1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he received a call from Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the European transmissions directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33920/15]
Vol. 903 No. 1
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he received a call from Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the European transmissions directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33920/15]
I have not received any such call in recent times. However, during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013 I had an extensive range of contacts with and calls from Heads of State or Government or Presidents of EU Institutions regarding the business of the day. In that context, Chancellor Merkel contacted me directly to emphasise Germany's views on proposals on CO2 vehicle emissions standards which were under negotiation between the Council and the European Parliament at the time. The points she made to me were also being pursued by German representatives in Brussels. I ensured her views were passed on to those directly engaged in the negotiations on our side at the time.
This is a very serious issue. The Taoiseach has been reported as having been involved in lobbying with Chancellor Merkel in working to delay cuts to car carbon dioxide targets. This is happening in tandem with the Volkswagen scandal that emerged when vehicular emissions were deliberately misrepresented to the public and it turned out that there had been interference with and manipulation of vehicles to give false readings. We know that German Governments have had very close ties with Volkswagen. The last President of Germany, the previous Chancellor and the current Deputy Chancellor have all held seats on Volkswagen's board. The New York Times has reported that the Taoiseach actually lobbied on behalf of the Chancellor for Germany's car makers in order to have the directive watered down until, I believe, 2021. The Taoiseach worked with Chancellor Merkel in 2013 to press Brussels to overturn an agreement on cutting emissions and postponing some regulations until 2021. Why would he do this? Volkswagen is now recalling 80,000 cars sold in Ireland following revelations of emissions test cheating. I know that the German Government might have considerable influence over the Taoiseach and that the German Chancellor has considerable influence over him. However, it is going too far for her to lobby the head of the Irish Government with a view to diluting and delaying a very important directive that goes to the heart of public health and people's well-being in terms of air quality.
The Taoiseach used a strange phrase in his reply to me and I did not quite pick it up. He said he had ensured her views were passed on to those who were making the decision. Is that correct? That means that he actually spoke to those who were making decisions on behalf of Chancellor Merkel. It is very nice diplomatic parliamentary language. However, calling a spade a spade, it seems the Taoiseach reacted sympathetically to the Chancellor and lobbied on her behalf, which was the wrong thing to do. It is scandalous and he should be clear on what transpired. There is a huge scandal around Volkswagen and the manipulation of the emissions tests which undermines public health to a frightening degree. It was reported during the week that one of the top risks to public health was air quality, much of which is related to the automotive industry. There have been attempts duirng the years to improve the quality of emissions and reduce the harmful ingredients in car emissions and so on. For the life of me, I do not know why the Taoiseach would not have told Chancellor Merkel: "I am not passing this on to anybody. We actually think this is the right thing to do. The directive should be implemented. The industry is lobbying, but, Chancellor, the cutting of emissions through the agreement arrived at among the Heads of State in Europe is good for the public."
Am I correct in saying the Taoiseach worked with Chancellor Merkel to have the regulations and agreement on car carbon dioxide targets put back to 2021 and have them diluted? This has come about from the Volkswagen scandal. The Taoiseach's lobbying role has been reported in The New York Times. He needs to be far more clear than the language used in his reply suggests.
I am not sure what is happening to the Deputy, but he seems to be keen to move into overdrive. I am not sure on what he bases his belief in respect of The New York Times. I do not know why he wants to believe The New York Times in the reports being issued here. He has made the comment that the German Chancellor had influence over the Taoiseach. That is not so and it is beneath the Deputy. As a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, he will appreciate that one engages with one's counterparts within the European Union and beyond on issues of national, international and global importance, as he did and rightly so.
The main purpose of the proposed CO2 regulations on vehicle emissions standards was to confirm CO2 reduction targets for 2020 which had been provisionally agreed in 2008. During our Presidency of the Council in the first six months of 2013, a great deal of progress was made. The file in question was on the agenda for the last meeting of permanent representatives, COREPER, during Ireland's Presidency in June 2013 for the analysis of a provisional agreement which had been reached in the trialogue negotiations by the Irish Presidency with the Commission and the European Parliament. At that meeting some member states asked that a decision on the final negotiated compromise be postponed, as they needed more time to consider it.
Given that the objective of any EU Presidency is to achieve the maximum possible consensus, we agreed with this. The measure was subsequently adopted later in 2013 under the Lithuanian Presidency. While it would have been a welcome achievement to have finalised the negotiations during our Presidency, it is normal for member states to ask for and be granted the time required to consider the outcome of complex negotiations carefully before giving their agreement. The time extension was sought primarily by Germany. It was also sought by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The matter was dealt with at the last meeting of COREPER, without it being placed on the agenda of the European Council which I had the privilege to attend with the President of the Council. It was signed off on subsequently by the Lithuanians.
