1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the undocumented Irish with President Obama at his meeting in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13586/13]
Vol. 804 No. 1
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the undocumented Irish with President Obama at his meeting in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13586/13]
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the situation in Syria with President Obama at his meeting in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13587/13]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the lack of progress made in relation to an independent inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane with President Obama; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13588/13]
4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the bilaterals he attended when visiting the USA in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13589/13]
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the new EU-US free trade agreement with President Obama; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13612/13]
6. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Washington, New York, Seattle and Silicon Valley; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14636/13]
7. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the overseas visits for St. Patrick's Day of the Ministers of State at his Department and the Attorney General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14637/13]
8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the United States for St. Patrick's Day. [14816/13]
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with US President Barack Obama in the White House, Washington, on 19 March 2013. [14817/13]
10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on bilateral meetings he held while in the United States for St. Patrick's Day. [14818/13]
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with US President Obama during their meeting in the White House, Washington, on 19 March 2013. [14819/13]
12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the need for an inquiry into the killing of Belfast human rights solicitor Mr. Pat Finucane with President Obama during their meeting on 19 March 2013. [14820/13]
13. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with President Obama during their meeting on 19 March 2013. [14821/13]
14. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the undocumented Irish with President Obama during their meeting on 19 March 2013. [14822/13]
15. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of outstanding issues from the Good Friday Agreement with President Obama during their meeting on 19 March 2013. [14823/13]
16. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Breezy Point during his visit to the United States for St. Patrick's Day. [14824/13]
17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues that were discussed with Mr. Stephen Spielberg when he met him; the actions, if any, that he will take as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15990/13]
18. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide the details of his meeting with Vice President Biden; the further actions that will be taken as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15993/13]
19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met any Republican Senators in relation to the undocumented Irish in his most recent visit to Washington; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17251/13]
20. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he discussed a proposed EU-US trade agreement with the President of the United States. [22455/13]
21. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has plans for any official visit to the United States. [22456/13]
22. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the ongoing Syrian crisis and escalating regional tensions in the Middle East at his meeting with US President Obama in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22631/13]
23. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the humanitarian crisis as a result of the ongoing blockade of Gaza at his meeting with US President Obama in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22632/13]
24. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the US President's priorities for the forthcoming G8 summit in Fermanagh at their recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22633/13]
25. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the closure of the US prison in Guantanamo and the release of prisoners at his meeting with US President Obama in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22634/13]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 25, inclusive, together.
The questions relate to my visit to the USA and meeting with President Obama, with the exception of one question which relates to the Minister of State in my Department. As the House is aware, I travelled to the United States of America again this year for the St. Patrick's Day period. Every year, the St. Patrick's Day holiday provides the Government with a unique and invaluable opportunity to reach out to heads of state, senior politicians, business leaders, civic organisations and the media right across the globe to strengthen Ireland's international relations and enhance our profile and reputation as a location for trade, tourism and investment. It also gives us a unique opportunity to connect with and advocate on behalf of Irish people living abroad. My visit to the USA this year included a comprehensive programme of engagements from 16 to 22 March 2013. I had an extensive set of meetings and engagements with political, business and civil society representatives, which began in New York, continued in Washington DC and finished on the west coast in Los Angeles, silicon valley, San Francisco and Seattle. My programme for the visit included over 50 engagements, including bilateral meetings, formal speaking events and civic engagements.
In New York, I had a range of meetings focused on political, economic and cultural issues. I attended the traditional St. Patrick's Day mayor's breakfast with the city's political leaders, including Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn. I also met with a range of Irish organisations based in New York, which are doing tremendous work on behalf of Irish people generally and, specifically, for the Irish living in New York. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in Breezy Point, which I had the privilege of visiting. This small community was left devastated last year following Hurricane Sandy. I met with the residents of Breezy Point, many of the heroes from the city services and with people in US and Irish organisations from across the city and beyond who joined in the relief effort. I commended all those involved in efforts to get the community back on its feet and expressed the support and solidarity of the Irish people. I note in particular the members of the GAA who did outstanding work during their appearances out there. I also had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial, where so many Irish citizens and people of Irish descent are commemorated, and to tour the primary building of the new World Trade Center complex, Freedom Tower.
