1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will be attending bilaterals or any other meetings when the G8 Summit meets in County Fermanagh; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23663/13]
Vol. 806 No. 1
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will be attending bilaterals or any other meetings when the G8 Summit meets in County Fermanagh; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23663/13]
2. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the role he will play at the G8 Summit which will take place in Northern Ireland in June. [23968/13]
3. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will raise human rights concerns regarding G8 member countries at the G8 Summit in June. [23969/13]
4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he plans to prioritise when he attends the G8 summit in County Fermanagh in June. [25302/13]
5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has received a detailed agenda for the G8 Summit in June 2013; if he will report on that agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25469/13]
6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues he intends to raise at the G8 Summit in June 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25470/13]
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the capacity in which he will be attending the G8 summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26625/13]
8. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Taoiseach the role he will play at the upcoming G8 Summit in Northern Ireland; the issues he plans to raise at the summit with other leaders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27357/13]
9. Deputy Dara Murphy asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27359/13]
10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues that will be on the agenda for the G8 summit in County Fermanagh. [27866/13]
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will brief participants on the Irish peace process during his attendance at the G8 summit in County Fermanagh. [27867/13]
12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of the Middle East peace process during his attendance at the G8 summit in County Fermanagh. [27868/13]
13. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of global poverty during his attendance at the G8 summit County Fermanagh. [27869/13]
14. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of Guantanamo Bay during his attendance at the G8 summit County Fermanagh. [27870/13]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, together.
The G8 brings together the leaders of the world's major industrialised countries: the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom. The European Union has been represented at the G8 since the Lisbon treaty entered into force by the President of the European Council, currently Herman Von Rompuy, and the Commission President, currently Jose Manuel Barroso. There is no formal role for the Head of Government of the member state holding the EU Presidency. This year the United Kingdom holds the one year presidency of the G8 and I am delighted that Prime Minister Cameron has chosen the Lough Erne Golf Resort, Enniskillen, as the location for the 39th G8 summit and associated events on 17 and 18 June. Prime Minister Cameron indicated to me last year that he was considering County Fermanagh as the venue and sought my views on the idea. I was happy to encourage him, noting that it would be a good outcome not just for Northern Ireland but also for the entire island. He also indicated that he would like me to join him in County Fermanagh on the occasion of these important events, which invitation I was pleased to accept on behalf of the people. This invitation reflects the fact that relations between Ireland and Britain are stronger than ever, as well as the particular choice of location for the summit. Details of the programme of events at Lough Erne have not yet been finalised and I will report on them to the House in due course.
Prime Minister Cameron has indicated that the focus of the UK presidency of the G8 in 2013 will be on three issues which are critical for growth, prosperity and economic development across the world. These are advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency. Consequently, I expect that the G8 leaders will concentrate on these themes in their discussions at the summit. While I cannot say what specific human rights issues, if any, will be discussed at the summit, I assure the House that Ireland will continue to support calls for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the trial or release of detainees, as appropriate, as soon as possible.
On the issue of poverty, I am happy to report that, at the invitation of Prime Minister Cameron, I participated last Saturday in an event - Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science - organised in the context of the United Kingdom's G8 presidency. This collaborative event harnessed the support of governments, business and scientific and civil society communities to address malnutrition more effectively. It achieved significant commitments for investment in nutrition which are urgently needed to transform the lives of millions of women and children around the world. I pledged that, within our overall overseas aid resources, Ireland would double its nutrition efforts in the next eight years to 2020. This will involve strengthening our leadership role and partnerships on nutrition with Irish Aid's key partner countries to effectively tackle the scourge of hunger and malnutrition.
The decision to hold the G8 summit in County Fermanagh provides a unique opportunity for all of us, especially political leaders in Northern Ireland, to show the world the progress being made in the North and demonstrate the potential of the peace process to have real, tangible benefits for people across these islands. The recent publication of Together: Building a United Community Strategy for Good Relations by the Northern Ireland Executive is a positive step in the process which I will be happy to discuss with any G8 leader should a suitable opportunity arise. That the summit is taking place in County Fermanagh has very positive implications for this part of the island. In the near term a large number of the accompanying delegations are staying here, which is a welcome boost for tourism and local economies. More generally, the summit comes at a time when British-Irish relations have never been stronger and can play a positive role in strengthening these relations even further.
On the question of bilateral visits, I am pleased to confirm that Prime Minister Harper of Canada has accepted my invitation to come to Dublin next weekend prior to the summit. I will meet him on Sunday and we will take the opportunity to discuss the first-class bilateral relations between Ireland and Canada and prospects for enhancing our economic and trade relations. We will also discuss progress in finalising the EU-Canada trade agreement and I will brief him on the progress we achieved in this regard during our EU Presidency.
