1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will be speaking to Prime Minister Cameron before the EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45690/12]
Vol. 784 No. 2
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will be speaking to Prime Minister Cameron before the EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45690/12]
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has any bilaterals arranged around the EU Council meeting; the persons with whom he will be meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45691/12]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the costs to the State of his recent visit to Rome including the details of any officials or staff that travelled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45694/12]
4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European council summit on the 18 and 19 October. [45993/12]
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he raised at the EU summit on the 18 and 19 October in Brussels. [45994/12]
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the sustainability of Ireland's bank debt at the EU Summit on the 18 and 19 October. [45995/12]
7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he held with EU leaders on the margins of the EU summit on the 18 and 19 October. [45996/12]
8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with other EU leaders since the EU Summit on the 18 and 19 October. [45997/12]
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues that were on the agenda at the European Union Summit in Brussels on 18 and 19 October 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46204/12]
10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of debt relief for Ireland at the European Union Summit in Brussels on 18 and 19 October 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46205/12]
11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issues of jobs and growth at the European Union Summit in Brussels on 18 and 19 October 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46206/12]
12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the issues on which agreement was reached and on the issues where no agreement was reached at the European Union Summit in Brussels on 18 and 19 October 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46207/12]
13. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the French President Francois Hollande on 22 October 2012. [47225/12]
14. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has raised the issue of Ireland's legacy bank debts in his meeting with the French President Francois Hollande on 22 October 2012. [47313/12]
15. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel since the European summit in Brussels on 18 and 19 October 2012. [47314/12]
16. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues that were discussed at his meeting with President Hollande in Paris, France; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47316/12]
17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the future common agricultural policy negotiations were discussed with President Hollande; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47317/12]
18. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of conversations he held with Chancellor Merkel in the period between the June and October meetings of the European Council. [47359/12]
19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the discussions which he has held with Chancellor Merkel following the most recent European Council meeting. [47360/12]
20. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide his official engagements on his recent visit to Bucharest. [47365/12]
21. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the costs of his recent visits to Bucharest and Rome. [47366/12]
22. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his bilateral contacts with the Prime Minister of Finland outside of the context of summit meetings during 2012. [47367/12]
23. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his bilateral contacts with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands outside of the context of summit meetings during 2012. [47368/12]
24. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the materials circulated by him at the recent meeting of the European Council. [47369/12]
25. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his programme of meetings with other heads of Government in the next three months; and the items which will be discussed at these meetings. [47370/12]
26. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the EU Summit on the 18 and 19 October [47573/12]
27. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his phone conversation with Chancellor Merkel on 21 October 2012. [47574/12]
28. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to meet President Hollande. [47575/12]
29. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he requested clarification at the EU Summit of 29 June of the meaning of the EU communique in relation to the statement that the Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme. [47576/12]
30. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he intends to prioritise at the European Summit in Brussels on 22 November 2012. [47583/12]
31. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he intends to circulate any papers or proposals at the European Summit in Brussels on 22 November 2012. [47584/12]
32. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he intends to raise the issue of Ireland's legacy bank debt at the European Summit on 22 November 2012. [47585/12]
33. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will outline Ireland's input into the discussions on EU external relations at the recent EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47590/12]
34. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. [48245/12]
35. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has been speaking with Prime Minister Rutte recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48331/12]
36. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues he raised in phone conversation with Angela Merkel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48412/12]
37. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with President Hollande; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48413/12]
38. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach further to his recent phone conversations with Angela Merkel, if he will explain what she meant when she described Ireland as a special case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48414/12]
39. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach further to his recent meeting with President Hollande, if he will explain what he meant when he described Ireland as a special case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48415/12]
40. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if any specific proposals were mentioned in relation to Ireland's debt situation in his recent conversations with Angela Merkel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48416/12]
41. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he raised in his meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, on 1 November 2012. [49432/12]
42. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of Ireland's legacy bank debt at his meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, on 1 November 2012. [49433/12]
43. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the progress made on a deal on Ireland's bank debt in his discussions with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, on 1 November 2012. [49434/12]
44. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the discussion he has had on the EU's 2014 to 2020 budget in his meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, on 1 November 2012. [49435/12]
45. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with Chancellor Merkel at their 1 November 2012 meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49436/12]
46. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any recent contact with EU leaders. [49716/12]
47. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the issues he intends to prioritise at the European Summit in Brussels on 22 November 2012. [49717/12]
48. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met or spoken to Prime Minister Rajoy recently regarding European debt and the way it is being dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49746/12]
49. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues that were discussed at his recent meeting in Vienna with Chancellor Wernen Faymann; if the outcome of the June EU Council was discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50879/12]
50. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with Prime Minister Viktor Orban; if the outcome of the June EU Council meeting was discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50880/12]
51. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues he intends to raise at the summit on 22 November 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51353/12]
52. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he intends to raise the issue of growth and jobs at the summit on 22 November 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51354/12]
53. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the terms upon which he has appointed the spokesperson for the EU Presidency in his Department. [50874/12]
54. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he will prioritise at the EU Summit in Brussels on 13 and 14 December 2012. [52290/12]
55. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of Ireland's bank debt at the EU Summit on 13 and 14 December 2012. [52291/12]
I propose to answer Questions Nos. 1 to 55, inclusive, together.
I attended the European Council in Brussels on 18 and 19 October. As I have already made a statement to the House on the outcome of this meeting, I will give a summary of proceedings to the House.
