Ceisteanna - Questions

Citizens Assembly

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

1. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the convening of the Citizens' Assembly. [27085/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Citizens' Assembly. [28357/16]

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

3. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the convening of the Citizens' Assembly which will discuss a number of proposed constitutional changes. [28716/16]

Bríd Smith

Question:

4. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach his plans for convening the Citizens' Assembly. [28720/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

Substantial progress has been made on establishing the Citizens' Assembly and its inaugural meeting will be held in Dublin Castle on 15 October next. Resolutions approving establishment of the assembly were passed in the Dáil and Seanad in July and Ms Justice Mary Laffoy was appointed chairperson. Tenders were then issued for the necessary services to support the assembly, in particular for a polling company to select the 99 citizen members who will, with the chairperson, make up the assembly. In addition, accommodation for the meetings of the assembly after its first meeting and services such as translation, live streaming and media support, have been secured.

The assembly's inaugural meeting will be an introductory session to allow the members of the assembly the opportunity to meet the chairperson and one another and to gain a better understanding of the context for the work that they will be undertaking. The assembly will meet again in late November, at which time it will commence its consideration of the first item referred to it by the Dáil resolution, that is, the eighth amendment of the Constitution.

I am sure that the House will join me in wishing Ms Justice Laffoy and the assembly well with their work.

That was a very short and scant in detail report on the Citizens' Assembly. It seems that the Taoiseach is determined to go ahead with this charade. The word on the street is that it is a delaying tactic, a Craggy Island solution to a problem. It flies in the face of polls. The Taoiseach always eschews polls, yet the Government is using a polling company to pick 99 people. All of the other polls done involved more than 99 people. The last Amnesty International poll showed that 87% of people wanted an increased availability of abortion under a range of circumstances and 38% of people expressed themselves as being fully pro-choice. To another question in the Amnesty poll - I will be interested in the Taoiseach's response to this point - 68% of people stated that we should trust women when they say that they need an abortion. That is what this is about.

Will the Taoiseach join me in showing solidarity with the tens of thousands of people who struck and protested in Poland yesterday against a law similar law the eighth amendment that attempted to ban abortion in Poland completely? The Catholic church and its representatives in the Polish Parliament are behind this. There will be an outcry against it in Poland. One of the luxuries that the Taoiseach has, and one of the reasons that he has been able to sweep this issue under the carpet in his 41 years here, is that our country does not have backstreet abortions. Instead, we have the luxury of England being just one hour away. However, we do have abortion.

Three women per day carry out abortions in their own bedrooms. How do we know this? We know because the website www.womenonweb.org tells us three Irish women contact it every day to access abortion pills online. Approximately 1,000 abortions take place illegally in this State. The real question is whether we are going to keep them illegal or allow them to become legal.

I have three questions on the Citizens' Assembly. The Taoiseach has outlined two meetings that will take place but will he give a clear timeline for the Citizens' Assembly? When will it report to a committee and this House with recommendations? The second question relates to witnesses and there is much concern about this among various groups. What will be the composition of this expert group of witnesses? For example, it is vital they not all be lawyers or constitutional experts. They must include experts in women's health, obviously, but there should be independent witnesses as well as those who have views and an input into this. For example, will the United Nations be asked to give testimony on this issue, as it has given its views on it? Will representatives of the World Health Organization be present? Will women's organisations, pro-choice groups and others with a strong view also be asked to participate? What Oireachtas committee will the recommendations go back to? Will the Taoiseach set up a special new Oireachtas committee or will it be referred to a health committee? Where will it go before coming to the floor of the Dáil?

I thank Deputy Coppinger for her question. It is not for us to interfere in any other jurisdiction's legislation. Abortion is illegal in this country and remains so except in very specific and particular circumstances that were legislated for under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act a number of years ago. With regard to the timeline that was mentioned, the assembly has 12 months to do its duty. The first item it will deal with is a reflection on and consideration of the eighth amendment to the Constitution. I expect the chairperson, an eminent Supreme Court judge, will work with the assembly in setting out the timeline that is considered appropriate. My view is that the assembly will report on the eighth amendment before the first half of 2017 and then move to the other items.