I wrote to the Japanese Prime Minister some months ago inviting him to visit Ireland around the time of the G8 summit and I am very hopeful he will visit Dublin after it concludes. This would be the first visit to Dublin by a Japanese Prime Minister and mark an important step in deepening relations between Ireland and Japan. It would also provide a significant opportunity to build on the already strong trade and investment links between our countries. I note that all external visits by the Japanese Prime Minister must be approved by the Japanese Parliament and I will report to the House in due course on this and any other bilateral visit that takes place around the time of the G8 summit.
There has been some comment in recent days, including today, on Garda security measures at the Border during the G8 summit. It is welcome that the summit is being held on the island. It is potentially very positive for its profile. I hope the opportunity will be used to convey certain issues and points to world leaders. It is an unfortunate reality of these times and global summits that extra security measures are required. Some small groups insist not only on their right to protest, which I uphold, but also to go further. Hence, the necessity for security. I wish the Garda Síochána the very best in its work in advance of and during the summit.
The information that has emanated so far on the summit's agenda is not encouraging. We have seen leaders beginning to queue up to declare the crisis is over, a weakening of proposals to co-ordinate activities and a dilution of some of the policies leaders had agreed, in particular at European Union level. This is alarming for the 27 million people who are unemployed within the European Union. I ask the Taoiseach for his opinion on the decisive move by the IMF in the past week in pointing to the errors in EU-IMF policies in the period 2008-10. The IMF has stated countries were not dealt with fairly and that the European Union has so far failed to acknowledge this fact properly. This has important implications for Ireland, but it was surprising that the Taoiseach used his position as President of the Council to argue against getting the Union to acknowledge what it had done wrong. He said no purpose would be served in looking at EU policy and how it had evolved and impacted on Greece, Ireland and Portugal. When he said there was no point in getting involved, he was arguing directly against Ireland's claim that significant further relief should be given to the State on foot of the European Union's role.
It is interesting and I am amazed the head of the IMF is increasingly prepared and willing to say Ireland is carrying debts that are not its sole responsibility but the national Government is not advancing the argument as vociferously as the IMF. It is important we consistently and continually articulate the position the IMF is putting forward.
At Fermanagh, the key players will be talking about trade and competitiveness. It would be a better use of the Taoiseach's time, when he gets the opportunity, to focus on the impact of the early years of this crisis in terms of the policies of the EU, the ECB and the IMF. Those issues still need to be addressed.
The G8 will discuss the financial markets and in recent days a number of leaders have declared the financial crisis over. We are beginning to see the emergence of the Franco-German alliance. Last week there was a declaration that said nothing should be activated on banking union until everything has been agreed sometime next year. We are beginning to witness a resiling from earlier agreements on banking union to which the EU member states signed up. As president of the European Council, what does the Taoiseach plan to do about this dilution of the policy and the resiling from its implementation? Up to now, the Taoiseach said we have a clear agreement but that is not enough. What is beginning to happen represents clear breaches of the agreements. Is the Taoiseach proposing to do anything about that?
I thank Deputy Martin for his question. The point I made is that I see little point getting involved in an argument between the IMF and Commissioner Rehn. Deputy Martin is well aware the situation, as it happened a number of years ago, resulted in the country having to borrow €64 billion. The claims made by the Government at the time were rejected in respect of the hierarchy of bail-ins for the owners of banks, bondholders and so on. I am interested in continuing to negotiate with our colleagues at European level and with the troika in respect of the memorandum of understanding, which we hope to exit later this year. This solution will bring further benefits for the Irish taxpayer because of the economic train wreck that occurred a number of years ago. Far from arguing against further benefits for the country, the strategy has been very clear. This happened, as a matter of historic fact. What has been achieved since then? Interest rate reductions have taken place, the promissory note agreement with the ECB took place, and an extension of loan maturities was granted to Portugal and Ireland. As a consequence, yields have fallen from 15% to below 4%. The decision taken on 29 June last year must be implemented.
A number of issues about it arise, as Deputy Martin is aware. The single supervisory mechanism has been put in place, the capital 4 directive has been put in place and the process of dealing with resolution and recovery is under discussion as we speak. We hope to bring it to the next level at the next meeting. We also expect legislation from the Commission in respect of single resolution. All are important steps. The decision of 29 June is a credibility test for the European Council and the leaders of Europe. We want to see banking union implemented and we want to see it happen. In the lead-in to many discussions and meetings, comments will be made and interpreted in different ways. The decision has not been changed or altered. The decision was that the ESM could have the possibility of direct recapitalisation of banks. Since then, Cyprus happened and a bail-in hierarchy applied. In the past number of days, I spoke to the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Prime Minister Dombrovskis of Latvia, Prime Minister Katainen in Finland and Prime Minister Cameron in London and, yesterday, Prime Minister Letta in Italy. All of these leaders want to see the European Union follow through on the decisions it makes. It is a bad signal from the point of view of European Union citizens if they have the view that leaders make decisions at Council level and do not follow through. It was never the intention that banking union would be a reality by June but the next meeting of the Council, at the end of June and just over a year since the decision was made, must continue to send a very strong signal about the process we need here. Why enter into making a decision in the first place if leadership is not going to follow through on banking union? That is an issue I have raised at the European Council on the past two occasions and with the directly elected prime ministers of the countries I visited and the French President, the Prime Minister of Spain, the Prime Minister of Portugal and others to whom I have been speaking.
