European Council Meeting: Statements

The meeting of the European Council that took place last Thursday and Friday was particularly challenging. We were faced with many difficult questions of fundamental importance for the Union. Discussions, which continued late into the night, were undoubtedly robust. However, it must also be recognised that important progress was made on a range of critical and sensitive issues.

On Thursday, we first discussed the situation in Greece. We then considered in some detail how the European Union can most effectively respond to the migration crisis, recognising the importance of solidarity with those member states at the front line. Prime Minister Cameron outlined UK proposals for European Union reform, marking the beginning of a process of exploration of these issues. On Friday, we moved on to consider security and defence challenges, in addition to efforts to boost jobs, growth and competitiveness, in particular the implementation of the digital single market strategy.

Let me say a few words about Greece. Although it was not formally on our agenda, the situation in Greece was discussed by the European Council for some considerable time, following a presentation by the President of the Eurogroup. At that time, there was considerable commonality between the proposals from the institutions and Greek authorities, giving a reasonable expectation that the remaining gap could be bridged to reach an agreement acceptable to all parties. I, together with other Heads of State and Government, urged Prime Minister Tsipras to make every effort to conclude an agreement and to put an end to the instability that is having a detrimental effect on the Greek economy and the Greek people in particular.

The Eurogroup was due to meet on Saturday to bring forward negotiations and, we had hoped, conclude an agreement. Unfortunately, however, before the Eurogroup meeting on Saturday, the Greek authorities announced that they were unilaterally withdrawing from negotiations. Prime Minister Tsipras indicated that a referendum would take place on Sunday, 5 July during which the Greek people would be asked to accept or reject the latest compromise proposals put forward by the institutions.

Meanwhile, against the background of last week's turmoil and uncertainty, deposit outflows accelerated from the Greek banking system. On Sunday, Prime Minister Tsipras called a bank holiday to last until at least 7 July and has imposed capital controls. As we all know, Greece did not meet its repayment of €1.5 billion due to the IMF last night, meaning that it is now in arrears to that organisation. Late yesterday, Prime Minister Tsipras wrote to the President of the Eurogroup proposing a new ESM programme, debt restructuring and an extension of the current programme. The Eurogroup reviewed the content of the letter, which was very brief. I understand that a second letter has now been received and the Eurogroup will have a further conference call this evening.

The situation facing Greece and its people is now extremely grave. Last week, we believed a solution was in sight. This week, we have entered uncharted waters. That said, I would underline that the door remains open to dialogue, in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility. Continuing volatility and uncertainty are not in the interest of the Greek people. Our objective remains a sustainable and mutually acceptable agreement which will return Greece to growth within the eurozone.

Following discussions on Greece, the European Council addressed the migration crisis facing the European Union. We know that insecurity and conflict in Africa and the Middle East has resulted in unprecedented numbers of migrants attempting to enter Europe. Prior to the recent reinforcement of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, we were witnessing a tragic loss of life on a large scale. The LE Eithne alone has rescued at least 3,000 people since arriving in the Mediterranean on 23 May to support the Italian coastguard. The discussions at the European Council on migration were difficult and lengthy, but also constructive. Despite the anticipated differences of approach, it should be acknowledged that significant progress was made on what is a very complex and politically sensitive issue. All member states agreed on the importance of balancing solidarity with responsibility, and on the need for a comprehensive approach to the migration challenge.

The approach agreed by the European Council, and reflected in its conclusions, demonstrates a balanced and comprehensive response to the problem. The response focuses on three distinct pillars: relocation and resettlement; return and readmission; and co-operation with countries of origin and transit. This includes an agreement to help 60,000 vulnerable people, through a mixture of resettlement of refugees based outside the European Union, and relocation of those in need of international protection who are already within the European Union, currently in Italy and Greece. The relocation, which will be exceptional and temporary, will now be on the basis of a voluntary distribution plan to be agreed by consensus between member states by the end of this month, July.

We also agreed that new reception facilities should be established in front-line member states to improve the processing of refugee applications and to strengthen procedures for the return and readmission of irregular migrants or those who do not qualify for refugee status. EU assistance and policies will be used to create incentives for implementing existing readmission agreements and concluding new ones. Importantly, the conclusions we adopted also emphasised the need to reinforce our overall co-operation with countries of origin and transit to tackle the root causes of irregular migration and to combat the smuggling networks. In my intervention, I made it clear that Ireland believes an approach based on solidarity and responsibility is essential. We have already offered to resettle 520 refugees between this year and next as well as deploying the LE Eithne to assist in search and rescue operations.

Ireland also provides extensive humanitarian assistance to regions affected by conflict. We will continue to examine the situation with a view to possible further assistance.

Under Protocol 21 to the Lisbon treaty, Ireland can choose whether to opt in to the relocation measure. At the European Council, I indicated that we are prepared to give the issue careful consideration as an emergency and one-off measure. We need to see how the proposal evolves before making a decision. Of course, participating in such a measure would also require Oireachtas approval. Realistically, any proposal for Ireland to opt in could only be properly considered after the measure has been agreed and adopted at EU level.

Staying with migration, I want to mention briefly the launch of the EUNAVFOR Med mission, which was raised in this House during our pre-European Council debate. The decision to launch this mission was taken by the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 June and subsequently noted by the European Council. The mission is one element of the comprehensive approach to addressing the migration crisis. It is important to be aware that the mission will be implemented in sequential phases, with the first phase focused on supporting the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling in accordance with international law. This phase will commence shortly. To move beyond this first phase and into a phase which might involve the targeting, seizure and destruction of the smugglers' vessels and assets, the Council will assess whether the conditions for transition have been met. This will require taking into account any applicable UN Security Council Resolution and the consent of the coastal states concerned. I would underline that consideration of participation by the Irish Defence Forces in the EUNAVFOR Med mission will only occur if there is a UN Security Council resolution and the applicable national statutory requirements are met.

The EU-UK relationship was considered briefly by the European Council. Prime Minister Cameron provided a short outline of his proposals for possible changes to EU policy and legislation. As expected, there was no substantive debate. Given Prime Minister Cameron's prior series of bilateral engagements with EU leaders, including our own meeting in Downing Street on 18 June, little of what he said in Brussels was unexpected. He has already outlined the areas in which he would like to see change. They include improving competitiveness, enhancing the role of national parliaments, making clear that the UK is not bound by the concept of "ever closer union", managing the relationship between member states within and outside the euro area and addressing the possible interplay between migratory flows and welfare entitlements. It was useful however for the European Council to hear collectively about Prime Minister Cameron's commitment to a successful outcome and about the priority areas for the British Government and to mark the beginning of a fully inclusive process aimed at resolving the question of the UK's membership of the EU. It was agreed that the matter will return for consideration by the European Council in December. In the interim, it is expected that there will be a technical process of scoping out and clarifying possible measures and their implications before a move to negotiation as such begins later in the autumn.