Will it be possible for outside witnesses to give evidence? Of course it will. The proceedings will be streamed live and there will be the opportunity for people in Northern Ireland or any other jurisdiction who are unable to travel or who wish to make a submission to do so. It is possible for them to do that. The expert panel will be appointed by the chairperson, and that will apply in respect of each item being considered by the assembly, including the eighth amendment. The role of the panel is to provide the assembly with impartial information. Ms Justice Laffoy will make those appointments for the different elements that will be considered.

I would expect that Ms Justice Laffoy would consider very carefully the skills, experience and nature of the character of the people she appoints. She would obviously consider the Deputy's point about whether to appoint all academics, professionals or whatever. This is about people throughout the country and reflects the assembly itself, taking in gender, age, region and so on. We have put in place arrangements for the establishment and continued operation of the assembly and selected a venue for the post-October meetings. Once it gets down to considering its business, there will be considerable interest in the discussions taking place there.

This will come back to a committee of the Oireachtas and we will consider how best that committee should function, the same way as we did with the Oireachtas committee, chaired by the former Deputy Buttimer, which considered the implications of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

I have indications from Deputies Martin, McDonald and Burton and there are six minutes left. Deputy Bríd Smith submitted a question in this round.

Yes. Should I ask my questions now?

I submitted a question on the same subject of the referendum. I will add to the Taoiseach's pain with a pile of other questions. I am wondering about the selection process of 99 citizens. Any reputable polling company would never conduct a selection of 100 people. It would rather have 1,000 people as it is much more representative of the population. I want the Taoiseach to tease out further how this was done.

Will the Taoiseach give us the name of the polling company? Is the Taoiseach saying the polling company chose the 99 people in a stratified way or was it done randomly? In other words, did it go through a scientific research process involving social class, age, religion, gender and even a history of crisis pregnancies, which is a criterion for anybody making a judgment on the future of women with crisis pregnancies in this country? Has the said polling company, whatever it is, collected data on attitudes to religion, sexuality or reproductive rights? The country should know its history and background.

If the Taoiseach is telling us this will report before the first half of 2017, which I assume is some time before June 2017, we are looking at up to nine months for it to come back with a recommendation on whether to have a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment. I assume that is what will be done and either we will have a referendum or we will not. We are not getting it any other way. Does the Taoiseach realise that by June 2017, another 3,246 women will have been exported from this country for a health procedure that they are not entitled to here? That is a lot of women.

I attended the march of more than 30,000 mainly young people and it was a representative cross-section of society and of where we should be going with the issue. It was a genuine citizens' assembly, as opposed to 99 people who are either selected at random or in a stratified way.

I want to give other Members a chance. There are three minutes left in the slot.

We need to know on what basis they were chosen. They are all my questions. I want the detailed answers because we got a very scant reply already.

Would the Leas-Cheann Comhairle take some questions from others and then revert to the Taoiseach?

I can do so if Members ask short questions. The Taoiseach may answer them together.

It might be a more useful way of doing it.

To be fair, Deputy Bríd Smith tabled the question. I do not wish to impose.

If the Member has a short question, the Taoiseach can reply to all of them.

Is it a case of balancing it up? It is usually the people who ask the questions who are prioritised.

I am happy to give way.

We are trying to accommodate others.

I am saying I am happy to give way to Deputy Smith if she wishes to come back in.

I am sure we can accommodate all questions.

I have always been of the view that it is difficult to see how the Citizens' Assembly can realistically answer the question of whether there should be a referendum on the eighth amendment and what the specific proposal, including subsequent legislation, should be. It is proceeding and I wish it well in its work. It is only when we get to the detail of what people are proposing that we can have an honest debate. With simple repeal, existing legislation would stay in place, which is hardly the option that will emerge. The last time there was a consultation led by an Oireachtas committee on this subject, it was successful in the core task of at least defining everybody's positions and the exact measures required to enact each position. There is nothing worse that just having a forum that provides new debating opportunities. We need clarity on what will happen after the assembly. Will it go to a special Oireachtas committee that will have the task of defining everybody's position and the exact measures required to enact each position? Will the Taoiseach outline again the expertise that will be available to the chairperson?