A meeting will take place later this evening in respect of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, and we want to see it become a reality because the budget for 2014 to 2020 is contained in it. When Deputy Martin and I were much younger, there were a number of exceptionally powerful leaders at European level. It is necessary there is a strong Germany, a strong France, strong Italy and a strong Spain. The big economies must be in a strong position to assist smaller countries as one of the principles of the EU.
What about Britain?
And Britain, of course, but I do not speak for the British Government. Nor do I speak for the British people.
It was a notable omission.
The Prime Minister has signalled a process and time alone will tell the outcome of what British people decide in respect of the general election and the referendum to be held. In that regard, I share the view of many people here. The decision was made by European Council.
It is not happening.
We want it to be really strong and we want it to happen because the mechanisms and tools have not been available to have Europe power ahead as it should. Some 90% of the world's trade will take place outside the borders of the European Union inside the next ten years and in light of the fact there are 26 million people unemployed, it is in the interest of the EU. There was a banking fiasco that continued for a number of years. Banking union is an essential part of sorting it out and we want to see it happen.
Are the records of some of the leaders attending the G8 summit in Fermanagh of concern to the Taoiseach? President Putin routinely crushes the right to democratic peaceful protest in Russia. President Obama routinely sends pilotless drones, which have killed thousands of innocent civilians, into Pakistan. The economic policies of the likes of Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron are contributing in their austerity to the 26 million people unemployed in the European Union. These, and all the others, and the global policies they advocate and implement as leaders of world capitalism are responsible for the fact that hundreds of millions of people are hungry in the world.
What role will the Taoiseach play at the G8 summit? Can he elaborate on it? If I understood him correctly, he said he has no formal role. Will he sit there quiet as a churchmouse or will he raise some of the critical issues, challenge the leaders and confront them with the effects of their policies on hundreds, if not thousands, of millions of people?
Does the Taoiseach know that many ordinary people, including young people, trade unionists and advocates for the poorest countries on earth, plan peaceful protests at the G8 summit? Is he aware that this right to protest is being consciously and consistently undermined in a number of ways, including through scare stories in the media which deliberately play on lurid threats of widespread violence, disorder and terror? While I understand there have been some bomb threats by dissident republicans, which is quite reactionary and to be condemned, these stories go way beyond this. Is the Taoiseach aware that the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, Mr. Ford, has highlighted these fears by demanding permanent sittings of the courts, including during the night and on Sundays, before the summit even gets under way, to cater for potentially hundreds of people who will, in his mind, be thrown into prison? Part of Maghaberry Prison has been set aside for this purpose. Does the Taoiseach understand the reactionary nature of this type of scaremongering as an attempt to cut across the civil right of people to dissent and to oppose the policies of the G8? Is it not clear that it is designed to discourage people from attending? A wide range of people protest against fracking, for example, and many other disparate but crucial issues facing communities. They wish to protest but they are being dissuaded from doing so.
We have previous experience of this. There were similar lurid threats when we were protesting against the Iraq war and before important demonstrations. It also occurred before the big summit in Dublin in 2000, if I remember correctly, when the Government of the day brought in water cannon from the North. There was no reason for it except to stoke up fear and to frighten people and families into staying away. Will the Taoiseach condemn this and clearly state that people have the right to protest peacefully? I encourage people to come out and show their views. The Taoiseach said he is aware of the false fronts being painted on shop fronts. Is that not really adding insult to the injury of the people of Northern Ireland who are currently languishing in unemployment and, for many, in poverty? Presumably, it is being paid for from the incredible £60 million that will be spent on this G8 summit, largely on security. Is it not incredible that world leaders feel themselves to be so much under siege that taxpayers, instead of spending this money on the development of local economies, jobs and decent communities, are forced to spend it on protecting these leaders from the people they are supposed to serve and represent?
I thank Deputy Higgins for his comments. Many Members have referred to the record of the G8 leaders. The country that holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union - in this case, Ireland - does not have a formal role in the G8 summit. I assume the Prime Minister extended an invitation to me because Ireland holds the Presidency and also because the G8 summit takes place on the island of Ireland. If the holder of the Presidency was Italy, France, Britain or Germany, each of which is a member of the G8, it would also have a specific role and function in the summit as holder of the Presidency.