This is a complex issue. Deputy Micheál Martin seeks to tie it with the Volkswagen scandal in the United States and wants to lump Ireland in as a party to it. That is beneath him. The recent Volkswagen disclosure relates to falsifying pollution emission test results for some models of VW diesel cars with 1.2, 1.6 and 2 litre engines. These vehicles, as the Deputy knows well, were fitted with sensor or software-defeat devices which recognised when a vehicle was being tested and then reduced emissions accordingly. That is illegal under European law. The Deputy is now suggesting that, through a telephone call to me about normal business from the German Chancellor, we were subsequently involved in some illegal scam. That is also beneath him.
This issue relates solely to pollutants emitted from vehicles, primarily nitrogen oxide emissions. The relevant legislation covering diesel engines, the Euro 5/6 regulation of 2007, specifies emissions limits for all important toxic complete pollutants. The Volkswagen fraud concerns nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars and as such is not directly related to the emissions standards directive agreed to in 2013 which covers carbon dioxide emissions and different matters. Carbon dioxide emissions are directly relevant to climate change, which is why efforts were made to reduce emissions, including those from transport. Nitrogen oxide emissions, while also climate-related, are primarily of concern because of their impact on human health.
The manipulation by Volkswagen of data for the level of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions in diesel cars is estimated to affect over 100,000 vehicles in this country. Initial concerns about unexplained inconsistencies related to petrol engines which could have affected carbon dioxide emissions from approximately 9,000 cars have been found not to be valid. The falsifying of emissions data is an extremely serious matter and is being investigated and followed up at European level, with investigations led by the anti-fraud squad of the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Commission is also taking a co-ordinating role in investigations at national level by member states. In Ireland several Departments and Government agencies are actively involved, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Transport, Tourism and Sport; Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; the Road Safety Authority and the National Standards Association of Ireland.
In the case of cars affected by the manipulation of nitrogen oxide emissions data, Volkswagen is planning to commence a programme of remedial recalls in January. This may require hardware changes in up to half of the cases involved and may take more than one year to complete. Where the emissions scandal was initially confined to cars in the Volkswagen Group, the German regulator, KBA, Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, which has taken the lead on the issue at European level, has expanded its investigation into more than 50 models from other manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Volvo and Nissan. Recent reports indicate that Renault may also be affected.
Although details are still unclear in terms of the scale of the impact as to whether the carbon dioxide tax band ratings of petrol cars will be affected, it is possible that there may be implications for car owners in the context of motor taxation. Volkswagen has written to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and other relevant Ministers, undertaking that additional taxes arising from fuel consumption in terms of carbon dioxide discrepancies will be settled by the company. Once the impacts are clear following the ongoing investigations, consideration will be given to whether any further action should be taken.
I want to make it clear to Deputy Micheál Martin that when I had the opportunity and privilege to host the EU Presidency, it was my duty and responsibility to deal with other leaders who might make calls or comments or deal with information. For the Deputy to suggest that, because we held Presidency, we suddenly lobbied on an issue that had been discussed by countries at COREPER is certainly beneath him. I did not think he would go that far. If that is what he wants to do in his kind of politics, he can keep at it, but I will have no hand, act or part in that sort of stuff.
I ask the Deputy to be very quick. We are now on this question for 14 minutes.
That is not my fault. I was quite brief in asking my question. The Taoiseach, as usual, went down a cul-de-sac on a separate issue to deliberately waste time, as he always does.
The Deputy’s question was about if the Taoiseach had received a call from the German Chancellor, Ms Merkel.
I asked the Taoiseach a straight question. Did he lobby on behalf of the German Government on the carbon dioxide issue? I did not make up The New York Times report.
The New York Times report reads:
In the summer and fall of 2013, Ms Merkel pressed Brussels and succeeded in overturning an already concluded agreement on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, postponing some regulations until 2021.
Ms. Merkel was said at the time to have worked with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, on the lobbying effort.
The Taoiseach is missing the point I am making about Volkswagen. I am not accusing him of having anything to do with Volkswagen. It is known, however, that German Governments have worked with industry. The Taoiseach knows damn well that industry lobbies hard and it was lobbying here. I am a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I was also a Minister in other Departments. The German Government came to us to dilute nicotine levels in cigarettes and we refused.
Will the Deputy, please, put his supplementary question, as there are other Deputies who wish to ask questions?
Other countries also told them where to go. Sometimes principles have to be asserted in discussions such as this. The bottom line is that, even from the Taoiseach's replies, notwithstanding the long, convoluted cul-de-sac he went down, Germany essentially got its way in cutting carbon dioxide emissions and having the directive delayed.
That was not the Deputy's question. The question was if the Taoiseach had received a call from the German Chancellor, Ms Merkel.
Yes and if he would make a statement on the matter.
Will the Deputy, please, move on? Fifteen minutes have elapsed.
