need for action on that here and the President's response on immigration and the different elements in regard to different diasporas in the United States, a matter in which he has an interest. Those items were discussed but I did not have any detailed discussions as to whether Mr. Geithner made the comments he is alleged to have made in an article by Professor Morgan Kelly. I have no evidence of it.
Did the Taoiseach ask the President to outline his views on the burning of senior bank bondholders? It is a simple question. This question does not apply to Ireland alone — it applies to the eurozone and across the globe. It is a simple and straightforward question. When the Taoiseach met President Obama, he had an opportunity to raise this fundamental issue and to ascertain the views of the US Administration on a policy initiative that could be to the advantage and benefit of Ireland. The initiative in question is being discussed following the leaking of a letter written by the German Finance Minister on the restructuring of Greek debt. A pattern seems to be developing. When the Taoiseach meets people like Prime Minister Cameron or President Obama, he avoids asking hard questions or raising awkward issues. Such meetings seem to be about backslapping, getting the old photo calls right and getting the optics right. I do not get a sense that the core issues that were identified by the Taoiseach — burning the bank bondholders, getting the interest rate reduced and bringing sustainability to recovery programmes within the eurozone — have been raised in a substantial or fundamental way when the Taoiseach has met key people in recent months. That is why I am surprised the Taoiseach did not ask President Obama to outline his views on the burning of senior bank bondholders.
As the Deputy is aware, the ECB comprises the governors of the central banks of the eurozone countries. We have discussed the ECB's position on burden sharing with Mr. Trichet and with politicians and finance ministers from all of those countries. We have now arrived at a position where subordinated bondholders are contributing. As I said earlier, a case before the courts at the moment will determine whether the Minister for Finance can continue to do that. Our bailout agreement is with the ECB, the IMF and the EU. The European Commission and the IMF favour the position Ireland has adopted. We are locked into a position, but we are negotiating a reduction in the interest rate and continued improvements in the deal. I do not deal in assertions, frankly. I do not know the truth or otherwise of the allegation Professor Kelly has made. I will raise it with Mr. Geithner the next time I see him. The last time I met him, I was not aware of the assertion in the article in question. We will continue to focus on our priority, which is securing an improvement in the deal and an acceptance of the principle of an interest rate reduction.
I have asked the Taoiseach the same question on several occasions. I would like to refer to an issue that was mentioned earlier by Deputy Martin. A question I tabled on this subject was disallowed, inexplicably as far as I can see. The question should have been before the House today.
What is the issue to which the Deputy refers?
The question that was disallowed related to whether the Taoiseach raised with President Obama the allegation that Mr. Geithner intervened on the matter of bondholders. I cannot understand why the Taoiseach is disallowing questions like that.
The Deputy should phrase his questions differently.
My question was phrased in a way that referred to the Taoiseach's meeting with Mr. Geithner.
Why does the Deputy not ask the question now?
I am going to ask it. I want to register the fact that it was disallowed.
We will hear Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.
On the substantial matter, I find it inexplicable that the proposal to burn unguaranteed senior bondholders was not pursued. If it had been accepted, we would be talking about a lesser burden of €20 billion. Apparently, such a proposal was being discussed at the time of Mr. Geithner's alleged intervention. It would have made a difference of €20 billion to the Irish people. Given that it would have funded 100 of the Government's jobs initiatives, it would have alleviated this country's unemployment crisis. The Taoiseach is telling us that he did not raise the matter with President Obama. He seems completely uninterested in whether this allegation is true.
There is some burning of bondholders.
If the Taoiseach happens to see the US Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Geithner, perhaps he will raise this matter with him. I suggest it is more serious than that, however. Do we not need to know whether the policy of the US Government is to force the burden of the gambling debts of bankers and financiers onto the backs of Irish working people, while vetoing any attempt to relieve that burden? Should the Taoiseach not want to know whether that allegation is true? It is absolutely bizarre that he would not ask about it.
This is an awfully long question.
I ask the Taoiseach to explain why he is not taking this issue seriously.
Two other Deputies wish to contribute after the Taoiseach has replied.
Deputy Boyd Barrett should rephrase his questions if he is encountering difficulties with them. He is entitled to ask about the Taoiseach's meetings with the US President or with any other Head of Government or State.
I rephrased it twice.
He can ask any supplementary question he likes arising from that. He should not come in here and say, with another assertion, that his questions are being deliberately shoved aside.
If Deputy Boyd Barrett, who is very welcome in this House as a new Deputy, rephrases his questions, I suggest he will find that the system accommodates them. I do not deal in allegations and I do not deal in assertions. I do not know whether Mr. Geithner made the comments that Professor Kelly says he made.
Is the Taoiseach interested in whether he made them?
Yes, I am interested.
Why was he not contacted?
I hear thousands of allegations and assertions every week.
It was not just an assertion.
If I were to live on that sort of diet, I would not get very far. We are dealing with a serious position, in so far as the country is concerned. The economic challenge we face is unprecedented. We are measuring up to very difficult conditions. We are trying to help our indigenous economy to grow. We are trying to improve our export position, which is very strong at the moment. We want to continue to trade our way out of these difficulties and get our people back to work. I am quite sure Deputy Boyd Barrett is interested in facts, as distinct from asking me about allegations or assertions of which I have no proof at all.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I am sure the Taoiseach's homage to the US President was appreciated, albeit with nothing like the utter gratitude of Fianna Fáil for the Government's pursuit of its policy agenda. I am more interested in what the Taoiseach might have told President Obama about his attitude to burning senior bondholders. I pursued the Taoiseach this morning on the matter of burden sharing. He referred consistently to "subordinated bondholders", but what about senior bondholders? I mentioned this morning that senior, unsecured and unguaranteed bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank were paid in full last week for a €200 million bond. How can he defend that? The bonds in question were unguaranteed and unsecured. Given the circumstances we are in, why in the name of any kind of logic or decency is the Government allowing that debt to be met? What did the Taoiseach tell the US President? I hope it was not the same message he gave the diplomatic corps and staff and the world at large, which was that the world is all right with Ireland and we will meet all of these debts. That is not acceptable.