The main focus of our discussions was the strengthening of economic and monetary union. In this regard, President Van Rompuy presented his interim report. It was agreed that he should continue his consultations with member states and others before bringing forward his final report to the December European Council. That report will set out a specific and time-bound road map for strengthening economic and monetary union.
President Van Rompuy will be following up on the possibility of having a fiscal capacity for the euro area and possible contracts between member states and the EU institutions, including covering the country-specific recommendations made in the European semester process. These ideas need to be elaborated on further before we can judge whether they might have a substantial contribution to make. For Ireland's part, the Government will continue to engage in these consultations constructively and with an open mind. The European Council reaffirmed the commitment made last June to break the vicious circle between banking and sovereign debt. In addition, the European Council agreed to move forward as a matter of priority on the single supervisory mechanism for euro area banks, with the objective of concluding its legislative framework by the end of the year. Work on operational implementation is to be carried out during the course of 2013. The European Council has also tasked the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers to draw up the exact operational criteria that will guide direct bank recapitalisation by the ESM, as it termed, "in full respect of" the June decisions.
With regard to the compact for growth and jobs, the European Council reviewed progress on its implementation and set a number of additional orientations to promote growth and employment. This was a welcome follow-up on implementation of the compact.
The European Council also discussed relations with the European Union's strategic partners, particularly China. The meeting further adopted conclusions on Syria, Iran and Mali. Ireland contributed to the conclusions of the meeting of the European Council in October in the usual way, including through the submission of written proposals on the range of issues covered.
While I had no formal bilateral meetings at the October European Council, I met all my colleagues at the meeting. I raised the question of Ireland's legacy bank debts and the specific circumstances that had brought about our current situation.
On Sunday, 21 October, following the European Council meeting, I had a telephone conversation with Chancellor Merkel. On foot of that discussion, we issued a joint communiqué that makes it clear that the commitments made to Ireland at the end of June stand and that the vital work involved in examining the situation of the Irish financial sector will be taken forward by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and his colleagues in the Eurogroup, with a view to improving the sustainability of our programme. In Ireland we moved early. We put very large amounts into the banks in the interests of wider stability in Europe's banks and those of our common currency. The Chancellor was pleased to record her recognition that Ireland was a special case and that this would be taken into account during the discussions ahead.
I travelled to Paris on 22 October for a bilateral meeting with President Hollande. Our discussions focused on the outcome of the European Council; negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework and, in that context, the Common Agricultural Policy; eurozone issues; Ireland's forthcoming Presidency; and bilateral relations. Significantly, President Hollande added his voice to the appreciation of the special situation which Ireland faced, an acknowledgment that these circumstances will need to be taken into account as the Eurogroup takes this work forward. While in Paris, I also addressed a business lunch organised by the State agencies. I visited SIAL, the largest food and agribusiness fair in the world, and launched Origin Green at this international forum.
I travelled to Berlin on 1 November for a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Merkel. We had an in-depth discussion about the Irish reform programme. The Chancellor reaffirmed her conviction that Ireland was a special case and should be treated as such in the work being taken forward by the Eurogroup. We both welcomed the recent comments by the troika on Ireland's delivery of its programme commitments and the troika's willingness to look at the various ways in which Ireland could be assisted in resuming sustainable, full market borrowing. We both agreed to work together to ensure dealing with Ireland's unique banking and sovereign debt crisis was given due priority within the Eurogroup.
The Chancellor and I also had a very useful discussion about events in the wider euro area. We agreed to work constructively to bring stability and confidence to the euro area as a whole. In addition, we discussed the strengthening of economic and monetary union; the multi-annual financial framework; priorities for the Irish Presidency; and a range of foreign policy matters. While in Berlin, I also attended the launch of The Gathering in Germany and met Irish community organisations and key business partners.
On 8 November I travelled to Budapest for a meeting with Prime Minister Orban and to Vienna for a meeting with Chancellor Faymann. Discussions at both meetings focused on priorities for the Irish Presidency, in particular, the Single Market; negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework; and developments in the eurozone. These topics were also the subject of my discussions with Prime Minister Gonzi of Malta when he visited Dublin recently. I saw both Prime Minister Katainen of Finland and Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands at the special European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday of last week. Prime Minister Rutte's new government took office on 5 November. I am in regular contact with Prime Minister Cameron. I spoke with him by telephone in advance of last week's meeting.
I also spoke to President Hollande in advance of the Council meeting.
I attended the special meeting of the European Council last Thursday and Friday in Brussels. As I will be making a statement to the House on this meeting tomorrow, I will just give a summary of its proceedings now. The meeting sought to reach agreement on the Union's multi-annual financial framework for the period 2014 to 2020. However, following productive discussions, President Van Rompuy concluded that a little more time was needed to bring positions closer together. The European Council mandated President Van Rompuy, together with the President of the European Commission, to continue the work and pursue consultations in the coming weeks to find consensus among the 27 member states. President Van Rompuy believes our discussions at the European Council show a sufficient degree of potential convergence to make an agreement possible early next year. While we did not reach agreement last week, we did move forward in identifying common ground. I remain hopeful it will be possible to build on this in the period ahead.
With regard to Ireland, I put the case strongly for a strong Common Agricultural Policy and also expressed our firm view that Europe needs a budget that, in size and orientation, is more reflective of challenges we face as a union, including in respect of growth and jobs, especially in tackling unemployment. More can and should be done to give a real focus to the budget. Of course, as ever, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We need to protect the progress made and continue to work to close the remaining gaps. I have assured President Van Rompuy that Ireland, especially in its upcoming Presidency, will do everything it can to support him in his work.