It would have been better if the Taoiseach had been far more forthcoming when he was asked in public about this issue because his Department had no comment to make on it. A more comprehensive response earlier would have been far more advisable. The critical point is that there is no question but that the German Chancellor was lobbying on behalf of the industry, an industry which had serious questions to answer in terms of its interest in ensuring public health. I will take no lectures from the Taoiseach on my right to put these questions in the interests of the public. Essentially, what happened was that the German Chancellor, Ms Merkel, lobbied on behalf of the car industry to delay important public health directives and the Taoiseach acquiesced.
The Deputy made a statement. He should be very careful.
A statement is fine.
The Deputy cannot make accusations against people which have already been denied.
Deputy Micheál Martin is perfectly entitled to ask any question here. That is his right as a public representative and the person who happens to be the leader of his party. However, I reject the assertion he has made.
First, he said the German Chancellor had been lobbying. He then told me that I had been lobbying. He claims that essentially what she was doing was lobbying. I have already answered him. The matter was on the agenda for the final meeting of COREPER. An extension was sought and supported by Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany.
Why was it sought?
Because there were only two full working days for countries to consider it.
That is not why it was sought. The Taoiseach knows the realities. Who does he think he is codding?
Okay, the Deputy knows the answer.
Will Deputy Micheál Martin, please, show the Chair some respect?
I am showing the Chair respect.
The Deputy is not. He should speak through the Chair. Seventeen minutes have already been spent on this question.
Who does the Taoiseach think he is codding? Of course, it was lobbying.
If the Deputy will allow me to continue, I will answer his question.
Will Deputy Micheál Martin, please, stop making accusations? This is Question Time.
It is Parliament.
I am sorry, but there are other places in which to make accusations.
I am not making accusations; I am making serious points.
I ask the Taoiseach to complete his reply to this question as I want to move on to Deputy Adams's question.
I am within my rights to make them in Parliament. I am within Standing Orders to say what I have said. I do not like my rights under Standing Orders to be undermined.
It is not within Standing Orders for the Deputy to be making accusations against people and the Chair is obliged to protect all Members of this House.
The extension was sought by a number of countries - Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany. Opposition to that was expressed by France and Italy, but when the agenda point was finally reached at the COREPER meeting, there was no objection and no opposition. There were two full working days for countries to consider the final text, as the final compromise was reached with the European Parliament on a Tuesday and the final endorsement was sought on the Friday of the same week, which was the last COREPER meeting of Ireland's Presidency.
I have clarified the distinction for Deputy Martin in respect of nitrogen oxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from cars and vans. Obviously it speaks for itself. I reject the Deputy's unwarranted assertion. It is beneath him to make that point.
Cop on, Taoiseach. He said it is beneath me - what is he talking about?
I am obliged, as one who held the Presidency of the Union, to engage and discuss this matter with all the other leaders. Here is the evidence of the discussions that took place not at the European Council but with the representatives of the permanent representatives of COREPER.
Who were instructed by government; they represent government.
Yes. I am telling the Deputy that countries sought an extension because of the very short time that was left to decide on this. It was not decided during Ireland's Presidency; it was decided and agreed during the Lithuanian Presidency. The Deputy should go back to The New York Times and have a discussion with his friends.
I know how it works, and one looks after one's friends.
We will move on to Question No. 2 in the same of Deputy Adams.
2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33922/15]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the status of his meeting with the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, on 23 September 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33968/15]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to hold official talks in Dublin the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on 23 September of last year. The visit to Ireland formed part of a longer trip which included Prime Minister Modi's attendance at the UN General Assembly. I also travelled to attend the General Assembly and I recently reported details of that trip to the House.
Although the visit of Prime Minister Modi was relatively brief, it was nonetheless very significant, given the importance of our economic and political relationship and the fact that this was the first visit to Ireland by an Indian Prime Minister for almost 60 years. At the meeting I was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister for Education and Sills, the Minister for Health and a number of officials.
Prime Minister Modi and I had a very positive and constructive discussion covering a number of bilateral issues. Ireland and India have historically enjoyed strong links, dating back as far as our respective independence movements. Our relationship today continues to be strong, extending beyond cultural links to include, among other things, trade, investment and education. During our meeting I reiterated an invitation to the President of India to make a state visit to Ireland.
On economic issues, Prime Minister Modi outlined his programme of economic reform and his government's aim of ensuring that India's economic progress continues and that development spreads throughout the country. I outlined the strength of Ireland's economic recovery and highlighted a number of areas where Irish companies could make important contributions to Indian needs, including in the areas of water technology, information and communications technology, ICT, and health care. Both Prime Minister Modi and I discussed the potential for increased investment in each other's countries. I welcomed the announcement of 110 new jobs in Dublin by Indian company, NIIT Technologies, on the day of the Prime Minister's visit. Since the visit we have also seen a significant jobs announcement by the Indian technology company, Infosys.