In Washington, I had bilateral meetings with political leaders, including President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner. I also had meetings with Democrat and Republican members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, including Senators Leahy, Schumer and McCain and Congressmen King and Neal, who have long been to the forefront in dealing with policy issues of concern to the Irish Government. My discussions in Washington covered a number of issues of interest to the USA and to Ireland, including the prospects for negotiating a transatlantic trade and investment partnership, progress with Ireland's economic recovery, the current situation in Northern Ireland and, of course, the prospect for immigration reform and the resolution of the very difficult situation for the undocumented Irish living in the USA. In recent months, President Obama has clearly set out his intention and determination to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. During my discussions with both the President and Vice President Biden, they acknowledged the particular significance of this issue for Ireland and the Irish living in the USA. In all of my discussions on the issue with the President, the Vice President, Speaker Boehner and key figures in the debate, including Senators Leahy, Schumer and McCain, my message was that immigration reform needs to resolve the situation for the undocumented Irish living in the USA and to provide adequately for legal migration flows in the future through reciprocal arrangements between Ireland and the USA.
Another issue of keen interest to both political and business leaders in the USA was the question of a transatlantic trade and investment partnership. This was the key focus of my speech to the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington. I also had a very productive discussion about the issue with President Obama and we both expressed the hope that formal negotiations will begin before the end of Ireland's EU Presidency. The President and I are very clear that an agreement between the USA and Europe will bring significant benefits to both our economies and help set global standards. We also had a good discussion about progress in Northern Ireland. I briefed the President on the discussions I had recently had with Prime Minister Cameron. The President and I agreed that it is vital to continue to support the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. I thanked the President for his ongoing support for the peace process.
On international issues, we discussed the situation in Syria. For my part, I briefed the President on the European Council meeting the previous week, which had considered both the security and the humanitarian dimensions of the problem in Syria. The President and I did not discuss the issue of Guantanamo nor the blockade of Gaza. I understand, however, that the wider Middle East peace process was the subject of discussions between the Tánaiste and US Secretary of State Kerry. Finally, we discussed the forthcoming G8 summit in very general terms only and I indicated that I looked forward to meeting the President again at that stage.
In Washington, I also met with Vice President Biden and we discussed a number of issues of mutual interest. I had the pleasure of presenting Vice President Biden with a certificate of Irish heritage, which documents his extensive Irish roots. The Vice President confirmed his desire and intention to visit Ireland. While we were in Washington, the Tánaiste and I also took the opportunity to meet jointly with Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to discuss recent developments in Northern Ireland. During my visit to Washington, I also participated in a number of other important events, including addressing a major business event organised by Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and Tourism Ireland. I delivered the Paul O'Dwyer memorial lecture, the theme of which was "making democracy work," at George Washington University. I also attended the American Ireland Fund's 21st national gala, where I acknowledged the tremendous work done by the fund in support of people and communities on all parts of this island. I note the debt of gratitude we owe to the work of our ambassador, Michael Collins, and his staff in Washington. The ambassador will take up a position in Berlin later in the year.
My engagements on the west coast included a series of meetings with US companies and with Irish companies operating in the USA. In silicon valley, I met with the chief executives of both Yahoo and McAfee and was delighted to announce the creation of 260 additional jobs for Cork and Dublin. I also met with Steven Spielberg and had very useful discussions with him on how Ireland can become a more attractive location for film making. The job-creation potential of the film production sector in Ireland is considerable and is an issue that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, is prioritising. On the west coast, I had an opportunity to engage with Irish emigrants and the Irish-American communities in San Francisco and Seattle as well those Irish working in the high-tech world of silicon valley. This was the first visit to Seattle by a serving Taoiseach and I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful and dynamic Irish community there. Everywhere I travelled, the same sentiment was evident of tremendous goodwill towards Ireland and enthusiastic acknowledgement of our progress towards economic recovery.
Twenty-five questions were covered in that reply and I had submitted eight questions. A number of broad areas were covered by the questions and the answer, including the G8 agenda, the undocumented Irish, Mr. Pat Finucane, the Israeli peace process in Gaza, Guantánamo Bay and the EU-US trade agreement.
Europe and the US are still caught in what has been the worst economic downturn in 70 years. It is being labelled the great recession. Is anyone out there proposing action that can do something to restore economic growth at global level? Recovery has been faltering and the situation is regressing in Europe and across the eurozone. The Taoiseach will be attending the summit as the holder of the EU Presidency. Will he be raising any concrete issues at the summit in an economic context or is it just the usual photo opportunity?
Does the Taoiseach accept the basic premise emerging from the debate in the eurozone that we must move from retrenchment to investment? We need to moderate and change direction in terms of economic policy at eurozone level. Cutting the European budget and the CAP budget by 10% over the lifetime of the next CAP is incredible given the context. We should be increasing the budgets to provide a stimulus to the European economy, which would help countries in greater difficulty.