A copy of the employment contract of the person appointed as spokesperson for the EU Presidency in my Department, which sets out in full the terms and conditions of her employment, was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 19 November and is available for the Deputy's inspection in the Oireachtas Library.
While the costs of my visit to Rome on 21 September are yet to be finalised, I expect the cost to my Department to be €1,011.71. This figure includes official transport, accommodation and travel and subsistence costs. While in Rome, I was accompanied at my meetings with Prime Ministers Monti, Rajoy and Samaras by the Second Secretary General with responsibility for EU affairs and co-ordination, the Irish ambassador to Italy, my chief of staff and an official from the Irish Embassy in Rome. As I had no official engagements in Bucharest, there were no costs to my Department in that respect.
I will attend the meeting of the European Council to be held on 13 and 14 December in Brussels. Discussions at the meeting will focus on President Van Rompuy's final report on strengthening economic and monetary union. The European Council will also assess progress made on the single supervisory mechanism and other key legislative proposals and, if necessary, set further orientations in this respect. With regard to the compact for growth and jobs, the European Council will assess progress made on the priority proposals of the first Single Market Act and set further orientations as regards the second Single Market Act. In addition, the European Council will touch on defence matters, enlargement and foreign policy issues.
I intend to engage positively with colleagues on each of the issues on the agenda to ensure the best possible outcome for Ireland.
There is a large number of questions in each Deputy's name. In the first round I will allow two supplementary questions.
I have tabled approximately 20 questions. The fact that 55 questions have been taken together gives the lie to any claim that we have witnessed a democratic revolution in how we do business as politicians. It illustrates how nonsensical it is to suggest there has been radical reform of the Oireachtas. We all agree that the European Union is by far the most important issue facing us as a country, yet we have grouped together 55 questions covering all recent contacts and meetings involving the Taoiseach and other European leaders. The questions cover Council meetings, bank debt, budgets and a range of other issues. It is not tenable to take all of them together.
I am receiving letters in response to queries stating I cannot ask the Taoiseach questions about his policy for the Irish Presidency of the European Union. These questions are being sent to the office of the Tánaiste, despite the fact that the Taoiseach took control of the EU section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the very beginning. The bulk of EU activity is now covered by the Department of the Taoiseach. One would have believed, therefore, that it was quite legitimate to ask the Taoiseach questions about the EU Presidency. The Taoiseach heads up the EU section which was taken from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yet we are told we cannot ask questions on the policies he may be pursuing and the principles he may be espousing on the Presidency. This is somewhat farcical.
As I will not be able to follow up on all of the questions asked, I will address just a few. It has been confirmed that Ireland has led moves to ensure nothing will happen regarding the banking union proposal that requires a change to the treaties. How does the Taoiseach justify this? We support the banking union. Does the Taoiseach support it? Does he accept that banking union will necessitate change to the EU treaties? Will he explain why he has objected to or opposes establishment of a banking union that would require a change to the EU treaties? By not changing them, he may be supporting the weakest proposal or a possible suggested variant. What is his specific policy on banking union?
It is five months since we were told the June summit was a big game-changer that had single-handedly changed the game on bank debt by securing a package for Ireland that had been promised to everybody else. I refer to the famous Monti-Rajoy intervention in June. We still do not know what is actually being sought on the issue of bank debt. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach outlined to the House what exactly we are seeking. In June everybody took from the meeting and the comments made by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, that the decisive move meant the ESM was open to fund recapitalisation of our pillar banks, Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland. Despite this, last week the Minister for Finance questioned the wisdom of this approach and said it might not now be a good idea to use the ESM to deal retrospectively with the equity the State took in the pillar banks.
When we say there is a retrospective dimension to the June deal, what do we actually mean by this? How does the Taoiseach envisage the ESM being used to deal with Irish debt in the context of the pillar banks? Will he define the minimum deal acceptable to secure sustainability? How does he define sustainability in regard to debt?
We were originally told a deal would be struck in October. When does the Taoiseach expect a deal to be struck in regard to our debt? He is now saying it could be months away. Will it be before March next year? There are two dimensions, namely, the ESM and the promissory note. The latter has been dealt with via the European Central Bank. Is the Taoiseach seeking a deal to change the terms attached to the promissory note or replace the promissory note with a standard debt?
The Taoiseach has indicated that Chancellor Merkel reaffirmed that Ireland was a special case. Does he accept, however, that neither the Chancellor nor any senior Minister or official in the German Administration has yet revised the official German position that no retroactive measures will be allowed?
I thank the Deputy for his questions. In his first he seeks a statement on my meeting with Prime Minister Cameron before the European Council meeting. If we changed the structure and dealt with the questions individually, such that I told the Deputy I had spoken to the Prime Minister on the telephone and again briefly before the Council meeting, it would give rise to supplementary questions concerning the Prime Minister that might not be related to that meeting.
It might not be related to the European Council meeting at all. It could be about how we are getting on with the memorandum of understanding about energy between Ireland and Britain or Northern Ireland or any issue as long as the response deals with the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. All of these are-----
Or it could be about his stance on Europe, which is an entirely acceptable focus for a specific question.
It could be.
The Taoiseach could bury it then.
If the Deputy wishes that they be dealt with on an individual basis, I will not object to that but he will cover less ground. He is entitled to ask a question about the Prime Minister's view on cutting back the budget and whether he is €70 billion below President van Rompuy's limit. I do not have any great difficulty with that. If the Deputy wants to make suggestions, please do.
