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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 21 Jan 2014

Vol. 827 No. 1

European Council: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to report back to the House on the December European Council which took place shortly before Christmas. It was a significant Council, with a notably lengthy agenda. It covered the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP; economic and social policy; Economic and Monetary Union; migration; enlargement and energy issues. We also addressed some of the main foreign policy issues, including the situation in Syria and the Central African Republic, the eastern partnership and the WTO. Overall, the conclusions of the European Council ran to 50 paragraphs and provided strategic orientations on current positions and thinking. It is fair to say our focus related to banking union, the completion of EMU and the Common Security and Defence Policy. Discussion on many of the other important issues was, on this occasion, relatively straightforward, as there were no major decisions to be taken.

Under the agenda item on Economic and Monetary Union we considered banking union, partnerships for growth, jobs and competitiveness and the social dimension. Deputies will not be surprised that banking union was a top priority for Ireland. The Minister for Finance and his ministerial colleagues in Europe had been working very intensively on the outstanding issues in recent weeks and, as Deputies will be aware, succeeded in reaching an agreement on 18 December which was then endorsed by the European Council. This included final agreement on the deposit guarantee scheme directive and the bank recovery and resolution directive, both of which significantly strengthened financial stability within the European banking system. Agreement was also reached on a Council general approach for the single resolution mechanism, which will create a single body to apply the bank recovery and resolution tool kit to euro area banks and the banks of participating non-euro area member states.

On this basis the Greek Presidency has now been given a mandate to reach an overall agreement on the single resolution mechanism with the European Parliament. Negotiations have commenced.

The single resolution mechanism, once in place, will allow for the establishment of a pan-European resolution authority which will be called the single resolution board, with the power to restructure and wind down failing banks. The board will have access to a single resolution fund, the principle for which is established in the regulation. The fund will be paid for by contributions from the EU banking sector and has a target level of approximately €55 billion to €60 billion. The rules for the use of and contributions to the fund are also set out in the regulation. In order to allow for the gradual mutualisation of funds at national level into the single resolution fund, member states committed to negotiating an intergovernmental agreement by 1 March. Negotiations commenced at a meeting on 9 January. Finance Ministers, on 18 December, also adopted a statement on the design of a backstop to the single resolution fund. A sufficient common backstop, both in the transition phase and in the steady phase, is essential for the single resolution mechanism to be credible. This will be the subject of further negotiations.

Overall, the general approach reached on the single resolution mechanism was an important step in completing the banking union project. Although the deal is not perfect, an accommodation was reached and this is progress. The important point for me is that the agreement reached will protect taxpayers in cases where banks need to be resolved. This is in welcome contrast to what happened in Ireland where taxpayers were required to shoulder the costs of failed banks. The fundamental objective remains to break the link between the sovereign and the banking sector as agreed by heads of state and governments of the euro area in June 2012.

I also welcome the fact that the European Council fulfilled its objective of securing political agreement on the single resolution mechanism by the end of the year. This was important for confidence, including from a markets perspective. There is more work ahead, but the agreement shows that when we put our minds to it, European leaders can find compromises and deliver on promises, and some on time. We will now work constructively with the European Parliament to ensure agreement is reached before parliamentarians switch their focus to the European elections later this year.

I also point out at this stage that the agreement reached at the Eurogroup meeting of 20 June 2013 on the main features of the ESM's direct bank recapitalisation instrument has not changed. From an Irish perspective, it was important that this agreement noted that, "The potential retroactive application of the instrument should be decided on a case-by-case basis and by mutual agreement". It is clear that there is still a lot of negotiation to be done on this aspect of the facility but the agreement now in place keeps the possibility to apply to the ESM for a retrospective direct recapitalisation of the Irish banks open for us should we wish to avail of it.

What does that last phrase mean, "should we wish to avail of it"?

Should we wish to avail of it.

I thought that was Government policy.

It is our policy. One just puts in all the clarifications. Obviously, as the Deputy well knows, these matters are by mutual agreement.

That phrase is telling. It is the most telling phrase of the Taoiseach's speech.

The Taoiseach to continue. The Deputy will have 15 minutes also.

Deputy Micheál Martin would know after PPARS.

Proposals to introduce so-called partnerships for growth, jobs and competitiveness were also discussed at the European Council. These were previously known as "contractual arrangements". It was my view that it would be premature to take any decisions on these proposals until they had been considered and teased out in much more detail. Most of my colleagues shared this view. As a result it was agreed that work should be taken forward and the proposals revisited in October next.

Competitiveness, of course, remains an important issue and Ireland will support efforts to improve competitiveness in any way we can. Some member states see the proposed partnerships in this light. We need to be sure, however, that we adopt the best approach.

Building on the commitments made by the European Council in June, under the Irish Presidency, to strengthen the social dimension of the EMU, the European Council also reaffirmed the importance of employment and social developments within the European Semester. In this context, I welcome the new scoreboard of employment and social indicators which will complement and build on existing tools within the European Semester without entailing automatic consequences or triggering binding sanctions. Ireland has consistently supported the development of such a scoreboard as an analytical tool to detect emerging divergences and negative developments that are relevant to EMU and that require urgent collective attention and action.

For the first time in five years the European Council also discussed the Common Security and Defence Policy known as CSDP. The first working session of our meeting was devoted to this topic. In reflecting on this, it is important to remember that during that period, the global context has changed significantly. The European Union and its member states are being called on to assume greater responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security, especially in support of the United Nations which has the primary role in that regard, and this is against the background of tightening budgets.

Ireland believes that the CSDP needs to be reinvigorated and improved to enhance the European Union's capacity to act in support of the United Nations. While we look to protect the social and economic well-being of our own citizens, we cannot be immune to the threats faced by vulnerable men, women and children in fragile states and in conflict zones and those suffering from natural and man-made disasters across the globe. The European Union and its member states can bring a comprehensive approach to the promotion of international peace and stability through a unique combination of civilian, diplomatic, economic, development, justice, security and defence instruments.

Currently, the European Union is conducting 17 missions across three continents. Thirteen of these are civilian missions and four are UN-approved military missions. Ireland contributes to three of the military operations and is proud that an Irishman holds the post of mission commander of one of them.

Discussions at the European Council addressed three areas: increasing the effectiveness of the CSDP, the development and provision of capabilities to support CSDP, and improving the ability of EU industry to provide these capabilities. The conclusions which we agreed represent a strong political commitment by Heads of State and Government to strengthen CSDP. In order to achieve this objective, we endorsed a number of practical improvements to the CSDP aimed at speeding up the deployment of civilian missions and our capacity for peacekeeping and crisis management in conflict situations, including in battlegroups.

