Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Educational Projects

Seán Crowe

Question:

1Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach in view of the budget announcement to end the modern languages in primary schools initiative, the justification for the launch of the new pilot project called the blue star programme, one of whose aims is to promote awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity. [10020/12]

Seán Crowe

Question:

2Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Taoiseach the amount of funding allocated to the blue star programme and from which Department funding has been allocated. [10021/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

3Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail any new initiatives under his Department relating to public engagement with European Union issues. [16232/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

4Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the reason he removed the link to www.eumatters.ie from his Departments web site; if this decision was discussed with him directly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21299/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The modern languages in primary schools initiative had been a pilot scheme involving approximately 550 schools and had operated since 1998. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment's recommendation that for the present modern languages not be part of the primary school curriculum as an additional and separate subject was accepted by the Minister for Education and Skills. The primary curriculum is being reviewed by the NCCA in the context of the national literacy and numeracy strategy. The €2.5 million in savings from this measure will go towards meeting the cost of implementing the new national literacy and numeracy strategy. The Blue Star programme has to be seen in the context of the Government's commitment to building public understanding and knowledge about Ireland's EU membership. In support of this objective, my Department administers funds for the purposes o thef Communicating Europe initiative. This covers a number of activities, some ongoing and some new this year, including grants provided under the Communicating Europe initiative, the Blue Star programme, activities centred around Europe Week and a number of pre-Presidency events such as those planned by the Institute for International and European Affairs and NUI Maynooth.

The Blue Star programme for primary schools was put out to competitive tender on a pilot basis last year. The most economically advantageous tender was received from European Movement Ireland, EMI, for €39,785, excluding VAT. Accordingly, the contract to manage the programme was awarded to EMI. Payments totalling €27,849 were made last year by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, when the Communicating Europe initiative fell within its budget. Provision has been made in my Department's Estimate for this year for the balance of funding required for the pilot programme, €11,936.

I welcome the new programme for primary schools, the aim of which is to foste rthrough classroom projects and activities better understanding and knowledge of how the European Union affects our lives. The Blue Star programme will introduce participants - pupils, teachers, parents and the wider community - to the European Union, what it means and how it works. Participating schools will complete four modules on historical, geographical, cultural and creative and institutional issues relating to the European Union before the end of the current academic year. More than 90 primary schools made initial inquiries, of which 34 have signed up to undertake the programme. This shows a healthy level of interest on the part of schools in this EU education programme. All schools that successfully complete the programme will be awarded an EU flag and a Blue Star. This is a pilot programme which will be evaluated later this summer and, depending on its outcome, consideration will be given to its further operation in the next academic year.

Deputy Michéal Martin asked about public engagement. Funds available for Communicating Europe support the provision of grants under the Communicating Europe initiative. This annual programme provides funding for voluntary organisations, education bodies and civil society groups for projects aimed at deepening public awareness of the role that the European Union plays in our daily lives. Funds amounting to €46,000 were recently approved to 19 applicants. These covered Europe Day events, education and academic projects, cultural initiatives as well as national civil society and media projects.

My Department is also planning a number of cultural and other public activities to be held in Dublin centred on Europe Day this year. A programme of EU related events is also being planned in the Oireachtas and will be announced shortly.

As the House will be aware, the referendum on the stability treaty will take place on 31 May. To help the public to make an informed decision on that date, a comprehensive information campaign has been launched. This includes a 40-page treaty guide, in Irish and English, and a second information leaflet being delivered to every household in the country, along with a dedicated website -www.stabilitytreaty.ie - and media campaign. I look forward to an engaging and balanced debate over the coming weeks.

This is a particularly intense period of EU-related activity for Ireland. In addition to the referendum campaign, preparation for Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers is intensifying. Work is underway to develop a media and communications strategy relating to Ireland's role in the EU and to develop an initial communications plan for Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.

As I said at the outset, the Government is committed to building public understanding and knowledge about Ireland's EU membership. The various initiatives, which I have outlined, are central to these endeavours.

Finally, Deputy Martin also asked about the EU matters website. As he is aware, this was developed by the then Department of Foreign Affairs. Following the transfer of the co-ordination of European Union affairs from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to my Department, we are considering how the Government's approach to EU issues can best be communicated to the public. The EU matters website has been taken down and links to it removed pending the outcome of this review.

Information on EU business is, of course, contained on my Department's website atwww.taoiseach.gov.ie, on the Government’s news service www.merrionstreet.ie and on the websites of all Departments.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply.

It is incredible, if I heard correctly, that it has been adjudicated by the Government that modern languages should not be part of the primary school curriculum. It was I who, in 1998-99, as Minister for Education, introduced the pilot programme for modern languages to introduce Spanish, French, German and Italian to primary schools. Since then, over 450 schools have participated annually in the cost-effective programme that has made an appreciable impact on primary school-going children enjoying and learning modern European languages. In the context of a country that wants to embrace our membership of the European Union and that wants to broaden horizons, it is incredible that the funding has been taken from that programme, that the programme is being stopped and the funding is being put into an alternative programme to do with general literacy. It is not good enough to shut down some programmes and then be photographed opening up new programmes with the same funding.

In essence, it is extraordinary that a good and worthwhile initiative has been shelved by the Government in the context of the current serious engagement with the European Union in the form of the referendum. Over the past decade thousands of school children have benefited from this programme. I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider that decision and to ensure the continuation of that programme. In the overall scheme of things, it is affordable.