If he wants to take all the questions relating to Prime Minister Cameron or Prime Minister Monti or Prime Minister Rajoy or European leaders generally, I do not have a fixed view about that.
Our agenda for the Presidency is stability, growth and jobs. I made the point the other day that if a conclusion had been reached on the budget for 2014 to 2020, it would have allowed Ireland's Presidency to focus on the consequences of that, which is CAP reform, sectoral reform in a number of areas and 68 Bills before the European Parliament. Even if a deal were struck, the Government and its officials would have had a great deal of work to be involved in. The fact that a deal has not been struck adds to that workload. While it is important to note that the question of resolving the budget for the Union is one for the Council President because it is on his desk and while Ireland's Presidency will work closely with him, it is a matter for him to define when he believes there is agreement to put a deal together. Ireland, as holder of the Presidency, will work closely with him in dealing with different leaders but we do not have the imprimatur to say "This is what is going to happen here" because that is a matter for the 27 member states. I assured the Council President that we will work closely with him and with other leaders to see that he is ready to call the meeting at where he hopes we can get a conclusion on this. My view is that the quicker it can be done, the better. It may be the end of January or February; I cannot say yet.
We support banking union. The question has always been asked about whether we support this only in respect of major banks or for banks throughout Europe and I have made the point repeatedly that the bank which brought this country over the edge was not a major bank in European terms and that is why it is necessary that banking union and the supervisory role should cover the spread of more than 6,000 banks involved.
The question of treaty change impacts on our people and it is nothing new for Ireland to have to deal with but it is important to understand that after 2014 there will be a new European Parliament and a new Commission and the question of treaty change, in my view, should be considered during the term of that Parliament and that Commission. It may well be that when the mechanics and the logistics are worked out by the Eurogroup, following the putting in place of the legal framework on 1 January, whatever conclusion it comes up with might require treaty change. I do not know and during 2013-----
Would the Taoiseach support that?
-----the modalities and the conditionality of that will become clear. We are never afraid of treaty change and I do not suggest it will happen out of this but it is important to know we certainly support banking unions, as most other leaders do, and accountability, transparency and responsibility down the line. One cannot determine whether treaty change will be necessary until the final shape of that takes place. No more than any other time this question has been asked in Ireland, the formal advice of the Attorney General will be taken. There is a feeling around the table that the question of treaty change should be one for the next Parliament and the next Commission.
The Deputy mentioned the October deal.
He is sitting alongside the Taoiseach. Will it be Commissioner Hogan?
Kilkenny was always on the left wing.
Commissioner Rehn mentioned the fact that he hoped to have a deal concluded by October. I recall saying that I did not think that was possible and, clearly, that did not become a reality. We are conscious that there is a real understanding from both a political and a leadership point of view and among the IMF, the Commission and the Parliament, of the need for a deal to be done for Ireland but this is a matter for discussion between the Government, through the Department of Finance and the Minister, and the European Central Bank, which comprises the central bank governors of the 17 different countries. Many of them have their own views. We need the deal on that end and the other end will follow through from the legal framework and the discussions at the other side where the decision was made to break the link between sovereign and bank debt. As I said in reply to Deputy Ross earlier, what I would like to see out of that is that this would be re-engineered similar to the replacement of an overdraft with serious challenges by a long-term low interest mortgage. It is in that area that the discussions are taking place and I hope that the Minister will be able to bring that to a conclusion before the next payment due date in March 2013.
When I discussed the question of the view of the ESM with Chancellor Merkel and others, the decision on 29 June was that the vicious circle between sovereign and bank debt should be broken and once that happened, the banking union with the supervisory role would be set up, which would allow for potential recapitalisation of banks from the ESM. The issue then was whether a country had responsibility for legacy debt or not and, obviously, different comments were made about this by different people. That is why it was important to be able to explain to other leaders that, in the case of Ireland, the recapitalisation had taken place because when the Administration of which the Deputy was a member made its decision in respect of the bank guarantee, the banks were then recapitalised but the taxpayer was required to pay for them. That is a fact that happened and the nature of these discussions is how creative we can be with the ESM in dealing with this when it is now accepted that Ireland has particular circumstances arising out of that historic decision. Its case, therefore, is special and different from countries that may go into a programme or those that are in a programme, which will find themselves with a need for funding.
The joint communiqué that we issued was clearly of that understanding and the agreement at the meeting of the Heads of Government was that this particular situation would be taken into account in the discussions that take place at the Eurogroup between the Ministers for finance. That does not mean that we have to wait for the end of the structure - the banking union and supervisory role - to be completed before Ireland's particular circumstances and special case can be considered. That is something, I believe, that can proceed in parallel with that work. I cannot say when that will happen. When will the banking union and supervisory role be effective? Mr. Draghi was clear on this when he spoke at the meeting and there was general agreement that, given the range of banks involved, the requirement for national supervisory capacity to be restructured and the need to recruit personnel from Frankfurt and so on, it certainly could not be done in the first half of the year. People will read into this that it was never going to happen before the federal elections in Germany next autumn. Be that as it may, Mr. Draghi was confident that they could get a great deal of work done in the first six months once the legal framework was set in position.
While there have been comments from different financial people and various elements of different governments, it is clear that there is an acceptance and an understanding that our circumstances are different and that, due to the fact that bank recapitalisation had already happened, the matter needs to be treated as a special case. It will require some creative thinking to bring about a reduction in terms of our capacity to meet that debt. That is understood. The question for negotiation and discussion is how one does it. Deputy Martin may have views that are helpful in this regard. It is in the country's interest that we get a deal on this, following the decision of the European Council to break that link in the first place. The Deputy will recall that people said - not just in here but outside the House - that this would never happen, no more than they said there would never be a permanent bailout mechanism in Europe or a European financial stability facility, yet all of these things have come to be a reality. We will continue to press the case for a reduction in the level of debt arising from the decision made on 29 June, and I hope we can be successful in that.