I will keep this brief. I am troubled by two prospects. First, the delay involved in this group of 99 citizens deliberating and then us going through all the machinations of the Oireachtas. I am also a bit taken aback that the Taoiseach cannot tell us which committee the deliberations might go to. My bigger concern, however, is that there can be no question of a referendum on the eighth amendment. There has to be a referendum in respect of this provision. People can have their own views on it but I am troubled at the prospect that 99 citizens and an Oireachtas committee might be used to frustrate the clear desire for and the absolute democratic necessity of a referendum on this matter. I was a child when the eighth amendment was passed and written into our Constitution. I am now in my forties. There are generations of women and men who have not been afforded their democratic say. The forum is okay, if the Taoiseach insists on it, although I think it is a delaying tactic. However, any suggestion that we are not going to have a referendum on this matter is, quite frankly, not acceptable.

I want to recall the very successful discussions which took place in the run up to the marriage equality referendum.

A question please, Deputy.

I would like to know what the role of the political parties will be in this procedure because that was essential to the successful outcome of the marriage equality referendum. People with a very wide range of views came together, put their views forward and a consensus was reached on a way forward. I fear that the excision of the political parties and politicians and the fact that they will have no presence in this process will cause that process to suffer. The assembly, as others have suggested, will end up being surrounded by experts, most of whom will not be the doctors or midwives who might attend to women and deal with all matters relating to conception, pregnancy, birth and so on but will be lawyers. Everybody will lawyer up on every side and I do not know what that will do for the resolution of this issue.

Months, if not years ago -----

The Deputy's time has expired.

The Taoiseach wants to long-finger all of this but the change and the conversation that is taking place in Irish society now is reflective of very wide swathes of opinion-----

Deputy, please. I must call the Taoiseach now.

Will the political parties be able to participate in this and give of their experiences? This is the people's assembly, by the way.

The Deputy should not take advantage of my leniency.

The polling company Red C Research and Marketing Ltd. was appointed following a competitive tendering process to provide a representative sample of 99 members of the public for the Citizen's Assembly, plus substitutes. Red C Research and Marketing Ltd. was the sole company to tender for this. The live streaming company was selected following a competitive tendering process.

Could the Taoiseach say that again please?

The proceedings will be streamed live. The competitive tendering process was won by Richard Jolly TV Ltd./ Switch New Media, which will provide the filming, live broadcasting and streaming of the assembly's meetings. Following a competitive tendering process the media company Q4 PR was selected from six submissions received to provide media liaison services for the assembly. The Irish company Beatrice.ie - Translating, Interpreting and Tour Guiding Services, was selected to provide translation services for the assembly following a competitive tendering process. A total of €2 million has been set aside by my own Department for the Citizen's Assembly.

I note that Deputy McDonald is troubled but I said that we would have this in place within the first 100 days of this Government and I am glad that the first meeting will take place at an early time. The Deputy must understand that these 99 citizens and their 99 substitutes are people who will, I hope, have a rational and comprehensive discussion on the eighth amendment and what it means. They will hear from witnesses of the difficulties, trauma and personal stress they experienced in respect of their pregnancies and from those who have travelled abroad. It is in here, however, that this matter will be decided. This issue will be decided by politicians, the elected representatives. When they come to vote on whatever recommendation is eventually decided upon, they will vote in a free vote according to their conscience. Times have changed since Deputy McDonald was a child or indeed, since I was a child, which was before Deputy McDonald -----

In any event, I recall very clearly the utter divisiveness over a period of very difficult campaigns on this socially divisive issue.

It was the Taoiseach's party that put it in.

Times have changed and I quite understand that -----

We have well exceeded the time allowed for this question.

That is why, with respect, we should allow this assembly to have its deliberations, with ordinary people from all over the country giving their views on the eighth amendment. The political process will decide the matter, in here, when eventually we come to vote on the recommendations.

What committee will deal with it?

I ask the Taoiseach to address Parliamentary Question No. 5 in the name of Deputy Brendan Smith.

I am sorry, Leas-Cheann Chomhairle, but which committee will the recommendations go to? Everybody has asked that question and it has not been answered. What Oireachtas committee will it go to?