Second, on the Blue Star initiative andwww.eumatters.ie, it is difficult to comprehend how a specific website set up to inform the public generally about European Union matters, which we initiated when I was in the Department for Foreign Affairs because of a sense a number of years ago after the Lisbon referendum that the public needed to be informed more about Europe generally, and which was part of a wider information programme to provide information to the public on Europe, was collapsed, as the Taoiseach seemed to state in his reply, because of the EU foreign policy unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade being transferred to the Department of the Taoiseach. In the lead-up to a referendum campaign, this is a retrograde step.

A question, please.

Is it good enough that important pillars that we have put in place to provide broad information on Europe should be collapsed simply because of bureaucratic issues between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of the Taoiseach, or can the Taoiseach clarity further why, in the current context, an important avenue of providing information was shut down?

Modern languages are of enormous importance as we move on in a global world. I hear people commenting on the necessity to learn new languages such as Chinese, Russian, Portuguese and Arabic because of the changing nature of the global economies.

This recommendation was made by the national council dealing with the curriculum. They recommended that, for the present, modern languages should not be part, as an additional and separate subject, of the primary school curriculum. They stressed "for the present". The €2.5 million that was allocated for that, which, as Deputy Martin stated, he started off in 1998, was reallocated to dealing with the national literacy and numeracy strategy, which is important as well for children who are challenged in that particular area. It is not an issue that is finalised for good. They specifically stated it is "for the present", while this matter is being reviewed.

The EU matters website, as I understand it, was launched in 2009 after the Lisbon treaty referendum. The information that was on that site was certainly relevant when it was set up, but it was never systematically reviewed and is now largely historical in nature. While the section dealing with European Union affairs has transferred from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Department of the Taoiseach, that link was taken down. It is now being reviewed, both in the context of relevant information but also to look at the question of whether one should expand this with the other social interactions such as Facebook and Twitter which have been incorporated into thestabilitytreaty.ie website. That matter is under active review by the Department and I expect it to make a decision on this fairly soon.

Could the Taoiseach clarify what he means by the modern languages programme being reviewed? We export primarily to European Union countries. For example, Germany is our biggest market for pork and France is the biggest market for Irish seafood. It is important that there is capacity built up in society in European languages. All educators accept that the earlier one gets engaged with a subject the better, particularly in preschool and primary school. The earlier we introduce children to languages, the better the prospect of having ever greater numbers capable and competent in those languages by the time they come out of third level. Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland are looking for persons versed in these languages, who can speak them competently, with a view to advancing the sale of Irish products and services, and also winning investment into the country.

It defies logic that one would end the programme summarily as the Government has done. It makes no logical sense whatsoever for us, as an outgoing global economy and society that wants to cherish a global dynamic in terms of our engagement with the wider world. I ask the Taoiseach to review that Government decision. The NCCA can recommend various actions. We need not accept them all of the time. This programme was doing well for ten years and the evaluations of the programme were positive.

It would be a different matter if the professional evaluations of the programme were negative and indicated it had no impact, but they were, in fact, very positive. Now is the time to double up on our engagement with modern European languages and to include other languages such as Mandarin. I fully subscribe to that.

My final question relates to the website,www.eumatters.ie. The Taoiseach is correct in saying it was established after the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, the reason being to create a permanent infrastructure for the Government, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in particular, to communicate European matters to citizens. These matters were not only to do with treaties but also non-treaty issues - the general activity that happens at European level. It was born out of a perception, based on EU barometers over time, that citizens were becoming alienated from Europe or less engaged with it as a result of such issues as telephone roaming charges, agricultural practices or whatever and that there was an ongoing need to provide information on what was happening in the EU. If Departments are falling down in systematically inputting this type of information, that is an administrative issue that must be corrected, resourced and enhanced. Simply closing the website is not the correct answer. We are seeing the negative dividends of this day by day in terms of people’s interactions with and understanding of Europe and where it is heading into the future.

I am a major supporter of modern languages. The Deputy is correct that some organisations would say young people who qualify in three languages or more at university deserve special treatment in the sense there will always be opportunities for them. When I meet representatives of multinationals, especially where call offices are involved and some of which are seeking to employ groups of 300 or 400, there is always a demand for languages. The children of this country are as capable of learning multilinguistic functions and sounds as are any other children. It is a given that children are always challenged by new sounds, words and ways of communicating. The Minister for Education and Skills made his decision regarding the modern languages initiative, for the present, on the basis of the recommendation by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to that effect. I have had many interactions with Deputy Martin, both as Gaeilge and as Béarla, about the way we teach our native language and how, because of particular difficulties or factors, many of our children cannot speak it after 12, 13 or 14 years. There are issues with teaching methods, teacher training and communication facilities. It is very easy to teach modern languages, however, and the methods involved have changed to an extraordinary degree in recent years. The Deputy will have heard over the years of people, 60 or 70 years ago, being able to communicate in Greek, for example, because of the presence of a particular teacher.

I will speak to the Minister for Education and Skills, who also has a clear interest in modern languages and communications, about the issue. As I said, it was a recommendation of the NCCA that the current situation be adopted for the present. The money that was formerly allocated for this purpose was put into the literacy and numeracy strategy. I give a guarantee to the House that I will review the matter. Some would argue the primary school curriculum is overloaded. I have spoken to junior certificate mathematics teachers whose pupils have difficulty with the basics of addition, subtraction, division and so on. It is a question of identifying priorities in the primary school system and deciding where modern languages fit into it. As I said, I am a supporter of modern languages. It is wonderful for young people, in a global situation that has changed utterly, to be able to travel and communicate freely. I was in Galway yesterday where Cisco is making a €26 million investment. Its capacity to communicate high definition data globally in real time is quite incredible. Most of the larger companies use the software that is designed for that purpose, and multilingual skills are vital in that regard.