To tease this out, it is unclear how the ESM will apply to AIB and Bank of Ireland and the funding injected into them. The recapitalisation of the banks was not through the bank guarantee but was a key part of the programme with the troika, as was the clear policy of the European Central Bank that no bank should fail and no senior bondholder should be burned. That was the essential position of the European authorities at the time, which they imposed on Ireland in the troika deal. The Taoiseach accepted this when he emerged from his meeting with the French President, Mr. Hollande, recently.
The Taoiseach is now saying that the way to deal with the promissory note is essentially to get it into a long-term mortgage, which will make the repayments easier. There are some benefits to this, but it does not mean a write-down. The Taoiseach is basically saying the promissory note's terms will be lengthened and put out into the distant future so there will be a greater capacity to deal with it. Where is the retrospective application arising out of the separation of sovereign debt from bank debt in so far as it applies to AIB and Bank of Ireland? How does the Taoiseach envisage that occurring? Will the ESM take over AIB and our shares in Bank of Ireland? If so, at what price? Is this is what is being discussed? The Minister for Finance seemed to be suggesting that last June but now he is saying he is not so sure we want the ESM owning our banks. From the Taoiseach's reply, I am getting the sense that this is not on either. It is unclear how this so-called retrospective dimension to the June deal will apply to our pillar banks. Will the Taoiseach clarify this?
Will the Taoiseach confirm, on the banking union, that we are not opposing a solution which may involve treaty change? I want a strong banking union. If it involves treaty change, I am prepared to support that and persuade the people it is in our best interest. I hope we are not negotiating on the basis that the last thing we want is another referendum on a treaty change, which seemed to be the position on the fiscal treaty.
Is the whole agenda of the banking union slipping? After the October Council meeting we were informed there had been major advances and we would have the heads of an agreement by January. Earlier the Taoiseach spoke about the first half of the year. The sense out there is that it will be well into 2013, if at all, before there is agreement on a banking union across Europe.
The EU budget looks to be in trouble, with significant reductions proposed. The European Council President, Mr. Van Rompuy, has proposed a significant reduction in the budget with a consequential reduction in the overall size of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, envelope. This would be serious for Ireland. In January, we will take over the EU Presidency. Will the Taoiseach outline his recent discussions with the French President, Mr. Hollande, on the CAP and how Ireland, France and others can work to ensure Irish farmers are not disadvantaged by the rather petulant approach adopted by the British Prime Minister and others who want to reduce the size of the European budget? It is incomprehensible for those outside Europe who feel that if anyone can do a stimulus programme it is Europe on a pan-European level. Despite the fact that the EU budget amounts to only 1% of Europe's overall GDP, it is actually going to be cut back, which sells the European citizen short in this crisis.
The decision on the ESM was made back in June and then fleshed out further at the next Council meeting. It was decided the legal framework would be put in place by the end of the year so that the details of the conditions, the modalities and the mechanics of it could be worked out during 2013. I listened to the explanation given by Mr. Draghi, the Commission and the Presidency. This is obviously a massive undertaking. Everyone was of the understanding that a banking union with a supervisory element would not be up and running in the first half of 2013. I cannot say what it will be like in the end until we see what shape emerges. If it is an issue that requires treaty change, then we have to accept that. At this stage I cannot say - nor can anyone else - whether this will require treaty change. If it does, then so be it. That would be an issue to be dealt with in any event by the European Parliament elected after 2014 with the new European Commission. There is a strong feeling emerging in Europe that while we have had the Union for some time, we never had the capacity for a monetary union in the sense of having banking supervisory responsibilities, and these things will never happen again. The remit has been given to the finance Ministers, and the sort of structure envisaged will emerge fairly quickly. At the end of it, if it means better regulation, better transparency, better accountability and better responsibility, then I am not averse to having to deal with future treaty change. However, I cannot confirm whether it will be necessary, and nor can anyone else at this stage.
The detail of how it will work out remains to be seen. It is fair to say hindsight is a wonderful thing. Were Deputy Martin over on this side now, he would probably be saying that, considering the discussions with the European Central Bank prior to the bank guarantee and how it worked out, he might have handled it differently.
The bailout was in 2008. The programme was in 2010. The Taoiseach is mixing them up.
Sorry, the programme. However, it is history now, and we are into this business.
Last weekend's meeting was a good-spirited one with no descent into the personal rancour which often breaks out at these events, of which Deputy Martin is well aware. There was no wish to divide the European Council between contributor countries and receiving countries. The large contributors such as Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain were not saying they wanted to move off on their own and leave the rest behind. This is a recognition of the importance of keeping the 27 member states together. It is also interesting that the discussions I had with the French President, Mr. Hollande, the European Council President, Mr. Van Rompuy, and the Commission President, Mr. Barroso, about the CAP and the agri-sector were replicated by many others.
Strong opinions were also voiced about the Cohesion Fund and Pillar 2 and the importance of rural development. We are not alone in this regard. Chancellor Faymann of Austria, which has the highest per capita income in the Union, referred to Alpine farmers and their difficulties. Prime Minister Gonzi from Malta spoke about the importance of the Cohesion Fund to his small country. The same applied in the case of Hungary and others. It was interesting that the majority of contributions made by the funding countries expressed a wish for a reduction in the overall level of the budget such that the agri-sector could be protected.