The other issue that may emerge at the G8 summit is Ireland's corporation tax and our corporate tax structure. The situation pertaining to Google and its tax arrangements in Ireland were highlighted in a negative fashion at the Westminster Parliament. It is important to reassert that Ireland's corporation tax structure is perfectly legal. It is in compliance with OECD standards and international law. Similar discussions are now taking place in the context of Apple in the House of Representatives in the United States. It is important the Government takes robust steps to defend the Irish position and to argue proactively on Ireland's behalf, particularly given that we are in a globalised economic world where other countries will do what they need to do to sustain jobs and win investment. On previous occasions, when the corporation tax rate came under attack, we located specialists in the US Embassy to appraise commentators and American politicians of the importance and background to our situation. An initiative of that kind is needed, given that there seems to be a concerted move on multinationals located here. Part of that is because everyone is feeling the pinch because of the great recession. People are hitting out in various directions and it is important the Taoiseach outlines his perspective on that.
In terms of the undocumented Irish, there are reports today that the J1 visa will only be secured if a sponsoring employer coughs up $500. The students will not be able to pay the fee and, given that many students who go to the United States on J1 visas do not have jobs organised, we urgently need clarity on the issue and we need that measure removed from the draft legislation proposed. Former Congressman Bruce Morrison has spoken about it and it would be a significant step backwards if the J1 visas were undermined in that manner. It would represent a significant undermining of the capacity of Irish students to access the United States on J1 visas for a number of months in the summer to work and to engage in the American economy and cultural activities. In terms of the wider immigration Bill and the need for Ireland to develop an E3 visa, will the Taoiseach indicate if he met with some Republican Senators during his visit? There was an indication that some Republican Senators were not given meetings and there was some indication that among them were members of the "gang of eight". Perhaps the Taoiseach can indicate who he met and the nature of the lobbying effort that went on.
On the EU-US trade agreements, it is just not enough to say we want talks about an EU-US agreement or an agreement at any cost for the sake of having an agreement. There are fundamental reasons for the failure of the EU and US to agree on trade matters. It could have a positive impact for us on traded services but we should be open to the view that any agreement may not be good. There are many areas in which the doctrinaire approach to free trade would have a severe impact. I ask the Taoiseach to provide an assurance that no agreement that undermines the social and economic viability of family farms will be acceptable. We are aware of the model of enormous, mechanised farms drawing major State subsidies in the United States and that is only fair competition if one abandons the idea of maintaining rural life and environmentally sustainable practices. There are real issues in agriculture and food in terms of the EU-US trade agreements that could negatively impact on Ireland.
Has the Taoiseach weighed up the possibility of Britain leaving the EU or the threat of Britain leaving the EU? What impact will that have on the EU-US trade agreement?
Deputy Martin has raised a number of questions.
I am invited to attend the G8 summit at Lough Erne as the holder of the Presidency of the European Union. Clearly, Ireland is not a member of the G8. I made it clear when speaking to President Obama that the issue of major concern in that context was to have the agenda for the EU-US trade area discussed. What we hope to achieve during our Presidency is approval for the mandate to open the discussions and negotiations. If that were to happen before the end of June, it would be significant in its own right in terms of what the potential is, but it will not be easy. The argument will apply to genetically modified organisms, GMOs, on the one hand, and interaction between the European Union and the United States in the agri-sector, on the other. A number of countries have particular difficulties with this, but the overall imperative should be to get approval for the mandate in order that the discussions can be opened. This comes as a result of a high-level report from both the United States and the European Union that was generally favourable and positive towards such an outcome. If the Irish Presidency can achieve this, it would be important.
The Deputy has mentioned issues about the development of economies and taking meaningful action. It is important from the European perspective to see what is happening in the United States. The energy capacity of the United States will have a significant impact on Europe and beyond. Energy costs in the United States have dropped by 30% to 33%, whereas in Europe they are tending to rise. This is due to the activity in the United States on drilling, fracking and shale gas. Fixed prices are being offered for long-term periods for major investments and the indications are that the United States will become a net exporter of energy within the next decade. That will have an impact on the geopolitics of the Middle East and beyond and the issue of Europe getting its act together in terms of the eurogrid and the opportunity for it to have a consistent, stable and competitive energy price regime. This is important for major industry and small and medium enterprises, SMEs, across the European Union. These comments relate to the EU-US trade issue.
The question of a European Union stimulus for investment and job creation opportunities is absolutely critical. There are 26 million people registered as unemployed, of whom 19 million are in the eurozone area. This is not acceptable to anybody. One of the issues of real importance is that of banking union. This is essentially a banking crisis that has infiltrated into the economies of the European Union and the eurozone. I hope substantial progress can be made at the meeting in June. The Deputy is aware of the progress that has been made such as on the single supervisory mechanism, the CRD4 or fourth capital requirements directive and the question of resolution and recovery. However, banking union is a credibility test for how serious European leaders are about dealing with this issue. It is one that will have serious direct implications for the improvement of the situation of many countries.