It is only right and proper to state that we have always been greatly concerned about the case of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who died in prison awaiting trial regarding a tax evasion scheme which he had uncovered and reported to the authorities. That is obviously an issue, and I note the reports of various other incidents in Russia in which human rights are of concern. Indeed, it should be noted that the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade received a letter from the Russian ambassador indicating that if the committee's resolution calling for sanctions on Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky case was put through, it might undermine the adoption process between Ireland and Russia. It would be regrettable if that were to occur.
In so far as President Putin and the Russian Government are concerned, some countries have very different views about the relationship with Russia. In Finland, the Prime Minister was very clear the other day about the practical and pragmatic approach the Finnish Government and people have to their neighbours in Russia. There is a particular concern in regard to amendments to the Russian law on non-governmental organisations, NGOs, whereby NGOs that received foreign funding would have to declare themselves to be foreign agents, as they are called. Despite what has been said by some Russian commentators, this is not an approximation of registration requirements or laws within the EU. In April last, an EU delegation in Moscow delivered a démarche on behalf of the EU expressing concern about the NGO law and the intrusiveness and frequency of inspections of NGOs. Ireland, as holder of the Presidency, was one of the five member states that took part in this.
However, the EU's relationship with Russia is of critical importance in terms of energy, food, the agriculture sector and several other areas. In particular, we are anxious to see progress in the partnership for modernisation agenda, co-operation on the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, and co-operation with the UN, where we continue to press EU positions, including on Syria, and where I am sure discussions take place on an hourly or daily basis with Russia. It is important that we continue to engage with Russia on areas such as media, Internet freedom and the role of civil society and, indeed, where our perspectives differ.
The Deputy mentioned the US President, Mr. Obama. This country has a particularly strong relationship with the United States. I refer the Deputy to the President's programme for the inclusion of a further 32 million Americans in a medical aid programme which they never had previously, and the difficulties that this has encountered within the American political system.
I had a brief conversation with the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI on the occasion of the formal opening of the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge last weekend. Clearly, as Deputy Martin pointed out, there is a requirement for the provision of proper and appropriate safety measures. Deputy Higgins is aware that there has always been a right to peaceful protest in this country. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, had the windscreen of his car smashed the other day during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. In my county there has been extensive spending on protest matters for many years, using money which could usefully have been spent on the provision of schools, special needs assistants and so forth.
I have always been a clear supporter of the right of peaceful protest. I am quite sure the security forces and the security authorities have taken into account what happened on other occasions of G8 summits, when there clearly was outrageous abuse of the right to peaceful protest. There is a requirement for both the PSNI and the Garda on this island to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to prevent acts of terrorism or exceptional violence, as have happened in the past.
It is their responsibility and remit to see that these measures are implemented. From that perspective, I hope the G8 summit in County Fermanagh will pass off peacefully and that there will be discussions and decisions by the leaders of the eight most industrialised countries in the world on issues that affect us globally, such as hunger, human rights and economic development. I hope they will lead to growth, stability and job opportunities and that they will have a global impact. This is always a possibility that arises from making good, strong political decisions at the level in question. I hope that, on this occasion, the island of Ireland will be seen globally as a country that will have proven itself to be able to host a summit of this nature, thereby meriting the confidence displayed by the British Prime Minister. I hope the summit is good and that clear, strong, progressive and beneficial decisions will arise from it over the course of the two days.
The Taoiseach correctly pointed out that County Fermanagh is a very beautiful part of the country and that it is undoubtedly well deserving of international attention. The Taoiseach pointed out that the summit is an opportunity to advertise the county and the surrounding areas. Fermanagh will be showcased, and accommodation in the surrounding districts, including Donegal and Cavan, will be booked out by delegations and the international press.
The organisation of the summit has led to considerable disruption to the daily lives of citizens. A-level exams may be interrupted and, heaven help us, there is even a danger that the Ulster championship clash in Brewster Park will be disrupted. More important than the location of the summit, however, is the impact that the deliberations of the world leaders have had and will have on the lives of people globally. The G8 constitutes the big, powerful and advanced industrial nations. It is, by definition, an elite.
