Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Paul Murphy

Question:

1. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Mr. Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator. [30629/16]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

2. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach the details and outcomes of his discussion with Mr. Michel Barnier following their recent meeting. [30640/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with Mr. Michel Barnier when they met on 12 October 2016. [30752/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

I welcomed the European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, to Government Buildings on 12 October. Mr. Barnier's visit to Dublin was one of a series of engagements in EU capitals in order to prepare for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Our discussions were timely, especially given the indication by Prime Minister May in early October and confirmed to EU leaders at last week’s European Council that she will trigger Article 50 no later than March next year.

During his visit Mr. Barnier also met the Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, as well as senior officials.

Mr Barnier, who took office as head of the European Commission’s Brexit task force on 1 October, will lead the European Union’s technical negotiations with the United Kingdom. This process will proceed under the political guidance of EU Heads of State or Government at the European Council and subject to their approval once the UK Government has formally triggered Article 50. My exchange with Mr. Barnier was open and constructive. He is well known to us in Ireland, given his various roles at national and EU levels. Consequently, he understands our close historical, political and economic ties with the United Kingdom.

During our discussions I took the opportunity to emphasise and explain in some detail Ireland’s unique set of concerns arising from Brexit in relation to Northern Ireland, the peace process and citizenship issues; the common travel area and border issues; and the depth of our economic and trade relationship with the United Kingdom. We also spoke about Ireland’s strong support for EU membership and our commitment to play a full part in the negotiations process. In this context, I briefed Mr. Barnier on the various strands of work which are advancing here at political and official levels to prepare Ireland to the maximum extent possible for the period ahead. Given the critical role of Mr. Barnier and the Commission, it was also useful to hear his thoughts about the process and how negotiations might be handled in the next critical phase.

I assured him that we looked forward to working closely with the Commission team in the months ahead and we agreed to stay in close contact.

Three Members tabled the questions, Deputies Paul Murphy, Eamon Ryan and Micheál Martin. Is it agreed that they will ask their questions in that order in order that we receive a substantive response? Agreed.

On the letters being sent by IDA Ireland to 1,200 British companies, the talk of Mr. Seán Kelly, Fine Gael MEP, in the European Parliament last week about reducing the rate of corporation tax, the various attempts being made to get the European Medical Agency to relocate to Ireland and the idea of banking regulation, are these indications that the Government is prepared to engage in a race to the bottom with the City of London in a post-Brexit scenario in terms of financial regulation and corporation tax? Was this discussed with Mr. Barnier? Does the Taoiseach agree that such an approach would prove very damaging to people in this country and across Europe?

As the Taoiseach knows, a debate has restarted on the question of having a common consolidated corporate tax base in Europe. Despite its protestations in terms of being to the fore in the fight against tax avoidance, the Government is opposing one of the measures proposed in an attempt to tackle tax avoidance. Mr. Seán Kelly made an interesting contribution on the topic. With suggestions from the United Kingdom that it may reduce its corporation tax rate to 10%, he said it was important that member states had the flexibility to change their tax rate as needed, "particularly small countries that depend on foreign direct investment." He was clearly referring to or, at least, including Ireland in that regard. There are ridiculous comparisons being made such as that Blackrock can be the Kensington of Dublin in trying to attract finance capital from the City of London to Dublin. Is that the strategy the Government is pursuing?

I agree with the previous speaker as such a strategy would be misguided if that is what the Government is pursuing. On the wider strategy, I have a concern that the Government is looking for a side-deal, as it were, between Ireland and the United Kingdom in any talks on invoking Article 50 which we might then present to the 26 remaining countries for them to treat us as a special case. While Ireland is a special case as it has a land border that other countries do not have, as well as the historical connections, I do not believe that would be the right strategy to pursue. Will the Taoiseach confirm that we will instead stick absolutely to what I believe is the correct argument that the United Kingdom cannot have access to the Single Market without providing access to its labour market? Did he mention this to Mr. Barnier?

Does the Taoiseach consider that there are aspects that we need to treat differently from financial services or traded goods? I am thinking of issues of energy policy, climate policy or environmental policy where there are very real, distinct and physical connections we have to manage. How are we going to manage the all-Ireland electricity market? Is there a case for managing it slightly differently? How are we going to manage water services? There was a meeting of European Green Party leaders last weekend in Dundalk where one of our councillors made the point that the water we were drinking had crossed the Border two or three times. In the negotiations can we look at how we differentiate in managing the energy market and water services where there are physical interconnections? I do not know if the Taoiseach or the Government has given any consideration to what the final court of arbitration will be. If the United Kingdom is stating, as it seems to be, that it will no longer recognise the European Courts of Justice, how will we manage the all-Ireland electricity market? How will we settle any dispute? As a result, how would we attract any investment in the energy sector in the North of Ireland?

They are my questions. Will the Taoiseach look to make a side-deal or will he be solid with the other 26 member states? Can we treat areas in which there is a physical connection differently from financial services or traded goods?

In later questions we will talk about what Britain is seeking in the Brexit negotiations. The core of these questions is how the European Union is approaching the negotiations. There has been a lot of wishful thinking and bluster but very few specifics so far. Mr. Barnier talked about having the negotiations conducted in French. That caused much amusement within the Commission, but it is petty and does not serve any useful purpose.