One of our other priorities is to seek a resolution in respect of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF. The Deputy made a point about CAP reform. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, has been working diligently on the matter. There were allegations that there would be a cut of more than 30% in the agriculture budget. It is less than 10%, which is very significant when the indications from all the so-called knowledgeable sources were that it would be in excess of 30%.
We cannot have a European budget without the authorisation of the European Parliament. This arises from the Lisbon treaty. We discussed this issue with the President of the European Parliament when the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject the Council budget. President Schulz said clearly that there would not be an MFF until we dealt with the deficit for 2012-13. The only moneys that can be spent in Europe are paid in by countries under particular arrangements and conditions. The absolute legal ceiling for the deficit is €11.2 billion. The Tánaiste and I flew to Brussels and met President Schulz and President Barroso to discuss this matter and clear the blockage, if possible. The conditions set down were that there would have to be a sizeable first tranche paid up front on receipt of bills from the Commission and that at the end of the year the remainder, whether it was €3.9 billion or €4 billion, would be paid by the contributing countries. The President wanted a legally binding guarantee from me on that issue. However, I did not have a mandate and could not give it. However, the Minister for Finance was able to get the first tranche of the payment of €7.3 billion through ECOFIN, which leaves €3.9 billion to be paid at the end of the year. In return for dealing with this question, the parallel discussions on the MFF were begun by the Tánaiste with Mr. Lamassoure, but the European Parliament has not been as forthcoming as it said it would be with regard to movement on the MFF. I hope the matter can be resolved and that during the course of our Presidency we can reach a conclusion on both the acceptance of the figure of €7.3 billion, for a start, in respect of the deficit for 2012-13 and on the MFF for the period 2014 to 2020.
The question of the OECD and corporation tax is important and being commented on in the media. The system operating in Ireland is open and transparent. The headline rate is very close to the effective rate. According to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Bank, Ireland's effective rate stands at 11.9%, compared to the statutory rate of 12.5%. That is very different from the situation in other countries, where there is a substantial difference between the statutory corporate tax rate and the effective tax rate. In some places the tax rate is over 33% but the effective rate might only be less than 10%, depending on the location and the sector involved. The corporation tax rate in Ireland has been a fundamental cornerstone of the country's attractiveness for foreign direct investment. It is not the only one, but it is one that has been consistent and clear for all companies wishing to invest here. Since the 1950s there has been a consistent Government policy to use a competitive corporation tax rate as a means to attract investment and jobs to Ireland and a deliberate decision was made to ensure our corporate tax system would be transparent and that our competitive rate would be applied to a very wide tax base.
In response to Deputy Micheál Martin's question, Ireland does not do special tax rate deals with companies. We do not have any special, extra-low corporation tax rate for multinational companies. As our tax system is statute based, there is no possibility of individual special tax rate deals being done for companies. All companies pay the standard rate of 12.5% on their trading profits arising in Ireland and a corporation tax rate of 25% on their Irish non-trading income. Reports of a lower effective tax rate appear to arrive at their figures by running together the profits earned by group companies in Ireland and other jurisdictions and incorrectly suggesting the Irish tax rate does or should apply to both. Differences arise in the legal and tax systems between countries. International tax planning takes advantage of these differences in national systems and rules.
The OECD has confirmed that Ireland's tax rate is clear and consistent. Ireland is an active participant in the OECD project on base erosion and profit shifting. Ireland was one of the first countries to sign the agreement with the United States to improve international tax compliance, an instrument called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, FATCA.
This type of agreement, which shares information between countries and tax systems, is now being hailed as the emerging international standard for the automatic exchange of tax information. Differences do arise in the legal and taxation systems between countries. International tax planning takes account and advantage of these differences in national systems and rules. Concerns typically arise regarding the result of the interaction of the tax regimes across countries in which global companies operate rather than the law or the practice of any individual country. The best way to deal with this is for countries to work together, as Ireland does both at EU and OECD levels, to examine the structures and to consider how international rules can be implemented to ensure fair levels of taxation. Ireland is fully supportive of international efforts in this regard and, as I stated, it is an active participant in the OECD project on base erosion and profit shifting. Our statute-based corporate tax system is clear, transparent and consistent, and it is spread right across the sector. The use of other international facilities to effect changes in respect of which Ireland will participate is a matter for consideration.
The Minister for Finance and EU tax Commissioner Šemeta sent a joint letter to the Ministers for Finance of the other 26 countries outlining seven areas where concrete action could be delivered in the short term in regard to tax avoidance. That is being followed through. This matter is central to discussion at the European Council meeting this week.