There are a number of critical issues that the summit leaders need to focus on. The issue of protest has been raised. I have in my hand a programme of events to be held across the North from 12 June to 17 June. The events are organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International, the Pat Finucane Centre, the Bloody Sunday Trust and Friends of the Earth. They include a very big event on the Saturday in the Belfast Botanic Gardens. The protests and acts of political demonstration have been well thought out and organised. Obviously, contingencies must be built in but it is not helpful, necessary or even accurate for us to hype up a possibility of unrest on the streets. I certainly hope it does not come to pass. The brochure I have to hand demonstrates precisely why people are protesting and the issues that animate the Irish in respect of global justice. It is not just a question of economic recovery in our own region, although it is essential and although the issues of European Union policy are front and centre in this regard, as it is also a matter of broader concern over the low life expectancy of millions of citizens, particularly in the developing world. In the Taoiseach's speech at the pre-G8 conference on Saturday in London, which was entitled "Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science", he announced that the Government would double expenditure on combating hunger by 2020. While that is very welcome, the Taoiseach made no mention of other core issues, such as land grabbing, land rights and gender inequality. He made but a passing reference to climate change. I raise these issues because they comprise some of the core issues that the G8 leaders need to focus on. They are the areas in which the leaders can and must have influence. The leaders must change their policies and the corporations based in their countries. I hope that when the G8 leaders meet, there will not just be lip-service paid to the core issues or a passing reference thereto. The leaders, as the Taoiseach stated, are the leaders of the most industrialised countries, and they wear this as a badge of honour that attracts considerable prestige. They, therefore, have an obligation to go beyond rhetoric and start settling on the precise actions that they, in their jurisdictions and collectively, might take to end the obscenity of children dying of diarrhoea and malnutrition. When we see the latter on our television screens, we are rightly shocked, upset and horrified, but it is not good enough for us to be shocked, upset and terrified, nor is it good enough for G8 leaders to make some references to this effect to hide their blushes because we need really profound and thought-out actions to deal with these matters. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that these matters will form the backbone of the G8 discussions. The Taoiseach should make it his business to raise these issues not only on behalf of Irish citizens but also on behalf of citizens globally. Ireland is no different from other locations where the G8 summit has been held in that people are animated and outraged by gross inequality in the world. They are not just prepared to go along with it.
The worsening circumstances in Syria and the Middle East generally must be borne in mind. Last night, RTE broadcast a report on Syrian refugees that showed a very disturbing and not unfamiliar scene. We have seen refugees in the depicted position before. We must also bear in mind the circumstances in the Middle East more generally and the ongoing tragedy and travesty that is Palestine. Notwithstanding all the imperfections in our peace process - it is not a Northern Irish peace process but an Irish one in which we are all involved and which affects the country from one end to another - and the road we must still travel, we must realise we have made very considerable progress and can form a basis for optimism and action in other places in the world. I hope the Taoiseach will take the opportunity to brief leaders on the successes of our peace process and inform them of the hurdles we have yet to pass.
I expect the Taoiseach to raise the circumstances in the Palestinian territories and the failure by the international community to intervene positively and progressively in the ongoing conflict. In fairness to the Tánaiste, he has been proactive in raising at EU level issues associated with illegal settlements. The upcoming summit provides an opportunity for the Taoiseach to raise the circumstances in Syria and the ongoing problem in Palestine, and I hope he will avail of it. If he avails of it, it will mean saying some things that will be uncomfortable and which will not be welcomed by Israel and its government. Such is the nature of the very significant and challenging political injustices. Sometimes the hard things have to be said.
The recent decision of the European Union not to renew the arms embargo on Syria due to British and French pressure is a seriously retrograde step. We all know the reality is that big powers such as the United States, the European Union and Russia have significant influence in Syria. They need to use that influence to create the conditions for peace talks and a peace process that is viable, and not to deepen the bloodshed by transporting more arms to Syria. I urge the Taoiseach to take account of all these issues and assure us that he will, on behalf of us all, raise these core concerns of citizens throughout the world.
Deputy McDonald raised a range of issues. I take her at her word. I hope this can be a showcase, in the right way, for Ireland and Fermanagh. I hope it is an expression of confidence that the British Prime Minister wanted to host the G8 summit on the island of Ireland. I also hope that those who wish to exercise the legitimate right to peaceful protest do so.
The Deputy mentioned a number of events taking place between 12 and 17 June. She referred to the Pat Finucane case, but I had not heard of the issue she raised. It is another opportunity to have a peaceful protest, if that is what people wish to involve themselves in. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons outside my control and that of the Deputy, in other countries it has turned into something far from peaceful. Nobody wants that situation to arise in Ireland.
In regard to the protest by Friends of the Earth, I can confirm that water, food, food security and climate change are issues that are genuinely discussed at different EU committees and at the summit. The same applies in the case of the event at the Belfast Botanic Gardens. I genuinely hope this can be a G8 summit at which the leaders of the industrialised world focus, with real pragmatism and decisiveness, on a number of the issues that affect everybody, some of which the Deputy mentioned.
The conference in London on Saturday was about malnutrition and under-nutrition, not just the hunger situation which pertains in many countries. There were comments on the great advances being made by the Gates Foundation, for instance, in the elimination of disease and the countries in which this problem can be beaten over the next decade or so.