New security challenges also need to be addressed and, in that context, we agreed to focus on developing strategies in the area of cyber security and maritime security during 2014. These are two key Irish priorities. We agreed that work should also continue on developing synergies between CSDP and freedom, security and justice, and in the area of border security and energy security.

For the European Union to continue to play an effective and credible role as a security provider in its neighbourhood and in the wider world, it must ensure that it has the necessary capabilities to undertake these tasks. Troops on operations, including our own Defence Forces engaged on UN mandated operations, require effective force protection and defensive equipment. To that end, the European Council emphasised the central role of member states and the European Defence Agency in developing capabilities in areas such as air-to-air refuelling, remotely piloted air systems, satellite communications and cyber defence.

The European Council also acknowledged the ongoing role of European industry in the provision of capabilities in support of CSDP and endorsed proposals to increase efficiencies in the delivery of capabilities by European industry. A roadmap aimed at implementing the commitments contained in the European Council conclusions will be produced this year.

The Council conclusions also re-emphasise the European Union's commitment to working in close collaboration with its global, transatlantic and regional partners, such as the United Nations, NATO and the African Union. Co-operation with the United Nations is a point which I emphasised in the meeting and which I am glad to see reflected in the conclusions. On this point, let me emphasise that I believe the work undertaken at the European Council is entirely consistent with Ireland's policy of military neutrality and does not threaten the guarantees given under the Lisbon protocols. The conclusions are set in the context of the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy and, indeed, the Lisbon treaty provisions are referenced in the conclusions.

Let me say a word about economic and social policy. The December Council concluded the preliminary phase of European Semester 2014 by welcoming the Annual Growth Survey and the Alert Mechanism Report presented by the Commission on 13 November. The main message is that the biggest challenge facing Europe's economy lies in sustaining a fragile recovery.

This is the fourth European Semester cycle, the third under the enhanced governance arrangements introduced by the six-pack, and the first under the further enhancements introduced by the two-pack. Ireland will fully participate in the European Semester this year following the successful completion of our EU-IMF programme.

The December Council set direction for further work. The Spring Council will offer guidance to member states on the preparation and submission in mid-April of their national reform platforms. As I stated previously, I support strongly the continued emphasis on the five main priorities set by the Annual Growth Survey.

These are pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation; restoring lending to the economy; promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow; tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis; and modernising public administration. It is an emphasis that is reflected strongly in the clear direction we have set at national level, including through the interlocking Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work strategies. It is an emphasis we must ensure remains strong at European level, continuing to build from the successful Irish Presidency programme in the first half of last year.

It is in this context that the December European Council also took stock of progress under the Compact for Growth and Jobs agreed in June 2012. This included reviewing preparations for the youth employment initiative fully operational from the beginning of 2014. Ireland, as one of the countries hardest hit by the crisis, will benefit from this new fund. The first phase of our own Youth Guarantee implementation plan, developed in conjunction with the OECD, was finalised by the Government in December. The broad outline has been submitted to the Commission.

The Council also took stock of progress in mobilising the enhanced lending capacity of the European Investment Bank on foot of the €10 billion increase in its capital base. This has already supported a 38% increase in its 2013 lending volumes, to €62 billion. As I said before the December meeting, there were almost €1.2 billion worth of EIB project signatures and loan approvals in Ireland in 2013 last year. This represents an increase of just over one fifth on 2012 levels, which were in turn up more than four fifths on the previous year. We continue to see room for stronger EIB support, including in the area of SME access finance, and this will remain a top priority for us in the time ahead.

The European Council also had a short discussion on taxation, which is important for Ireland. Leaders reiterated their support for the OECD's project on base erosion and profit shifting or BEPS as it has become known. Ireland supports the BEPS project as these issues cannot be tackled by countries acting on their own.

We also support the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities and we welcome the reference to early agreement on the directive on administrative co-operation in the conclusions as important. Additionally, the European Council noted the Lithuanian Presidency "end of term" report on tax issues and welcomed the Commission's initiative to establish an expert group on taxation of the digital economy. We will be continuing to participate actively in the ongoing work here.

As I noted, the European Council had a very large agenda. In addition to the discussions I outlined, we also looked at enlargement and some foreign policy issues , and the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will touch on these later.

I wish to say a few words on migration and energy. Following on from previous discussions at the European Council and the Justice and Home Affairs Council in the wake of the major tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa - where more than 300 migrants lost their life after their vessel sank - the Council considered a Commission communication on the work of the Task Force for the Mediterranean. The task force was established in October in response to the Lampedusa disaster. The Council welcomed the Commission communication outlining a series of operational actions aimed at addressing the problem. It is now a question of implementation, and in this regard there is general recognition of the need to prioritise EU co-operation with countries of origin and transit with the aim of averting hazardous sea voyages to the EU's Mediterranean borders. Ireland participated in the task force.

The European Council also took stock of progress made by the TTE (Energy) Council in regard to guidelines agreed at the May 2013 European Council on energy matters. These guidelines identified the importance of completing the internal energy market by 2014 and of the external dimension of EU energy policy. Tomorrow, 22 January, the Commission will adopt a package of measures, including the communication on 2030 framework, a communication on energy prices, a legislative proposal on ETS structural measures, a communication on industrial policy, and the communication on unconventional oil and gas. We will examine these measures closely in the run up to the March Council, which will focus, in particular, on the climate and energy framework.

This has provided the House with a good sense of the discussions and the range of them at the December European Council. The next Council will take place on 20 and 21 March. It will focus on energy and climate change as well as industrial policy and the European Semester. I will of course brief the House in advance of the meeting.

December’s meeting of the European Council produced no major breakthrough or even any significant news. It involved a series of general discussions and the formal noting of decisions signalled long in advance. In spite of this it was a very significant meeting. It will be remembered as the summit where Europe’s leaders effectively announced the end of any attempt to introduce radical reform in the face of the biggest economic and social crisis in the Union’s history.

Faced with an unprecedented challenge, the Taoiseach and his colleagues have agreed no more than incremental steps. They have not agreed a credible long-term programme to return sustained growth to the eurozone or the European Union as a whole. They have decided to be bystanders in the fundamental challenge of job creation, putting their faith in the mantra that deflating economies through universal austerity and market reforms will magic growth in a manner unprecedented in modern history.