Education is an area of strong co-operation between Ireland and India. The Prime Minister mentioned his government's efforts to enhance the accessibility of education their - its "Digital India" campaign. I welcomed the increase in the number of Indian students studying in Ireland, which has nearly doubled since 2012. Both sides expressed the importance of continuing to expand these important linkages.
We discussed health care and specific proposals to ensure that medical internships carried out in India are recognised in the Irish system. These proposals will be addressed in the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is currently being drafted by the Department of Health.
We also discussed a number of multilateral issues including UN reform, peacekeeping, nuclear disarmament and Syria. On the latter, I provided Prime Minister Modi with an update on the steps taken at EU level to address the ongoing migration crisis.
Prime Minister Modi made reference to his disappointment that the negotiations on the EU-India free trade agreement had stalled. Speaking on this point, the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, agreed that the temporary delay was disappointing but expressed the hope that negotiations could resume and progress be achieved.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Prime Minister Modi paid tribute to the Irish experience of 1916 and spoke of how the centenary in 2016 would provide good opportunities for co-operation in acknowledging that shared aspect of our histories. I know that the Irish and India ambassadors are considering how we might take this forward and develop it in the coming year.
Tá mé buíoch den Taoiseach fá choinne an fhreagra soiléire sin. As the Taoiseach acknowledged, Ireland and India have a long and shared history and many shared cultural values. We were both colonised and endured many centuries of struggle and India like Ireland was partitioned but, unfortunately, our island remains partitioned. We also share difficulties created by climate change. There is a desire for greater economic co-operation, as the Taoiseach outlined.
Recent news coverage showed that hundreds of people died during the heavy rains in parts of India and there was huge disruption and devastation when the rainfall was three times the norm. The agreement, as the Taoiseach will know, at the Paris climate change conference represents and presents important opportunities and challenges for this State, the Indian state and the 200 other countries that signed up to it, but the devil is in the details and all of this depends on implementation. Agreeing to reduce greenhouse gases, the impact of this on the developed and less developed states and a fund to help the poorer regions of the world will present significant challenges in the decades ahead. Did the Taoiseach have any opportunity to go into the detail of all of that?
The Taoiseach spelt out some of the economic opportunities. According to the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects 2016 report, India will have the fastest growing economy in the world this year and next year, with predictions of 7.3% growth. The same report predicts that the global financial conditions will be volatile and may see diminished trade flows and stagnant investment. There are very significant opportunities for us to increase trade and investment. As the Taoiseach acknowledged, Irish exports to India are worth more than €55 million a year and almost 3,000 people here are employed by Indian companies. That is a marked increase from €34 million in 2012. Also, companies like the Kerry Group and Glanbia have a presence in India and there is potential for growth especially in the areas of technology, pharmaceuticals and agriculture with a growing and huge market with more than 3 million of a middle class. It is estimated, and the Taoiseach acknowledged this in his response, that 1,500 students from India are in higher educational institutions here. Around 26,000 India people live on the island, mostly in this part of it.
During his visit, Prime Minister Modi indicated there would be growth in the number of flights and air routes between our two states. Does the Taoiseach have any information on this? Can he indicate what steps the IDA is taking to increase our economic footprint in India? Were there any discussions about sending an economic delegation to India? If there is any possibility of that type of approach, I suggest that we include our opposite numbers in the North, Invest NI and the appropriate Ministers. I know the Taoiseach has been a champion of this in the past with other overseas economic delegations.
Clearly, with a population of 1.2 billion, more than one sixth of the world's population, India has become one of the fastest growing major economies on the globe. Since it began a campaign of economic liberalisation in 1991, India has recorded continuously high growth rates.
Currently, that growth is being propelled by sectors which include aviation, education, the agritech sector, medical devices, e-commerce and software-as-a-service, SWAS, offerings. Many of the sectors are areas where, as the Deputy pointed out, Irish companies have particular strengths and it is imperative, therefore, that we provide them with the appropriate supports to capitalise on this opportunity. The Prime Minister specifically mentioned the difficulties India is having with the Ganges, which is an enormous river of 2,500 miles. We have since made contact with the Prime Minister’s officials in respect of a number of Irish technology firms which deal with wastewater and its treatment that may be of interest or assistance to India.
As the Deputy pointed out, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, has invested significant effort in improving our trade links with India. Enterprise Ireland has an office in New Delhi, which offers in-market support for Irish businesses in India. IDA Ireland and Tourism Ireland both operate from Mumbai. All of those agencies participate in what is called the local market team. The team is chaired by our ambassador to India and it co-ordinates the trade and investment efforts of all the agencies under a shared market strategy and plan.
Nine focused trade missions have taken place to India during the lifetime of the Government. Clearly, they are an invaluable way of developing new and existing markets overseas for Irish businesses. In that context I can inform Deputy Adams that we have been very willing to associate with trade missions or Ministers from Northern Ireland.