Deputy Martin will be aware that we get 85% of our income in Ireland under the direct payments system and others elements of the Common Agricultural Policy. We mounted a strong defence of this, as did President Hollande and others, as well as of the Cohesion Fund and rural development. It is important to remember that the greatest number of jobs being created in Europe comes through the food manufacturing sector and the agri-economy.
I thought it was positive because in the contributions made on the reduction of the overall ceiling of the budget the contributor countries did not try to reduce the importance or the understanding of the CAP and what it offers. At the end of the meeting there was an understanding that there is clear potential to put together a budget from 2014 to 2020. As the incoming holder of the EU Council Presidency, we need to work with President van Rompuy, but we also need to protect the Common Agricultural Policy and Ireland's national interest in it and we need to fight for nothing less than what we have already in the rural development area and the Cohesion Fund. These are important elements for the regions in this country and for the type of developments that have taken place in recent years, in respect of which we have used the money well and few penalties have been imposed on Ireland as a result.
Deputy Martin's earlier concerns about An Taoiseach answering multiple questions have been confounded by his capacity to answer 55 in one batch.
Deputy McDonald is on now.
I am curious to know more because the term special case has been used. The Taoiseach tells us that Angel Merkel, Mr. Hollande and all the others recognise us as a special case. Will the Taoiseach set out for us what they understand by this? It is a turn of phrase the Taoiseach has used regularly but there is no clarity to what is meant by it.
The Taoiseach still seems to be placing all his eggs in the retrospection basket on account of last June's agreement. The difficulty with the announcement as cast some months ago is that it does not have a specific or explicit promise of retrospection or deal with legacy debt for Ireland. The statement referred to the sustainability of our programme. I note that in his responses to Deputy Martin the Taoiseach used that turn of phrase. When he is explaining the meaning of a special case perhaps he will unpick these two elements for us. The reference to the sustainability of the programme may not mean dealing with legacy debts. In addition, the Taoiseach seems remarkably confident that legacy issues will be dealt with despite the fact that certain rather influential voices, not least from within the German system, have been categoric in stating that this is not their understanding of the position. It is by no means a done deal, whether via the ESM or any other mechanism, that retrospection and legacy debt have been signed off and dealt with. Anyway, the Taoiseach might shed some light on this for us.
I call on the Taoiseach to refer specifically to the position on the promissory note because there has been a catalogue of statements and public utterances on the matter. The Taoiseach has referred to the technical complexities involved on the restructuring of the note. At one stage the troika were working on a paper on the promissory note but it seems to have vanished or at least we never got sight of it. Will the Taoiseach tell us specifically where this is and in specific terms how much progress has been made? Specifically, when will all the technical dilemmas and questions be ironed out? When will the Taoiseach be able to come into the Dáil and announce that an agreement has been reached?
In a reply to an earlier contribution from Deputy Ross the Taoiseach listed the litany of hardship that Greece and the Greek people are enduring. It made for sober listening. There is no question but that their system and society is under the most incredible pressures at the moment. However, I believe the Taoiseach, perhaps for his own political purposes, has discounted the extent to which Greece has outflanked and outperformed this State in securing a deal for itself, albeit in the most dire of circumstances. How is it that Greece, in the midst of crisis and in such a weakened position, can secure an agreement? Whether it will be adequate to ensure an end to its difficulties remains to be seen and I rather doubt it. However, we know that Greece has consistently achieved some level of recognition and relief while Ireland, also a special case according to the Taoiseach, has thus far had conversations, meetings, side-meetings and summits, but no result.
I remind the House that there are only 15 minutes left. There are still two Deputies on the benches with several questions.
Deputy McDonald raised the point about the special case and the circumstances that apply to Ireland. First, we are in a different space from Greece.
I accept that.
I imagine Deputy McDonald understands the vast difficulties that face the people of Greece now. I have outlined some of the decisions that have been taken in terms of restructuring, the dismissal of public service workers and reductions in pensions and pay. I have also referred to the inability to meet various bills and the necessity to put in place a tax structure that will deliver.
I listened to all the talk six months ago about Greece defaulting and being driven out of the euro and about the catastrophe facing us. However, at the meeting there was a recognition by the finance Ministers of a situation whereby after another election the people in Greece elected another Government, which set about trying to deal with the problems. As a result of the decision taken and agreed last night the Greek debt to GDP ratio will still be at 124% by 2022. Given their levels of unemployment and the challenges they face, that is absolutely vast. Greece is in a different place entirely from Ireland.
Why are we a special case? What does this mean? I suppose the circumstances that apply are different. We are placed in a unique situation because of the fact that on top of the national debt our people were required to shoulder the burden of a recapitalisation fund of more than €64 billion.
There is a recognition politically and economically of how it is that Ireland finds itself in this situation. That is the reason the circumstances are different and, therefore, the case is special.
The decision taken on 29 June related to breaking the link between sovereign and bank debt, which could lead to direct recapitalisation by the ESM. The question that then arose was whether that included legacy debt in banks in other countries. In Ireland's case, it is all legacy debt in the sense that what is done has already been done. Our situation is different from that of a banking system in another country which might get into difficulties and require funding from the ESM in the future. The decision was taken on the basis of its potentially leading to direct recapitalisation. For us, it was a recognition of our particular circumstances and, as a consequence, a definition of Ireland as being a special case. The discussions with the finance Ministers are about whether this special case and these unique circumstances can be taken into account. Ireland's case is different from that of a bank in another country that may experience difficulties in a year's or two years' time. We have already been, and still are, in difficulty and have had to recapitalise our banks. The creative discussions and negotiations will be concerned with how we can use the potential of the ESM to deal with that.