For Ireland this has many implications, none of which is good. While the Taoiseach maintains his priority of putting public relations first, he has refused to address the absence of any real growth strategy at European level. No economist in the Union or in any country has increased their growth and employment predictions arising from the Council's agreements. It has not happened here and it has not happened in any country.

While the Taoiseach has told us on a number of occasions that everything is looking up for the European economy the evidence is that the eurozone is lagging dramatically behind other economies, including the United States and Britain, both of whom were hit as badly at the start of the crisis but are well ahead in terms of growth rates, employment creation and deficit reduction. A restoration of confidence is important. Everyone wants a broad and strong return to growth. The problem is that every time the growth fails to materialise the hit to confidence is much more damaging.

While the communiqué repeatedly states that policies are working there was clearly also a decision to nod to the reality of the mountains of contradictory evidence. Buried in the middle of the communiqué is the statement that the recovery is "modest, uneven and fragile". The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has gone even further, saying that he is extremely concerned about whether growth targets will be achieved and that he believes that deflation is a real risk. While we have seen positive signs here and the Government is in full campaign mode to claim credit for everything, the situation is equally fragile. A two-tiered recovery is the best that it can be described as.

SMEs continue to find credit difficult to obtain, regional disparities are growing and the Government has missed every growth target it has set since taking up office. In spite of these warnings what we got was another summit without the urgency or ambition required to address the serious flaws in the work of the Union and their deep impact on its citizens. Leaders have declared themselves "out the gap" and are now mainly focused on finding ever more creative ways of exaggerating the impact of their decisions.

The Taoiseach has once again delivered a complacent report from a European summit. He has fully subscribed to the new orthodoxy that everything is working and no major changes are required. He has also signed up to an agreement which has explicitly ended any prospect that stimulus funding would be available through the Union or from most national budgets. He has not referenced this but it is there in the final conclusions.

The length and depth of the crisis which has hit most of the eurozone was not caused by the absence of stronger controls of national budgets. Even the principal architect of the euro, Jacques Delors, has said that the root cause of the crisis felt in Ireland and elsewhere is to be found in fundamental design flaws in the euro. These involve the lack of a banking union, the limited mandate of the European Central Bank and the absence of central funds to help countries stimulate their economies.

They have all been addressed.

At the summit leaders signed off on the final elements of what is called a banking union but it is no such thing. The toxic link between financial debt and sovereign debt has absolutely not been broken. The Taoiseach confirmed that in his speech. National interests have prevailed. The core principle of sharing risk so that risk is minimised has been ignored. There are pieces of progress, but nothing near the scale of what should have been agreed.

The most important final agreement for a banking union, as described by the Taoiseach, will cover 128 banks in total. Many banks which have the capacity to cause systematic problems will not be covered. The proposed single supervisory mechanism will initially be more about co-ordination than common supervision, but the European Central Bank has the potential to push this further. Ireland should join the European Central Bank in calling for the removal of any opportunity for governments to interfere in oversight matters that should be independent.

To break the link between sovereign and banking debt there must be no expectation that the State has an implicit guarantee to fund banks in trouble.

This requires the availability of a large backstop of funds because markets know that states will not allow their banking systems to collapse. This will not be available.

The bank resolution fund to which the Taoiseach signed up will take ten years to build up and after a decade it will have €55 billion available to it. This has been estimated at only 0.2% of the total asset base of the covered banks. The fund could realistically cover no more than one or two mid-sized European banks. It is so small that the Commission is trying to stop it being used for as long as possible. Ireland should not have agreed to this as a final deal. At the very minimum, we should have put on the table the need for the funds available for safeguarding the banking system of the euro to be greater than 0.2% of the assets base. In the two years a banking union has been debated the Government has refused to ever state publicly what it wants from the process. There is no public record of any statement by the Taoiseach setting out what would be required to break the toxic link between banking and sovereign debt. How can he claim to be happy with this deal? It is not what was promised and does not provide long-term stability for the financial system of the euro.

The most significant thing to come out of the summit for Ireland was unplanned - the confirmation that the Commission was no longer supporting retrospective bank recapitalisation for Ireland.

It was a Council meeting.

Taking his cue from the Taoiseach’s regular partisan comments that the origins of all problems lie with his political opponents, President Barroso stated everything was Ireland’s fault and that no help should be provided.

There should be just one speaker.

That is the logical outcome of the Government’s strategy of putting all its efforts into claiming credit for outcomes rather than pushing to influence them.

Nowhere on the public record do we find the Taoiseach stating clearly that the justice of Ireland’s case requires further significant relief from bank-related debt. With the exception of one comment in Paris a year and a half ago, he has never set out the case that the scale of the debt taken on by Ireland relates directly to the failure of wider European policies. As independent commentators uniformly agree but the Government will not admit, if the current EU policies had been in place four years ago, there would never have been bailouts in Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

If the Deputy had acted differently, we would not be in this position.

In June 2012 the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, was asked how much of the potential €60 billion would come Ireland’s way for recapitalisation. He replied:

It’s clear you’ve never been to the fair of Glynn or sold a calf. Sure, if I had told them the minimum, that’s what they would give me.

If we received the minimum, it appears that we asked for nothing. The panic reaction of the Government to the revelation that there was no campaign to relieve bank-related debt was aptly shown in the interview with the Minister of State in Brussels on the second day of the summit. Among claims that everything was grand and on track, he even claimed that the promissory notes had been ripped up. They have been converted into formal sovereign debt and all savings have gone to cover budget holes as a result of lower growth and spending overruns. The Taoiseach's speech gives the truth when he says there is a lot of negotiation to be done on this aspect of the facility, but the agreement keeps the possibility, just the possibility, to apply.

That is the truth.

It is just a possibility and the Taoiseach refers to this should we wish to avail of it. What kind of language is that? I remember the Tánaiste saying the deal in June 2012 was a game changer. Does the Taoiseach remember that?

We should be camped outside their door.

There should be just one speaker. What we should be doing is immaterial. I ask Deputy Micheál Martin to proceed uninterrupted.

I am supporting him.

Deputy Peter Mathews is a man who knows the subject.

He is and the Deputy is a man who knows about it also. I ask him to continue.

I defer to the knowledge of Deputy Peter Mathews.

No, the Deputy does not need to defer to anyone. He can continue with his speech.

They are courting across the floor.

The language the Taoiseach is using was not the language used by the Tánaiste in June 2012 when Mr. Monti forced the Germans' hand at the summit meeting and the Government claimed credit for it.

