Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Alcohol Advertising

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

1. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the work of the working group on regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40960/14]

The interdepartmental working group on regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events was established as part of a package of measures to address alcohol misuse agreed by the Government in late 2013. In the case of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies, the Government acknowledged the public health concerns associated with alcohol sponsorship of sport but also the potential impact of any regulation on funding for sport, and established the working group to consider the "value, evidence, feasibility and implications of regulating sponsorship of major sporting events".

The working group was chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and included representatives from the Departments of Health; Public Expenditure and Reform; Finance; Social Protection; Transport, Tourism and Sport; Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Children and Youth Affairs; and Education and Skills. It held a public consultation process seeking relevant information from interested parties. Nineteen submissions were received in response to this request and these are available on my Department's website.

The working group finalised its report in December and it has been considered by the Cabinet committee on social policy and public service reform. The report is also available on my Department's website.

Arising from consideration by the Cabinet committee, the Minister for Health finalised proposals on the Bill in conjunction with his ministerial colleagues and brought these to Government last week. The Government gave approval for the drafting of a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and the Minister for Health has published the general scheme of the Bill. Any questions on the Government's proposals can be referred to the Minister for Health. I also anticipate that the relevant Oireachtas committee will have an opportunity to consider the general scheme he has published as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process, which is another element of Dáil reform.

On what moral or ethical basis does the Taoiseach believe it is appropriate that we impose a ban on tobacco sponsorship of sport in this country, when he has failed to grasp the opportunity to impose a similar ban on alcohol sponsorship, given that alcohol causes far more damage to individuals and families throughout the State?

I do not accept the Deputy's assertion. This was given careful consideration. Clearly, marketing and advertising are inherent parts of sponsorship. The Government and the working group looked carefully at this in the 19 submissions that were made. There will be serious regulation of both the marketing and the advertising, which have an impact on young people and particularly on those who are vulnerable to excessive drinking.

As was pointed out by every group, access and affordability are the key issues that have an impact on young people in respect of drink and the consequences of continuous over-drinking. Under the proposed legislation the Minister will be able to introduce restrictive practices for marketing campaigns to ensure that alcohol products are not produced, designed or promoted to appeal to children. On those grounds, the difference between drink and tobacco is quite clear. Marketing and advertising are inherent parts of sponsorship and for that reason the general scheme of the Bill published by the Minister will regulate those aspects of marketing and advertising which might impact directly on young people and particularly children.

The Taoiseach said he does not accept my assertion. Does he accept that the Government's steering group on national substance misuse in September 2012 found that a quarter of Irish adults binge drink every week and that the average Irish person drinks the equivalent of 482 pints of lager, 125 bottles of wine or 45 bottles of vodka every year? Does he accept that 1.5 million Irish adults are drinking in a way that is harmful to their health, that over 50% of 16 year olds have been drunk and that one in five 16 year olds drink on a regular weekly basis?

It is extraordinary that the Taoiseach does not see the correlation. The most lucrative, targeted and effective form of advertising is to link a product to sport. Sport is sexy and the vast majority of people, particularly young people, are interested in sport. That is the reason the alcohol companies sponsor these major sporting events. It is the reason that Benson & Hedges sponsored cricket, Embassy sponsored darts, Winston and Camel sponsored the FIFA World Cup, Silk Cut sponsored the rugby league and Regal and Winfield also sponsored rugby. It is the reason that motor sports were sponsored by Imperial Tobacco, Rizla and so forth. In this State, Carrolls, Benson & Hedges and all the familiar cigarette companies sponsored almost all of the major sporting events until the ban was introduced and the sponsorship was phased out. There was no difficulty finding alternative sources of sponsorship funding. I have no doubt that the many foreign companies investing in Ireland, such as Google and the technology companies, would love the opportunity to be associated with major sporting events in this country. I cannot understand why the Government, which made such strong noises about this subject earlier in its term, has caved in to vested interests.

The gap is €20 million. That is the sum for alcohol sponsorship in this State in a range of sports. Why can the Taoiseach not see beyond the short term? Why will he not agree at least to phasing this in? I do not understand it; it is illogical. It worked with tobacco and is effective. Along with other measures, it is reducing the number of young people who are taking up smoking. As somebody who was formerly quite a heavy smoker, I consider that an extremely positive step.

The problem is that we have a huge number of mental health issues and an unacceptable level of suicides, which are directly linked to alcohol consumption in many cases and particularly in respect of young men. However, the Government is burying its head in the sand. It appears to be unconcerned about trying to address it.

Finally, does the Taoiseach agree with his fellow county man and former GAA president, Dr. Mick Loftus? He said: "As a doctor and former coroner, I know first hand the damage alcohol does. Eighty-eight people a month die in this country due to alcohol related reasons. If that number of people were dying any other way they would be taking all sorts of action to try and stop it, but instead they are promoting it." That is the stark reality. I urge the Taoiseach to listen to the expert medical advice of his fellow county man, who also happens to be a very prominent figure in sporting circles and especially in the GAA.