I think we will have a special Oireachtas committee on that.

He thinks but he is not sure.

Thank you. Question No. 5 is next.

He has just decided it.

He does not know what committee. Everybody has asked this question -----

It is a matter for the Taoiseach to answer it.

He does not know, he said.

He said there may be a special committee.

No, I said a special Oireachtas committee -----

He thinks or there will be?

I ask the Taoiseach to address Question No. 5.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Brendan Smith

Question:

5. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with other heads of Government within the EU the serious implications for Ireland of Britain leaving the EU. [27105/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the European Union division of his Department has changed its structures since the Brexit referendum result; and if extra human resources and funding have been allocated to same. [28624/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.

The issue of the UK’s membership of the EU has been a regular feature of my discussions with EU counterparts for some time, including in the period preceding the June referendum. This outreach remains critical in the run up to the next phase.

During the negotiations which will commence when the UK has formally triggered Article 50, it will be essential that our partners and the institutions have a detailed understanding of Ireland’s priorities. In this regard, I welcome the statement provided by Prime Minister May at the weekend that the UK will trigger Article 50 by next March at the latest. Our efforts will redouble now that we have some degree of clarity about the British Government's intentions. It is important that the process now moves forward in the most practical and sensible manner.

In terms of my engagement with EU partners, at every opportunity I make it a priority to emphasise and explain Ireland’s particular concerns about Northern Ireland, Border and citizenship issues, the common travel area and the inter-connectedness of our economies. We had an extensive discussion on the implications of the referendum result at the June European Council in Brussels. As I relayed to this House afterwards, I took the opportunity during that exchange to outline Ireland’s long and complex history with the UK, the uniquely close social, political and economic ties between these two islands and the profound implications for Ireland of a UK departure from the EU. Since June, I have held bilateral meetings with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, Prime Minister May and the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk. I also met with the other 26 EU leaders earlier this month at a summit in Bratislava. During all of these exchanges, I have ensured that Ireland’s particular concerns have been highlighted and explained in detail.

My efforts have been complemented by those of my colleagues. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has spoken to every one of his 27 EU counterparts since the referendum, while other Ministers and senior officials have also been active in outlining Ireland’s case in contacts at EU level and beyond. In parallel, extensive analysis, planning and contingency work is progressing across all Departments. This is supported by administrative changes, including within my Department. A new division, led by a second Secretary General is bringing elements of the former EU, international and British-Irish/Northern Ireland divisions together to provide strategic oversight on particular issues. This includes an obvious emphasis on Brexit and support for the newly-established Cabinet committee on Brexit which I chair. Staff from the former EU division are being transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of the strengthening of that Department’s role and capacity on EU matters including those related to the Brexit negotiations. Engagement with Ireland’s embassy network abroad will also be important and already at embassy level some new posts have been established to focus exclusively on Brexit work.

Across Government, staffing and resources remain under review and will continue to be calibrated to respond to particular needs as this complex phase progresses.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response. Unfortunately, the indications from the Conservatives point to a hard Brexit. Are we going to witness Britain making the same old mistakes again in Northern Ireland by ignoring the democratic decision made by the people there in the recent referendum? If so, the people of England will be enforcing their will on Northern Ireland again. There is real concern along the Border, which is the area I am most familiar with, and in Northern Ireland with regard to what is going to happen. Prime Minister May's offer of a consultative voice in the Article 50 negotiations falls far short of the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

If this trend continues, the Government will immediately need to show the heads of the EU - the President of the Council, the President of the Commission and the other 26 Heads of Government - forcefully and clearly that Britain's approach will unfortunately have a wide and negative impact on this island and on relationships between North and South and between east and west. It would not simply be about Britain exiting the EU. It would vandalise the layered complexities of the Irish political process. It would also damage the totality of relationships about which we have often spoken in this House and to which many communiqués issued by successive Heads of Government in Britain and in Ireland have referred.

I have previously raised with the Taoiseach the obstacles that may be encountered when products leave this island and transit Britain on their way to destinations in the rest of Europe or in other continents. Surely difficulties will arise when cargo leaves our island and hence the EU, goes through a non-member state - the UK - and tries to re-enter the EU again. I remind the House that we do not have ferry services to the north of Europe. This morning, I met a group of people from Fermanagh who have been involved in political life over many decades. They are very concerned about the messages they are getting from Britain regarding the complete and serious difficulties that will be faced by the entire island if these issues are not dealt with successfully.