The Deputy understands it, but he does not believe it.

The Government stated it was a Munich-type agreement, a game changer and a seismic shift on our way to billions. Now the Taoiseach says the summit opens up the possibility, should we wish to avail of it. I applaud the civil servant who included that phrase. It is wonderful conditioning and the language is being prepared. The Minister for Finance last week said that we would not be hanging around. The language is changing and the people are being prepared and conditioned.

Members should address the Chair and avoid a confrontational approach. It makes for a better Parliament.

Has the Acting Chairman ever seen Deputy Micheál Martin when he is confrontational?

The capacity of the Chair-----

The Deputy should proceed unaided.

Today I witnessed Deputy Gerry Adams being told he could not say certain things when making a political point. The Chair needs to be careful that it does not try to suppress debate completely. This is a parliament. The level of intervention-----

The Chair's job is to ensure a debate takes place in accordance with Standing Orders. There is only one speaker at a time.

There are countries such as Ireland where the need to consolidate the public finances is inevitable. However, there are others where there are alternative routes. It is a major failing of the European Union’s leaders that they have continued with a one-policy-fits-all approach. This obliges even countries with significant flexibility to reject stimulus spending. It ends the possibility of balances within the eurozone going both ways in order to benefit the whole. The inability of the European Union to help states in trouble means it is focused primarily on control measures.

Buried within the communiqué issued after the summit is a very depressing confirmation that this failed policy is to be retained. It was agreed by the Taoiseach that all solidarity measures should be funded within the existing budget and that the main route to growth was the reform of the labour market and trade. I can understand how Fine Gael would sign up to such a restrictive view of the economy, but how this can be reconciled with the Labour Party’s way, I have no idea. No matter what the Taoiseach says, an EU policy which actively opposes a stimulus, pushes reduced spending and does not target regions most in need is not one for growth and job creation. The failure to reform the European Union, make it more active and fit for the purpose in helping countries will be recorded by history as a failure of leadership by this generation of EU leaders. December 2013 will be remembered as the time when the European Council ended its efforts to respond radically to the largest crisis in the history of the Union.

On defence, the citizens of Europe will be surprised to know that the bulk of the time at this summit was spent on defence matters rather than social and economic issues. The carefully worded conclusions from the summit do not contain any overt challenge to the neutrality of Ireland and some other member states. They do, however, contain no proper acknowledgement of this either. There are two significant points of concern which Ireland should have mentioned, but it does not appear to have done so. First, there are proposals to direct procurement and development activity into specific areas, in particular, unmanned drones and air-to-air refuelling. This is not a peacekeeping focused agenda. These are activities which have nothing to do with the type of activities that interest Ireland and other countries which have no interest in planning for participating in international conflicts. It is an agenda tightly focused on the interests of major defence contractors who do business with states which maintain a conflict participation capacity. Under no circumstance should Ireland support a direction of any common EU capacity to these areas.

Second, there is the statement that the Commission will look for opportunities to target research funding from Horizon 2020 to defence-related areas. This is absolutely unacceptable. The research programme is already insufficient. Through the efforts of our Commissioner, it has been targeted on major economic, social and health challenges facing Europe. No redirection to drone development or other defence priorities should be countenanced.

Before the summit the Taoiseach roared “nonsense” across the chamber when he was told that we did not trust Fine Gael’s policy of wanting to move away from the United Nations and towards Europe in defence policy. He should take the time to read his party’s own policy published during his own leadership and also the informed leaks from the Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, to the effect that the UN Security Council should not be part of the triple lock underpinning our neutrality.

Much of the international coverage of the summit focused on revelations of American data collection and eavesdropping in Europe. The Taoiseach’s reaction was disappointing. It was not enough to say he hoped there was nothing with an impact on Ireland. Equally, his refusal to ask the British Government for assurances that it did not intercept our communications during the Northern negotiations is a disgrace.

The summit adopted quite general conclusions on Ukraine. I support High Commissioner Ashton in her refusal to accept the demands of the Russian and Ukrainian Governments. There comes a point when the behaviour of certain governments can no longer allow it to be business as usual. Both the Russian and Ukrainian Governments are members of the Council of Europe.

They have both signed the European charter of human rights and regularly deny basic rights to citizens. The people being beaten on the streets of Kiev are there because they believe in democracy and human rights. They are there because they see the European Union as their best hope for stability and development and it must stand with them.

Before the last summit I raised with the Taoiseach the scandal of US electronic eavesdropping on European allies, but he appeared not to know a thing about it, although it went on to dominate at least part of the Council meeting and certainly the news coverage. He has not mentioned it in his report. As he acknowledged, this was the first meeting since the Lisbon treaty to focus so heavily on security and defence issues, or as he termed it, "Common Security and Defence Policy". Earlier today during questions he spoke about the Great War of 1914 to 1918 and his visit to Flanders. It is very clear from the conclusions of that Council meeting that EU leaders are seeking to further militarise the European Union, with the aim of eventually creating an EU army allied to NATO. Such an army would effectively be NATO without the North American countries and Turkey. The function of such an army would appear to be the protection of interests of former European colonial powers, specifically former colonies. How could any Irish Government, considering our history and experience, go along with this? Did the Taoiseach object to any of this at the Council meeting? No, he did not and in his remarks today he has indicated that he believes this work is entirely consistent with Ireland's policy of military neutrality. I disagree. Irish neutrality is a concept supported and valued by the vast majority of citizens of the State and it was a concept once supported by the Labour Party. Unless seriously challenged, a continuation of the plans discussed at the EU summit will see increased spending on weapons and arms by EU member states, including this state. At the time of the biggest economic recession the European Union has ever witnessed, the main idea contained in the Council conclusions is to increase spending on weapons and military technology. Where is the sense in such a policy? There is always money for the elite for armaments, but there is no increased spending on health care, social protection, economic and job stimuli or youth unemployment initiatives.

To the surprise of many, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize, but how does that sit with an EU meeting which speaks about wanting more public money for weapons to be used in some of the poorest countries on the planet? As we can see in today's headlines, what is happening in Syria is proving to be probably the worst humanitarian crisis the United nations has yet faced. Horrific images are emerging from Syria of the suffering of its citizens, including children. There is no military solution to conflicts such as this and what is required is an international focus to find a peaceful political solution. The European Union has a role to play in this regard. Was the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria discussed at the European Council meeting, with a mind to trying to advance a peaceful solution to the conflict?