India is one of the fastest growing tourist generating countries in the world. Tourism Ireland estimates that the number of Indian visitors coming here in 2014 increased by approximately 10% and 2015 will see a further increase. I will bring the Deputy up to date in respect of the flight connections when we see what is happening in this regard.
In respect of education, staff from the Department of Education and Skills and their colleagues in the education in Ireland section of Enterprise Ireland have been working to increase the educational links between the two countries. In 2012, there were approximately 850 Indian students in Ireland. The number has increased to approximately 1,500 students studying in Ireland, mainly for postgraduate degrees in engineering, the pharmaceutical area, business, accounting, computer sciences and hospitality management. A significant number of Irish institutes have developed links with Indian institutes and colleges.
The scholarships given by this country that are administered by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and supported and funded by the Department of Education and Skills entitle scholars to a waiver of tuition fees of approximately €15,000 for the term of the scholarship and a grant to the value of €7,500 to cover living expenses. The scholarships are awarded to candidates who have an excellent academic record, and in the 2015 to 2016 academic year, seven Government of Ireland scholarships have been awarded to students from India. In addition to the Government of Ireland scholarship programme, Irish higher education systems and institutions offer in the region of 200 scholarships which target Indian students each year.
A number of negotiations took place in respect of the European Union-India free trade agreement negotiations. They broke down because of the mismatch between ambitions and expectations. The parties got together again and the Commission short-listed three areas where the European Union would like to see progress before entering a decision-making process. First, the EU needs to receive a very clear signal from India on the removal of barriers to other services sectors, including insurance, banking, maritime and accountancy. Second, the EU wants to finalise the goods package, which is a balanced automotive package, and the European Union red lines on duty rates on wines and spirits are critical. Third, the EU wants an agreement to finalise procurement negotiations by signature, including comprehensive coverage on market access to the central level and an overall chapter with allowances for sufficiently ambitious commitments.
A meeting of the chief trade negotiators on both sides, which was due to be held in Delhi in August, was indefinitely postponed by the Indian ministry for commerce and industry after the EU imposed a legally binding ban on the sale of approximately 700 pharma products clinically tested by GVK Biosciences in Hyderabad.
The EU-India free trade negotiations are of interest to Ireland. Dairy products and whiskeys are key areas of export opportunity, which are currently subjected to very restrictive tariffs and non-tariff barriers. We are of the view that it would be very desirable for further meetings to take place to put some momentum back into the discussions between Europe and India.
I can inform Deputy Adams that we discussed other issues such as membership of the UN Security Council, the Security Council veto, migration and a number of other related issues.
Perhaps the Taoiseach could clarify matters for me. I welcome the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Ireland. I was on the previous trade mission to India with the then Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, when we developed a range of strands of the relationship in terms of the economy, trade, education and culture. The Taoiseach mentioned medical internships. I understand from his reply that he suggested there would be an agreement of mutual recognition between the Medical Council and the Medical Council of India. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether that is in respect of Indians coming to Ireland to work as interns and do their training here? In addition, will he outline the specifics of the agreement? Was a memo signed between Ireland and India on health?
Were there any discussions on India’s nuclear programme, which is expressly for civilian purposes, in terms of providing energy to its vast population? The Taoiseach mentioned tariffs. Did he have any substantive discussions on the excessive tariffs India continues to levy on whiskies imported into India? Irish whiskey and European whiskies are generally at an enormous disadvantage in terms of penetrating the Indian market because of the excessive tariffs levied by the Indian Government. Was there any discussion between the Taoiseach and the Indian Prime Minister in this regard? Was the wider issue of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, discussed with the Prime Minister?
In the education area, were any ideas on research developed at the meeting, for example, in terms of research partnerships in specific areas, be it pharmaceutical, life sciences or technology?
Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Irish diplomatic and trade and enterprise footprint is sufficient to meet current needs and future potential given that in many ways the 21st century will belong to Asia, notwithstanding current difficulties, and that over a 50-year span there will be significant growth potential? Do we have enough Enterprise Ireland offices in India? Is the IDA presence in India strong enough and is the Taoiseach satisfied with the pipeline of potential projects coming from India on the foreign direct investment side?
Given that the Deputy served as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, he is aware of the potential that exists in India with a burgeoning middle class with increased spending capacity and the English language being spoken by the majority. India has the biggest population of English speaking people and it has a very strong legal base. Clearly, the opportunity for investment to Europe is very significant.
The investment opportunity through Ireland to Europe is also very significant. If one looks at the number of people we have there, either with Enterprise Ireland or through the diplomatic service, namely, the ambassador and the team, one can never say we have enough. Those who are there do a first-class job. It is the same as in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. We have other real opportunities in other countries in Asia, such as Korea, Indonesia and China. The discussions foundered between Europe and India because of the mismatch I spoke of. I had hoped that from a European point of view, which would have direct benefit for Ireland, we could get this moving again. In our discussions with the Prime Minister, we referred to these barriers. Clearly they are anxious to get back on track with the European free trade discussions with India, which I very much support.