The challenge is to find a consensual basis that will ensure the UK's continuing presence within the Union. That is the real challenge. As I have said previously, this process may not be easy and there are likely to be hurdles to overcome along the way. However, I am confident, especially following the positive start last week, that an acceptable solution for all parties can be reached. I repeat that given Ireland's very clear national interest in the UK's continued place in the Union, this will continue to be a very high priority for the Government. We will continue to adopt a positive and constructive approach while assessing specific issues on their merits.

On Friday morning, the European Council discussed security and defence issues. We initially had an exchange with the NATO Secretary General, which was useful in understanding the strategic challenges facing both organisations and where they might usefully co-operate. The conclusions underlined the importance of intensifying partnerships, namely, with the UN, NATO, the OSCE and the African Union. The European Council renewed our commitment to developing a more effective, visible and results-orientated common security and defence policy, CSDP, which involves the further development of both military and civilian capabilities, and strengthening the ability of EU industry, including SMEs, to deliver those capabilities. The CSDP has made an essential contribution to crisis management and conflict resolution globally, including with participation from the Irish Defence Forces, gardaí and civilian personnel. However, the EU must continue to work to ensure missions can be deployed as effectively and efficiently as possible. The European Council also recalled the need for member states to allocate a sufficient level of expenditure for defence and for the EU budget to provide appropriate funding for CSDP related research.

The conclusions also flagged the need to mobilise EU instruments to counter hybrid threats, an increasingly common feature of our security environment. In light of the changing international security environment, the European Council mandated High Representative Mogherini to prepare a new EU global strategy on foreign and security policy in close co-operation with member states. This is to be finalised by June 2016. Ireland looks forward to contributing to the preparation of the strategy in the months ahead.

At the time the second session of the European Council on Friday morning was beginning, word was just beginning to filter through of the barbaric slaughter of an individual near Lyon in France. I conveyed my condolences to President Hollande and through him to the French people as he returned early to Paris. That afternoon, we witnessed the horrendous attack in the Tunisian resort city of Sousse during which 38 tourists, including three Irish citizens, lost their lives. We also heard of the deadly attack on a mosque in Kuwait. Over the weekend, I asked that my condolences be conveyed via our embassies to those EU partners whose nationals were murdered in Tunisia. Yesterday, I spoke personally to Prime Minister Cameron in light of the particularly appalling scale of British casualties, which numbered 30.

Recognising the security challenges within the EU's borders, the European Council agreed that work would be taken forward on the renewed EU internal security strategy, which identifies the tackling of terrorism, organised crime, cybercrime and online radicalisation as key issues. This builds on priorities identified at the European Council meeting in February, which called for increased information sharing between police and intelligence services; addressing online radicalisation and the removal of illegal content; engagement with third states exploited by foreign fighters, notably Turkey; and the enforcement of greater controls over and the tracking of illegal firearms.

One issue which, for once, did not feature on our agenda was the situation in Ukraine and EU relations with Russia. This was because clear orientations had already been provided by the March European Council. The June meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council took the necessary formal decision to extend EU sanctions until 31 January 2016 due to Russia's role in destabilising eastern Ukraine. I expect the issue to feature prominently on the European Council agenda again before the end of the year.

Although much attention was understandably focused on the situation in Greece, the European Council also provided important orientations on broader economic issues. Economic prospects across Europe have clearly improved over recent months. However, we must continue to press ahead on the key initiatives that will reinforce this momentum and further strengthen the outlook for jobs, growth and competitiveness. In my intervention, I took the opportunity to highlight the crucial role of a fully functioning digital single market that is both open and competitive. The reality is that barriers to doing business digitally and across borders are barriers to growth and jobs. The House will recall that I wrote in these terms to President Tusk in advance of last week's meeting. The letter was co-signed by my counterparts in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, the UK, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic and many of the sentiments were shared by other member states. I am pleased that strong political endorsement for the new digital single market strategy is reflected in the conclusions of the European Council and I expect to see regular reporting on implementation progress. Given the transformative potential of digital technologies, there is no greater opportunity at our disposal to make a real difference for investment, growth and jobs in Europe.

The European Council also adopted conclusions generally endorsing the country-specific recommendations to member states, including Ireland, under the European Semester and noted the publication of a report by President Juncker and the heads of other institutions on completing the economic and monetary union. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, to address these issues in his closing statement.

Adversity is not new to the EU. Indeed, it is an organisation born in response to challenges that are unimaginable today.

In more recent years, we have come through an economic crisis that shook the Union to its core. At times there will be differences of perspective as this is inevitable in a Union of 28 member states. However, solidarity and responsibility must continue to guide our approach as we work together for a stable, prosperous and compassionate Union.

The succession of summit and Council meetings over the past few weeks has, unfortunately, produced nothing positive. Instead they have exposed yet again the failure of leaders to work together in a positive and ambitious way to tackle the enormous crisis engulfing the European Union. It is the inflexible extremes which have been allowed to dominate and have escalated problems to a stage where profound damage may be done to both the economy and the politics of Europe. Citizens are looking on in despair and frustration. In all of the back and forth, the emergency meetings, the name-calling, the posturing and the ultimatums, the one thing which has not been tried thus far is compromise. The people of Greece and Europe have been caught in the middle of a fight between a failed orthodoxy and a cynical radicalism. In all of this, our Government has chosen the role of vacuous cheerleader for an unsustainable and damaging policy. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, have publicly tried to backtrack from their support for an inflexible approach but the record stands. It should be Ireland’s policy to seek a true reform of the eurozone and a sustainable path to growth for member states, but nothing of the sort has happened.

Equally, others in this House have offered the empty posturing of demanding that the Greek Government be given whatever it wants without any requirements. In their view, money is no problem and there is no such thing as a tough and responsible choice. Whatever happens in Sunday’s referendum, the only thing which is not in doubt is that the crisis will continue. The Greek Government has decided to hold a vote but it has not offered its people any clarity in what they are actually voting on. The Syriza Government bears a large amount of the blame for what is unfolding. It has failed consistently to enter negotiations in good faith. It has regularly abused and insulted people and countries at the same time as seeking their money. It has undertaken high-profile trips to different capital cities but never once published a credible plan for controlling the long-term deficits or tackling the tax administration failures which are at the root of Greece’s problems. Every time it has produced a proposal this has fallen apart within hours. Gimmicks and made-up figures have defined a lot of the measures. As of yesterday there is no bailout programme to be continued and there is no deal to be voted on. Prime Minister Tsipras's letter of yesterday seeking €29 billion over the next two years was more about giving the impression he was doing something than actually trying to get a deal. There is no specific proposal on relief on old debt and no commitment to taking actions which would allow new debt to be repaid.