In regard to the EU matters website, it was a good initiative but, unfortunately, it was not updated regularly. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade operates its own website in respect of international matters, while European matters are now handled through the European section of the Department of the Taoiseach. I have spoken to staff in that section about the importance of it being a vibrant, energetic, communicating website which deals not just with this treaty, as the Deputy observed, but with all the functions of the European Union - how it works and what it means for citizens - and provides access to information on all the relevant facilities of the Union. By enabling people to be properly engaged and to find information in a straightforward fashion, it will give them an understanding of what it is to be part of Europe. I will let the House know as progress is made on getting the website up and running.

Questions Nos. 1 and 2 are in the name of my colleague, Deputy Seán Crowe, the Sinn Féin spokesman on education. These questions were put to the Minister for Education and Skills but, for some reason that is beyond me, they were transferred to the Taoiseach. The reason Deputy Crowe tabled these questions is that he is concerned by the budget announcement of the ending of the modern languages initiative in primary schools. I entirely accept the Taoiseach's statement that he is very much in favour of modern languages. It struck me as I was preparing for this session that just last week we discussed in this House the importance of building trade links. Good work is being done in regard to China and, potentially, other parts of the world, including Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. We are constantly discussing the importance of learning modern languages. Of the 1,000 jobs to be created by PayPal in Dundalk - a very welcome announcement - 50% will require applicants to have a working knowledge of an additional language.

In this context, setting aside the modern languages initiative makes no sense. Some 545 schools participated in the scheme, with pupils developing a very positive attitude towards language learning. The decision to cease funding for the initiative in the last budget was a retrograde step. France is our fifth largest trading partner, for instance, yet we are closing the opportunity for young people to learn French, as well as German, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin. I was with a delegation last week, one member of which was asked whether he had a working knowledge of Arabic. The Taoiseach knows better than I that in our globalised world it is no longer the exception but a necessity that people should have language skills.

I welcome the Taoiseach's indication this decision will be reviewed, but why was it taken in the first place? There is no suggestion the initiative was not successful and it is clearly a vital part of our efforts to come out of recession. What is the justification for introducing a new pilot scheme when what is in place is working? Although the Taoiseach has given a full answer, I ask him to indicate why a scheme that was working was terminated and replaced by something which seems, with all respect to the Blue Star programme, to be simply giving up on the opportunity for young people to learn modern languages.

The reason Deputy Crowe's questions came to me is they included a reference to the Blue Star programme. That programme is not meant to be a replacement for the pilot initiative for language learning. It is run by the Department of the Taoiseach, with very small funding I should say, with the aim of increasing awareness in schools of diversity and of what the European Union is, what it means, how it works and so on. It is not meant to be a pilot language scheme although, clearly, when we speak of different countries, there are connections with the language there. Deputy Crowe might wish to put down a specific question to the Minister for Education and Skills or to raise this as a topical issue.

I am interested in this area because it is an opportunity for real investment and real jobs. Speaking to the chief executive of PayPal, an extraordinary company, there are clearly opportunities for new languages and some old European languages. In such an industry, which is going to Dundalk, fluency in the language is a major issue, not just capacity to communicate but fluency to deal with issues that arise with products. From my experience, for those who learn a language, the extra edge of fluency is always obtained by undertaking a programme in the country in question. That is often the key to employment in companies like PayPal. People might be able to communicate and understand each other but fluency makes the difference between being able to market and sell and drive forward. That does not get away from the basic point that Irish children are as capable of learning four or five languages as any other children and they have proven that time and again - the children of diplomats or those who have occasion to move because their families are involved in business.

I will speak to the Minister for Education and Skills as we move along with this and review the position. If Deputies put down a question about the reasons why the National Council for Curriculum Assessment made its recommendation, the Minister will give a detailed response.

Is the Taoiseach aware of some of the vested interests?

I agree with everything the Taoiseach has said. Perhaps the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will write that down as well. Everything the Taoiseach says, however, highlights how short-sighted it is to end the modern language initiative. Everything he says would act to encourage such initiatives as opposed to ending them. It would be illuminating if the Taoiseach could tell us why this scheme was ended.

Most schools will continue with this because of their capitation payments.

They will; I can bring the Deputy to one tomorrow.

While the scheme was a worthwhile investment, there was a recommendation from the NCCA that it be discontinued for the present.

It was a budget decision.

An allocation of €2.5 million has gone into the numeracy strategy programme, which is brought to my attention by parents on a regular basis where children have difficulties. We had this before with resource teachers for children with special needs, where challenges might arise for children in any location around the country.

Official Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

5Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the way he has been putting forward growth measures rather than austerity measures to other European leaders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10581/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

6Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Chancellor Merkel recently on the EU Treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10583/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

7Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he will prioritise at the European Council on 1 and 2 March. [10928/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

8Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the Anglo promissory note at the European Council on 1 and 2 March. [10929/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

9Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the 23 February 2012. [11165/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

10Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the Anglo promissory note at his meeting with Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the 23 February 2012. [11166/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Chancellor Merkel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11233/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

12Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised with Chancellor Merkel the issue of declining growth in the European economy and the down grading of future growth forecasts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11234/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

13Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised with Chancellor Merkel the issue of the effect of ECB interest rate policy and the lending of German, French and other banks in fuelling the property and financial bubble and consequent crash here; and in that context if he requested a write-down of the Irish debt burden; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11236/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

14Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the Anglo-Irish Bank, IBRC, promissory notes with Chancellor Merkel; her response to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11237/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

15Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with Chancellor Merkel the Eurocompac intergovernmental treaty and the referendum in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11238/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

16Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed at the meeting he had recently in Berlin with Chancellor Merkel; if the promissory note was included in the discussion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11243/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

17Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the business that was discussed at his recent meeting with Prime Minister Monti in Italy; if the role of the ECB was discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12271/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

18Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the need for a referendum on the European treaty was discussed with Chancellor Angela Merkel at his recent meeting with her in Germany; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12452/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

19Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held any bilateral meetings at the most recent EU Council meeting; if he will outline the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13490/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

20Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there were any discussions at the EU Council meeting regarding inflation risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13493/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

21Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed declining economic growth and the recent down-gradings of growth forecasts for Europe with EU leaders at the European Council meeting on 1 and 2 March; if so, their responses to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13951/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

22Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the Anglo-Irish promissory notes at the European Council meeting on 1 and 2 March; if he will report on those discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13952/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

23Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the issue of the growing crisis in Europe was discussed at the EU council meeting on 1 and 2 March; if so, the measures that are planned to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13954/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

24Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the efforts of the military Government in Egypt to repress the democracy movement and independent trade unions in that country were discussed at the European Council meeting on 1 and 2 March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13955/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

25Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he plans to meet with the Spanish Prime Minister in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15096/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

26Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held any bilaterals when he attended the recent EU Council meeting; the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15190/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

27Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he made any statement at the recent EU Council meeting in relation to the situation in Syria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15191/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

28Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail any documents relating to bank related debt which he has circulated to other heads of State or Government who attend the European Council. [16233/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

29Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail his direct personal discussions with the President of the ECB other than in the context of meetings of the Eurogroup or European Council. [16234/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

30Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has held any bilateral meeting with the new Spanish Prime Minister; if one is planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16240/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

31Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has held a bilateral meeting with the Portuguese Prime Minister; if one is planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16241/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

32Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the next EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19799/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

33Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has recently met or spoken to his counterpart in Spain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20008/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

34Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans for official trips abroad during the remainder of 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19787/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

35Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the specific proposals that he has requested to be considered by the EU to instill growth across the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21308/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

36Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had discussions recently with Chancellor Merkel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21309/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

37Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has held discussions in advance of the next European Council meeting in relation to the need for a focus on investment in jobs and growth here and across the EU. [21607/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

38Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he will prioritise at the next meeting of the European Council. [21608/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 38, inclusive, together.

I travelled to Berlin on Thursday, 23 February, for an informal working dinner with Chancellor Merkel. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia and Prime Minister Petr Necas of the Czech Republic also attended the dinner. Discussions focused on the future of Europe; how we could move beyond the current crisis; and how we could ensure that we can avoid crises in the future. Our informal meeting was extremely engaging and conducted in a most positive and constructive atmosphere. There was a shared determination to focus on the steps needed to encourage growth and job creation in the Union.

I took the opportunity to brief my German, Latvian and Czech colleagues on developments in Ireland, and the preparations for Ireland's Presidency of the Council which will commence in eight months time. I outlined to my colleagues that the Irish recovery is proceeding well, but that we need the continuing support of partners. With regard to wider eurozone issues, we agreed that the deal reached by Finance Ministers on Greece on 20 February was an important one but I stressed that we still need firewalls and a strong focus on growth if we are to overcome the crisis.

In relation to our forthcoming Presidency during the first half of 2013, I indicated that we would be pressing ahead with jobs and growth at the heart of the agenda. The next round of the European Semester will take place during our term, and we will work to ensure that every effort to foster growth is central to the European Semester process. We did not discuss arrangements for ratification of the stability treaty during this informal meeting.

Following my meeting in Berlin, I travelled to Rome on Friday, 24 February for a meeting with Prime Minister Monti. Our discussions focused on eurozone issues, preparations for the spring European Council, the jobs and growth agenda and the Single Market. Both Italy and Ireland are working hard to get their economies back on to a sustainable footing and the Prime Minister and I agreed that while discipline is essential, recovery will not come without growth. We also agreed that while we are making great efforts to recover, robust firewalls were also necessary.

I attended the spring meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 1-2 March. As I have already made a statement to the House concerning this meeting, I will merely set out a summary of its proceedings.

Discussions at the spring European Council focused on economic policy. That meeting marked the end of the first phase of the European semester. The European Council discussed budgetary and economic strategies to stimulate growth and increase competitiveness across Europe. In this regard, we endorsed the five priorities for 2012 set out in the European Commission's annual growth survey, including actions to be taken at national level and action required at EU level. I cosigned a further letter on the growth agenda ahead of the meeting, this time supported by 12 member states. We called for progress in eight specific areas, and are broadly satisfied with how these issues are reflected in the Conclusions. They will remain a key focus over the period ahead.

As the House will be aware, there is now a shared view around the European Council table that to enhance prospects for economic recovery in Europe, we also need to generate real momentum aimed towards the creation of jobs and growth. These are the issues that matter most to the people of Europe. The Commission's growth forecast served as a reminder of this. With decisive and coordinated action, we can work together to underpin stability and boost growth and jobs.

The European Council also set the EU's priorities for the forthcoming G8 and G20 Summits, as well as for the Rio +20 Summit in June. In the field of foreign policy, the meeting took stock of the evolving situation in Syria as well as developments concerning the Arab spring and set guidance for further EU support to that process. Ireland fully supports this process. In addition, the 27 Heads of State and Government endorsed the granting of the status of candidate country to Serbia.

Finally, the European Council elected Herman Van Rompuy President of the European Council for a second mandate of two and a half years. Eurozone leaders also designated him as the first President of the Euro Summit.