There have been attempts since last summer, led by the United States Administration, to broker peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In every pre-Council discussion I have attended here the issue of peace in the Middle East and the plight of the people in Palestine has been raised, but the Taoiseach has never once returned to inform us of how he raised it. I presume, therefore, that he did not do so. One week ago Israel announced the construction of 1,400 new settlements on occupied Palestinian land on the West Bank, which is in clear breach of international law. As Fine Gael is the party of law and order, how can it stand by and let that happen. The European Union carries out billions of euro in trade with the state of Israel every year; therefore, there is leverage, with a clear onus on the Union to make a stand against the Israeli Government's aggression and flouting of international law. Given our history and peace process, one would think there was a duty and an obligation on the Government and the Taoiseach to raise such issues. We must remember that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not equal and that there is a clear power imbalance. Israel is a First World state with a nuclear arsenal, but the Palestinians are stateless and their lands are occupied. Without international support and solidarity, they will continue to be oppressed and victimised. If states such as Ireland do not raise these matters, how can we expect anybody else to do so?

There were also several visitors from the European Union to this state in recent times. There was a delegation of MEPs from the European Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee which visited to review the role of the troika in our bailout programme and it met some of the social actors and politicians. I hope it left in the knowledge that the troika was not a force for good and that the continued implementation of troika policies by the Government has had devastating social consequences for Irish citizens. While the troika may have left, the mindset continues. It is welcome that the delegation also inquired about the loss of key documents from the Department of Finance on the bailout. I understand the European Ombudsman has taken action to compel the European Central Bank to release the letters it sent to the late Minister, Mr. Brian Lenihan, at the height of the banking crisis. The Government is also sitting on some very important information that it refuses to share, including a report on the activities of Irish Nationwide Building Society that is greatly in the public interest. The Taoiseach knows that Mr. Klaus Regling of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, has also been in the city, but he used his visit to pour cold water on the prospect of retrospective recapitalisation of Irish banks through the ESM. I remind the Taoiseach that he famously stated retrospective recapitalisation of Irish banks was on the table after what he claimed was a "game-changing" summit in June 2012. What is the story in that regard?

The Euorpean Council also discussed the issue of European banking union. My party has major concerns about the details of such a union because we are concerned that such a union - the devil is in the detail - could merely be another step towards a federalised European Union. Several European politicians and senior statespersons have implied that this is the aim. I do not believe the people want a banking union that gives power and authority to the European Union but none of the responsibilities. A common resolution regime for future banking is important, but Irish citizens will still bear an unjust, unfair and unsustainable burden, while legacy bank debt, caused by the Government's bailing out of failed banks which must be carried by the public, has not been addressed. Citizens deserve to hear from the Taoiseach about what he is doing to separate banking debt already incurred in the State from sovereign debt. We want to hear about an adequate jobs stimulus, proper and appropriate investment in youth employment measures and how the Government has stood up for the State at the European Council instead of being compliant to bigger powers.

Deputy Seán Crowe is sharing time with Deputy Gerry Adams. Is that agreed? Agreed.

As my colleague, Deputy Gerry Adams, has noted, the conclusions of the European Council meeting make it quite clear that EU leaders are going to continue to push for the increased militarisation of the European Union and that this will go hand-in-hand with NATO's ideology and needs. The conclusions even state the debate on EU military co-operation was preceded by a meeting with the NATO Secretary General, Anders Rasmussen, who welcomed the increased militarisation of the European Union which he said was beneficial to NATO. The conclusions go on to state the European Union's Common Security and Defence Policy will continue to develop in full complementarity with NATO. In order to help "foster more systematic and long-term co-operation", Baroness Ashton will bring forward a policy framework on defence issues by the end of 2014 "in full coherence with existing NATO planning processes".

This push to further militarise the European Union will create a NATO-lite that will speak, act and spend like NATO but not carry the name. Did the Taoiseach participate in this debate and oppose any of these plans during the Council meeting? It will be interesting to hear his response.

Various voices in the European Union have continued to point out how decreased military spending by member states is leaving the European Union vulnerable. They do not adequately tell us where it is vulnerable or to whom. Knowing this would be helpful to the rest of us. We know that EU member states are already spending €194 billion a year on weapons. The real agenda seems to be increased military spending to fund arms manufacture in key EU member states.

A disturbing insight into the arms industry was given by the recent report that employees of the Greek Ministry of Defence and several representatives of German arms companies had been questioned by the magistrate's office in Athens. The office found that three German companies had paid large bribes to sell arms to the Greek armed forces. These multi-billion euro deals with German arms manufacturers played a major role in establishing Greece's position as the world's fifth largest arms procurer between 2005 and 2009. These contracts helped to inflate Greece's debts and exacerbated and contributed in no small way to the Greek financial crisis. They helped to push Greece into crisis, while massively increasing the profits of German arms manufacturers. Greece now has formidable weapons for its armed forces, but it has bread queues in Athens for the first time since the Second World War.

Is this the type of European Union the Taoiseach wants to see? Is it the type European leaders want to see? I refer to a union in which public spending on health care, education and social protection is secondary to buying the latest weapons of mass destruction. It is morally wrong to prioritise investment in the arms trade, particularly at a time when many young people and children across Europe are going to bed hungry. Furthermore, it does not make any economic sense or in the long term. All reports on the arms industry find that it is one of the worst economic sectors in which to invest to boost job creation and growth. The high-yield sectors include infrastructure, health care, education and real job stimuli such as the robust and wide-ranging youth guarantee scheme.

Did the Council discuss the E3+3 interim agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme? I did not hear the Taoiseach mention it. It is welcome that an interim agreement has been struck and that EU Foreign Ministers agreed yesterday to lift some sanctions on Iran. I hope progress can continue and that all sanctions will soon be lifted. Iran, like all countries that have signed the NPT, has a right to develop nuclear energy projects for peaceful and civilian purposes. However, I note with concern that some countries, particularly those that have nuclear weapons or access thereto, have tried to wreck this historic first step. Did the Council discuss what would happen if the US Government bowed to minority voices in the US Congress and, perhaps in a fit of pique, ended this interim agreement? Will the European Union continue its positive engagement with Iran in the event of the United States ending its participation in the talks?