The Deputy mentioned the health issue. We discussed health care and specific proposals to ensure medical internships carried out in India are recognised in the Irish system. There is a problem, which the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, was very well aware of and the proposals were to be addressed in the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which was then being drafted in the Department of Health. I will check that out to give Deputy Martin the up-to-date information.
Will the Taoiseach send me a note on it, please?
I will send the Deputy a note on it. The Deputy mentioned a number of other things. India requested to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, MTCR, as it is called. We indicated to Prime Minister Modi that Ireland was prepared to join a consensus on the Missile Technology Control Regime at a recent meeting in Rotterdam but no consensus emerged from that. India had also submitted an application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG, and Ireland is aware of India's keen interest in membership of the two groups involved. We appreciate its importance in terms of enhancing their capacity to trade in civil nuclear technologies. The recent NSG plenary meeting looked at the question of membership of the group for states which are not parties to the non-proliferation treaty, NPT, and agreed that this issue would continue to be examined by the group. Ireland looks forward to taking part in these discussions and to continuing to take an active part in it.
The question of UN Security Council reform was also mentioned. We are very supportive of Security Council reform. Ireland has continued to be very frustrated at the slow pace of reform and the impact it has on the council being able to act as efficiently and effectively as it should. We believe the five elements of UN Security Council reform are interconnected as part of a single package: categories of membership, the question of the veto, regional representation, the size of an enlarged council, and working methods and the relationship between the council and the General Assembly. One can only get success if there is agreement on all these five areas. We are very supportive as a country of the intergovernmental negotiations and Security Council reform and we believe now is a very opportune time to move towards what is referred to as text-based negotiations, that is, putting it down in writing.
On the question of the composition and membership of the UN Security Council, Prime Minister Modi raised the issue of UN reform and he specifically highlighted India's desire for a permanent seat at the Security Council. We recognise, as we have always done, that there is a need to expand the membership of the Security Council so it better reflects 21st century realities in a regionally balanced way. Any expansion of membership should accommodate member states that play a particularly significant part in the United Nations system. However, Ireland would want to prevent any diminution in the capacity of smaller member states to serve as non-permanent members on a rotating basis at regular intervals, as Deputy Martin is aware happens now.
On the final issue of the question of the veto at the Security Council, we firmly oppose the conferral of veto powers on any new members. Similar to many other states, we believe that extending the veto right to additional members of the council will only compound the difficulties associated with the current arrangements regarding veto rights. We wish to see the veto rights of the five permanent members of the Security Council - the P5 - ended. We are a supporter of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group which has launched a code of conduct calling for positive action by all members of the United Nations to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. We have associated ourselves with the political declaration which was presented by Mexico and France calling for the voluntary suspension of the veto by permanent members of the Security Council in cases of mass atrocities. Deputy Martin is also aware that I was at the UN summit in September on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, and a new global development agenda was set out there. A key component of that was the sustainable development goals of the 2030 agenda. That is the second of three major international agreements to be concluded in 2015 to promote sustainable development at the global level. The conference in Paris in December 2015 was a very significant achievement to which we will measure up when final targets are set for Ireland. In my address at the summit, I reiterated our commitment to make progress towards the target of 0.7% of GDP for overseas development aid, a central part of achieving the sustainable development goals. These were also matters that we referred to in the discussion with Prime Minister Modi.
May I make a brief submission?
I am anxious to move on to the next question.
It is an important point.
The Deputy should be quick.
The Taoiseach mentioned, in response to my question on the nuclear issue, that India was anxious to be part of a new Missile Technology Control Regime. He also said that India is seeking membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to trade in civil nuclear technologies. These are very serious issues and there is a history there. Ireland, as a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is one of the important countries in that and we get lobbied by India and other countries on these issues. I had an involvement in this and the original idea was that India would be exclusively on the civilian side. Perhaps the Taoiseach could write to me with further information on the background to the Missile Technology Control Regime, what is involved and the objectives that India has set itself in terms of wanting to be a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Perhaps he could also outline in a bit more detail what India is seeking and whether those issues were raised in the meeting between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Modi.
It was specifically on the enhancement of India's capacity to trade in civil nuclear technologies. I will send Deputy Martin a more detailed note on it.
4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Economic Management Council has the responsibility of preparing Ireland's plans for a possible British exit from the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40015/15]
25. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the role of the Economic Management Council in preparing the Government’s response to the plans of the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, for a referendum on British membership of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44677/15]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 25 together.