In the margins of the European Council on 2 March, I signed, on behalf of Ireland, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The treaty is, of course, subject to ratification by the Irish people in the referendum to take place on 31 May. While I had no formal bilateral meetings at the European Council, I did of course see a number of my colleagues during the course of the meeting. The issues of inflation risk and the situation in Egypt did not arise at this meeting of the European Council.

The announcement at the end of March on promissory notes and bank debt is another good step in our ongoing efforts to improve our programme. The use of an Irish Government bond for the promissory note payment allows the wider discussions on the Irish debt associated with the recapitalisation of the banks to continue and hopefully come to a successful outcome that is in our interests.

On my travel plans for the remainder of 2012, I will attend the scheduled meetings of the European Council on 28 -29 June, 18-19 October and 13-14 December. I will also attend the British Irish Council on 22 June. I will of course keep my plans for travel and visits under careful review, particularly as our Presidency approaches.

I have had no formal bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain or Prime Minister Coelho of Portugal, however, I will see both leaders at the next scheduled meeting of the European Council next month.

Relations with the European Central Bank are the responsibility of the Minister for Finance in the first instance, however, and I have had no contact with the President of the European Central Bank other than in the context of meetings of the European Council.

I have not yet received an agenda for the June European Council. The annotated draft agenda is expected to be received during the third week of May.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply, which dealt with Questions Nos. 5 to 38, inclusive, 34 in total. I do not believe this is a satisfactory way to proceed. If the old system whereby questions to the Taoiseach were taken twice a week, as was the case at the beginning of the lifetime of this Dáil, were still in operation, we would have had a better chance of dealing with some of the 34 questions to which I refer. A number of these relate to meetings which took place as long ago as 1 and 2 March. The Taoiseach took on the Herculean task of dealing with that number of questions in one go. It is a formidable task by any standards.

When this number of questions are taken together, many issues are going to be passed over. In that context, I refer the Taoiseach to Question No. 28, with which he did not deal in his reply and which asked if he would detail any documents relating to bank related debt which he circulated to other Heads of State or Government who attended the European Council. In the context of his response to Question No. 29 and in view of the significant issues around the promissory note, including the commitments made in respect of it and the severity and gravity of the situation in which this country finds itself, I find it incredible that the Taoiseach has not met the President of the European Central Bank. What occurred at the end of March was not a serious development but was, rather, a camouflaged kicking of the can down the road, and it was widely reported as such.

On the broader issues to which these questions relate, I stated previously that I would have preferred the referendum to be held in late June. I have always been of the view that holding it at the end of this month would heighten the risks to its being passed, especially in light of the occurrence of a range of events across Europe. In France, for example, Francois Hollande is demanding that extra measures be agreed by European Union leaders before he will agree, if elected, to ratify the stability treaty. I accept that there is at long last a growing convergence of opinion in respect of the need for strong growth in parallel with moves to balance budgets. There is also agreement on the need for a stimulus programme at pan-European level. The Tánaiste has indicated that the existing growth agenda would address Francois Hollande's concerns. I do not accept that because I am of the view more is required. I would accept the treaty does not prevent other actions being taken. The more honest approach would be to show the people the larger agenda that exists in respect of this matter, namely, that the fiscal treaty is a stepping stone towards further moves which will ensure Europe and Ireland will emerge from the current crisis. The basic point is that while the treaty is needed, it is not enough in itself. We should be upfront and honest in respect of that matter.

I have consistently stated during the past year that further treaty changes will be required, particularly in the context of the mandate of the European Central Bank and the role it has played in the current crisis. Will the Taoiseach comment on that matter? Does he accept there will be a requirement for further treaty changes in the future to ensure the mandate of the European Central Bank will be broadened and a genuine fiscal union, which will allow real transfers across borders in the event that certain countries get into difficulties, will be created? If we show the people there is a broader agenda at play and this can assist us in emerging from the crisis, they will support both the treaty and broader growth policies within Europe.

On bank debt, it appears what is being sought is for the ESM to fund our debt. This will not address the debt sustainability issue which has surfaced. Are we no longer seeking an explicit write-down in respect of the promissory note debt?

I met the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Draghi, upon his appointment and after Mr. Trichet had vacated the position. I did not have a formal meeting with him. The Minister for Finance travelled to Frankfurt to meet Mr. Draghi and has met him on a number of occasions since his appointment. A briefing document in respect of the promissory note was circulated by the European Union section of my Department to our counterparts throughout Europe.

As I informed Deputy Ross in respect of an earlier question, the treaty is about sustainable growth, employment, competitiveness and social cohesion. It is not for me to interfere in the electoral processes of France or any other country. We made a clear decision, in adequate time, to hold the referendum on 31 May next. Irrespective of when one holds a referendum, there will always be events which can discussed in the context of whether they will assist the process. This is a matter for the Irish people to make a decision on and we are well able to make up our own minds in respect of the question being asked. That question is whether people will give their authorisation for the ratification of the treaty, which relates to growth, employment, competitiveness and social cohesion. I hope the people will answer "Yes", especially on the basis of the evidence before them in respect of continued strong investment. Such investment leads to job opportunities and helps to create growth, which in turn reduces our debt and makes it easier for us to reach the point at which we can once again fly on our own economically. The less money we are obliged to spend on debt and interest payments, the more will be available to spend in areas such as health, education and so on where a clear need exists.