I met a number of Congressmen and Senators in Washington regarding the undocumented Irish. The remarks that the Deputy makes about the J1 visa concern proposals only. Obviously, when proposals are made, the final result can be very different. Information was given to me yesterday and the day before on progress being made in regard to the E-3 visas. Apparently – I cannot speak for the Senate or the Congress – it may well be that the Senate might adopt a comprehensive measure that would include significant benefits for a country such as Ireland. It appears as if the Congress may be divided on some elements. Clearly, as the Deputies are aware, if there is a difference of opinion between the Senate and Congress, the matter proceeds to conference. Persons are appointed from each group to deal with the issues that constitute the point of disagreement.
As far as I can figure out from the information being given to me, Ireland will benefit greatly from a path to citizenship and legitimacy under the system that is currently in place and the comprehensive Bill under the Senate. If the new arrangement is put in place, there will be a system of renewable two-year visas which could apply for quite a long time.
We all have an interest in this matter and I hope there will be a successful conclusion. I understand the Senate Bill may be taken fairly soon. I spoke to Senator John McCain at some length about this matter. He was favourably disposed towards the principle. It is important from an Irish perspective that the arrangement not be limited to very high-level skills alone. We would make the point that those who might wish to travel to the United States to work, in whatever trade or sector, should have the opportunity to do so. We were very clear on that. It is a matter for the Senate. We support the passage of the legislation, obviously.
The Deputy referred to family farms and the European Union. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, is very conscious of this. He has been a very consistent and strong advocate of the retention and preservation of family farms. His success in the debate on the Common Agricultural Policy speaks for itself.
I referred to the context of the EU-US trade agreement.
An example of the confidence being reflected here is that Glanbia's major recent announcement will result in 1,500 jobs on family farms right through the crescent from north Cork to County Louth when quotas go. This is a measure of the company's statement of intent to invest. That is already under way.
If the mandate is given during the Irish Presidency on the EU-US agreement, there will be many areas in respect of which there will be complex technical discussions and disagreement. The menu is very broad. The setting down of trade conditions that could apply globally for the next 30 to 50 years is an important consideration and would be in the interest of both the United States and European Union.
It is a little bit early to talk about the detail. Of course, we support and always have supported the preservation of family farms and the fabric of rural life. What is involved, however, is securing a mandate to open the negotiations. If we could conclude the approval for that mandate by the end of this Presidency, it would be a job well done. This would allow for the negotiations to be opened during the next Presidency.
Tá fadhbanna ann fós maidir leis an slí atáimid ag déileáil leis na ceisteanna seo. Tá a lán ceisteanna ann, agus ba mhaith liom amharc ar na moltaí atá ag an Taoiseach faoi athrú a dhéanamh ar na rialacha a bhaineann le díospóireachtaí anseo.
It might be appropriate if we expressed solidarity with and sympathy for the people of Oklahoma, who have suffered. Early this morning, it was stated approximately 96 people have been killed. Countless people have been injured.
I have many questions. With a view to not using too much time, I will pursue those that the Taoiseach has not answered fully. It is good that some progress has been made on the effort to deal with the undocumented Irish. Mighty work has been done by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. The Taoiseach will agree that the difference now is that we have a bipartisan Bill going through Capitol Hill. There are four Republican and four Democrat Senators involved. The President has thrown his weight behind the legislation, as has the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. We need to keep in touch with those concerned. The Taoiseach obviously has many contacts in the United States. These are issues that can be coaxed along by consistent nurturing of our relationships and encouragement of those who have to take the decisions in question.
The Taoiseach said he and President Obama agreed it is vital to support the political institutions. Bearing in mind the will of the people, we note the political institutions are secure. However, considering the way in which the British Government is dealing with the political institutions and remembering that the Irish Government is an equal guarantor of the political institutions and all the other commitments in the Good Friday Agreement, we must factor in what is happening at present. There is the ongoing injustice regarding Marian Price. I updated the Taoiseach on this the last time we spoke. Ms Price had just been moved because her health had deteriorated very substantially. It is almost three months since Sinn Féin made a submission to the review body. It is a case of justice delayed. The Government needs to be energised on the issue of Martin Corey, who was also held without charge.
The Government is a government of austerity so the Taoiseach might feel uncomfortable raising welfare cuts with the British Government.
However, it is introducing £1 billion in cuts in welfare benefits in the North. We all know the urban and rural neighbourhoods which suffered the worst aspects of the conflict were those which were the most disadvantaged and dependent on the state to help them. The Government in London has reneged on the £18 billion capital investment commitment made at the St. Andrews negotiations and has taken £4 billion out of the block grant.