During the Olympics last year - an outstanding contribution by Britain, which was exceptionally well-run and a showcase for the world - the Prime Minister took the opportunity to call many leaders, representatives of NGOs and people working against hunger, specifically malnutrition and under-nutrition, to Downing Street. I was also happy to participate. A process was put in place whereby it was not just the games that took place, as well as all that goes along with them as a spectacle of athleticism and commitment; there was also a recognition of the millions who live in poverty and, within that, those living in dire poverty who suffer from starvation and malnutrition. The Prime Minister initiated the process by which this can become a parallel decision-making process at the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The meeting on Saturday was attended by the Vice President of Brazil, the host nation for the Olympics in 2016. It specifically focused on malnutrition and under-nutrition, which give rise to stunted growth and carries through in progeny for successive generations.
There were passing references to the issues of land and gender inequality, but the conference was not about those issues. Two young people spoke, one of whom is now a journalist. He suffered from malnutrition as a young boy and graphically explained to the conference how he was unable to participate in football, which he loves, because of the food situation. His closing remarks to the conference asked leaders to remember the face of those who spoke, because it is an issue that affects so many. I commend the Prime Minister on calling so many people together and using the G8 as a opportunity to further the process of dealing with malnutrition and under-nutrition in the lead-up to the 2016 games, where this process will represent further evidence of decisiveness in dealing with the matter. It is not a case of paying lip service to an issue that affects millions of people in hovels, inferior accommodation and places where people have nothing but the space on which they lie. The representative of Nigeria spoke about chiefs and tribes in her country. The tradition was that pregnant women were forbidden to eat eggs during pregnancy. Education is very important for the rights of women, and it must become an accepted part of life that they are entitled to the best food and the highest standard of living. Education in respect of tribal rights and tradition is important. She raised the point in the context of a number of siblings in her family. It was a powerful contribution and was recognised as such by all of those who were there. I hope the G8 representatives will reflect on where the Prime Minister has brought this process, and I hope there will be real, effective follow-up by the time the 2016 games take place in Rio de Janeiro.
The Deputy mentioned Syria. This appalling conflict is having horrendous consequences for millions of people. A number of initiatives and proposals have been put forward since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, many of which raised the hope that the conflict would end swiftly, but that has not happened. There is no denying the fact that the US-Russian proposal of convening an international conference in Syria called the Geneva II talks is a welcome development to break the paralysis on the political track. The Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has long argued that the international community cannot, as somebody here said years ago, stand idly by. The only hope of a peaceful political settlement is for the key international players, particularly SECO, to come together and apply sufficient pressure on all sides to bring about a dialogue for peace and transition. The EU pledged its full support for the US-Russian initiative and the conclusions adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council on 27 May which the Tánaiste attended. He made it clear that the EU would support every initiative to create the appropriate conditions for a successful convening of the conference. If it is to have any value and bear fruit there must be no preconditions set by the sides in the conflict. We urge the opposition and the authorities in Syria to take seriously the opportunity presented by the Geneva II talks so that the continuous stream of people being driven out of their family homes and villages to neighbouring countries can stop.
The relaxation of the sanctions regime is something Ireland did not support. The Tánaiste pointed out clearly at the meeting that we favoured an extension of the entire sanctions regime in order to put sufficient pressure on the Syrian authorities to stop their campaign of repression, under which so many deaths have occurred, stop driving people out of the country, and enter into dialogue. A relaxation of the arms embargo would only lead to further militarisation and loss of life and would trigger an arms race inside and outside Syria. We also have a legitimate concern that supplying arms to moderate opponents of the Assad regime will gravely undermine any prospect of a political settlement, particularly at a time when international diplomatic efforts such as those deployed by Russia and the US seem to be leading to some sort of progress in terms of political dialogue.
At the Council, different views were expressed by some of the leaders. There was a strong recognition of the importance of EU unity on this matter and of the inevitable fact that our unity and leverage with others would suffer if we did not maintain cohesion. Thus, the decision was made by the Council with which Ireland disagreed. However, it is important that the 27 member states remain focused on the objective of overall peace.
The Deputy also mentioned the Middle East. The US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, has personally prioritised the Middle East peace process.
He has been in regular contact with the Israelis, Palestinians and regional leaders since his first visit to the region with President Obama in March and recently made his fourth visit there. While the nature of the work he is involved in is confidential, it is expected that the initiative needs to advance now from listening mode to a more direct engagement in terms of peace talks. Such negotiations are always particularly complicated and sensitive in that region.