The Economic Management Council has been established with the status of a Cabinet committee and has four members: the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Council's role is to manage the Government's programme and the statement of Government priorities in respect of economic planning and budgetary matters and the integration of the work of Departments and agencies in these matters. It is not appropriate to answer questions about proceedings because it is a Cabinet committee and is protected by the Constitution, although we have had discussions.
Work has been under way across Departments for some time to ensure we best understand the various issues at stake in the EU-UK issue. The Department of the Taoiseach has a leading role given the whole-of-Government dimension of the issue.
In this context, a small unit was established in the Department in May 2015 to deal specifically with British, Irish and Northern Ireland affairs. The Cabinet sub-committee on European Union affairs has oversight of the EU-UK issue and continues to examine it closely. Obviously, these matters are discussed, but there is an oversight responsibility and the Cabinet makes the decision at the end of the day.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. My question is related to Brexit, whether the Economic Management Council has a responsibility for preparing Ireland's plans for a possible British exit from the European Union and asks whether the Taoiseach will make a statement on the matter. I take it that he is aware that the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, has confirmed that the potential loss to Ireland could be as much as €4 billion in exports and that this could have an extremely serious impact on the market here. There have already been reports that some companies are becoming risk averse and taking less business risk. Despite Members' earlier conversations on the visit by the Prime Minister of India, the bottom line is that the United Kingdom is still our most important market, particularly for the agrifood industry. In 2013, for example, it bought 50% of Ireland's beef and there were 95 IDA Ireland-backed UK companies based in Ireland. The United Kingdom is also our most important tourism market and the effect of the current favourable exchange rate between sterling and the euro can be seen in certain parts of the country that are benefiting.
When the Taoiseach met the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, on Brexit, he asked for Ireland's support. The backdrop to that meeting was the horrific bombings and terrorism in Paris and negotiations on Brexit rightly appear to have been put aside temporarily. Moreover, the migration crisis is also becoming difficult to resolve. However, given the significance of this issue and the potential implications for Ireland of Britain leaving the European Union, will the Taoiseach outline to Members how the Government intends to plan for it? Will he indicate whether scenario planning has been done by the Government on the referendum that will be held in Britain? The ESRI has indicated that there is a possibility of net migration of approximately 60,000 people from the United Kingdom in the event that there is a Brexit and suggests there could be an impact on wages. While the Taoiseach has indicated that a Government sub-committee is overseeing it, has an interdepartmental group been formed with overall responsibility or accountability for this issue? I ask because I get the sense there is not a strong awareness among the public about the potential implications for the economy of Britain leaving the European Union. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach were to indicate the Government's structured response and the work that has been done to date on it.
As time is short, I ask Deputy Gerry Adams to put his questions now.
I understand the Taoiseach may be restricted in the details he can outline, but are there plans to minimise economic disruption in the event that a referendum in Britain results in a vote to leave? Obviously, because our two islands are in close proximity, a decision by Britain to leave the European Union is of considerable interest to us, a point the Taoiseach has outlined in the past. However, given that the exit also may include the Northern state, this is a matter of considerable concern for everyone. As more than €1 billion per week is traded in goods and services between the State and Britain, the consequences of a UK exit for us in this part of the country would be enormous. However, one should also be mindful that for 80 years the physical Border and partition, with its economic, cultural and political outworkings, were a source of enormous dislocation and conflict at times. The Good Friday Agreement has seen a transformation and, as I am sure the Taoiseach has experienced many times, the physical Border is now all but invisible. There is much work to be done to remove economic and political barriers and all of the other legacy issues, but I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that the return of Border controls would be a serious retrograde step. The impact on both sides, along the entire Border corridor, would be detrimental. I also believe there would be an adverse effect on all-Ireland bodies that are part of the Good Friday Agreement. As the Taoiseach is aware, I come from there and it should not be accepted that a decision taken on the island of Britain would have such import for those of us who live in the North. Has the Government sought or will it seek an assurance from the British Government that a referendum vote in the North alone will determine the relationship between that part of the island and the European Union?
Another big issue arises in this regard, in so far as the British Prime Minister has indicated he may introduce legislation to make it clear that the British Parliament is sovereign and that British courts are not bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This will have profound implications for citizens in the North and, in particular, our ability to use the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as a defence against punitive British legislation. All of this is playing out on the Taoiseach's watch. I am aware that another European Council meeting has been set for 18 and 19 February. The meeting last December set the explicit objective of securing an agreement or mutually satisfactory solutions. In the light of this and the timetable set by the European Council and the British Government, will the Taoiseach outline the Government's view on these matters? In addition, does the Government have in place a contingency plan if a Brexit goes ahead?