I ask the Taoiseach to devise a strategy to deal with these issues. I know during the debate we had on Private Members' business last week that the Government very clearly and explicitly acknowledged a lot of the things we said. What do we do about it? I say that in the most fraternal way possible. Part of what we should do is devise a strategy to engage internationally, in particular with the diaspora and our friends in the White House and on Capitol Hill. With the G8 summit coming up, there will be an opportunity to renew our demand that all of these matters are dealt with.
I am disappointed the Taoiseach did not raise the issue of Guantanamo Bay and the hunger strike taking place there. President Obama has declared he wants to close it and release or charge those being held there. On this date in 1981 Patsy O'Hara died on hunger strike in the H-Block. Raymond McCreesh died on the same date in south Armagh. We have a long history of hunger strikes and prison protest, going back to Thomas Ashe and Terence MacSwiney, on this island. The Government should raise this issue with the President.
I understand the Taoiseach said he did not raise the issue of Gaza. We have a peace process, imperfect though it may be. We have an international reputation because of that. There were bomb attacks in Iraq yesterday and 90 people, I understand, were killed. Today nine or ten people were killed in bomb attacks in Iraq. We have talked about the Jerusalem report and the failure to raise it with the President. I ask the Government to raise those matters.
The Taoiseach said all companies pay a standard rate of tax. News came yesterday of a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill which was told Apple had negotiated a special corporation tax rate of 2% or less. There is obviously a complete contradiction with what the Taoiseach said. The Senate report states Apple uses what it describes as tax havens such as Ireland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Are we a tax haven for global multinationals?
The answer to that question is "No." Ireland does not do special tax rate deals with companies. Our corporate tax rate is statute based. As I said, PwC and the World Bank point out the headline rate of 12.5% is very close to the effective rate of 11.9%.
I share the Deputy's sympathy and consolation for the people of Oklahoma in respect of the horrific scale of the tornado. I understand 24 people have died and 200 have been injured. President Obama has declared the area a federal case for emergency aid. We hope the rescue workers will be able to help those who may be trapped or injured. Let us hope the death rate is not too high, although one death is too many.
We cannot interfere with the process of legislation in Congress or the Senate, as Deputy Adams is well aware. We are keeping a close eye on the matter and close interaction and engagement is taking place. The intention is, as part of the overall immigration process, to bring about a resolution for those who are undocumented, with a path to citizenship and a chance for those in the future to avail of the long-established opportunities people see as being available in the United States. As far as possible, we will keep an eye on the issue. As I said, I was very happy to engage with Senators and those in Congress in Washington about the matter.
I said this is a Government of reality. We have managed not to cut headline rates in social protection. It is important that we rise to the challenge of dealing with the live register numbers in a realistic way. Some 90,000 people on it are employed for three or more days a week. For those who do not have that opportunity, it is important that we see this as a resource, so that when investment from abroad or from indigenous companies takes place there is a measure of understanding that the live register is a resource for companies which wish to take on new staff.
Last year there was a turnover of 147,000 in the live register which, admittedly, was replaced, but it shows the scale of activity and the churn, as it is called, in the labour market. I am glad to see there is at least movement in the private sector, with over 1,000 jobs per month being created.
I do not know President Obama's schedule, but he may have the opportunity to visit some locations in Northern Ireland during his attendance at the G8 summit. I am quite sure, from the discussion we had in Washington-----
He is going to Belfast.
I know of his interest in the situation in Northern Ireland. He expressed that and I understand he may well be in Belfast and will, more than likely, address the matter. He also spoke to the First and Deputy First Ministers in the context of a very strong joint approach for the development of the economy. The question the Deputy asked in respect of the institutions is one which I am quite sure he will raise.
Obviously, I do not structure the agenda for the G8 summit, but as it is being held in County Fermanagh it is an issue of concern to us. I have spoken directly to the Prime Minister in Downing Street and the President in the Oval Office. It might be appropriate, if we have the time available, to address the issues raised.
As I said, we do not do special deals with individual companies. Our tax system is statute based, and is very clear and transparent. In terms of the environment of other institutions and the tax environment internationally, we are supportive of working with the OECD and other institutions, and of change when it is necessary. Ireland was one of the first countries to sign the agreement with the United States for the sharing of information in these matters. We are not a tax haven. Some US statistics indicated that a number of years ago, and the matter has been dealt with. American investors quite understand that. The tax system is effective right across the board.
I suggest to the Taoiseach that it is time for the Government to stop the big lie about corporate tax in this country and the claim that we are not a tax haven. The evidence is now mounting all around us that we are a tax haven, and that we are one of the worst culprits in facilitating multinational corporations and financial vultures to dodge their tax liabilities and obligations to contribute to the economies and societies which sustain them.