We are concerned by the series of recent announcements of large-scale Israeli settlement expansions in the occupied Palestinian territories. Having visited the region some years ago, I understand the implications of these developments. Any unilateral provocative actions by either side that are aimed at creating new realities on the ground must be avoided for these negotiations to have any chance of success. Let us hope that Senator Kerry's new initiative, his personal prioritisation of the issue and his frequent visits will enable a sense of good faith that common sense can apply and progress can be made.
I intend to travel to Fermanagh to protest at the G8 summit later this month.
That is not a surprise.
In addition, I will speak at one of the alternative summits, in Belfast, where the policies of the G8 will be critiqued on the day before the summit.
Will the Deputy be bringing a few rubbish bins?
I am very concerned, as are others who intend to participate in these protests, about the enormous hype in terms of potential security threats surrounding the summit. I am very disappointed that the Taoiseach is echoing some of this narrative by alluding to possible threats from protesters. He referred to smashed windscreens, for example.
That happened down here.
The Taoiseach threw it into the narrative.
No, I was agreeing with the point made by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.
Is it not the case that a broken windscreen does not scream with agony in the same way as does a child who is blown to pieces by a drone weapon deployed by the United States in Afghanistan?
Let us get these matters in proportion.
Since when did two wrongs make a right?
There is no comparison between an unmanned drone blowing an innocent child to pieces and a broken piece of glass. The reason people are protesting with peaceful intent is that they find it stomach-churning that the leaders of the most powerful nations in the world would talk about peace and global justice while at the same time deploying these types of weapons to such devastating effect, thereby extinguishing the lives of innocent children and families. The bottom line is that the United States and its G8 partners are the major manufacturers, purveyors and users of weapons of mass destruction.
Will the Taoiseach echo the concerns of protestors in his dealings with Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin and the leaders of the other powerful states that produce, sell and use these weapons? Will he argue that people are right to express concern about the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on weapons of war and the means to destroy human lives? That is why people are protesting. As Prime Minister of a country that established its identity in the struggle against empire, the Taoiseach should speak out on behalf of those people. He should make the case that their concerns are justified. Will he also articulate the concern that the major recipient of aid, most of it military aid, from the United States is the state of Israel, which is using that aid to devastating effect in a series of attacks against the innocent people of the occupied Palestinian territories?
Will the Taoiseach further undertake to ask President Obama why his Secretary of the Treasury vetoed a proposal to impose some of the burden of the financial crisis in this country on bondholders? Some of us in this House raised this issue two years ago and that particular intervention has since been confirmed. It has had a devastating effect on the ordinary citizens of this country. Moreover, as we have learned from what happened in Cyprus, it was not necessary. It was, in fact, possible to burn bondholders without the entire financial system falling apart. Yet we were spun the lie at the time that it could not be done. The critical intervention came from President Obama's Secretary of the Treasury that burning bondholders might impact on certain corporate interests in the United States. Will the Taoiseach challenge the Obama Administration on the devastating effect that has had on our citizens?
Finally, will the Taoiseach demand in advance of the summit an assurance from the Northern Ireland authorities and from the Garda that peaceful protestors will be left alone, that there will not be phalanxes of robocops intimidating and terrifying peaceful protestors, trade unionists and environmental activists who want to travel to Fermanagh to raise these legitimate points? The Taoiseach must do so regardless of whether he agrees with those protestors.
Following on from Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett's contribution, would the Taoiseach agree that the G8 summit should be welcomed as providing a forum in which the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world can discuss these issues? Without that forum, the vacuum that would be created is the very same vacuum which led to two world wars on this Continent and millions of deaths in the last century. Deputy Boyd Barrett might do well to reflect on that.
Will the Taoiseach update the House on the opportunities that might exist on the fringes of the summit for bilateral meetings? He mentioned meetings with the Canadian and Japanese Prime Ministers. Does he envisage opportunities at the summit itself for meetings of that nature?
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald alluded to the upsetting report on RTE news last night from a former Minister of State in this House, in his new role at UNICEF, in regard to the crisis in Syria. Is it the Taoiseach's intention, as President of the European Council, to bring that issue to the fore at the G8 summit? What we saw on the news last night was harrowing.
All rational, reasonable and sane people very much welcome the opportunity presented by the G8 summit, not just for the people of Northern Ireland and Britain but for everybody who shares this island. While there will undoubtedly be disruptions, it is fair to say that it represents a once in a generation opportunity to punch above our weight on the global stage. It is an important step in the Taoiseach's journey to re-establish our international reputation, which was severely tarnished in recent years and between 2007 and late 2010 in particular.