What is quite cynical about the letter is that it cites treaty articles as a basis for demanding solidarity without mentioning that the very same provisions require that support can only be given following the agreement of a memorandum of understanding setting out what the recipient government is going to do in return for it. This letter has allowed Syriza to claim to have a plan for what to do next while actually only having another demand rather than a plan.

Fundamentally, Syriza has refused to accept the basic idea that if one wants other people’s money one does not get to act unilaterally. It has also refused to acknowledge that other governments have their own democratic mandates which are often far in excess of the 36% which Syriza won. The Greek Government was indeed elected on a platform of ending austerity and it is entitled to pursue this aim. However, it was also elected on a platform of promising to stay in the euro and to accept the responsibilities which come with that. What it offered the Greek people was a campaign of slogans and easy answers. It never set out exactly how it intended to achieve entirely contradictory objectives and in government it has regularly fallen back on election slogans when faced with the hard reality of delivering.

There are many parallels with what we have heard here in the last five years. During our referendum on the fiscal treaty it was the position of Sinn Féin and others that Europe should be told to get lost. When challenged in debates to say where they proposed getting the billions needed to fund public services if the bailout terms were ripped up as they demanded, all we heard was stuttering emptiness. In debates, both Deputies Pearse Doherty and McDonald insisted that there would be no problem raising the billions of euro and that there was no need to cut anything that mattered. This is cynical politics of the worst kind and it is something which we are seeing worked out before our eyes in Greece.

It is very striking that a round-up by the international media of political parties which have come out in favour of Greece voting "No" listed Sinn Féin, along with France’s National Front. So far, the principal uniting feature between parties calling for a "No" vote is that they are stridently anti-Europe. In terms of the claim that Greece is somehow being punished for electing a radical left government, this is more empty rhetoric. Lenders want a credible route to getting their money back. There is nothing unreasonable about that, particularly as the bulk of the lending is being done by countries, including Ireland, which have to borrow in order to lend to Greece. Some 80% of the debt is public debt. This fact is very often lost in this current debate.

If the Syriza Government had entered negotiations in good faith five months ago; if it had put aside the angry speeches and the staged photo opportunities with enemies of the European Union, the crisis would not have reached this stage. It is being said that a "No" vote will lead to Greece exiting the euro. Legally, this is not clear-cut. No euro member may be forced to leave other than by being excluded from membership of the Union as a whole. The relevant treaty provisions provide little basis for expelling Greece from the Union. Some form of a deal will be required whatever the result of Sunday’s vote. Let no one forget the fact that Greece needs debt restructuring if it is to have any realistic chance to return to growth. The refusal to contemplate it so far may have been reinforced by the aggression shown by Syriza towards lenders but this does not change the fact that it is required.

Debt restructuring is going to happen one way or the other, either by a chaotic default or by a structured agreement. This is simple economic reality and no amount of political wishful thinking is going to alter this. Ireland’s opposition to debt restructuring appears to be based solely on our Government’s determination to deny Greece something which Fine Gael and Labour once claimed was vital but ultimately failed to even ask for. Four years ago, Fine Gael and Labour said that relief from debt incurred to recapitalise the banks was an urgent necessity. They said that the Irish people should not have to carry the full burden of these debts. Three years ago they went further and announced that they had all but secured relief from this debt, with the Minister, Deputy Noonan announcing that he would not say how many billions of euro we would get because he might be able to wrangle more than his bottom line. As a series of freedom of information requests submitted by Fianna Fáil revealed, not only have we received no debt relief but our Government did not even ask for any. It is over two years since the Taoiseach even mentioned debt in a communication with a European leader.

I have noted a clear habit of the Taoiseach when he is caught out on something. He either denies he ever said it or he tries to twist his owns words to mean something else entirely. Unfortunately, this has been on display again during the past week. When he claimed that Ireland had managed to get through the crisis without increasing taxes on income, VAT or other taxes, he was making a statement which was completely and undeniably false. Yesterday he could not even admit to that. The 45 tax increases imposed by his Government were not imagined by people; they happened and they have hurt. What is more cynical is that in his lecture about how Ireland got through the crisis he praised himself and his Government for taking decisive action which they had actually voted against. The majority of measures which consolidated our budget were in place before the Taoiseach came to office. The late Brian Lenihan introduced budgets which were fundamental in consolidating our fiscal position and the Taoiseach railed against them and voted against them at every opportunity. Those measures were fundamental to sorting out the fiscal issue and creating the foundations for the economic recovery.

All those measures had to be changed.

He does not even understand.

I know this hurts the Minister of State but I did not interrupt the Taoiseach when he spoke. I ask the Minister of State to allow me the opportunity to make my points no matter how much they hurt him.

He does not even understand it.

All Fianna Fáil's measures had to be changed and renegotiated.

Not only did the Taoiseach vote against those measures he campaigned actively against them. So to turn around now and demand credit for them takes a level of neck never seen before in Irish politics. While Syriza was irresponsible in the promises it made before the last Greek general election, let us not forget "Not a red cent" and "Frankfurt's way or Labour's way". They were also dishonest promises abandoned within days of the Fine Gael-Labour Government coming into power.

As was revealed last Sunday, Fine Gael is currently researching the idea of holding an early general election and offering different messages for that election. Given how debates in this House have developed, no doubt the core strategy will be to claim to be national saviours and to unleash a stream of negative attacks. What they continue to fail to understand is that the Irish people can see through this and remember exactly what was said and promised before the last general election.

The Government needs to join the middle ground of states who believe in finding a solution to the Greek debt crisis. The suggestion to increase the VAT rate on tourism would have been totally counterproductive as Greece is highly dependent on the tourism industry. The concession on this showed some common sense at least. We have to avoid a humanitarian crisis. It is not acceptable that pensioners were fainting in the queues at the ATMs. At least opening the banks to allow them to get their pension is a positive step. Youth unemployment is at 50% in Greece and this will lead to far more social problems that may last for years to come. If the ECB pulls support from the Greek financial system, worse will follow.

The EU Council of Finance Ministers is meeting today and I hope the Minister, Deputy Noonan, speaks up for a real reform of the eurozone instead of the flawed and timid proposals which were discussed last week. Such reforms are necessary and should be undertaken by the Government. The euro is the only currency union which has attempted to work in the long term without any serious form of fiscal union. If we want a eurozone which is secure and which can deliver rather than just talk about growth, then there must be a move towards increased transfers to regions in trouble.