These greedy companies want it all. They want all the profits and do not want to make any contribution to the societies or citizens which help them generate those profits. The Government, and Fianna Fáil in its previous incarnation in government and now in opposition, continue to wish to facilitate these corporate tax dodgers. It is outrageous.
How can the Taoiseach claim that our corporate tax regime is transparent when a subsidiary of Apple makes €22 billion in profits and pays a tax rate of 0.2%, yet he maintains the patently ludicrous claim that we have an effective rate of 12.5%? He should give us a break. The facts are staring us in the face, in newspapers and media reports all over the world. The issue is being discussed in the United States Congress and in the British Parliament, yet the Taoiseach continues his denial. Everybody knows this country is a tax haven. When will the Government admit the truth that we are at the centre of a rotten financial and tax culture which is facilitating these corporate monsters in avoiding their tax responsibilities? We are getting next to nothing for our efforts, with only 0.2% in tax being paid out of €22 billion. It cannot be claimed, moreover, that this is merely an isolated case. Another multinational company which made €70 billion in pre-tax profits in 2010 paid only €4 billion in tax. I am sure the Taoiseach will do the maths and see this amounts to a rate of only 6.5%. Meanwhile, a subsidiary of General Electric in Shannon paid 0.1% of its pre-tax profits in tax to this State. This activity is rampant and the Government is facilitating it.
We are also up to our neck in shadow banking, which is a nice term for the facilitation of hedge funds engaged in massive speculation, precisely the type of speculation that is destabilising the global economy. We are making ourselves very vulnerable to global shocks if we continue to base our financial and economic stability and prosperity on this type of activity. We are now learning that in the United States, because of the recession caused by these types of activities, the Government is seeking to close down loopholes in the corporate tax system. That is absolutely the right thing to do and, if successful, it will have serious implications for the Irish economy. It makes the folly of the Government and Fianna Fáil all the greater in arguing that we should continue to facilitate these arrangements and protect our corporate tax rate. In other words, we should protect the right of super-profitable multinational corporations to pay no tax. What an appalling set of priorities from both the Government and main Opposition party. It seems there are no red lines when it comes to attacking the wages and conditions of workers and going after public services. Those targets must be allowed, apparently, but a red line is drawn when there is any suggestion of taking even a few additional percentage points from the multinational corporations or closing down the shadow banks. It is absolutely outrageous and it will blow back on our economy if the Government does not address it.
I have a simple question for the Taoiseach. When these matters are raised with him at the G8 conference or in any other encounter with the United States authorities, will he own up to the reality of the situation and undertake to do something about it? As it stands, he is anchoring the economic future of this country on a policy of tax piracy which is of no benefit to Irish people and is helping to destabilise the global economy.
I now call Deputy Joe Higgins and advise him that there are eight minutes remaining.
It is most unsatisfactory, as Opposition Members have pointed out previously, when the Taoiseach gives overly lengthy answers of up to 20 minutes. Instead of beating around the bush, he should answer the questions put to him in a succinct fashion. He could do so in a fraction of the time he sometimes takes. I at least will be succinct in my questions.
Greatly exaggerated claims are being made about the alleged benefits of the European Union-United States trade agreement which the Taoiseach is very anxious to advance. Figures are being bandied about for which there is no concrete basis, including talk of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of jobs. It is useful to bear in mind that the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement did not result in increased jobs, despite claims to the contrary at the time. In this country, we are still waiting for the Taoiseach and his right-wing political party colleagues to reveal all the jobs that were promised during the campaigns preceding the referenda on the Lisbon treaty.
Is the Taoiseach aware that what is being sought by big business interests in both the United States and Europe is the total and absolute liberalisation of public services? Is he aware that the standards or thresholds demanded by these entities are the most liberal regulations in existing free trade agreements? Wherever such liberal provisions exist, representatives of big business want them brought into any agreement between the United States and the European Union. They are demanding minimum regulation and full access to public services so they can grab whatever is going. This will have major consequences in the form of a race to the bottom in terms of workers' wages, conditions, safety and so on.
Does the Taoiseach recognise the major problems that would arise for agriculture as a result of a free trade agreement? United States agribusiness has massively different standards even to those in the European Union when it comes to food safety. Big business in America wants access for hormone-treated beef to the European Union. That is not acceptable to people in Europe. It wants access for chlorine-sterilised chicken. That is not acceptable to consumers in Europe. It wants full access for genetically modified organisms, crops and so on. That is not acceptable to the majority of people within the European Union, yet the Taoiseach is seeking to facilitate a process by which these measures will be bludgeoned through. He should bear in mind that on foot of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, the Canadian Government is being taken to court by big business corporations seeking billions of euro in compensation on the basis of their claim that the moratorium on fracking in Quebec is in breach of the agreement. That is the type of liability to which the Government would have us exposed.