Deputy Creighton failed to address in her question the two fundamental issues that are accepted by everybody - availability and affordability. She will have seen the pallets of cheep beer being sold in every small shop throughout the country. Availability and affordability are the key determinants of access to drink and abuse of drink, particularly among vulnerable and younger people. I do not accept-----

On a point of order-----

No, resume your seat. You had a good run.

The Deputy made no point about that.

That is not the question I asked.

Resume your seat. The Taoiseach is entitled to expand on his point.

My question was specifically about sponsorship and advertising. The Taoiseach can answer the question I asked or he can answer a question that he wanted me to ask.

Deputy, please resume your seat.

I am entitled to reply to the Deputy's question-----

-----by pointing to what the Deputy failed to address in her question, the two key determinants.

I asked about advertising.

That is the reason minimum unit pricing will be introduced-----

Answer the question.

-----as well as segregation and separation within commercial outlets. There will be proper regulation of the advertising and marketing where sponsorship is involved.

The Irish cricket team is in India. It failed to get sponsorship from the companies the Deputy mentioned which are not associated with either drink or tobacco. For the last number of years the Irish Open has had to be funded by the taxpayer through Fáilte Ireland. There was no take-up from commercial companies, where one might think it would be easy to sponsor such an event.

It is true that there are serious mental health issues in the country. That is the reason ring-fenced moneys have been made available for the past number of years by the Government and there is more help available then ever before. Young people in particular are advised to talk about these matters and to open up, discuss and connect with their peers.

I do not accept the Deputy's statement that the Government has caved in to vested interests. This matter has been discussed here for six years and nobody has done anything about it.

In this case, the Government has acted decisively. Everyone will have an opportunity to say his or her piece during the course of the discussion on the Bill being drafted by the Minister. The Bill will set out the areas in which there will be regulation and a serious impact in terms of labelling, minimum unit pricing, enforcement powers for environmental health officers, regulation of advertising and the marketing of alcohol. All of these things will have an impact on access, affordability and the way alcohol is perceived by young people and vulnerable drinkers.

Dr. Loftus has been for many years an advocate for sport and physical well-being. He still has the opportunity to jog a few kilometres every day himself, being someone who was a noted Gaelic footballer way back in the early 1950s. He has been very consistent in his view on alcohol. Even he will accept that the introduction of regulations on advertising, marketing, separation within commercial outlets and the introduction of labelling will have an impact on general physical health and, as a consequence, mental well-being, and that access and affordability, as the Deputy well knows, are issues which impact on many young people. I accept the person involved has been a very strong advocate of better lifestyles and well-being and of people taking better care of themselves. The Bill will be very much be in line with this.

I ask the Deputy to read the report which is on the website. She will see the difficulty in trying to separate sponsorship from marketing and advertising. The Deputy is also aware that, as a country, we are limited in many ways on this issue because in many ways we cannot regulate multimedia outlets and particular products. The focus of Government is on separating out sponsorship, which has an inherent impact on advertising and marketing. It is coming after six years of discussion, during which no one wanted to do anything about this. Now it is being done and I hope it will have a very beneficial impact.

I have raised the issue of alcohol abuse in society and, in particular, the public health (alcohol) Bill with the Taoiseach many times. There are good things in this Bill. Let me say that and also that we welcome these. However, on the issue of drinks sponsorship of sporting events, the Bill will fail miserably. This is despite the fact that this is one of the issues it is supposed to tackle.

I have a whole pile of statistics from reputable agencies but I do not have the time to go through them in this House today. Professor Joe Barry puts it best when he states that, simply put, alcohol sponsorship of sports works in terms of increasing sales and alcohol consumption and that, if it did not, the alcohol industry would not be spending so much money on it. It is also scientifically proven that teenagers and young people are most at risk through this promotion and the alliance between some of the drinks companies and sporting events.

To keep this short, the Minister, when he was putting forward his Bill, stated that the sporting organisations need the €30 million which such deals bring in. It appears to me that this is the nub of the Government's acquiescence on this issue. I appeal to the Taoiseach. It is not too late. Only the heads of the Bill have been published. The Government can still rescue this by listening to the public and, in particular, the experts and by doing the right thing, which is to ban alcohol sponsorship of sporting events. Will the Taoiseach consider this and amend the Bill accordingly?

This appears to be a complete U-turn. We were led to believe for the past two years that a ban on sponsorship was going to happen and that it was going to be phased in. The Minister for Health, who should be standing up for public health, was in a very weak position because when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, he railed within Cabinet against the idea of banning alcohol sponsorship. He was very much against the views of the then Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, who initially pioneered this legislation.