The position of the Taoiseach has been to support the idea that all we need for growth is budget control and structural reform. There is no credible economic basis for this. It is the very approach that was at the heart of the failure of the period from 2008 to 2012 which did so much damage to Ireland and other countries. Over the past four years Ireland has received nothing from the European Union and IMF which was not negotiated by others and extended automatically. The Government has delivered nothing from its approach of simply parroting whatever the hard-line position from the CDU is.

In this, it has contributed to a situation which has caused large and growing damage the European Union and the ideals upon which it was founded.

The summit heard a presentation from the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, about Britain's demand for the renegotiation of various terms of its membership of the Union. Although this demand was announced four years ago, the public is still in the dark about what is being sought. From reports it would appear that something short of an amending treaty is being discussed and that officials will hold negotiations which will culminate in a decision at December's Council. The position of the Government is completely unknown other than that it, rightly, wants Britain to stay in the Union. The debate has been allowed to proceed without Ireland making any statement about where it sees the future of Europe or proposing any reforms which might be discussed. Given the timetable for decisions this needs to end now and we need a credible discussion about what is our position for these negotiations. It is highly likely that we will have our general election during the process of proceeding from a political agreement on principles towards a final text for ratification.

If the Government refuses even to outline a position on the main issues then it is inviting trouble. Without seeking any consensus among parties which are constructive on Europe it is increasing the possibility that it will agree to measures which are unacceptable to others. As I have said before, Fianna Fáil's core position is that we will not support any attempt to roll back the core social functions of the Union. It is not simply a trading block and we must reject any attempt to reduce it to one. Equally, we will not support measures which reduce the ability of the eurozone to reform and develop.

We have a right to know what the implications are for Ireland of the proposals that are on the table. For example, if the proposal on claiming social security benefits were implemented, what would the implications be for Irish citizens in Britain? The Government should publish a discussion paper on the British proposals and adequate time should then be provided to debate the issues before December's summit. The Oireachtas committee has already finalised and published its paper.

The June summit did not mark a major improvement in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. The work being done by the LE Eithne together with the navies of others countries is essential and we should be very proud of it. It is, however, not an answer. Ultimately, we need an ambitious and generous approach to supporting countries from which these refugees are fleeing. It is obviously welcome that lives are being saved, but we cannot support a system that is failing these refugees who are fleeing, one third of whom are from Syria with others from North Africa, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

In the past six months 137,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. They are fleeing from war persecution and areas with severe conflict. Data from Greece given to the UN recently stated that there has been an 83% increase in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. This will increase further over the summer months. Since the lives were lost two months ago an operational policy has been in place but more needs to be done to facilitate the refugees who are fleeing war-torn areas. The whole of Europe should share that burden. It is upon this humanitarian approach that Europe is built.

I call Deputy Adams, who is sharing time with Deputy Colreavy.

I again express my sincere condolences, and those of Sinn Féin, to the families of Larry and Martina Hayes, and of Lorna Carty, the three Irish citizens brutally killed in an indiscriminate attack on tourists in Tunisia, which I utterly condemn. I extend condolences to all those, from whatever part of the world they come, who were killed in these attacks, as well as the victims of the attacks in France and Kuwait.

During pre-European Council statements last week, I said that Greece and other highly indebted eurozone countries needed more reforms not more cutbacks. I also called on the Taoiseach to support Greek calls for a reduction in its unsustainable and unfair debt burden, and to support a debt conference. The Taoiseach concluded his remarks by saying that "solidarity and responsibility must continue to guide our approach as we work together for a stable, prosperous and compassionate Union". I pick out of that "solidarity", "responsibility", "prosperous" and "compassionate".

However, last week the Taoiseach stated the Government would not support any debt relief for Greece. He put party political interests ahead of the interests of the people of Greece, of this State and of Europe. It is completely illogical that the Government of a small, highly indebted State, such as this, with an unfair debt burden of its own would not support debt relief for another highly indebted European state with unfair and unsustainable debt. This is an EU crisis, not a Greek crisis. Debt relief benefits the people of Ireland as well as Greece. Economists from the left, right and everywhere in between all agree that Greece needs debt relief.

Last week the Taoiseach claimed that in tackling the economic crisis here the Government did not increase income tax, VAT or PRSI. That is untrue. It raised income and consumption taxes. It also introduced water charges and a property tax. It opted for forced emigration and now, 500,000 of our citizens are scattered across the globe. I do not think the Taoiseach understands the consequences and social difficulties for families and communities for a population of almost 5 million when 500,000 have left in eight years, mostly our young people. One third of our children are living in consistent poverty. The sick and the elderly end up on trolleys instead of hospital beds. These are the people who are paying the price for the Government's austerity policies.

The Government's stance on the Greek debt crisis is destructive of any concept of solidarity, prosperity, community or democracy or of the original ideals which are supposed to underpin the EU project. It is also a matter of deep shame that the Labour Party has descended to the point where its leader spends her time attacking a democratically mandated Government for refusing to accept brutal austerity measures after successive social democratic and right-wing governments in Greece crashed that country's economy by accepting such measures.

While the Tánaiste cuts lone parent's benefit, she wishes to prevent any alternatives to relentless austerity being heard. She also claims that Greece needs to stop lecturing Europe. She has told the Greek Government to shut up and accept austerity and its devastating effects. Not to be outdone, the Fianna Fáil leader's remarks today surpass his usual hyperbole as he attempts to make himself and his party relevant in this debate. Given how his party leaders bankrupted this State after decades of corrupt behaviour and then capitulated to the troika, it is little wonder he engages in abstractions and falsehoods.

The Greek economy has not been crippled by the citizens any more than the citizens in this country were responsible but by a regime of austerity which followed decades of corruption and a lack of regulation. Greece is stuck in a downward spiral of cutting growth and raising debt. The EU institutions are not interested in the slightest about the severe humanitarian crisis in that country. The Government of Greece has argued for growth-led measures that would support the rebuilding of the Greek economy and allow it to meet its credit obligations. However, the significant fiscal adjustments put forward by Greece were rejected by the EU institutions, including our Government. I welcome the decision of the Greek Government to put these issues to its people in a referendum.

I commend the actions of Greece in upholding the principles of democracy in the face of increasing pressure from EU institutions which are holding the citizens of that country to ransom. Neither this Fine Gael-led Government nor the previous Fianna Fáil-led Administration had a mandate to impose vicious cuts to social supports or unfair taxes on low and middle-income families but they did so, contrary to the mandate it received.