Several economists have speculated that a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and the European Union would offer scope for GDP growth of 1.5% to 2% in both jurisdictions. The Taoiseach has done significant work in this regard during his term as President. As a small, open economy we would benefit more than most countries from such growth. Unfortunately, Europe as an entity has achieved only very low levels of growth, if any at all, in recent years. Will the issue of multilateral trade agreements be discussed alongside the EU-US trade negotiations? We are all aware that growth is the action within an economy which gives rise to increased employment. While other issues frequently come on the table, such as stimulus from government, debt reduction and terms of debt repayments, the potential for multilateral and bilateral trade agreements represents a separate and parallel step that could be taken.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I rarely agree with my colleague from Sinn Féin but I did agree here that the right of legitimate peaceful protest in this country has always been held out for anybody. Where protest takes place I hope it is peaceful. The problem has been that sometimes what starts out as a peaceful protest does not end up in that fashion. That is why in many parts of the west we have had to deal with unruly elements-----
They were from the locality.
They were not from the locality. They decided to disrupt the legitimate right of peaceful protest and turn it into something else entirely.
Does the Taoiseach condemn the violence done by drones?
Of course I share the Deputy's view that the windscreen of the private car of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is not of any consequence in comparison with the silent screams of a starving child or a beaten person or whatever. I just pointed out that sometimes what commences as a peaceful, legitimate protest does not end up that way. I had occasion yesterday to convey our condolences and sympathies to Prime Minister Letta in Italy because of the unfortunate loss of Giuseppe La Rosa's life. He was a 30 year old soldier in Afghanistan where I understand a child threw a bomb into the facility where he was. We have seen the horrific evidence of the use of child soldiers in various places around the world which I am sure the Deputy condemns as much as I do.
The connections we have built over the years and in relatively recent times with the leaders of different countries are important. Prime Minister Harper is coming here on Sunday night. The relationship between Canada and Ireland is important because unfortunately many of our people have emigrated to Canada where gainful employment is available in engineering and other projects.
That is because of the Government's policies.
As part of the process of negotiation between the EU and Canada there are issues that will benefit Ireland as one of the countries within the EU.
I wrote to the Japanese Prime Minister several months ago. The Japanese Parliament must approve every external state visit by the Prime Minister. No Prime Minister of Japan has come here since the foundation of the State but the current Prime Minister is anxious to expand Japanese connections around the world. Hopefully that will take place here, as well as his visit to the G8 summit in Fermanagh.
President Obama's interest in dealing with Iran and the concerns that many countries have expressed about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty have not, despite huge effort and great patience, made real progress because Iran simply refuses to engage seriously in this matter.
What about Israel?
Iran is of global concern as Deputy Boyd Barrett is well aware.
Deputy O'Donovan raised the question of industrialised countries and the potential that exists here, as did Deputy Dara Murphy. I am sure that on the fringes of the G8 summit there will be some opportunities to discuss the matters that the Deputies mentioned here. I hope that at its next meeting the European Council will be able to discuss Syria and Libya. This matter has been of great concern to the French because of the bombs going off at the embassy there, and for the Italian Prime Minister and his relationship with Libya, and to other leaders who raised it at the last meeting and it will be raised again at the next one.
The distressing scenes filmed by UNICEF in Syria speak for themselves. Nobody wants to see this. That is why all these international efforts should be enabled to pay dividends. Deputy Dara Murphy raised the question of the relationship between this country and these leaders. The former vice president of China came here and established a relationship with Ireland because of his interest in the agri-sector in County Clare. He is now the most powerful politician in China and one of the global leaders. He made the point that we signed a strategic partnership agreement and through the efforts of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and his Department, Ireland is now able to export thoroughbreds directly to China whereas previously they had to spend four months in quarantine in the Netherlands.
Is that for making horse burgers?
Ireland is actively pursuing the scientific conditions that can apply for entry of beef and other agri-products. We are actively involved in developing a racing industry in China. The Chinese people have had the propensity to the odd flutter and they look to Ireland as being a leader in many ways. I have mentioned Japan, and we have a very strong relationship with the US, Great Britain, Germany and Italy. Earlier I referred to the question of relations with Russia. The European Council is pursuing the issue of EU-US trade. In response to Deputy Dara Murphy we hope to get a mandate for these discussions during our Presidency of the EU. It is not simple. There are problems and various matters to be dealt with on both sides of the Atlantic with serious potential for disruption here. We want to get a mandate so that these things can be discussed and negotiated. The menu is extensive and some of the issues will probably not be dealt with for many years but there is a range of non-tariff areas where these things can apply.
Does Fine Gael not hold parliamentary party meetings anymore?
This has the potential to grow these economies by 2% or 3% with at least 2 million jobs on this side of the Atlantic in the European Union and that is in everybody's interests. The signal should be that leaders are prepared to set down global trade conditions between the two most powerful trading blocs in the world, the United States and Europe. That holds potential for jobs in Deputy Finian McGrath's constituency as well as across Europe.
When Deputy Tom Hayes was chairman of the party at least it held parliamentary party meetings and did not use the Dáil Chamber for that purpose.