I put it to the Taoiseach that many measures on reducing alcohol consumption have been taken. One of the most effective measures has been random breath testing, which was brought in by the former Minister and Deputy, Noel Dempsey. This had a very significant impact, as it did in other countries, although he took a lot of criticism for it at the time.

The issue of sponsorship and the recipient bodies in sport, arts or culture was faced by Australia many years ago in the context of tobacco sponsorship. It was also faced by us. When I banned tobacco sponsorship in Ireland, the major sporting event was the snooker championship. The marketing and promotion unit of the Department of Health took over the sponsorship. We turned what was a negative in terms of public health into a positive. It may have seemed unlikely at the time, but the event was festooned with positive health messages and anti-tobacco messages for approximately three years. Australia did this much more comprehensively in the context of positive health and its promotion by turning around the tobacco sponsorship agenda and supplanting the money with money from the Australian exchequer.

The sense is that the industry got its way on this. Sponsorship has been controversial for quite some time. Within the GAA, we have had the Guinness sponsorship for quite a long time. Many young people, some of whom I know, were so absorbed by the quality of the sponsorship and all that went with it that they could draw Seán Óg Ó hAilpín with a hurley and a pint of Murphy's at the end of it. They would readily draw and depict Amstel sponsoring the European Champions League. It does have an impact. We have to face up to it.

In advertising, it is more complex. We have terrestrial television, Sky, multiple channels and so on. It is very difficult, therefore, to regulate that which is global. In terms of sponsorship, the situation is different. The idea of identifying how to bridge the gap has not been effectively explored. This goes down to the local festival. Many of our festivals are alcohol-soaked, whether we like it or not, because they depend on the sponsorship of an alcohol company to support them.

We did not have real debate on this in the House. The Government kept this very tight until it made the announcement that the Bill was in and the decision had been taken. We did not have a wider and more open debate on ensuring that cultural, artistic and sporting associations would not suffer, for instance, by a combination of other sponsors and some State support. Does the Taoiseach not agree that such an examination should take place on Committee Stage in this House? It could look at the issue in terms of the various groups and how we might best bridge that gap. We could have a proper assessment of how one would bridge that gap and how bridgeable the gap is. We have not had that debate or worked through those particular mechanics and implications of the Bill.

How on earth can the Taoiseach speak about separating sponsorship of sports events by alcoholic drinks companies from marketing and be serious? What is the point of the sponsorship by the alcohol companies except to market their product? More fundamentally, is it not perverse in the extreme that major alcoholic drinks companies are allowed to advertise freely and use massive funds to advertise the product ethyl alcohol, which is by far the most destructive drug in society at present? People who push illegal drugs are despised and denigrated in the media. However, the biggest legal drug pushers of all are the major alcohol companies and they are lionised and validated. Does the Taoiseach not see a huge contradiction in how his Government and the establishment have for decades and generations treated alcohol companies?

Can I ask the Taoiseach to agree that it would be very socially progressive to ban all advertising of alcoholic drinks products and to confine information on alcohol in any advertising to places where alcohol is and should be available to people? It should not be glamorised and outed in the way that is done at present. How can the Taoiseach seriously talk about divorcing the general advertising of alcoholic products from appealing to children? Does he not see on the national television channels, for example, that by far the most expensively produced, technically brilliant and artistically imaginative advertisements are usually those for alcohol? Given that they incorporate colour and movement and invoke themes that attract children, such as the heroic legends of the past, how on earth can the Taoiseach speak about a type of alcohol advertising that does not attract children?

I am by no means an abolitionist. Alcohol is a pleasant product. It is a good substance in its place. People should have the right to enjoy it. The lethal side effects of alcohol unfortunately have to be recognised. In my view, any drug of this power should be publicly owned. It should not be the source of private profiteering by privateers. Any excess made in the sale of alcohol by a publicly owned entity should be devoted to education, harm reduction in relation to that drug and health remediation where unfortunately there are casualties of it.

I ask the Taoiseach to reply again now before I call the last two Deputies. We have spent 23 minutes on this question so far. There are other questions.

Should we not come in first then?

No. It would not be practical to get back to the points made by the other Deputies.

The points made by the Deputies are very valid. The Government considered this matter carefully before it arrived at this decision. Discussions have been going on here for six years. Sponsorship cannot be considered as an isolated issue. It is directly related to marketing, advertising and other forms of promotion. That is the problem. That was identified clearly by the working group that dealt with 19 different serious submissions, which are published on the website. That is why the Government looked at this in a comprehensive way. It dealt with promotional activities, labelling, outdoor advertising, television and cinema advertising and sponsorship. As Deputies are aware, a number of channels come in on people's mobile phones, tablets and televisions from other countries that have different standards. One cannot just block out an advertisement that suddenly goes beyond the jurisdiction of its own country.