How would Deputy Adams have fixed it?

By refusing to extend Greece’s bailout, the EU is attempting to do the same thing to Greek citizens and to undermine a free and democratic decision of a proud people. The crisis in Greece is about power and democracy underpinned by the question of democratic values, of whether the values of solidarity and co-operation, claimed by the founders of the European movement actually underpin this modern European Union.

This Government has contributed to the current crisis. Last Monday, according to the Financial Times, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, along with the German Finance Minister, pressed for emergency financial support for Greek banks to be stopped unless capital controls were imposed. On Sunday they got their way when the ECB froze its funding line to Greek banks. Last week, the Taoiseach railed against the idea of debt write-down or debt relief for the Greek people. That is not a surprise because he never asked for a debt write-down for the Irish people.

We wish the people of Greece well. It is my strong view that the Taoiseach does not represent on this issue the popular will of the people of this State or island. Fine Gael and the Labour Party opposed debt relief for Greece because it would expose the failure of this Government to demand the same.

I again commend the crew of the LE Eithne which has rescued 3,000 people in the five weeks or so it has been in the Mediterranean. I am disappointed, though hardly surprised, that the EU summit did not deal with the humanitarian crisis of which this is a symptom.

I am speaking on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Seán Crowe, who cannot be with us here today.

In stark contrast to the statements of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the leader of Fianna Fáil, I echo the words of my colleague, an Teachta Adams, commending the actions of Syriza in upholding the principles of democracy by holding a referendum on the so-called offer of the EU institutions. It is appropriate in the cradle of democracy that Syriza is standing up for democracy in the face of increasing pressure from EU institutions which are holding Greece and the people of Greece to ransom. Shamefully, the Irish Government, aided and abetted by Fianna Fáil, is supporting the twisted ideological position of the institutions which are working against the interests of the people of Greece, Ireland and Europe. We are witnessing the EU power brokers, money men and compliant or complicit political leaders beginning the process of shaping political representation to their preferred vision or form of democracy by diktat. While this European Council meeting was largely overshadowed by economic issues, it also focused on issues concerning migration and the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean.

I also pay tribute to crew of the LE Eithne who continue to save lives and rescue migrants in serious trouble in the Mediterranean. Last weekend the LE Eithne and her crew rescued 593 migrants from six separate inflatable vessels off the coast of Libya, bringing the total number of people rescued by the crew of the LE Eithne to almost 3,000. The crew of the LE Eithne are a credit to their country and I state my, and Sinn Féin's, appreciation of their outstanding work. The number of migrants they have rescued puts into stark contrast the huge need for search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

The EU, however, refuses to tackle the issue with the solidarity and humanity it deserves. According to reports, the debate on creating a compulsory quota system to resettle migrants landing in Greece and Italy around the EU was incredibly fractious. Last Monday the EUNAVFOR Med military mission to crack down on migrants was launched to great fanfare and eloquent speeches from EU officials, yet by Thursday member states were fighting a bitter battle over a relatively modest scheme to share the intake of 60,000 migrants between them over two years. That tells us all we need to know about the current state of the European Union. Why is the EU so happy to treat a humanitarian crisis as a security issue? Why can it easily unite on military action but not respond when humanitarian assistance is so badly needed? It is galling that a humanitarian emergency involving the resettlement of a limited number of human beings fleeing war, poverty, oppression, and hunger has brought the whole Schengen Agreement into question.

When countries lined up to tell Italy they would take no part in a compulsory resettlement programme and that they would ignore the issue as their geographic locations allowed them to do so, the Italian Prime Minister reportedly stated: "If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it." I hope the Taoiseach ensured Ireland fully supported the humanitarian option and argued in favour of fair resettlement. Did he do so?

While the programme is not compulsory, we should not be waiting for a compulsory programme to increase the number of refugees Ireland is accepting. We are in the midst of a huge variety of simultaneous humanitarian crises that have ensured 80 million people are currently displaced and hundreds of thousands are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.

It is the current so-called fortress Europe mentality that has made it virtually impossible for refugees to enter the EU by any other way than by paying their life savings to human traffickers and risking their lives on flimsy boats in the Mediterranean.

I note the Council meeting concluded that development aid will be used to stop migrants. Big walls and inflated military budgets is what we are talking about when what we really need is for European countries to improve their aid and trade policies. As Dóchas said: "The EU should increase investment in inclusive development, decent work and social protection in countries of origin so that migration becomes an option - not a necessity." The Council meeting even finished with a discussion on defence. While EU leaders were uniting to kick the Greek Government and people for opposing austerity, and while the EU is raising inequality and deprivation due to austerity, it was agreed to develop the EU's military capabilities further and strengthen Europe's defence industry.

I find it surprising that no one pointed out the link between the EU's foreign affairs and defence policies and the conflicts and poverty forcing migrants to flee to Europe, or between NATO's role in Libya and the current migrant crisis, or between calling for cuts in social spending in Europe and increased military spending. Is it any wonder the EU is facing multiple crises? Equally, is it any wonder the people in Ireland, Greece and other EU states are asking if this is an EU where the bankers, the money men and the military and political elites are too big to fail and the people are too small to matter? In stark contrast to the humanity of those on the LE Eithne, clearly, concepts such as humanity and democracy are alien in today's EU institutions.

Deputies Stephen Donnelly, Ruth Coppinger, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly are sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I would like to focus my comments on Greece. It is clear failures on both sides in this negotiation have led to the current situation where negotiations have been suspended. The Greek people are being faced with an impossible "take it or leave it" option on Sunday. Several years ago, in previous negotiations, one Greek MP reflected that the Greek people were given a choice between being killed and dying. It feels that, several years on, that is the choice they are faced with again.

The Greeks have not acted necessarily as well as they could in these negotiations but it is difficult to see what choice they have. The conditions that are being demanded of Greece are so detailed that, were they to start accepting them, in no meaningful way would they be running their own country. If one looks at the conditions, they stink of special interests. Why is the eurozone demanding that Greek restaurants change the rate of VAT they charge on their food or that Greek hotels change the rate of VAT charged on their rooms? That is no one's business but the Greek Government's.

We had to suffer a troika programme here and targets had to be met, but it was up to the Irish Government and the Irish Parliament to meet those targets. While it was humiliating enough to be in a troika programme, at least the troika emphasised repeatedly that it was up to us to decide how we met the various targets. The level of control being demanded by the eurozone of Greece is completely unacceptable. We would never have accepted it. For the Greeks, it is utterly humiliating, so what has happened? They have been backed, step by step, into a corner, and they are now doing the only thing that people backed into a corner can do - they are coming out fighting. They have been given no choice. They have been humiliated, they have been beaten down and now they are being accused of all sorts of things.