I do not disagree with Deputy Smith's comments. When I met the Prime Minister in Downing Street, she said clearly that the British Government did not favour a return to a hard Border. She does not favour a return to a hard Border and neither do we. We will argue these fundamentally important matters forcefully and clearly, as suggested by the Deputy. The Secretary of State, Mr. Brokenshire, told the Conservative Party conference today that there is no intention of having a return to a hard Border. These clear statements need to be backed up.

It has been decided that while the European Commission, which has always dealt with applications to join the EU and in which the expertise is lodged, will be centrally involved in the negotiations on Britain's withdrawal from the EU, the European Council - the Heads of Government and Heads of State - will make the ultimate decisions here as the elected leaders of member states. These decisions will have the greatest impact on people in the various member states, including Ireland. Obviously, in light of what is at stake here, we will have a facility for knowing about every step of the discussions as they take place. The European Council will make those decisions.

At the moment, a lorryload of machinery can leave Clare and go to Dublin or Rosslare before travelling through Britain and on to the EU's border with Ukraine without anything other than invoices being needed. It is clear that if and when Britain leaves the EU and becomes a completely independent sovereign country, having implemented legislation that removes any EU jurisdiction on it, paperwork or a different kind of approval might well be needed if Irish cargo is to be able to travel through Britain. This would cost time and money and would have obvious implications for jobs. That is why the common travel area, which the British and Irish Governments want to retain, is so important for us here. It is in that context that we will have to see what issues Britain is talking about and will present.

I do not have enough time during this Question Time to deal with many of the implications of this long and complicated subject, as raised by Deputy Smith. We will have ample opportunity to discuss it in the House in the future. I will also have opportunities to brief party leaders about what is going on. I would like to think that by November, when we get to the North-South Ministerial Council, we will have a much clearer fix on where the horizon is and what we need to do in respect of Northern Ireland, the cross-Border links and the economic trade. We have been talking to Enterprise Ireland about the hundreds of thousands of small businesses here that are being affected by the sterling currency fluctuations, which are causing concern. We will have to talk to Europe about the implications of that.

I hope the Government is not reverting to the model that was used by the last Government when the media was briefed before information was given to the Cabinet and other interested parties. In the months since the Brexit referendum, I do not think the Government has kept the promise it made in our discussions at that time to keep pro-EU parties - all parties are allegedly pro-EU at this stage - informed of developments and to consult them on strategy. We had one major meeting in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, but very little has happened since then. It is clear from this morning's story and from the Taoiseach's reply to these questions that everybody wants the island of Ireland to be treated as a special case in the absence of UK membership of the Single Market. That is not news. It is about as blindingly obvious as anything could be.

All of this shows how little concrete progress has been made in defining our position into a set of concrete negotiating priorities. We have been told nothing about what we might ask for on the specific issues of how we want this island to be treated, the legal mechanisms that might be considered and the implications for the EU as a whole. How do we ensure that people, goods and services can continue to flow on this island? It is easy to say that is what we want. That is all I am hearing from the British and Irish Governments and from everybody else. How do we ensure the west-east common travel area is protected? What ideas are we coming up with in that respect?

We have seen a great deal of bluster from the British Government, but very little substance. Despite what Mr. Brokenshire and the Prime Minister have said, they have come up with very little detail. A tug of war seems to be going on in the Tory Party between the hard Brexiteers and those who want a soft exit. Two groups have been formed within the Conservative Party. Those involved in the "Leave Means Leave" campaign, which has substantial financial backing, want to revert to a World Trade Organization-type arrangement, as opposed to retaining access to the full Single Market.

It is very easy to say we do not want borders on this island, or that we want everything to be the same in some magical way. Obviously, there is work to be done on the actual detail. Precious little progress has been made in going beyond the generalities and knuckling down to consider the specific route we will travel to ensure we ask for the right things for the island of Ireland and for the east-west travel area.