It is clear that alcohol marketing has a very important role in fostering consumption of alcohol. A range of studies have shown that young people who are exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to start drinking at an earlier age or, if they are already drinking, are likely to drink more. These points have been made by Deputies. That is why the Government has now decided to act in respect of minimum unit pricing; availability and affordability; and marketing, advertising and sponsorship.

Deputy Martin said we did not have a discussion here. No, we did not. We have had discussions for six years. We are now at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I guarantee the Deputy that everybody will have an opportunity to state his or her case. When the Bill comes back here, there will be full discussions at the committee and back in the House.

Deputy Higgins made a good point. It is true that much of the advertising seen on television is technically brilliant, very artistic and full of movement and energy. That is exactly the reason the Government intends to regulate marketing and advertising. Drink can be advertised, but young people cannot associate alcohol with being impossibly thin, beautiful or world-famous. Equally, the laochraí of the past and the wonderful things that happen in sport cannot be directly associated with the consumption of alcohol. That is where the regulation of marketing and advertising, about which Deputies have made points, will take place. Just because drink is advertised, it will not be possible for it to be associated in young people's minds with prowess on the sporting field or the athletics track, with accuracy or with all of these other things. That is exactly why the regulation will be introduced for marketing and advertising.

While it will be possible for festivals to be supported in terms of sponsorship, the marketing and advertising associated with that will not be focused on young people being all-achievers as a consequence of alcohol consumption. The same thing will apply to cinemas and other places where this will apply. The Government has made a series of decisions here with particular reference to labelling, general health, the carrying of identification, minimum unit pricing, affordability and accessibility. All the studies show that this will have an impact on young people and, in particular, vulnerable people. For those who might be more experienced in drinking in terms of their years, it is not going to have an undue impact on the current situation where the alcohol consumed is of a level where people appreciate its quality. In that sense, I think the pre-legislative scrutiny will give Members and other groups an opportunity to state their case.

I ask Deputies Mathews and Boyd Barrett to be quick because we want to get on to the other questions.

It is obvious from the contributions that have been made and the questions that have been raised that this is a key issue in Irish society at the moment. As Deputy Martin said, this process has been going on for six years. I agree with Deputy Creighton that we have now reached the crunch time. As the leader of the country, the Taoiseach should not suggest that the Government says this or thinks that.

Will the Deputy put his question, please?

Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle-----

I am sorry too. We have spent almost 30 minutes on this question. I have to think of other Deputies who have questions here. We cannot make-----

Maybe in future the Chair might like to ask me first.

No, I do not have to ask you at all, Deputy.

I am just giving you a suggestion.

It is not your question.

It is a suggestion.

We do not have suggestions - we have questions.

Every time it comes to my turn to make a contribution-----

It is Question Time. You have to ask a question.

-----or ask a question, you say "we are out of time, look at the clock, blah blah blah". It is the same business.

Please put a question. You have no question down on this.

I am putting a question. I am asking why the Taoiseach is not grabbing this by the neck and saying, "I want the Government to bring in a restriction on sponsorship, marketing and advertising". If the leader of our country cannot join up the dots, we are in a bad way. It is very simple.

I would like to come at this issue slightly differently. I certainly have no particular truck for the drinks industry as it pumps its products at young people through advertising. I would like to hear a little more detail in this debate about the precise link between advertising and levels of alcohol consumption. To my mind, there were chronic problems of alcohol abuse in the days before there was any advertising. This was often linked to deprivation. We need to discuss these things. I do not make that comment in defence of the drinks industry. Alcohol abuse among any group in society, including young people, is quite a complicated issue.

As I am coming at this from a slightly different angle, I want to know whether the Taoiseach believes it would be worth considering putting extra taxes on the corporate profits of the drinks industry. Is there not a case for that, given that problems related to alcohol abuse have such a huge cost for Irish society at so many different levels?

Setting aside the wider debate on corporation tax, which as the Taoiseach knows I feel is too low, is there not a good case for applying a special levy on the profits of the drinks industry and using that money for rehabilitation programmes, sport, youth services and community services? The conundrum of where to get extra revenue for sports and young people could be solved by directly taxing the enormous profits of the alcohol industry.

As I said, the Government has made a decision. It has asked the Minister and given him authorisation to go and produce the Bill. It will deal with below-cost selling, minimum unit pricing, advertising, marketing and labelling. It is not as simple - believe me, Deputy Mathews - as just saying "Ban the lot," because-----

We did it with smokeless fuels.

-----sponsorship of any description carries with it an inherent association with marketing and advertising. That is why, as I said in response to other questions, the Government will regulate this very clearly.

There is a massive amount of evidence available - a compelling body of evidence, I might say, a Cheann Comhairle - that where young people are exposed to alcohol marketing, whether it be on television, in public places or in the cinema, this encourages access to alcohol and, as a consequence, abuse for those who are vulnerable, particularly for those who have started to drink or who are likely to start to drink. It impacts more in terms of low-cost alcohol being freely available at very low prices. The Government has made a decision to act really decisively in this area so that many hundreds of festivals around the country can still be sponsored, but the marketing and the advertising associated with those festivals will not and cannot be focused on young people to create a perception that the use of drink, such as is involved, allows them to do all things in an extraordinary way. That is where the regulation will apply and that is where every Deputy can have a say at the pre-scrutiny stage when it comes back here.