Ireland, as a troika programme country, could take a leading role in helping to resolve this crisis. The loans can and should be extended, not with microeconomic conditionality and the sort of nonsense that is being demanded but with institution building conditionality. For example, it seems to be the case that the Greek state has a problem collecting all the revenues due to the state. The Irish Revenue Commissioners is recognised as one of the most sophisticated revenue bodies on Earth so, rather than our Minister for Finance demanding capital controls on Greek banks, why do we not talk to the Greek Government about sending out 100 Revenue officials to undertake institution building? This capacity-building approach is what has been used with highly indebted countries all over the world over recent years. It is a different approach that works and that should be explored. It is an approach the Irish Government could bring to the table as a different way forward.

I want to correct a lot of misinformation and propaganda that is being perpetuated by the Government. There are no queues at ATMs in Greece - absolutely none. What is clear is that there is a concerted propaganda campaign by television, by media and by governments abroad to present a picture of chaos in Greece. I have spoken to people in Greece about the situation and there are no queues, no panic and no chaos.

There is, however, an understandable fear as to what is going to happen because funds have been withdrawn to manipulate a "Yes" vote in the referendum on Sunday and, ultimately, to try to bring about the fall of Syriza and bring in a right-wing government in Greece. That has been colluded in by our Government, more than any other government in Europe, in fact, through the statements it has been making. Last week, we had the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, calling for funding to be withdrawn from Greece to bring it to heel. This morning, on radio, the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, conjured up pictures from Africa of defaults and terrible chaos, and lectured the Greek Government and Greek people. This is a woman who is attacking the most vulnerable in our society with her social welfare cuts. This morning, the Taoiseach said that in the referendum, a question should be put that, if they do not accept this, they leave Europe. That is an absolutely outrageous intervention from the Taoiseach. Where is the solidarity we were told was part and parcel of this EU project? Instead, there is an ultimatum: it is the troika's way, it is troika tyranny, or leave.

I do not accept that it is a case of walk away or bend to the will of the troika. What we are seeing laid bare is the real nature of the EU now, with no solidarity whatsoever. We are seeing shocking treatment of workers and unemployed people in Greece who have dared to elect a government on a platform of ending austerity and who have dared to challenge the austerity juggernaut they have endured. Let us be clear. The governments that got into this mess were not Syriza. They were parties, New Democracy and PASOK, which are similar to those in our Government, which ruled Greece in recent decades. They were the people who brought about the financial crisis in Greece, not Syriza. It was banks throughout Europe which lent that money to Greece.

The second point that needs to be made is that the Greek people have already undertaken every austerity programme they have been asked to undertake and it has not worked. It has brought about the highest suicide rate they have ever had, as well as homelessness and record levels of prostitution. That is the situation upon which the Irish Government wants to heap more structural reforms, as it calls them. Those are the parties which were in power and which toed the line to the EU, and the European Central Bank knew exactly what was going on.

With regard to the current situation, I do not know if there is going to be some kind of deal. I hope the referendum that is due to be held on Sunday goes ahead and I hope it is a "No" vote. I hope the bullying and the blackmail that is being heaped on the people of Greece does not work. Employers in Greece, I have been informed from Greek socialists, are pressuring their workers to vote "Yes", making the same threats that were made to us on Lisbon and Nice, namely, that foreign direct investment would pull out. They are pressuring their workers to go on "Yes" demonstrations and making all sorts of apocalyptic threats about the situation if the "Yes" vote does not win. Obviously, the withdrawal of funds two days before the payment was due was designed to bring about fear of the abyss and fear of the unknown to persuade people to vote "Yes".

I hope the left, the workers' movement and the people of Greece reject this blackmail, that they vote "No" and that Syriza uses that mandate to say they will not pay any more of this odious debt. They need to nationalise the banks and run them in the people's interests, not in the interests of the ECB. They need to implement credit controls to stop the attack from the markets and they need to redevelop their economy.

Most importantly, they need to appeal for support from around Europe. Clearly, they have support in Ireland and there will be a demonstration at 6 p.m. today and another on Saturday at noon with the Greek solidarity committee. That is the kind of support that will force the ECB to lift the shackles from the Greek people.

When the euro project was being formed, the German Minister for Finance at the time, Oskar Lafontaine, spoke of the "vision of a united Europe, to be reached through the gradual convergence of living standards, [and] a deepening of democracy..." In The Guardian last week Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in the same context: "Instead of raising living standards across Europe, monetary union is pushing them downwards. Rather than deepening democracy, it is undermining it". The Europe we were promised seems to have disappeared. Aside from the Greek episode, another example is the amount of squabbling in which members engaged about what they were going to do with the 40,000 migrants that nobody wanted. These migrants are in Italy and Greece. Members were, however, able to show more unity on how they were going to shaft Greece.

Earlier today the Taoiseach said the European Union was not trying to push Greece out of the European Union. I agree and do not believe it is. However, it does not want Greece to behave in a certain way. What it really wants is regime change in Greece and its movements in the past while have been seriously geared in that direction. Shortly after Syriza was elected on 22 January, the ECB introduced a ruling that curtailed the amount of money the Greek banks could give to local authorities. The previous government was not subject to that curtailment and I wonder why. Why did the ECB force the closure of the Greek banks last weekend? Would it have had anything to do with the fact that it was trying to influence the referendum result next Sunday? It is blatantly obvious that the manner in which Syriza is trying to govern Greece, the manner in which it has tried to put an end to austerity and the manner in which it has stood up to the neoliberal agenda of the European Union do not suit the European Union and that it would like somebody else to rule Greece. That is what it would really like to see.

When one mentions the word "neoliberalism" here, there is almost a feeling of "don't say that word again." People do not like to talk about neoliberalism and there is a good reason for it. Perhaps we might simplify the word more often because it is a simple philosophy which was brought forward by Milton Friedman and enshrined by Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan initially and many more since. It was about deregulating financial institutions, cutting the size of the state, cutting public services and privatising as much of the public service as was possible. It was about looking after the interests of big business first and whatever was left taking care of the people. This is a philosophy that is causing untold damage and which at this stage is creating a humanitarian crisis for many who are on the wrong side of the line. That is the sad truth of the matter.

Every person standing for election in the next general election should be made to commit one way or the other on whether he or she will be part of a neoliberal grouping after the election. Neoliberalism is hugely damaging and causes untold trouble for too many.