This is a serious matter in the context of challenges facing the country. Obviously, while we must hold a general election in Ireland, Europe faces a number of challenges that will be of highly significant import, of which this is one. Issues such as migration, oil, energy costs, climate change, the impact of the great powers and the situation in the Middle East are not within our control, but they have an impact on this country and its economy. The important point to make to the Deputies who are as interested as everybody else is the detail of the proposals has yet to be tabled in this case. Everyone is cognisant of the potential impact of what might happen when the question is asked of the British electorate whose decision it is to stay in. Britain is our largest and nearest trading partner and the fact that trade to the value of €1 billion takes place across the Irish Sea every week speaks for itself. Obviously, currency fluctuations can have an impact on trade either way in tourism, the hospitality sector, production, manufacturing and exports. While a paper is to be circulated by President Tusk in the near future, I do not know what it will entail and nor do I wish to commit to presuming to know what will be the outcome of the British people's decision. Suffice it to say the Government is sufficiently interested in this matter to be highly public in its support for Britain remaining a strong and central part of the European Union. Ireland has made its decision on the fiscal stability treaty, our entrance to the European Union and commitment to the euro, the eurozone and the Union.
As the Deputies are aware, four clusters or baskets of issues were set out. One cluster pertained to economic governance, which includes moves to prevent non-eurozone countries such as the United Kingdom from being disadvantaged by decisions taken solely in the eurozone. That is a good basis for discussion. I believe the euro area must have the capacity to do what is necessary to ensure financial stability and economic growth. It must also, however, act with full respect for the Single Market which comprises the entire European Union, as well as for the integrity of the Union as a whole, without prejudice to any interest of member states. I consider this to be an achievable goal. The Government appreciates the concerns of the United Kingdom and other non-euro countries in this regard and while this is an issue that obviously requires some serious analysis, it can be dealt with.
A second basket of issues concerns making the European Union more competitive. This includes the completion of the Single Market, better regulation and expediting international trade agreements. Ireland shares quite a number of Britain's priorities in this area and welcomes steps that will give impetus to growth, competitiveness and employment.
The third one concerns steps to enhance national sovereignty. Those steps relate to strengthening the role of national parliaments in the EU as well as addressing the concept of an ever-closer union. We always have had a constructive approach to this proposition and believe that a solution can be found to that particular issue.
The question of migration and welfare is one that is of great concern to people. It is clear what happened in Cologne is appalling. I saw the response from Syrian men and women who said this is not what their country represents. It is a very sensitive issue and something which cannot be condoned in any circumstance but discussions at the December Council showed broad agreement that abuses of free movement should be targeted without calling the principle of free movement into question. I think this is acceptable to everyone and we are supportive of action to achieve it. In addition, we agree that welfare systems should not, in themselves, be a pull factor in encouraging migrant workers to come to any country but any reform would have to have full respect for equality and non-discrimination. At the meeting, President Juncker said the Commission would like to look at a number of options in respect of this category, which is where the real difficulty was being experienced following the Prime Minister's tabling of these issues.
No one here would want to see the common travel area coming under pressure and border controls between here and Britain or Northern Ireland, as rightly pointed out by Deputy Adams. The issue, in so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, is of great importance to us. Deputy Martin referred to the ESRI report which was commissioned by the Department of Finance and published on 5 November. It considered the impact of a British exit on Ireland across trade, foreign direct investment, energy and migration and found that, aside from the UK, Ireland would be the most adversely affected European member state. We should not assume, therefore, that we do not have an interest in this issue.
None of the findings in the report made an Irish case for a British withdrawal from the European Union. We have been very public about our support for the British Prime Minister and Britain's continued membership. A number of other studies are also available which point out the economic, political and social implications of a potential British exit from the EU for Ireland, Europe and Britain. The Institute of International and European Affairs published a study in March of last year which identified key areas that would be impacted. These included trade, energy and foreign direct investment. It concluded that the precise impacts would depend on the trade arrangements that would be put in place to manage bilateral economic relations in the event of a British exit. The key issue is that Britain is our number one trading partner and we are its fifth most important market. The trade is valued at approximately €1 billion per week.
Deputy Adams raised the question in Northern Ireland. As I stated when I spoke to the Confederation of British Industry, the ESRI found that Northern Ireland could be the most adversely affected region of the UK in the event of a British exit. This is extremely worrying on a number of levels. The EU has been an important if, perhaps, underestimated enabler of peace in Northern Ireland. It provided €2.4 billion in funds over the period 2007 to 2013 to help Northern Ireland overcome the challenges faced by a peripheral region emerging from conflict. Common membership of the EU project is part of the glue that holds that transition process together and now is not the time to weaken a cohesive, stabilising influence and outward focus that shared EU membership brings to Northern Ireland.
While we are conscious of these things, our best opportunity at the moment is to work with British industry and British needs in this country to explain the importance and the potential implications of a decision that might be made by the British people. I must focus on an outcome from the February meeting of the European Council and then the British Prime Minister's making his case to the British people. In the meantime, we must continue to work on the clear opportunities for trade in all of these areas in the future.