The Taoiseach has outlined the roles of the Commission and the Council. It was said at the outset that Ireland believed in the primacy of the Council and the member states in the negotiations. I think President Juncker has continued his ill-starred approach to this issue to date. He is talking tough, but he is ignoring the seriousness of the issue. I think President Tusk has been far more measured and far more engaged.

We were originally going to meet to discuss the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. A week ago, there was no mention of Brexit being on the agenda for tonight. We are now meeting tonight on Brexit, presumably because of the memorandum going to the Cabinet today. The first we heard about it was when it was added on. We need separate meetings on Brexit that are well flagged in advance so that people can be brought up to speed with the officials.

I do not object to that. I do not want to be calling the leaders of the parties together three days in a row. We will be discussing the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and Brexit. We need to have a meeting about NAMA as well. We have received all the submissions. That is a separate question. I do not want to have to call all the leaders together every second day to discuss things. If we can get through a number of-----

I do not think there has been a meeting on Brexit since the first meeting.

Deputy Martin does not mind. The UK Prime Minister has said that Brexit means Brexit, so the intention is to leave the European Union. The intention appears to be that Britain will not continue to be a member of the Single Market, though Britain is interested in the Erasmus programme and research programmes and obviously might wish to contribute to them. Leaving Europe would mean control of borders and, therefore, control of the number of immigrants going into Britain. The question will be on the conditions that might apply to Britain in respect of access to the Single Market.

We need to work on the options to be considered by Britain and, as a consequence, by the European Union in respect of the Swiss model, the Norwegian-Swedish model, the Singapore model and the new British model for access, and we are doing so. Until we are clear on the details of the discussion Britain is going through, it is difficult to be specific about what we say.

We negotiated the PEACE and INTERREG programmes when we had the EU Presidency. PEACE has a fund of €269 million between 2014 and 2020. The Northern Ireland-Scotland INTERREG programme is €283 million. These cover issues like shared education, children and young people, shared spaces and services and building relations at a local level. The INTERREG programme deals with research and innovation, environment, sustainable transport and health. Many of these projects are supported by the European Regional Development Fund. We need to know the situation regarding these moneys. If and when Britain leaves the European Union, Northern Ireland will not be a member of the European Union. The funds were allocated between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland for important uses. When it becomes clear what it is that we are talking about, we then decide how best to negotiate in terms of the island of Ireland.

I am also concerned when I hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer state that they are in for a turbulent period economically in Britain. We can see the evidence of this already in agri-sector employment in Ireland. Currency fluctuations, over which we have no control, have an impact on exports, prices and employment. These are issues we will have to raise with the European Union, of which we will continue to be a member. While we do not have control over the currency situation, exports from Britain to here have an advantage in the sense of cost, while our exports to the UK are at a disadvantage. The agri-sector, as you know, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, is very important for the 200,000 jobs across the entire spectrum in Ireland, and the corollary applies in England.

To be honest, until we see the colour of the issues that are going to count, we are preparing as best we can. We will keep Members briefed, but it is too early to be sufficiently detailed to make political decisions.

I am obliged to move on to Question No. 7. I regret that I cannot take any supplementary questions.

EU Meetings

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach to report on his recent meeting with the European Council President, Donald Tusk. [27125/16]

The Taoiseach will answer first.

Before Deputy Boyd Barrett attacks me.

Seven and a half minutes remain.

I welcomed the President of the European Council, Mr. Tusk, to Dublin on 7 September. This was his first visit to Ireland in his current role, although he had visited before when he was Prime Minister of Poland. His visit to Dublin took place in the context of the Bratislava summit on 16 September and his intention to meet or speak to all Heads of State and Government in advance of that.

Our meeting in Dublin allowed us to exchange views about the main challenges and priorities of the European Union and where the focus of discussions at the Bratislava summit and beyond should be. We discussed the range of serious challenges facing the Union, including those relating to migration, economic stability and growth, security and Brexit. We agreed that the Bratislava summit should be part of the process of political reflection launched in June to look at the future of the EU and what we can do to improve the lives of our citizens in a real way.