It is time the Taoiseach stopped trying to fool the working-class people of this country, who are over the barrel with austerity taxes, on the issue of what corporations pay, both rates and amounts. Government policy on this matter, which is supported by the Fianna Fáil Party, is being exposed. How can he use the word "transparency" when these massive tax dodges by large multinational corporations are such that Dublin, Holland and Bermuda now constitute a taxation swindle triangle. We are facilitating these companies to avoid paying taxes not only in Ireland, but in many poor countries throughout the world. I do not have time to go into it now but Christian Aid, for instance, has done excellent work in revealing the level of tax avoidance - to use the legal term; I would say "tax robbery" - by these large business interests, which are stealing from the poorest people in the world. This country is part of that process.
I will begin by clearing up some issues for those who have a peculiar view on tax havens. One should never disregard the information provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which has set out four key indicators for what constitutes such a haven. The first is having no taxes or only nominal taxes. That does not apply in Ireland. The second is a lack of transparency. The Irish system is statute based and very clear and transparent. The third indicator is an unwillingness to exchange information with the tax administrations of OECD member countries. Not only does Ireland meet the requirements in that regard, we were one of the first signatories, with the United States Government, of an agreement for the sharing of information in this regard. The fourth indicator is an absence of substantial activity.
I do not know whether either of the two gentlemen opposite has ever been in a multinational facility in the country or whether they have ever met the men and women of their own constituencies who work in these facilities. I do not know whether they have ever spoken to them about their conditions and the wages that they draw week after week and the productivity that they achieve for the companies which are very happy to site here because of Ireland's extraordinary capacity to meet the challenges internationally. This has been our best year for foreign direct investment and for exports. Ireland does not meet any of the four criteria in the indicators set down for the definition of a tax haven because we measure up under all of these indicators as not being a tax haven.
The Deputies raised a point about difficulty with questions. I had 50 different engagements in the United States and were I to spend even 30 seconds on each of those engagements, which were important for this country's exports to the US, we would be here for a very long time. I am quite happy to look at the matter of questions to the Taoiseach and the way we do business. We can divide them even further into sub-groups if the Deputies wish or maybe take one question and just answer that and discuss that for as long as the Deputies want. When I came into this House back in the 1970s Minister X was in from October until March answering questions and nobody else ever got a chance. I am happy to discuss this with Deputies Martin, Adams and representatives from the Deputies' group but this works both ways. If the Deputies want to go off, as they do occasionally, and ask whom did the Taoiseach meet in Davos and what for, as if there was some ulterior, suspect motive here-----
Did he have tea or coffee?
They ask all these questions particularly about telecommunications and things like that, as if there was something surreptitious going on here when everything is completely clear about where we are and all the rest of it-----
Did he order a cappuccino?
I do not accept-----
I think it is about parliamentary accountability.
If they do not get information by way of questions here they go off on their own tangents and raise their own issues. I make the point to Deputies Higgins and Boyd Barrett that the question of the EU-US trade agreement is one for approval for a mandate to negotiate only. While the US, as they say, or other countries, might wish to have access to particular markets that does not mean that they will achieve it. Are they to condemn the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who went last year to the United States specifically to negotiate for the possibility of entry of Irish beef to the US market? Do they condemn that? That is being done outside the potential of the EU-US market. Maybe they do condemn that. Maybe they do not want people who work in the farm business and food sector here to have that opportunity. They cannot have it both ways. The issue of GMOs and hormones in beef is one that will raise complications for countries on either side, for us as well as others but we are negotiating to get approval for the mandate to start the negotiations. That does not mean, as Deputy Higgins well knows, that what people want would be approved or agreed in the end. I suggest to him and to Deputy Boyd Barrett that they go around the country to the multinationals and talk to the men and women who work in them and ask them about their conditions and their pay and the opportunities given to them to work in companies that are globally recognised as being exceptionally competent and see whether the conditions measure up.
The Taoiseach is avoiding the issue again. We were raising corporation tax.
Maybe the Deputies do not want to recognise that because they love to hide behind the curtain of austerity every day of the week instead of recognising reality.
We are talking about corporation tax and everybody else is talking about it.
The Deputies should go out and meet these people when they are coming out of those multinational firms every evening and talk to them about the work they do, about the fact that they are changing the future and about the way they are working.
That does not mean they should not pay corporation tax.
If the Deputies do not have a weekly protest to go to or to organise they feel disillusioned and despondent.
There is no shortage of reasons to protest.