As I said to Deputy Creighton in the beginning, while it might be easy to assume that companies will take up the opportunity to sponsor, it does not always happen. As I said, the Irish cricket team is in India and the Irish Open has been sponsored by the taxpayer for the last number of years. If particular companies wish to get involved in sponsorship, then that is their right.

This is a genuine attempt by the Government to deal with something that is a scourge to many families and that results in the use of up to 2,000 beds per night in public hospitals because of drink-related consequences for those who are unfortunate enough to get locked into that.

Official Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his meeting with the ambassador of the United States of America to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40967/14]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the ambassador of the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43809/14]

Joe Higgins

Question:

4. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the ambassador of the United States of America to Ireland. [43819/14]

Joe Higgins

Question:

5. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to New York and the economic events designed to increase jobs and investment here. [44902/14]

Micheál Martin

Question:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent trip to the United States of America in November, 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45778/14]

Micheál Martin

Question:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met any Government representatives on his recent trip to the United States of America in November 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45779/14]

Gerry Adams

Question:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to New York in November 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2150/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he met with any of the Irish immigration lobby groups while in New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2151/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his letter to President Obama on immigration reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2152/15]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meetings he attended during his visit to New York in November 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4355/15]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed Ireland's corporate tax rate at any of his meetings in New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4356/15]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 12, inclusive, together.

I have had a number of recent engagements in support of Ireland's relationship with the United States of America. I met with the new ambassador, Mr. Kevin O'Malley, on Friday, 10 October, in Government Buildings. I welcomed Mr. O'Malley to Ireland and congratulated him on his appointment. The ambassador told me he was looking forward to his term and spoke warmly of the overwhelming welcome and support he had received since arriving in Ireland.

Our discussions were wide-ranging. We discussed the excellent relationship between Ireland and the US, acknowledging the strength of economic, personal and political ties. We recalled the successful visits by President and Mrs. Obama and my own visits to the United States. We discussed the economic situation in Ireland and Europe, and the ambassador was complimentary about the remarkable progress made by our country in recent years. We spoke about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, recalling that a negotiation mandate was secured during Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and discussed the potential for increased investment, trade and job creation on both sides of the Atlantic. I also briefed the ambassador on the latest state of play in Northern Ireland and the all-party talks that were, at the time of the meeting, proposed by the British and Irish Governments.

The subject of US immigration reform has been a key priority for the Government and a constant element in our discussions with the American Administration. While I did not have occasion to meet any of the immigration lobby groups during my brief visit to New York in November, I took the opportunity to raise the issue with the ambassador, Mr. O'Malley, and to emphasise the importance of people's ability to move freely between the US and Ireland.

Since that meeting, as Deputies are aware, President Obama announced some welcome changes to the US immigration system, which represents a strong start on immigration reform. These changes should benefit a significant number of our own citizens. For those covered, it promises to lift the threat of deportation and should allow them to work and travel more freely within the United States. I followed up on President Obama's announcement by writing to him to welcome this development and to ask that the arrangements be as open and as flexible as possible in order to protect the undocumented Irish in the United States.

I must stress, however, that, while this is a good start, our work is not yet done. The President has acted within his own powers, but legislation in Congress is still needed to build on what has been achieved in the President's announcement. For that reason, the Government and our embassy in Washington have been working and will continue to work with the Administration and with both Republican and Democratic political leaders. We have strong contacts across both sides and we will continue to build on this particular network.

I visited New York in November with a programme focused on boosting trade, investment and job creation. In engaging with business groups and companies, I highlighted a number of key messages, including Ireland's strong economic recovery, our advantages as a place to invest and to do business, the strong offering of Irish exporting companies and the Government's roadmap for Ireland's tax competitiveness. My engagements included a round-table event at the New York Stock Exchange with the CEOs of a number of leading international financial services companies. I spoke about Ireland's continued economic recovery, our strengths as a location for investment and the new international financial services strategy currently being prepared by the Minister of State, Deputy Harris. While at the New York Stock Exchange, I also had the opportunity to meet its new CEO, Mr. Thomas Farley, and was pleased to be invited to ring the opening bell that morning. I met again with Mr. Farley during the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

I also attended a meeting with members of the Partnership for New York City, a membership organisation made up of CEOs of leading businesses with headquarters in New York. This was a follow-on to my previous meeting with members of the partnership earlier last year. Again, I spoke about the strengths of Ireland's economy and Ireland's excellence as a location for investment, as well as our new roadmap for Ireland's tax competitiveness.