I have to call the Taoiseach. Two other Deputies want to ask questions and there is very little time.
Yes. I invite the Taoiseach to answer the question. What is his position with regard to the senior bondholders?
The Government decided not to burn senior bondholders in respect of Bank of Ireland or AIB. We made that perfectly clear.
I referred to Anglo Irish Bank.
In return for that, the ECB made it perfectly clear that regardless of whether there is downgrading, it will continue to provide funding for Ireland. That was a very important statement about our economic strength in its own right. As the Deputy is aware, Anglo Irish Bank was not involved in the strenuous stress tests that were carried out initially. I have made clear that bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank are in a different category than those in what are the two pillar banks arising from the Government's decisiveness in dealing with a situation where there were six dysfunctional banks and no capacity to either lend or extend credit to small and medium enterprises for the creation of jobs and opportunities. From that point of view, I gave the US President a clear rundown on where Ireland is in terms of meeting our challenge and how we continue to renegotiate to have improvements and follow the principle agreed of a reduction in interest rates.
Whether the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Geithner, did or did not make the particular remarks is not the issue. The fact is that the issue was flagged. As the Taoiseach's borrowed rhetoric in College Green soared to lofty heights, and no doubt he was concentrating on that, he also was looking at tens of thousands of citizens, the victims of the financial crisis. Should it have occurred to the Taoiseach to raise with the President of the United States, whose economic power stretches into all areas of the globe including the International Monetary Fund, the principle of whether the people of a state such as this should be forced to carry the burden for the failed gambles of European banks and whether the United States — as, the Taoiseach states, a friendly country — should support the people of a small state in asserting they have no responsibility to carry the bad debts of failed gamblers?
The people, both at home and abroad, were forthright in their comments about both the visit of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama. The two words that came through to me in the many thousands of messages I received were "respect" and "pride" in our Irishness and in ourselves.
The American President recognises very well the challenge that Ireland faces and made comments about the scale of the challenge that his own country faces and was forthright in his public support for Ireland — Deputy Joe Higgins will recall his words to that effect — and that continues. During our conversation, I referred deliberately to the strong connections between Ireland and the United States, to the strong ongoing connections in foreign direct investment here and, indeed, to Irish investment in the United States where, through 40 states, there are 80,000 Americans employed in Irish-owned companies. In that regard, the extent of trade both ways across the Atlantic, both between Ireland and the United States and between Europe and the United States, continues to grow and we want to see that happening.
On subordinated debt about which the Taoiseach made play this morning, the bottom line is that is made possible by legislation brought in by the outgoing Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, that the Taoiseach trenchantly opposed at the time, but matters have changed and the Taoiseach is implementing that. The issue is the senior debt. In terms of the Taoiseach's meeting with President Obama, irrespective of what United States Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Geithner, may have said, there is a fundamental issue about ascertaining the attitude of the US Administration towards restructuring senior debt or burning senior bank bondholders. It is incredible that the Taoiseach did not raise that issue with the US President and seek his perspective on it, given the significant influence of the US Administration on global economic affairs. In terms of the canvas for the appointment of the new senior official in the IMF, we understand the influence of the United States on the outcome of the competition for that post. It is extraordinary and incredible that on what the Taoiseach identified during and after the election, and when he came into Government, as the most serious issue, that is, restructuring debt and dealing with senior bank bondholders, he clearly has abandoned any commitment to getting that sorted——
Which the previous Administration created in the first place.
——given he does not even raise it in significant encounters with persons of the calibre of President Obama. I simply do not understand it.
Our dealings in this regard are not with the United States. We are very clear where we stand with the IMF and it has been very favourable in its comments on Ireland meeting its challenge. Our priority here is to deal with the ECB and President Obama does not control the ECB.
President Obama will be meeting Chancellor Merkel this week. He could have had a discussion with her about it.
That is made up, as Deputy Martin will be aware, of the governors of the central banks of the eurozone countries.
We can put pressure on those persons as well.
That is how the system works.
Yes, of course——
It is the same old stuff.
——and the President is very supportive of Ireland. However, our challenge is the legacy of the mess Deputy Martin's crowd left behind them where we now must deal with the ECB——
The Taoiseach has agreed with the new EU and IMF programme. He has made that decision.
——in terms of the IMF-EU-ECB bailout. That is where the continued negotiations, the rebuilding of our reputation and the reconstruction of connections between this country and Europe is concerned, where Ministers of the Government of which Deputy Martin was a member either did not bother to turn up for meetings——
That is not true. There should be no comment on it.
——or did go and sign on and then spoke only——
They were not where they were supposed to be. Is that correct, Deputy Higgins?
——of a national narrow interest. It ill behoves Deputy Martin to come in here and lecture all those about what they should be doing now when he has 14 years of failure under his belt.
I am asking basic questions and the Taoiseach cannot answer them.
Sin deireadh le ceisteanna don Taoiseach.