As Deputy Martin is aware, there has been some movement in respect of the European situation. The meetings of the European Council I attended from March of last year up to recently were all consumed by talk of catastrophe, default, the break-up of the eurozone, the demise of the euro, the removal or potential removal of countries from the eurozone, etc. The position has now changed. Greece was the subject of headlines on the front pages of world newspapers for two and a half years but we have moved to the point where there is a recognition that if one wants to put one's house in order, one will be obliged to engage in some good housekeeping. On its own, the agenda in this regard does not deal with the challenge of creating growth and opportunity.

There has been a recognition of the role of the European Central Bank. Deputy Martin is well aware of the exceptional liquidity released by Mr. Draghi and the bank into the system to relieve the pressure on it. There has also been a recognition of the urgency of this matter by means of the bringing forward of the establishment of the ESM by 12 months. There is also the issue of the adequacy and the scale of the firewalls being made available. We must remember the co-operation offered by the IMF when Europe was prepared to put its money where its mouth is. Clearly the firewall available will be of a scale which will allow it to prevent contagion. This type of action speaks for itself.

The question of the promissory notes is one with which the Minister for Finance and his counterparts are actively involved. That will continue to be the case. Issues such as the future role of the European Central Bank, the question of eurobonds, etc. have not yet become the subject of specific proposals. The Deputy is aware that what Ireland would like in this regard is an opportunity to have a longer spell at a lower interest rate because this would assist us with our deficit and debt repayments. The Minister for Finance will continue to negotiate on behalf of the country in respect of these matters. When they are finally dealt with at European Council level, we will make decisions that are in the best interests of the country. While there has been some movement and a degree of recognition of the need for change, I am of the view that developments will accelerate once the stability treaty is ratified by 12 countries and proceeds to be implemented.

The agenda being discussed by Mr. Hollande, if he is to be elected by the French people, is one of additional growth. I welcome the statements from European leaders in respect of a focus on an agenda which promotes investment, growth, jobs and opportunities. We fully support that principle which we, as a country, have been advocating for some months. What the French people decide to do is their business.

I want the Deputy to understand that while the treaty has been signed, it does not prevent additional measures being inserted that will not alter the treaty but will add a particular focus to it such as jobs and investment. That could be in the same way the European Parliament voted through a range of protocols given to Ireland arising from the Lisbon treaty with particular reference to corporation tax rates and so on. I would not give acarte blanche, as they say in France, to growth and investment because we have objections to financial transaction taxes and any changes in corporation tax rates that might be of interest to other countries. We would see this as a growth issue.

I am not clear about this. Are we seeking an explicit write-down of the promissory note debt? Will the Taoiseach clarify our position on this? Regarding the growth agenda, I accept there is more talk around growth and development. I accept in election campaigns people will make comments. If the French socialist leader gets elected, the one aspect of the treaty he will not change is the link to the ESM, European Stability Mechanism. A fundamentalraison d’être for supporting the treaty is the guaranteed secure access to this funding. No matter who gets elected, that will not change anytime soon. We need to be upfront and clear with people on that. What may change is a focus on a more concrete growth agenda, which I would support.

Where is the beef in all of this? To put flesh on the bone, an early manifestation of this change could be at the negotiations of the European budget, for example. The Commission is proposing an increase of 7%. This would be a test for Germany and other states as to the degree to which they want to create additional spend across the European Union economy. That is a move we should support at a broader European level. The talks on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy over time will be another important signal in terms of support of measures that can help member states' domestic economies, especially our own. Whereas Greece may have receded temporarily from the headlines, unfortunately others have come in to fill the space. There is considerable speculation and concern, as we know, about Spain. That is why some of the questions tabled today asked if the Taoiseach met the Spanish Prime Minister recently. That is another reason we should opt for security and vote for the treaty because we are not out of the eurozone crisis yet.

Thank you, Deputy.

We should not pretend we are out of the eurozone crisis. Will the Taoiseach comment on that dimension? We are still in a relatively volatile and uncertain scenario. We need to identify clearly the concrete steps we can take to put the country on a more secure pathway rather than the alternative uncertain scenario in the event of the treaty not being passed.

With regard to the Greek private sector initiative, PSI, it was made perfectly clear by the European Council that this applied to Greece only. It is not a case of looking for write-downs here but one of looking for a re-engineering of the promissory note system to bring about a longer repayment period and lower interest rates which will make it easier for Ireland to deal with its deficit and pay its debts.

The Deputy is correct that the eurozone is not out of the woods. It is in a fragile position and great concern has been expressed about Spain, given the size of the country's economy and its unemployment rates. Earlier this was reflected in the great anxiety about Italy when the new Prime Minister, Mr. Monti, was appointed. Obviously, decisions were taken by his Government on how to deal with the structural challenges there. Likewise, the Spanish Prime Minister, on taking up office, examined the situation, and some revisions in respect of Spain's targets were put in place.

It is true to say the eurozone is not by any means out of this particular challenge. Deputy Martin is correct that the road to travel here is the one of certainty and guarantee of access to a permanent funding mechanism, were that ever to be required. When the treaty is ratified and moves on, the question of the future role of the European Central Bank, eurobonds and these other issues will become the focus of attention and proposal. If we cannot understand that, like every household in the country, we must live within our means, then there is a problem. That is the problem many countries have now which is why we have this enormous frustration at European Council meetings about decisions being taken that people, in some cases, knew in their hearts were never going to be followed through.

The question of organising this in a way that countries can have a clear target to get their houses in order while, parallel to that, having a specific growth agenda where investment and opportunity can take place is something I strongly support. Article 1 of the treaty, dealing with sustainable growth, employment, competitiveness and social cohesion, can be fleshed out. This agenda was taken up anyway with the small and medium-sized enterprises part of the recent European Council summit. The question of a youth unemployment rate above the 29% European average, which also includes Ireland, was addressed. There are 23 million small and medium-sized enterprises in the Union. At the same time, there are 23 million people unemployed. In theory, if each enterprise could take on one person, then the problem would be dealt with. However, that is not reality.