I have previously outlined the position with regard to the promissory note, and I will not go into the detail of that matter for Deputy McDonald except to say, as I have already said, that the next payment is due in March 2013. We would like to be in a position, by that time, not to have to issue another up-front payment of €3 billion. As I previously told Deputy Martin, I had the privilege of opening a small school in the west last year which cost €1 million. Three thousand such schools could be built every year for ten years for the amount that has gone into Anglo Irish Bank, now IBRC, which is extraordinary. In any event, it is in that space that the discussions are taking place between the Minister and his officials and officials from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. The intention is that by March 2013 the promissory note will have been re-engineered in such a way as to ensure we will not have to fork out €3 billion. That is our hope and intent. As I said, the European Central Bank is governed by 17 governors from the different countries in the eurozone, all of whom have their own opinions on a whole range of issues. That is where the discussions are.
The Deputy also asked whether progress had been made. Yes, I would say so. If the Deputy is asking me for a specific date in this regard, it is hoped the matter will be dealt with by March 2013. Obviously, the quicker the better. However, that is the target.
Can I ask Deputy McDonald for her co-operation with regard to supplementary questions?
You can, but can I just say-----
I cannot do anything about it.
The distribution of time has been grossly unfair, a Cheann Comhairle.
I cannot account for the length of replies.
With all due respect, I think you can.
Would you please get on? There are two other Deputies offering. Does the Deputy have a supplementary question?
I really think your position is outrageous.
People are making speeches.
The Taoiseach said a great deal but managed to tell me nothing. This is the problem I have with him in these matters. Do not misunderstand us; we want the Government to be-----
Sorry, Deputy. Would you please ask a question?
Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle.
You are making a speech. Everybody is making-----
You did not interfere with Deputy Martin in the manner in which you are interfering with me.
I did. I asked Deputy Martin for his co-operation as well.
Deputy Martin engaged in an exchange of over 40 minutes with the Taoiseach.
He did not have 40 minutes.
He did. You are not watching your clock, a Cheann Comhairle.
I am obliging the Deputy by allowing her to take Deputy Adams's questions. Will you please co-operate with the Chair and show respect to the other two Deputies?
I would like a degree of respect shown to me as a Member of this Oireachtas.
I am showing respect to you.
I do not believe you are, a Cheann Comhairle.
Okay. Put down a motion of no confidence in me, then.
I just might.
We will support the Ceann Comhairle because we think he is doing fine.
I am sure the Deputy would.
Would you mind proceeding? There are two other Deputies sitting up at the back who between them have tabled 19 questions. Would you please assist the Chair? I cannot account for replies or questions.
Oh, but you can, a Cheann Comhairle. That is why you are in the Chair. The whole purpose of having a Ceann Comhairle-----
No. I am going to apply the rules.
-----is to ensure a fair distribution of speaking time among Deputies.
Are you going to ask a supplementary question?
I am, as it happens.
Please proceed, then.
As Ceann Comhairle of this House, your attitude is utterly outrageous.
I have to say your attitude is equally outrageous.
That may well be your view.
In all the years I have been a Member of this House I have never heard the Chair being insulted in the manner in which you do so. Please proceed.
Sinn Féin is used to bully-boy tactics.
I had one exchange with the Taoiseach which amounted to four minutes.
I am asking for your co-operation. That is all I am asking.
You then bark at me to sit down-----
I did not bark at you.
-----having indulged the previous speaker-----
I asked for your co-operation.
You attempted to cut me off after one attempt at a whole range of questions.
I did not.
How you reckon that is fair or balanced is quite frankly beyond me.
Does the Deputy want to question the Taoiseach or not?
The Taoiseach has said a lot but told us very little. At some stage he will have to give-----
What is your question?
-----a detailed account in this House of the progress made to date rather than vague assertions and words of comfort that the matter is under discussion. Another date has now been set in respect of the promissory note for next March. There is every likelihood that that date will come and go.
What is your question, Deputy? That is a statement.
Yes, similar to the statements that were made by the previous speaker. If you are going to apply rules, apply them fairly.
At what stage, even if a full deal has not been agreed, will we get more information or a clearer sense of what progress is being made on this matter?
I ask the Taoiseach to assist me by giving as short a response as possible.
Sort the Taoiseach out.
Yes. The reason for the March date is that this is when the next payment is due. Under the conditions of the promissory note a further payment of €3 billion is due by that date. The intention is to have the matter dealt with by that date in order that we do not have to pay €3 billion as a consequence of the promissory note. I do not wish to give any more details of the discussions that are taking place. They have been ongoing now for some time. That is our target date and I hope we can achieve it.
I do not wish to extend the debate as I understand the Ceann Comhairle's difficulty.
Could I just-----
I cannot help it if somebody wants to reply to 55 questions. It is impossible for the Chair to control that.
That is rubbish.
Please ask your question, Deputy Boyd Barrett.
On a point of order, consideration should be given to dividing the hour allocated for dealing with these questions equally among the different groups.
That would seem reasonable. I appeal to the Taoiseach to stop talking down the clock. That is what he is doing.
Sorry, Deputy. Would you ask a question?
I am asking that the Taoiseach please stop talking down the clock when it comes to Taoiseach's questions.