Syria has been mentioned. Were the crisis associated with the war in Syria and the Geneva 2 talks discussed? I am aware that the meeting was held in December and that there have been many developments since. I welcome the announcement that certain rebel factions have agreed to take part in the talks, but I was disappointed that Iran's invitation to the talks from the United Nations was rescinded, apparently after pressure from the United States. If the United Nations wants these talks to evolve into a peace process and end the war, there is a need to work towards a mutual ceasefire between the rebels and the government, with talks with no pre-conditions, and an invitation to all involved parties directly involved, including key international partners. I would like to believe the talks will include a discussion of the creation of a humanitarian corridor for all refugees caught in the crossfire while besieged in their refugee camps, particularly the 20,000 Palestinian refugees besieged in Yarmouk refugee camp. They are starving, eating grass and weeds and experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises international aid organisations have seen. They need immediate and urgent support. I raised the issue with the Iranian Foreign Minister when I was in Tehran last week and hope the Government will use its influence with EU partners to push influential countries on this issue.

Any reading of the communiqué that followed the meeting of the Prime Ministers of the European Council and other Heads of State on 19 and 20 December 2013 indicates that it resembled in large part a meeting of militarists and armament industry executives. It is quite extraordinary that half of the communiqué is about the intensification of militarisation in the European Union and the promotion of the creation of weapons of mass destruction by the arms industry. One should note the language of the communiqué: "Fragmented European defence markets jeopardise the sustainability and competitiveness of Europe's defence and security industry". It states, "The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) will continue to develop in full complementarity with NATO [a military alliance armed with nuclear weapons]". It further states, "The European Council calls on the Member States to deepen defence cooperation by improving the capacity to conduct missions and operations and by making full use of synergies in order to improve the development and availability of the required civilian and military capabilities, supported by a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base". Reference is made to "increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of CSDP; enhancing the development of capabilities and strengthening Europe's defence industry". Later it refers to a "well-functioning defence market".

What does all of this mean in reality? It means a major push to strengthen the armaments industry in the European Union. What is the armaments industry? It is an industry in which, obscenely, at least hundreds of scientists, engineers and designers do nothing but sit at desks designing weapons that can kill greater numbers of people over greater distances and inflict greater suffering on the intended targets. Tens of thousands of industrial workers are obliged for their livelihoods to put their plans into effect, or create these monstrous weapons which will visit death and destruction on society, very often outside the European Union. Despite all the fine talk in the treaties of the European Union and by its bureaucracy and political and economic elites about the Union being a zone of democracy, peace, solidarity and human rights, many of the biggest armaments merchants in the world are prominently located within the Union and assisted by governments and the bureaucracy of the Union in the same way as the US, Chinese and Russian weapons industries are supported by their ruling elites.

Further, what do we find? We find that what are called "remotely piloted aircraft systems" are to be designed. They should be called by their more commonly used name, drones. In view of the horror inflicted on innocent civilians in Pakistan, where thousands have died as a result of the great democrat, Obama, sending unmanned or unpiloted drones to wreak havoc on them, does the Minister of State think that perhaps this is not an appropriate peace-loving strategy to adopt? Remember what has happened in Pakistan, with civilians killed at wedding parties, funerals and so forth and with drones coming out of the sky and inflicting savage retribution and horror on innocent people - women, children and men. One would have to ask, then, are these the actions of a peace- and solidarity-loving establishment? The answer is "No". What we have here is the building of an imperial power, and particularly since the enlargement of the European Union, this has been going on apace. It is quite clear that the aim of the corporate elites and their political representatives, which are the major parties within the European Union, is to build a new capitalist bloc. They think that with a population of 500 million they will have an industrial powerhouse and they want a military wing to go onto the world stage and vie with the other major capitalist blocs of the United States, Russia, India and China for markets, goods, services and raw materials. That is really the agenda here. The Taoiseach of a supposedly neutral State sits at an assembly where all of this is thrashed out and then comes in here and declares his allegiance to neutrality. Meanwhile, Margaretta D'Arcy, who is 79 years old and very ill, languishes in a jail in the Republic of Ireland, a supposedly neutral country, for what? For trying to oppose the use of one of our major airports for military purposes by a major power. It is quite incredible.

It is capitalist competition and militarisation that has the world where it is, causing huge suffering to innocent people. If we wanted to create a society in which the economy was for people's welfare and not profit, this is not the way we would go. We would use the economy for the benefit of our people, not to create weapons of mass destruction; we would release the €3 trillion of accumulated profits that are locked up by major corporations in banks to create employment for the 25 million unemployed and to create an entirely different society within the European Union. That is how we would change the world. That is how the world could be changed. European capitalism will never do it but a socialist Europe could.

Sometimes it is sad when one's predictions are dramatically confirmed. The prediction made by those of us who opposed the Lisbon and Nice treaties and the Iraq war that Europe was moving towards becoming a corporate, militarised, imperial power - to use what some might consider the archaic language of the left - is dramatically confirmed by this European Council meeting. There is a huge irony with regard to arguments that were used by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party during debates on the Lisbon treaty. They argued that we must support Europe because the European project will prevent a repeat of the horrors of the First and Second World Wars. They said the European Union was a project of European co-operation, bringing peace to Europe and ensuring those horrors could never happen again. Yes, I understand - the way to prevent the horrors that we saw in the First World War, when big powers sent millions of people out to slaughter one another so that those powers could control resources and colonies, repeated again in the Second World War, is to develop a European arms industry, to produce drones and weapons of mass destruction and to gear the European Union up for military actions outside its territory. That is Orwellian doublethink if ever I saw it. One reads in the communiqué that the Council "laments" the fact defence budgets in Europe are "constrained". There are many things to lament in Europe and there are a hell of a lot of things that are constrained, including budgets for health, education and economic stimulation to provide employment for our young people. Something that is not lamentable, however, is constrained defence budgets, particularly if the European Union is supposed to be about promoting peace and international solidarity. We should be delighted and should be seeking to reduce the defence budgets further and to redeploy those resources into areas that actually improve the lives of ordinary citizens. We should not be developing ever more sophisticated ways of killing people, but that is what the European arms industry is about.

The latest fad among big Western powers and the European Union, in terms of sophisticated weapons to kill people, is the drone. Tragically, the Irish Government has embraced the new European enthusiasm for drones. These disgusting weapons are manless machines which wreak death and destruction at the push of a button by people on the other side of the world on innocent people in some of the poorest countries in the world, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. One would not see it in a bad James Bond movie in which characters are dreamed up who are bent on world domination and who inflict untold horrors on ordinary people. That is what these drones do and the Irish Government is now buying drones from Israel. I would like the Minister of State to outline the extent to which Israel is involved in this new European drive towards greater militarisation and more co-operation with NATO. It is unbelievable that we are buying drones from Israel, a country involved in systematic and ongoing violation of human rights, which has been condemned by just about every humanitarian organisation in the world for its use of vile weapons, including chemical weapons, against the Palestinian population. The Irish Government is buying drones from Israel and the European Union is integrating Israel's military-industrial complex into the new European military-industrial complex to provide the base for creating a European army - to fight whom?