It is important for us to indicate in our Parliament, in a way the people outside the gates are trying to do on the streets of the capital, that we stand in solidarity with the people of Greece, but what does this mean? For me, it simply refers to the right of the Greek people to elect a government of its choice and the right of that government to implement the policies it sees fit and on which it was elected. This may seem a textbook primary school answer to what democracy is - a free vote to choose one's leaders. What we have seen in the European Union in the past while is a confirmation of the warnings issued previously that this was not to be a union to benefit the peoples of Europe, to deliver equality and better living standards for all, but, in fact, one for the elites.

The carry-on of the Irish political establishment and most sections of the media in regard to the crisis in Greece is nothing short of scandalous. It represents a new low. The Taoiseach has basically said: "Take your medicine and you will get better," as if things are better for all people in this country. A hell of a lot of people would strongly disagree with this. The stance of the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, was probably worse, seeing in the Greek problems almost a political opportunity to say to the people here, "It could be worse if you start. We know that you are not going to vote for the Labour Party, but if you start to vote for these lefties, you could be worse off." Is this what the Labour Party has come to, that the only thing for which it now stands is the defence of the status quo and that it cannot challenge austerity? That is a pitiful journey.

The programme that was foisted on the people of Greece as a result of the troika's so-called remedy has already resulted in and is the official cause of the disaster there. There is an unemployment rate of 60% in Greece; its GDP has dropped by 25%; some families are living off the pension of a grandparent and its suicide rate has increased by 35%. Then Mr. John Bruton says to Syriza that it must accept its responsibility to provide for more austerity. It would be the height of irresponsibility - socially, economically and morally - if Greece was to travel further down this road. What it needs is a debt write-down and economic growth, but neither of these propositions were being delivered on the deal put before the Greek people.

It is important that we record that almost none of the enormous sums of money loaned to Greece has benefited the Greek people. The former chairman of the Bundesbank was honest about this in saying the Greek bailout was about protecting German and French banks in particular from debt write-downs. That is the name of the game.

Over the weekend, the waterboarding of Greece by the European Union and the troika that has been ongoing was stepped up a notch, as the eurogroup and the ECB reacted with horror to the idea that the Greek people might be given a choice and punished this so-called dangerous outbreak of democracy across European borders with a capping on Sunday night of the emergency liquidity assistance for Greece, helping to trigger the run on the banks for which they had obviously hoped. We do not have time to make the points we want to make. The real problem for the European Union is the fact that an alternative government might be bold enough to put forward an alternative in the interest of the people of Europe, rather than the elites, which might be a beacon for people in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. I salute the Greeks in their stance and wish them every success in the battle. What our political establishment has done has been disgusting beyond belief.

We now have time for questions.

Is the Minister of State happy, notwithstanding the sham debate that sometimes takes place between the Government and Fianna Fáil, that Fianna Fáil in its comments today has joined the Government side in the vilification, bullying and misrepresentation of the position of the Greek Government as it resists the outrageous political bullying of and economic terrorism being inflicted on the Greek people? The comments have been made on the basis of a very curious notion of what is democracy.

In criticising Alexis Tsipras of Syriza, Deputy Martin said words to the effect that the problem with him is that he kept falling back on election slogans. That is interesting. It is now considered irresponsible and a political crime to hold to one's election principles. Is that not what is at stake? Fianna Fáil does not believe in keeping political promises. The Government does not believe in keeping political promises. The troika is determined-----

Could Deputy Boyd Barrett just ask a question?

Yes, I will ask a question. The troika is determined to punish the Greek Government because it wants to keep its political promises. Does the Minister of State not think that is a shameful attack on the basic principles of democracy, that he, Fianna Fáil and the troika are supporting? They are affronted by the idea that a government might keep its election promises and they are equally affronted by the prospect that if there is a possibility the Greek Government might have to make concessions on those election promises they would put them to a referendum. That is something the Government was unwilling to do when it rolled over on its election promises. Does the Minister of State not think he should stand in solidarity with a government that wants to keep its election promises, and if it is going to break them, that it would put that to the people?

I must allow the Minister of State time to respond to the Deputy’s question.

There were several questions and they were very clearly articulated.

Deputy Boyd Barrett started off by asking me to comment on the Fianna Fáil Party. I am sure Deputy Dooley is more than capable of putting the Fianna Fáil position.

There is common ground between Fianna Fáil and the Government.

With respect to the comments of Deputy Martin about the political reality of the negotiation process that is now ongoing, it is true to say that commentary we heard during the time of our fiscal stability referendum from many Independents and the Sinn Féin Party was along similar lines to the populist narrative we now hear from Syriza. The reality is that the previous government in Greece had managed to achieve some growth in the economy after some very difficult years. The future was improving for Greece. There is a responsibility-----

The rates of suicide and infant mortality have increased.

Could I answer the question please? The point that was being made is a correct one. There is an obligation on politicians in this House who did form part of the debate during the fiscal stability referendum and who made claims and promises that there was an alternative route to the one we took as a people three or four years ago to recover our economy. The reality is that the position taken by the Syriza-like Sinn Féin Party and many Independents, including our own grouping, would have caused enormous difficulty and suffering for the Irish people if we had gone down that route. Having been in Brussels for most of last week, there is a very strong solidarity and compassion from all governments in Europe for the Greek people and the difficulties they are suffering but there must also be a political reality. That must be borne by the Greek Government, which must do what we did in this country, namely, to engage with the citizens of the European Union who are lending money from their own exchequers and resources in solidarity and support, in order that where necessary the reprofiling measures would be put in place and would deliver on returning the Greek economy to growth.

That is what we did in this country and that is the fundamental difference from the point made by Deputy Donnelly, who was largely correct in his analysis that what Ireland did should be what Greece should seek to achieve. The difference is that the changes we made to our programme were done through negotiation. However, we also made the case to the institutions that the changes would be to the benefit of the economy in terms of creating jobs and growth. That argument has not been made in respect of Greece, largely through lack of engagement, but it is the belief of the institutions and the other members of the Eurogroup that the measures currently proposed by the Greek Government will run contrary to the ambition of achieving growth. It is fair and reasonable that the countries, economies and governments that are lending money should at a minimum believe there is some hope that the measures will in fact be in the best interests of the Greek people, whereas in reality the belief is that they will run contrary to that ambition.

Does the Minister of State accept that the comments of Deputy Boyd Barrett fail to accept the reality that exists in Greece and fails to accept the approach Syriza took in campaigning to seek office? Does he also accept that Syriza's campaigning slogans were about ending austerity, while at the same time campaigning on a platform of remaining within the eurozone and accepting the responsibilities that flow from that? Does he further accept that in recent months, Greece has failed to bring forward any concrete proposals that would find favour with those countries who have lent their taxpayers’ money to support Greece in its efforts to rectify its situation?