The Deputy is the best proponent of talking down the clock.
The Taoiseach is doing so deliberately. The former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern used to do that.
Sorry, Deputy. Would you please put your question?
The Taoiseach should not be engaging in the same carry-on.
The same applies to Deputy Sherlock.
The Taoiseach suggested earlier that Ireland was much better off than Greece despite the fact that, unlike Greece, we have no write-down of our debt. In this regard, he cited the disastrous consequences of austerity for Greece. Is it not the case that the reality is the other way around? Europe was forced to give a write-down to Greece, recognising the disastrous consequences of austerity for the Greek economy and people. Greece screamed at Europe economically, socially and politically that austerity and imposing that level of debt on the Greek people was a disaster. When will the Taoiseach and the troika recognise that the same will happen here unless this debt burden is lifted and the austerity linked to it is pulled back from?
When will the troika cop on to how badly our society and economy have been damaged a result of the suffocating debt burden that has been imposed on us and the austerity we are being asked to endure in order to pay the debt back? It is time for the Taoiseach to change strategy. He should stop talking up the Irish situation and telling the troika how wonderful things are because the message that is sending to them is that we do not need debt relief and that there is no hurry on debt relief for Ireland. In reality, however, people are being plunged into poverty, hundreds of thousands are unemployed and people are flooding out of the country. At what point is the Taoiseach going to put up his hand to the troika and tell it that this is a disaster for our economy? We do not want to reach the depths that Greece is reaching in order for the troika finally to cop on that we cannot afford to pay this debt. Next year the interest holiday on the promissory notes is over and 15% of Government expenditure will go on repaying interest on debt. Does the Taoiseach honestly think that is sustainable? Does the troika think it is sustainable? It will absolutely destroy our economy. I ask the Taoiseach to speak up on our behalf, like the Spanish, Greek, Italian and Portuguese Governments have done, and say we cannot do this anymore and the people cannot take this pain anymore.
In the context of the alleged intention at a previous summit that there should be a breaking of the link between banking and sovereign debt, does the Taoiseach agree that this can only have meaning for the Irish people if the €64 billion of taxpayers' funds that was used to bail out the banks and the bondholders is paid back to the Irish people? Does he also agree that the European institutions and the IMF, which were disgracefully allowed to cow an Irish Government into pay the gambling debts of speculators and bond holders, should now take the hit, along with the speculators they were protecting? Does he further agree that if there is any meaning to this and if it is not implemented in that way, the Irish people are fully entitled to cancel the debt, for which they have no responsibility whatsoever? Only that would give any meaning to the bone that Chancellor Merkel threw the Taoiseach some time ago, when he begged her to give him political cover, when she said that Ireland was a "special case". If the Taoiseach disagrees with what I am suggesting, I ask him to outline very clearly what is meant by a "special case", in the sense of any impact it might have on the lives of the Irish people. Perhaps the Chancellor was at a complete tangent and meant something else entirely - that we were all great fiddlers; played the fiddle all day; and danced the Walls of Limerick and the Siege of Ennis or some such.
More like the siege of Castlebar.
It would seem that she is quite disconnected from the reality of the suffering of the Irish people as a result of her austerity agenda. What did the Taoiseach mean in June when he referred to a "seismic shift" with regard to debt? An earth tremor or a tidal wave often follows a seismic shift but we have not seen any waves or tremors that put any different or better configuration on the huge, unsustainable debts that the Irish people have been saddled with. I ask the Taoiseach to elucidate something practical with regard to the massive claims that both he and the Tánaiste have made.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I did not actually say, if I recall correctly, that Ireland was "better off" than Greece but that Ireland is in a "very different place" to Greece. I remind the Deputy that just last week Fitch increased the rating of the country, Bank of Ireland raised over €1 billion on the markets without guarantee, the ESB raised €500 million, Bord Gáis raised €500 million and some of the bond issuances were oversubscribed by over 12 times. I also draw his attention to the sale of the communications spectrum for over €800 million to three major telecommunications companies. While these of themselves do not sort out our problems, they are signs of the confidence of international investors in our country, of which we need more so that jobs begin to flow, money begins to circulate, credit becomes available and people can get back down to business. Deputy Boyd Barrett seems to be suggesting that we should be in the same place as Greece but we are not.
I am not suggesting that. I am saying we should stop before we get there.
We are in a very different place. The people of Greece have an enormous challenge facing them until 2024 and beyond and I am quite sure that Deputy Boyd Barrett does not want our people to have to deal with that level of challenge. I agree with the Deputy when he refers to lifting the level of debt off our people and that is exactly why we are in discussions with the European Council and the ECB.
This leads me to Deputy Higgins's comments about his musical background, whether it be The Boys of Barr na Sráide, or whatever. It was not an "alleged intention" but a decision to break the link between sovereign and bank debt and that was a seismic shift in European politics because it was never done before and those who said it could never happen did not have much to say about it afterwards. After seismic shifts occur, tsunamis oftentimes take place.
I do not see any boats rising.
The value for the Irish taxpayer and the Irish people lies in translating that decision into reality by reducing the scale of the debt challenge that we face and that must come on two fronts. One is following through, with the euro group, on the decision of the European Council and the other is in respect of the promissory notes related to the former Anglo Irish Bank with the European Central Bank, which I dealt with earlier in response to Deputy McDonald. They are the twin objectives of the Government and I assure Deputy Higgins that there is a great deal of real conversation going on in this regard. I hope we can bring about a conclusion in the shortest possible timeframe. I have set dates for one but the other is a work in progress over the longer term.