Margaretta D'Arcy is an artist, a writer, a member of Aosdána, a pensioner, a Parkinson's disease sufferer and a peace activist. She has been protesting against the use of Shannon Airport to facilitate the illegal rendition programme of kidnapping and torture being conducted by the CIA. She has opposed the use of the airport as a stop-off point for American planes on their way to bomb people in Afghanistan and, previously, in Iraq. She is now languishing in jail, and meanwhile the Taoiseach swans off to the European Council and supports the militarisation of Europe.

Last week he was in the United Arab Emirates, hobnobbing with the brutal dictators of the gulf states, cementing trade deals with people who did not allow democracy, who cut off the heads of their political opponents and denied every basic human and civil right. They are vile regimes. We have also cemented new trade deals with the Chinese dictatorship. That is what we now do - we consort with and celebrate our new arrangements with dictators - and we are supposed to applaud this, while a peace activist, writer and an artist languishes in jail because out of good conscience she said a neutral country should not participate in or in any way facilitate a military machine or a programme of kidnapping and torture, something that has been well documented by international human rights organisations, while we say nothing.

Is that the type of society we promote? We do not even raise issues, as commented on by some members of the media when the Taoiseach was in the United Arab Emirates. They asked why he had not raised the issue of human rights. He was told it was not the time or place to do this; it was just business. If business means ignoring human rights, dictatorships and regimes that use violence, we will not say a word and, in fact, will emulate them. We will do the same in Europe, as Romano Prodi put it a number of years ago in a rare moment of honesty - to fight the resource wars of the 21st century, just like we had resource wars at the beginning of the 20th century and again between 1939 and 1945. It is absolutely despicable. The ordinary citizens of Europe pay the price, with 20 million unemployed, public services being decimated by cuts and austerity, while the corporate, military, industrial complex is protected by the powers that be, aided and abetted by the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government.

I welcome the opportunity to obtain clarification on a couple of points made by the Taoiseach. I sensed a lack of urgency at the summit on the jobs crisis, but perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, might enlighten me that the opposite was the case. When the currency seemed to be under threat and financial institutions seemed to be on the brink of collapse, various crisis meetings were held and an effort was made to resolve the issue, albeit too slowly. We have a crisis of equal magnitude in terms of unemployment across the European Union, with a particular impact in this country, but I do not get the sense in the discussions that have taken place that the same sense of urgency applies to the crisis. Will the Minister of State enlighten me on whether I missed something in what the Taoiseach said that might indicate some sense of urgency not just among the other leaders but even within the Irish delegation?

My second question is related to the first. It concerns how we deal with the shortage of credit, in particular for the small and medium enterprise, SME, sector. The Minister of State will recall that, as part of the programme for Government, the Government indicated the establishment of a strategic investment bank. In recent times that has been watered down to a strategic investment fund, but there is no sign of it emerging in any real way. We are now a couple of years further on and the sector most likely to resolve the unemployment crisis is clearly the SME sector which is starved of cash to maintain existing business or invest in new opportunities now emerging. In spite of this, there is no sign of the crisis being reflected at Council level or by the Government.

Will the Minister of State take questions on foreign affairs issues?

Yes. We have limited time and wish to give everyone a chance to ask a question in so far as it is possible to do so. The Minister of State will reply.

Is he in a position to comment on the situation in the Central African Republic?

I asked the Tánaiste previously whether Irish troops would take part in a mission to the Central African Republic or whether the matter had been discussed at Cabinet level. The situation in Ukraine is worsening rapidly. Riots and violence have been evident in recent days. Did any discussion take place on what the European Union would do in that regard? Has the Government come forward with ideas to enable the Foreign Affairs Council to address the matter?

I mentioned the interim agreement on nuclear energy involving a reduction in sanctions on Iran. One of the issues that came up with the Iranians was that in the past three years the amount of drugs coming through Afghanistan had quadrupled. Did any discussion take place on the matter? The Iranians are interested in co-operating with other countries on it, as Iran is hugely affected by it. I do not necessarily agree with the Iranian response to the problem which includes the execution of those involved in drug smuggling. However, it is a huge problem not only for Iran, as the drugs will end up on the streets of Dublin. In the past we all saw the effects of cheap heroin coming into the country, with the loss of thousands of lives in Dublin, across Europe and elsewhere in the world.

The Taoiseach referred to migration flows in the region in the context of the Lampedusa tragedy. The more regular migration flows are a problem. Was there a discussion of the coffin ships that bring people to Europe? Likewise, did a discussion take place on the issue of people trafficking? That is probably the next most lucrative illicit trade after arms and drug smuggling. There is no indication that the issue was discussed.

The Taoiseach referred to the youth guarantee implementation plan. He said a broad outline had been submitted to the European Commission. What will happen next?

How does the Minister of State reconcile what we have outlined? There is huge investment in armaments, weapons of mass destruction and the intensification of militarisation. The Taoiseach attended and participated in such meetings while, supposedly, proclaiming this to be a neutral state.

What is meant by increased synergies between the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, and freedom-security-justice actors to tackle horizontal issues such as illegal migration? Are we going to line up some of the new drones and weapons at the border to shoot the unfortunate people who are desperately trying to flee poverty, hunger and desperation to try to find a better life in Europe?

The economic policies outlined are a repeat of the same old neoliberal austerity philosophy based on cut throat competition, driving down wages and working conditions, extending working lives and working until one dies. How will this resolve anything since it has not done so already?

Direct answers to my questions would be very much appreciated. Does the Minister of State believe it is acceptable that the European Union is purchasing military hardware, including drones, from Israel, given its appalling human rights record? For that matter, does he believe it is acceptable that the Israeli military-industrial complex is being integrated into this European drive towards militarism?

On the point about fortress Europe and immigrants, particularly after the Lampedusa tragedy, was there further discussion on the proposal floating around that Frontex, a private EU security border company which patrols for profit, be given some of the responsibility for enforcing border controls to prevent poor migrants from north Africa and elsewhere getting into Europe? Does the Minister of State believe Ireland should be associated with a European Council meeting, at which these matters were discussed, that was preceded by an address by the Secretary General of NATO, a nuclear military alliance? It is clear from the succession of events that when NATO tells the European Union what it wants, it gets it.