During my visit, I attended a dinner event hosted by the Ireland-US Council, attended by a range of leading US and Irish business leaders, where I highlighted Ireland's progress towards economic recovery and its many advantages as a location for business, investment, tourism and high-quality goods and services. I was pleased to have a follow-up meeting with Bristol-Myers Squibb at which it confirmed its major new investment in Ireland, involving about 1,000 construction jobs while the facility is being built and then up to 400 permanent high-tech jobs in the pharma sector. I also availed of the opportunity to visit North Shore-LIJ Health System's new state-of-the-art health care facility, the Lenox Hill HealthPlex, and meet with North Shore's president and CEO, Mr. Michael Dowling, and some of his senior colleagues. As Deputies will be aware, Mr. Dowling is a native of Limerick and maintains a close interest in developments here in Ireland. While at Lenox Hill, I chaired a round table with North Shore, representatives of the Visiting Nurse Association and Enterprise Ireland, EI, client companies with a view to building the necessary links and expertise amongst the EI companies to supply goods and services to the health care market in the US.

Overall, while it was a brief visit to New York, my programme covered a wide range of business engagements aimed at promoting Ireland's continued attractiveness as a business location and helping Irish companies to pursue further business opportunities in the US.

I welcome the Taoiseach's reply, particularly regarding immigration. I met the ambassador as well. He is energetic and will be a constructive voice in enhancing and nurturing relationships between our two countries.

This is our first occasion to question the Taoiseach on President Obama's announcement on immigration. The President's actions are welcome, but they do not include everything that we want to be in a proper programme. There are still thousands of undocumented Irish out there. There are also still issues with the level of certainty around President Obama's policies and his relationship with Congress. There are challenges with regard to whether Congress will approve those policies or go further in terms of a comprehensive immigration Bill. People believed that could happen two years ago, but it does not look as though it will happen now, before a presidential election.

President Obama's statement has implications concerning people returning home and those with a particular status in the United States. We are concerned by utterances from some members of the US Congress who say they will undo much of what President Obama has announced. Is our lobbying and diplomacy focused on members of Congress to at least get commitments that they will not roll back on what President Obama has announced? That is important in order to have certainty about our undocumented. If what President Obama has said was allowed to prevail, that, in itself, would give some certainty to the undocumented in the United States. The fact that some members of Congress are suggesting otherwise is a worry. I ask the Taoiseach to assess that issue.

I do not think the Taoiseach mentioned the tax situation. We know that tens of thousands of people in Ireland rely on jobs that are directly provided by American investment and US multinational companies. Many of them use tax schemes which are entirely legal and in line with practices found in many other countries. In the budget, the Taoiseach announced a move to a new system concerning a particular dimension of the global tax situation. What measures does the Taoiseach intend to take to provide long-term certainty on tax matters to investors in Ireland? Long-term certainty is the key issue on tax matters. Will the Taoiseach be raising that matter when he is next in Washington?

The European Parliament and other European institutions are beginning to single out individual American companies and employers for attack. For example, a recent vote by the European Parliament calling for the break-up of Google is naked populism but it could have a serious impact on jobs here and elsewhere across Europe. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin and the far left had no problem with that motion, which is directly damaging to Ireland's interests. Does the Taoiseach and his Government talk with all our MEPs, irrespective of party affiliation, about the national interest regarding issues that emerge in the European Parliament from time to time? Will he take steps to assure Google and other important investors that Ireland will stand against such damaging grandstanding in Europe?

As regards the forthcoming events in America in March, other parties, including Sinn Féin, will be out there also. One of the most remarkable things is how Sinn Féin never mentions any of its domestic policies when its representatives fly across the Atlantic. That is probably because they know their policies would horrify most of the people they are trying to raise money from. Perhaps this year the Government might find an opportunity for Deputy Adams to explain Sinn Féin's policy of attacking the United States as being co-responsible for Russia's invasion and brutalisation of Ukraine. That is an important issue which has gone unnoticed in the public domain. The Taoiseach might be kind enough to print off the speeches of Sinn Féin Deputies and MEPs and make them widely available in Washington.

We do that already.

I do not think you do.

We are running short of time now.

Two individuals, John Hume and Seamus Mallon, have been outstanding in their support for peace over many decades. In the early days, they pioneered the engagement with the United States to develop a broad consensus in Congress, including key personnel who were then influential in American policy and thus influential for the peace process. They are two of our greatest heroes for peace. They stood against all sides and never compromised on their commitment to human rights, dignity and equality for all. Something official should be done to acknowledge their work. I am conscious that has happened in Washington in recent times as, for example, people have been honoured by the Ireland Fund. Would the Taoiseach consider that his visit to Washington might be a good opportunity to announce something in particular to acknowledge the work of two great constitutionalists, John Hume and Seamus Mallon?

I ask everybody to be conscious of the clock. We only have fourteen and a half minutes left and there are three other Deputies waiting to contribute.