I acknowledged the concerns of many of our EU partners regarding migration, terrorism and security. Of course I also highlighted the priority that Ireland and many other EU partners attach to economic issues, including investment, employment, the Single Market and the digital single market. I said that we should consider concrete measures in the areas which would directly and positively affect the lives of EU citizens. More generally, I assured President Tusk of Ireland's continued assistance and support in building a comprehensive response to the different and complex issues we face. I emphasised the need for a balanced approach as the process of reflection about the future of Europe continues. Further meetings are scheduled to take place in Malta in early spring and in Rome in March.

Although the meeting with President Tusk was not about the UK decision to leave the EU, we reaffirmed the agreed principles that there can be no negotiations before the UK triggers Article 50 and that access to the Single Market requires acceptance of all four freedoms. I gave him a brief account of my July meeting with the UK Prime Minister, Ms May, in Downing Street and took the opportunity to reiterate Ireland's specific concerns on this issue, particularly regarding Northern Ireland and the related Border and citizenship issues, the common travel area and the interconnectedness of our economies.

I will comment on what I see as the stunning lack of self-reflection and self-criticism from Donald Tusk and, for that matter, from the Taoiseach. Donald Tusk said in his speech here that people are turning against what they perceive as an irrational openness and that they see the world around them getting more chaotic with uncontrolled migration and terrorism.

First, these are unfortunate concessions to the scaremongering of those in the far right who are trying to whip up fear and racism against immigrants coming into this country. They were not helpful words from Donald Tusk in that regard. Moreover, they show a complete lack of self-criticism in the sense of asking about Europe's role in creating the sense of disillusionment that is widespread throughout Europe.

In the case of the meeting with the Taoiseach, I note that Donald Tusk declined to comment on Apple. Is it not a fact that the economic inequality throughout Europe is substantially a result of the fact that giant corporations evade tax or do not want to pay tax, the banks get it all their own way and people take it in the neck? Is that not why we have such widespread alienation? Is that not the seedbed for much of the racist sentiment that is then, wrongly, directed at immigrants?

I note the conversation with Deputy Martin earlier about Aleppo and so on and the absolutely justified criticisms of Russia's disgusting actions in Aleppo, its bombing there and so on. That criticism is right and proper. However, something is absolutely missing when they are talking about the Syrian crisis and the migration crisis. This much is clear from the comments of the Taoiseach, those of Deputy Martin or those from anyone in the European Union. What is missing is any sense of the culpability of Europe and the West in the very same cynical military intervention, intervention in Syria and in the wider region.

That is outrageous.

Where is the criticism of Britain bombing Syria 43 times in the past six months? Where is the criticism? There is none.

Deputy Boyd Barrett always qualifies Russian aggression.

Where is the criticism of US, French and British arms sales to the Saudi regime that has killed 10,000 people in Yemen? Where is the criticism? If there is no consistency in our humanitarian standards and in our opposition to bombing and war, then we have no standards, and everyone knows that it is no more than opportunistic and cynical.

Deputy, the Taoiseach has two minutes to respond and that will conclude questions to An Taoiseach.

Is the disaster in Syria, what is happening in Yemen and so on not an opportunity for Europe, the Government and, for that matter, Deputy Martin to start having a little consistency in their human rights standards?

The Taoiseach has less than two minutes and that will conclude these questions.

The discussion we had with President Tusk was about European issues. In reply to Deputy Martin's question, I referred to Aleppo and the disgraceful actions that led to so many men, women and children being killed there.

The Government decided to appeal the Apple case because of our belief in the integrity of the way the Revenue Commissioners have interpreted Irish law, the fact that they do not do sweetheart or behind-the-fence deals with any companies and that their dealings are straight up across every sector. We appealed this to the European judicial system for clarity on the opinion of the Commission, which we believe is wrong. Apple has also appealed.

In response to the question about European intervention in Syria and earlier in Libya, this is discussed normally at European Council meetings and High Representative Mogherini reports at length and in detail on those matters. We are not having a European army. We support, within the constraints by which we are bound and the regulations under which we operate, the European common defence strategy and we contribute to that.

Do we support bombing of Syria by the West?

The United States has broken off its conversations with Russia because of the bombing of the humanitarian convoy and the indiscriminate and deliberate obliteration of the remainder of Aleppo.