Having heard the Taoiseach’s presentation of the report from the Council of Ministers and the Opposition leaders make their observations, I am disappointed that there is not a more specific and targeted presence on the part of Ireland at these meetings. There are not enough numbers and measurements and there is a lack of follow-up, assertiveness, articulate, fresh or brave thinking from the Irish side. Has the Taoiseach read the Price of Inequality or Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book on behavioural economics, because these would arm him in getting better-----

The Deputy is out of time. He had an opportunity to ask a question, but he did not do so.

As regards Ukraine-----

I am sorry, but the Deputy has to ask a question.

Is this a parliament or a playpen?

It is a parliament. There is limited time for all speakers by order of the House which must be observed. Will Deputy Mathews co-operate with it?

Can I ask one question?

Is it not pathetic that the bureaucrats have supplied the Taoiseach with multi-syllable long sentences that mean nothing?

We did not see the Deputy getting such a hard time when we were in government.

The Taoiseach spoke about the Single Resolution Mechanism, SRM, and the completion of the banking union project. I welcome the agreement reached at the Council meeting that will protect taxpayers from failed banks. Were the issues of bad regulation and the holding of a banking inquiry discussed at the Council?

Members have justifiably drawn attention to different parts of the Council’s conclusions. On the wording of the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, they should note that conclusion 2 states: "Today, the European Council is making a strong commitment to the further development of a credible and effective CSDP, in accordance with the Lisbon treaty and the opportunities it offers". The latter part of that sentence - “in accordance with the Lisbon treaty and the opportunities it offers” - is the key part which addresses some of the concerns raised by Members about compatibility between the conclusion and Ireland’s neutrality. It recognises the safeguards for Ireland in the Lisbon treaty which, in turn, rests on Article 29.4.9° of the Constitution which lays out clearly what the country can and cannot do regarding defence policy. If I look at the understandable concerns raised by Members as to what the CSDP could look like in the future, I point to what it has done in the past and now, as well as Irish participation in it. We should look at the work of the Defence Forces in Chad, Somalia and Mali where the men and women of the Defence Forces have been engaged in activities completely consistent with our neutrality, as well as its safeguards in the Lisbon treaty. It is about protecting and promoting vulnerable communities which need support to protect their human rights. In other cases, it is about the country’s security interests.

Deputy Timmy Dooley raised the issue of those economies trying to address unemployment and mentioned that there was a lack of investment and credit going into them. The European Investment Bank, EIB, an EU institution, has been given an enhanced role to deal with the lack of credit in particular economies. Last year in Ireland €1.2 billion worth of investment was either approved or underscored by the EIB, including projects such as the Grangegorman-Dublin Institute of Technology campus and the Luas BXD line. That investment represents an increase of four fifths on the level in 2011. That is a direct recognition by the European Union of the difficulties economies face in securing credit.

Deputy Seán Crowe referred to the conflict in the Central African Republic. The Government - I explained this in the Dáil before Christmas - has underscored its grave concern about what is happening there. We participated in the United Nations process on this matter and support the African Union’s plan to deploy 6,000 troops to the region, under a UN mandate, to protect those facing a humanitarian crisis.

I was in Ukraine in mid-November and visited Independence Square in Kiev where I saw at first hand the concerns and hopes of the people. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and the Foreign Affairs Council, after the negotiations that took place at the partnership summit in November, have continued to engage where they can with Ukraine to put in place a model of engagement which can, I hope, play a part in diffusing the grave crisis that the people face.

Regarding the discussion at the Council on migration and people flows, the October Council decided to put in place a task force to come up with quick interventions to deal with the tragedy on Lampedusa. The December Council endorsed some of the specific measures in the task force’s report for reinforced border surveillance and to support those member states experiencing a disproportionate share of these people flows. The people concerned are leaving troubled countries in fraught and desperate circumstances to look for a better life. The Council also endorsed Europol to do more in the fight against human trafficking, smuggling and organised crime.

I did my best to address the concerns about the CSDP earlier which were expressed again by Deputies Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett.

Anything the country does - I was at the European Council and aware of the discussion taking place - specifically recognises the status of our neutrality, as laid down in the Constitution and recognised in the Lisbon treaty. Anything we have done to date and will do in the future recognises and will recognise the clear parameters laid down in the Constitution and the Lisbon treaty. There should be no doubt or ambiguity in this regard.

As for the point raised with me by Deputy Peter Mathews regarding the ambition of the Government in dealing with its level of debt and the components thereof, as someone who is privileged to play a role in this regard, I can only assure the Deputy that the Government is following this in a determined fashion to address the issue.

I do not believe the Minister of State.

If the Deputy wishes to see some indication of this, I point to Ireland now being in a position where people are willing to lend to it at rates that would have been unthinkable 24 months ago.

They are doing the same with every country.

This reflects the progress made in dealing with the issue. As for his particular question on whether the Taoiseach has read the books mentioned, I am afraid that is one question I cannot answer on his behalf. However, I have read some of them and I am aware of some of the views to which the Deputy has referred.

On Deputy James Bannon's point on the focus on regulation, this was a main theme of the Council in the discussion that took place on setting up the banking union and the next steps that must be taken regarding the enhanced role the European Central Bank would play.

I see that no time remains to me.

Can the Minister of State respond to my questions on Israel and drones?

I have done my best and anything I have not yet answered I will answer at another time. However, I must conclude with some core themes mentioned at the European Council and to which the Taoiseach referred with regard to points on which colleagues have touched thus far. I wish to conclude with the point on enlargement. I acknowledge that the European Council agreed to open up negotiations with Serbia on accession and to support the work of the Government and people of Serbia under way. This is to deal with making progress on their relationship with the European Union and using this as a framework to tackle many of the pressing difficulties and challenges within that country and region. I acknowledge that within the European Council the decision was made to revisit the question of whether Albania would receive candidate status in June 2014, while acknowledging the huge progress it had made to date. I had the opportunity to visit Albania a number of weeks ago and reinforced this point to its Government and members of civil society. I also acknowledge the decisions made on assessing the negotiations and discussions with Macedonia, as well as the work taking place within the western Balkans and on countries such as Kosovo.

I have done my best within the time available to respond to the points Deputies have put to me and provide a brief summary of additional areas of agreement at the European Council. I look forward at any other point, either in committee or this Chamber, to answering those questions I have been unable to answer within the time available.