Deputy Martin has raised a number of important issues and I will refer to some of them. Clearly, the question of emigration has been a source of activity by all governments in recent years. It will be a real priority for this Government as we continue our discussions with and through the new US ambassador, Mr. O'Malley. The establishment of an E3 visa is an outstanding issue which we must continue to discuss.

The proposals made by President Obama last November should benefit thousands of undocumented Irish in the US. Under those proposals, undocumented immigrants who have been in the US for more than five years, or who have children who are US citizens, or legal residents who register, undergo background checks and pay their taxes, will be given temporary legal status and protected from deportation. President Obama made the point that they were after criminals in the US. We know that the vast majority of people there from our own country pay their taxes and social security. Many of them have raised their families in that context.

A number of further possibilities are being considered by the US Congress, but the President's announcement is a welcome step in the right direction. I have listened carefully to the Republican Party, which now controls both Houses of Congress, and clearly there are implications concerning exactly what it wants to do. I hope it will proceed to build on the announcement that has been made by President Obama. As Deputy Martin pointed out, there are differing voices but we consider President Obama's announcement as being entirely within his remit and a positive direction for Ireland. I would like to see that being built upon. I intend to raise this matter with US representatives when I have the opportunity to travel to Washington in March.

We are aware of President Obama's latest tax proposals. The Government abolished the stateless concept in 2013 and we abolished the double Irish in 2014. We are fully compliant in participating in the OECD's base erosion and profit shifting, or BEPS, analysis for providing an international response to the tax situation. It is not yet known what the implications will be of action by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate in respect of President Obama's statements on tax.

As regards what President Tusk and President Juncker said the other day, Ireland will continue to have a 12.5% corporation tax rate into the very distant future. We are not changing that, up or down. Under the EU treaties, taxation is a matter of national competence. That statement is important for would-be investors and those who have already invested here. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has clarified that the double Irish will be replaced, in addition to considering the introduction of an information patent box here in Ireland. We have made it clear that this country does not support the harmonisation of taxes.

As regards companies being challenged by the European Commission, there is one major company here in Ireland, but that now it is being extended to all of the countries in Europe. The Government is clear that, over the years, nothing untoward was carried out by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of any of these companies. We are prepared to defend that right through the courts, if necessary. That is where we are in respect of taxation issues.

Deputy Martin's point about two sons of Ulster, Seamus Mallon and John Hume, should certainly be considered and I will examine that. Both men are outstanding examples of people who are unafraid to stand up for human rights, equality, dignity and political progress with peace in Northern Ireland. I will consider that.

I know we do not have much time and I have four questions. However, I want to assure Teachta Martin that Irish America knows Sinn Féin's policies. It is clear that we receive our support there, despite some of them disagreeing with our policies.

We receive support because we have a united Ireland strategy and a peace strategy, both of which we are working, and because most of the Irish in America are there as a result of the punitive austerity policies pursued by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Administration and the current Government.

We all know the many links between Ireland and the US. Those links were very clear during the recent negotiations which took place at Stormont House. I commend President Obama's envoy, former Senator Gary Hart, who was regularly in contact and who offered his support and advice. I thank him for that. I was also in contact with Meghan O'Sullivan and Richard Haass, who provided the template for what was eventually agreed at Stormont. I met Ambassador O'Malley during the negotiation period and I thank him for his support. I especially wish to commend the US Consul General, Greg Burton, who is soon to leave his position but who was omnipresent during the talks. There is still a great deal of work to be done. Teachta Martin made no mention of the threat made once again against the life of the Deputy First Minister by so-called dissident elements. That threat shows that we cannot take the peace process for granted. We continue to work to make it a reality for more and more people.

The questions tabled in my name relate to those who are in America illegally, particularly in the context of the initiative taken by the US President, which was broadly welcomed by most Irish American groups. The Taoiseach is aware of Ciaran Staunton and his work on behalf of the undocumented. I take this opportunity to commend our ambassador to America, Anne Anderson, and her consular staff on their work in this area. After President Obama made his announcement, the Taoiseach wrote to him stating that there would be some capacity for the undocumented Irish to travel home and that the full details of this would be worked out. Will he indicate if those details have been worked out? What resources are being provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our diplomatic service to assist those who might potentially benefit from President Obama's executive order? The Taoiseach alluded to the fear that an executive order made by one US President might be reversed by another. I must note at this point that there are others who fall outside the scope of this new arrangement. Will the Taoiseach be raising this issue - if God spares him - when he returns to the United States in March? Will he raise it with Republican leaders as well as with President Obama? I witnessed his very forthright push for citizenship for Irish people there and for legal rights for them. Will he continue to press the White House for a more comprehensive and bipartisan legislative Bill which would give the undocumented a path towards citizenship?

In light of the time constraints, I ask that the two remaining Deputies put their questions now.