It has taken some time to force the growth agenda onto the overall agenda. It can be developed as a larger platform which, as Deputy Martin said, provides certainty, a guarantee for the future and an opportunity for every country to develop their economies for the benefit of their people, workers, jobs and opportunities.

As a spectator to this little chitchat between the leader of Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach, it is bizarre and surreal to listen to them talking as if in some way this Government and the previous one was all about job creation and growth, got it on the agenda and forced the European partners to come on to this ground.

Deputy Adams might be joining with Fianna Fáil soon.

On the issue of the promissory note, the Minister for Finance raised all sorts of expectations but then came up with something that does not reduce our debt, deficit or the State's liability to Anglo Irish Bank. In fact, we now have to find an additional €90 million in taxes and cuts this year because of the increase in the debt. That is a bit of wizardry, revisionism and spin.

Deputy Adams's party is not afraid to use spin itself.

The Taoiseach knows this is not a treaty about sustainable growth or social inclusion. The Taoiseach should step out of Leinster House and look at what is happening around us. There are 500,000 people unemployed, thousands forced to emigrate and social guarantees reduced every day. This morning the Minister for Finance - the Minister of hardship - was at it again frightening people with no positive argument being put forward in favour of this treaty. It is all scary stuff trying to frighten people.

We will have a lot more austerity if we vote "No".

Sinn Féin is always frightened of the truth.

The clear message is that austerity is not working. In 2008, the Exchequer deficit was €12.78 billion; in 2011, €24.9 billion. After five austerity budgets and €24 billion in cuts, along with a whole host of new charges such as the household tax, the septic tank tax, property tax, water charges, massive cuts to education and other social guarantees, particularity the outrageous cut of some 500,000 hours of home help for people in the community, it is clear austerity is not working.

In the past 12 months the Labour Party and Fine Gael have given €21 billion to the banks. Where is the job stimulus project and the Government's proposal and funding for getting people off the dole and regenerating the economy? Sinn Féin is very clear about this. We believe the deficit must be reduced and put forward propositions to do this which were socially equitable compared to what is happening now. Waste must be cut. We part company from the Government and Fianna Fáil - as they are the parties of cosy consensus - in the idea that we can cut our way out of recession. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The Government has not brought forward any jobs stimulus project that is clearly funded. Numerous constructed and costed propositions have been ignored by the Government.

Does the Taoiseach agree that austerity is the problem rather than the answer? Will he look into his soul and appreciate that the only safe and sound answer in this referendum is to vote "No"? It is the only safe way to go forward with any possibility that we will get back to redeveloping our economy, getting our people back to work and building our public services. The Government is looking to give away what remains of autonomy, sovereignty and democratic rights. People can choose whether to re-elect the Government at the next election but if it brings in the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to police matters, we will not be able to vote them in or out. Does the Taoiseach agree it is absolute nonsense to suggest that in some way Fine Gael has discovered the panacea for our ills and is promoting growth? In reality, it is cutting repeatedly and increasing taxes.

Germany's Chancellor Merkel has injected her obsession with debts and deficits into the fiscal treaty. The Taoiseach might listen to the question so he is able to answer it. When he met Chancellor Merkel, did he mention the significant grievance among people in this country because a very substantial part of our inflated debt results from the activities of German and other European banks which lent recklessly to banks in this country speculating in the Irish property market? It also came from European Central Bank policy of essentially printing cheap money to benefit Germany at that time. Therefore, ordinary people have a significant grievance because they are being asked to pick up 100% of the tab for the gambling of European banks. If she wanted any hope of getting this treaty through, Chancellor Merkel might have considered writing down debts which have been forced on the people of this country as a result of the speculation of bankers and bondholders, particularly German banks.

The Taoiseach stated at the summit where he signed the fiscal treaty, and has repeated here since, that there is now great concern for growth. It is mentioned in the treaty that we need growth and investment. Will the Taoiseach explain why the only concrete target in the treaty requires austerity and cuts to meet the deficit and debt targets in the vast majority of European countries if implemented, but there are no specific figures or measures proposed for growth? What were the discussions about growth, other than simply mentioning the word 28 times in the communiqué at the March summit? The Taoiseach has mentioned it a dozen or so times here. What specific measures are proposed for growth?

Regardless of our views on economics, we all accept that the only way to get growth and jobs is through investment and demand in the economy. In other words, in order to have growth and investment, people must have money in their pockets to buy goods, and the people who have the money - primarily the banks now - must invest that money in the economy. Neither of those is happening and the ingredients of the fiscal treaty are moving precisely in the opposite direction. Two months after the summit where the Taoiseach signed the treaty with Chancellor Merkel, are they not feeling a little lonely and forlorn in Europe, as they seem to be the only people still promoting this treaty unconditionally? Everybody else in Europe is seeking concrete measures to stimulate the economy, create jobs and get investment. Every set of statistics published week on week shows that the austerity agenda is crippling growth in the economy and leading to increases in unemployment. Why are the Taoiseach and Chancellor Merkel virtually alone in saying we should pass this treaty without serious amendment at the very least?

I also asked a question about Egypt. The Taoiseach mentioned that he discussed the Arab spring and there is a very serious repression of democracy activists and independent trade unions ongoing in Egypt now that the spotlight has gone from the country. Is that being discussed? There are, essentially, attempts to crush the Arab spring and the democratic revolution in Egypt but what are European leaders doing and saying about safeguarding the democratic gains of the Egyptian revolution?