In addition, does the Minister of State accept that the reason Greece finds itself in its current position is that during the course of the intervening period it continued to reflect on the campaign slogan, as my party leader indicated, of ending austerity while at the same time failing to live up to the responsibilities that are required to remain within the euro? When Deputy Martin said that the Greek Government continues to reflect on its campaign slogans, what he was saying is that it has not sought to put flesh on the bones of its requirement to remain within the euro and to live up to and accept the responsibilities to which it alluded in the course of its campaign. Far from suggesting that any political party should move away from its election commitments when it achieves office, but unfortunately------

What is the Deputy’s question?

The question is whether the Minister of State agrees with the points I made. I gave him an opportunity to address those points as he proceeds. Does the Minister of State accept that all member states must accept the agreements that have been entered into and the various treaties that are in place, and that it is not in the gift of any one group of countries to allow others to act unilaterally and outside the legal framework that underpins the Union?

Could the Minister of State manage to respond to those questions?

The reality is that every new government, when elected, must reflect on the mandate it has achieved but equally, Greece is not in a unilateral situation. The same was true of this country. That said, the reality is that the programme negotiated for us was particularly poorly negotiated by the previous Government. It required lengthening of the maturities of the European Financial Stability Facility, EFSF, debt and the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, EFSM, debt. We had to further negotiate and reduce interest rates. The promissory note deal had to be restructured and there was also the early repayment of the IMF debt, which was particularly expensive at the time.

The broad thrust of what Deputy Dooley and his leader said is correct. The Greek Government has an obligation while within the eurozone and the European Union to operate within the structures that are in place through the treaties that have been agreed through what always is, in European terms, a protracted process that requires negotiation.

The process also requires that Governments be willing to settle, where required, and give and take. This is the European way, and it has been very successful during the past 40 or 50 years in allowing the Continent to function in a peaceful manner. It is not without flaws, and there is an obligation on the Greek Government. At 4.30 p.m. there will be a Eurogroup conference call, and it is very much hoped that there is still an opportunity for new proposals to be found. At the beginning of last week, there was significant optimism that a deal would be concluded and there is still the potential for a deal.

We hear from the political classes here, particularly Sinn Féin, the populist line that promises can be made and economic realities do not exist. They frequently refer to "austerity". In reality, every economy must put in place a plan to fund its public services, such as health, education and social protection, over the longer term. This is what is being suggested, and there is strong solidarity and a desire to support Greece in returning to a point which it had reached last year. It is possible for the Greek people to turn the situation around, as we, Portugal and other EU countries have done, and they will have the support of the institutions and Governments throughout the EU. However, they must come with a set of believable and realistic proposals. They will see very strong goodwill, especially from countries such as Ireland which have been through the process. We can give added value and support to the Greek people and Government. The measures must be, as in Ireland's case, negotiated, defended and sustainable.

In the Minister of State's concluding remarks, could he take cognisance of the potential impact the Irish Government might have in assisting the Greek Government to conclude a deal, based on its experience? Is the Government not in a position to say it has been able to make minor changes to the memorandum of understanding on the basis of changed economic circumstances? Rather than trying to score political points at home by believing that while the initial deal was bad, it was the only one that could have been done at the time, could the Government say there is flexibility among the EU partners as economic circumstances change and as thinking evolves, as it did during the crisis, given that the EU had never experienced it before? Would the Government not feel it is in a position to be helpful to the Greek Government in suggesting that it is an evolving system that is subject to change, depending on circumstances?

How can the Minister of State say he or the EU are interested in negotiation or flexibility with the Greek Government when he supported the EU's stance of “take it or leave it”? The EU proposed a plan and told the Greek Government to accept it or else it would pull the plug. It is blackmail, not negotiation.

Both Deputies mentioned flexibility. Flexibility has always been shown. However, flexibility does not mean one set of proposals by Greece must be accepted. The Greek Government is not being flexible. I am very pleased, as always, with the debate, although it would be better if we had more time. I am pleased to be involved. Last week, I accompanied the Taoiseach to the meeting. I thank the Deputies for their contributions, much of which concerned Greece. The Taoiseach very clearly said the door remains open to dialogue, very much in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility. We want to reach a mutually acceptable agreement which will return Greece to growth, which is our objective, within the eurozone. We anxiously await the outcome of this evening's Eurogroup conference call and any proposals that come from it will require technical assessment by the institutions and governments.

I reject any assertion that our approach is not one of compassion and solidarity with the Greek people. We came through the challenge of a programme and understand better than most that sacrifices have real impacts on people's lives and livelihoods. The Greek people have already gone through significant sacrifice, which should not be in vain. In negotiations to date, there has been a real effort to find a way forward which takes account of the Greek situation. The priorities of the Greek Government must be to stimulate growth and there must be an understanding that certain existing parameters and commitments must be respected if a solution is to be found.

The European Council wrapped up this year's European Semester process, which is one of economic policy co-ordination and is being advanced on the basis of three main pillars, namely, boosting investment, implementing structural reform and pursuing fiscal responsibility. The European Council also generally endorsed the 2015 country-specific recommendations, CSRs. These CSRs were the product of the European Semester process and will be taken forward through the various national budgetary systems through the months ahead, culminating in our budget in October. The European Council also welcomed the agreement reached this month on the regulation underpinning the new European fund for strategic investments, EFSI, and called for its rapid implementation. We very much hope this fund, known more broadly as the Juncker investment package, achieves its objective of continuing to stimulate growth, which we are seeing across the EU.

Following a tasking by the October 2014 Euro summit, President Juncker, with the Presidents of the Euro summit, the ECB, Eurogroup and the European Parliament, presented an important report on completing economic and monetary union. The report was published last Monday, and given that a significant amount of time was allocated to discussing Greece, there was not a very detailed discussion of it. The conclusions note the report and ask for its rapid examination by the European Council. Ireland is analysing the implications of measures outlined in the report which proposes a range of actions over a two-year horizon followed by a phase of more far-reaching reforms. There is much we can support in it, including measures aimed at better addressing the overall fiscal and economic stance of the eurozone. We very much favour a pragmatic and gradual approach to EMU reform which focuses in the first instance on steps that can be taken more effectively to implement existing instruments. Ireland intends to participate fully in debate and reflection on the issue in relevant Council formations over the coming period and I hope there will be a good and broad debate in Ireland on the issue, which is important to our national interest and will present some challenging questions. I thank everyone for participating in the debate.

Sitting suspended at 2.40 p.m. and resumed at 3.40 p.m.