I will deal with just one of the huge number of issues that arise. Was the Taoiseach asked in any detail about the controversy with regard to Irish corporation tax policy or about the race to the bottom throughout Europe in respect of corporation tax, which this and previous Governments have championed? Did any civil society organisations or others raise this issue with the Taoiseach? Earlier, the Taoiseach referred to the abolition of the "double Irish" tax scam. Did he advise anyone who asked him that this mechanism will remain in place for another five years for all the major corporations which have scandalously availed of it in order to legally avoid paying tax? As with St. Augustine, it is a question of hankering after purity but not quite yet, as far as taxation policies relating to big business are concerned. Is the Taoiseach aware that non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid that are heavily involved in poor countries have outlined the damage done by what he describes as tax competitiveness but which is, in fact, a mechanism to allow massive global corporations to avoid paying billions in taxation? The tax in question should be used for social good and social investment but the Government's policies prevent that.

Is it not incredible that the leader of the biggest Opposition party in this Parliament has chosen to weigh in to this debate in order to bolster the giant multinational corporations to which I refer? For example, he mentioned Google and Apple. The latter made a profit of €18 billion in one quarter of last year. However, the Deputy in question did not have a word to say about the Garda's dawn raids on the homes of ordinary activists and public representatives who are fighting injustice and austerity. Was the Taoiseach aware that gardaí were going to be sent to the homes of public representatives and anti-water-charge activists?

In his initial reply, the Taoiseach indicated that he had met a litany of CEOs of large corporations in New York. He referred on two occasions to what he calls the roadmap to tax competitiveness in Ireland and stated that he had encouraged the corporations in question to invest here as a result of that competitiveness. There have been widespread reports of the Government conferring with multinationals in order to reassure them that the changes to the double Irish tax arrangement will not impact on the amount of tax they pay. Is evidence not piling up to the effect that the policy of this and previous Governments has been to act - to some degree and in a pretty shameful way - as the corporate tax prostitute of Europe, particularly when it comes to attracting investment from the United States? A report in the business section of today's edition of The Irish Times indicates that the high-powered barrister the Government has hired to defend Ireland in the context of the European Commission's investigation into Apple's tax affairs and the possible state aid extended to or special arrangements made for it by the Government has gone on record in the past month implying that the new knowledge box arrangement with which the double Irish will be replaced may be found to be very problematic. The individual in question apparently indicated that the knowledge box may constitute further state aid and may not involve a proper imposition of tax on the corporate sector. Even people the Government is hiring have stated that something about the Irish corporate tax regime stinks. That regime allows multinationals to literally get away with murder when it comes to corporate tax.

Does the Taoiseach communicate with the American Administration in respect of the fact that it is considering pouring fuel on the fire of the dire conflict in Ukraine by discussing the possibility of providing arms to one side, thereby inflaming an absolutely disastrous situation? What does the Taoiseach think of the proposal to supply arms? Would he join some of us in stating that it would be a disastrous move - and would make the situation even worse - for the United States to pour arms into what is an already dire conflict?

Deputy Adams raised a number of points. I am not going to become involved in any controversy involving him and the party whose Deputies are seated to his left.

I will raise the issue of the undocumented Irish with Republican leaders when I return to the United States. Ambassador O'Malley understands the position of illegal Irish immigrants in the US. He also understands perfectly that for Irish people the ability to travel home and back to the United States while their undocumented status is changed is of critical importance. We will continue to press the White House in respect of this matter.

Deputy Higgins referred to tax.

We did abolish the concepts of stateless companies and the double Irish. There were perceptions of Ireland being a tax haven. These perceptions are completely unfounded. Clarity now exists for the period to 2020.

I did not know of anything to do the activities of the Garda in so far as a Member of the House is concerned. It is an entirely independent operational matter for the Garda.

Does the Taoiseach condemn it as over the top and heavy-handed?

With regard to Deputy Boyd Barrett's point about my meetings in New York, we have spoken to many of the chief executives and have given them a very clear understanding that our corporate tax rate will continue at 12.5%-----

Six and a half percent.

-----and of our opposition to tax harmonisation, and our defence of the position in so far as the company being investigated by the European Commission in Ireland is now concerned. It is now investigating the tax practices in all 28 countries. We are very clear that, over the years, there was no untoward activity in so far as state aid for any company was concerned. The knowledge box that we are now considering is one in respect of which we will continue to play hard and fair to win. We expect the rate will be competitive and Ireland will continue to be a very attractive location for investment. As Deputy Boyd Barrett knows, we can pride ourselves on our tax and technology positions and our track record, and mostly in respect of the talent of our young people to meet all the challenges.

The answer to the question on Ukraine is that it is a matter for discussion on Thursday. The agenda for the European Council meeting concerns terrorism, Ukraine and the EMU. These matters will be discussed in some detail.

The Government is going to stab the Greek people in the back. That is shameful.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.