Deputy Adams found it "bizarre" that I should discuss growth in jobs and investment here with Deputy Martin.

Do something about it. It is nothing but talk.

I assume the Deputy and his constituency are the beneficiaries of the line of investment we speak about here, which is important for jobs. It goes directly to Dundalk in the case of PayPal recruiting for 1,000 jobs. I assume the Deputy does not find that bizarre.

I welcome that. I was talking about the attempt to revise recent history.

I assume that when the Deputy speaks to the young people who will be employed in Paypal in their own town and country, he does not find it bizarre. That is what we are at with the likes of Apple, Mylan, Allergan, PayPal or any of the other companies. The Minister responsible for jobs is in the United States now speaking to representatives of 20 companies about continued investment here and I assume the Deputy does not find that bizarre.

No, I do not. The Taoiseach knows that.

If the Deputy finds this bizarre and in some way incongruous that people outside our country should look at what we do and offer before investing not just in Ireland but in the Deputy's location in Dundalk, it speaks to what he is at here.

The Deputy mentioned the promissory note that was dealt with by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. Deputy Adams seemed quite disappointed that we got a result - as the manager of the Irish football team said at one time - on the first tranche of the payment. He raised the issue for two months before it became a reality and when it was finally accepted that something should be done, the Deputy was a little upset.

Not in the least.

He would have loved to have been on the steps of the Four Courts with lawyers brandishing sheaves of paper about the inability of the Government to make any progress. The Minister for Finance, on behalf of the Government, will continue the discussions about the remainder of the promissory notes involved.

I agree that the legacy of people unemployed in this country is much too high. The live register figures speak for themselves and are encouraging in respect of confidence returning. The Minister for Social Protection will deal with that issue later this afternoon. Of the more than 400,000 on the live register, the Deputy will be aware that significant numbers are working part time and that others who sign on for credits are not seeking work. A restructuring and clarification of the make-up of the register should be looked at, but that does not deal with the fact that far too many are unemployed. The reason the Government has set its face towards promoting business and opening doors to it is that it is part of the stimulus process in which we are involved. The Deputy will be aware of the Pathways to Work scheme introduced by the Minister for Social Protection and the JobBridge initiative, a fabulously successful scheme with more than 5,000 people working through it. He will also be aware of the Government using the National Pension Reserve Fund for loans in respect of significant engineering projects and infrastructural development which is important in the creation of jobs and the new attitude of the Department of Finance to be progressive in looking for further opportunities for investment from abroad, be it from pension funds or the European Investment Bank. This issue is under active consideration.

We are not satisfied with the extent of unemployment and want to take every opportunity to stimulate the indigenous economy. That is why in replying to Deputy Michéal Martin earlier I referred to mortgage interest relief, the reduction in stamp duty, the non-application of capital gains tax on commercial property after seven years and face to face discussions with the banks to get moving on the release of money, in respect of which they have been recapitalised for investment and loans. That is all part of the jobs agenda.

As Deputy Gerry Adams will also be aware, we published, with monitoring by my Department, the first quarterly report on the jobs action programme. It has 270 propositions to deal with in opening doors for businesses, in dealing with red tape, taxation issues, opportunities and incentives for employers to take on young people and in terms of how to get the message out that the country is open for business. That is part of the bigger picture because the next wave of investment will be for smaller enterprises which can meet the requirements and service needs of major companies which continue to invest here. I will repeat until the Deputy is sick of it that the tax system, the technology and the talent we have available and the track record of what we offer in this country are second to none and I do not want to see them damaged in any way. That is why, from that point of view, I hope the people will endorse the treaty strongly when they come to make that choice.

In response to Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, we discussed the question of the grievances of the people in the context of the challenge and enormous burden placed upon them in the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. The German Chancellor is well aware of the scale of that challenge and anxious to help in every way possible. Even if we never had a fiscal stability treaty, we would have to put our own house in order. That is a fact of life people all over the country recognise. We are spending €16 billion more than we are taking in. I do not know whether people in the Deputy's cohorts who were in Galway or other places are prepared to write a cheque on behalf of the people and say to them, "Actually, you do not have to work for this at all because Boyd Barrett has come to the rescue." We are the only ones who can sort this out. Irish people, as the Deputy will appreciate, given the educational sphere from which he comes and his understanding of our history, have dealt with adversity before in a pragmatic fashion. When they are told the truth about the scale of the problem, they will say, "I want to help and sort this out" not in their own interests but in the interest of those who come behind them. We will have distinct advantages if we pull this together, as we are doing, and make progress. While the challenge is enormous, the reward will be worth it in the sense of having a country that is well run, with a thriving economy. Opportunities to make our talents available on a global scale are well worth following through.

I am heartened by the constant stream of queries from abroad about investment here and the constant energy of our own people in small and medium enterprises in the Deputy's constituency and all over the country who want to get out of this recession and to invest and employ people.

Where is that in the treaty?

That is why the Government will make no bones about continuing to promote an agenda of being open for business and opening the doors of opportunity for business. We will prove it. As I have said to people on many occasions, if they have a problem in their business, we will try to help them and we will open those doors. We have put in place the structures for this and will continue to do so. We will indicate on a quarterly basis the progress we have made, be it with broadband or red tape and so on to enable business to thrive.

The EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, gave a detailed response at the last Council meeting on what had happened in Egypt, but the focus of the meeting was on Syria, where the situation was completely disastrous. I can have details of the issue raised by the Deputy in respect of Egypt brought to her attention for a more detailed response.