The other point, which we have been stating since the outset, is that the Commission has a distinct role in implementing treaties but does not have a reserved role in negotiating those treaties. We have been anxious all along, and the Taoiseach has indicated it in his speeches, that the Council, where Ireland has an equal voice, would make core decisions in respect of these negotiations and does not hand matters over to a Commission that, in my view, is now spending more time playing to the gallery than acting with proper reserve and in accordance with procedure.

Government spokespeople have been saying that Europe understands the needs of Ireland. Where is the evidence? What we are hearing from Brussels is talk of a hard Brexit. We are hearing the same from Westminster and the British Government. They are all talking about a hard Brexit. As stated by Deputy Eamon Ryan, the British Government does not want the Court of Justice of the European Union to hold sway. It does not want freedom of movement in any shape or form and, so far, all the noises from Westminster is around a hard Brexit. However, the same is happening in Brussels. Will the Taoiseach give us one example of how Ireland's unique position is being respected by the European Union? Have we, for example, been given representation in the permanent group of the Council? Are we in that group?

We are unique. The Department of Finance has produced two publications, one being UK EU exit - An exposure analysis of sectors of the Irish economy. Some of this is not reflected in our budget but it is clearly stating that there are many exposed sectors once Brexit goes ahead, particularly traditional manufacturing and, for instance, the pharmachem sector. There will be fiscal impacts because of a potential reduction in corporation tax. Above all, the impact will be very serious outside of Dublin in employment terms. The regional impact of Brexit will be far more pronounced than people might have thought. It seems to me that Irish businesses and communities, particularly those involved in traditional manufacturing and SME services, will require assistance. Having read the two reports, there will have to be a transitional period whereby support and aid will have to be given to Irish SMEs to enable them to move to a new situation and to discover and diversify into new markets and so on and to enable them to ride the storm, if one likes, that is coming once Brexit takes place, in particular if it is a hard Brexit. The report also made the point that the highest share of total employment in the exposed sectors in the particular regions is found in the Border region. The Border region above any other will be particularly hard hit as a result of a hard Brexit. I have no sense of that being shaped yet or that the Commission or anyone in Brussels has an understanding of it. That is not to speak of the devaluation of sterling, which is also hitting our SMEs. In addition to the devaluation of sterling and its impact on SMEs and businesses will be the actual exit itself. If there is less than full market access, we are in tariff country. We are talking about tariff territory. This will be very difficult for the food industry and traditional manufacturing sectors.

Has any work begun on specific instruments to implement aid programmes and support for such companies? Has the Taoiseach informed his European colleagues of the likelihood of such aid and assistance being required, given the reports by the Department of Finance on the potential and very real prospects of the impact of Brexit on our Irish industries and jobs?

Bearing in mind that we had 15 minutes and there are only three minutes left, I will ask the Taoiseach to respond.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised a question about corporate tax. This is a matter that falls within the competence of every country. That is provided for in the treaties. It is our business. The common consolidated corporate tax base has been around for quite a long time. It requires unanimity. It was one of the first issues Ireland allowed on the agenda when we held the Presidency in 2013 and it ran into the sand early on. It is a complex area, as Deputy Murphy knows. It does not interfere with the rate of corporate tax but is concerned with having a common base. I can assure Deputy Murphy that there are quite a number of countries that are violently opposed to it. It resurfaces every so often, but I cannot see it actually getting anywhere, to be honest with Deputy Murphy. I did not discuss the common consolidated corporate tax base with Mr. Barnier, who had just taken up his duties on 1 October. We should make it clear that the Commission, as has been pointed out, always dealt with countries wishing to join the European Union and not countries wishing to leave. Now the expertise that is within the Commission will be used for that purpose. I want to make it perfectly clear, however, that the Commission and the former Commissioner, Mr. Barnier, will not be in a position to make decisions. The decisions will be made by the European Council, which is, in other words, the elected political Heads of Government and Heads of State as the case might be in some countries. Whatever negotiations or discussions the Commission has, it will have to come back to the European Council for a political decision.

Deputy Eamon Ryan raised the issue of special cases. Every country, I suppose, considers itself a special case. We have people living in Britain, but so have other countries. They trade with Britain, but so do we. Ours, however, goes back a couple of centuries. The common travel area has been in place since 1922. This includes not just the right to travel but the right to work in Britain, as so many hundreds of thousands of people did. We will speak as a member of the European Union. We have decided on the fiscal stability treaty, the euro, the eurozone and the European Union. Ireland, involved in these negotiations, will be speaking from the perspective of a European Union member. Obviously, however, as I agreed with the British Prime Minister when I met her in Downing Street, we do not want a return to a hard Border and we want the common travel area protected. This system has worked well outside the Union and inside the Union, but it has never been tested with one outside and one inside the Union. Obviously, our trading links are important to us. Some 200,000 jobs are depending on trade either way across the Irish Sea.

Deputy Eamon Ryan has a point about energy. We will have to discuss the matter. There will be a meeting on 18 November of the North-South Ministerial Council. Following a request by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to them, I have asked all the Ministers to engage directly with their counterparts so that, when we go to Armagh, we can at least hope that we can reach a common agreed agenda or position or sets of positions with the parties represented in the Executive and in Northern Ireland politics. Deputy Eamon Ryan is right though. The European Union wants to end energy islands, yet we need an energy interconnector from the South to France. The big theory of Juncker's programme was that it would allow for massive infrastructure such as this and for finance and credit to be made available for that very kind of provision. If one is to end the energy island system that currently exists within the European Union, that is a case in point. Deputy Eamon Ryan is quite au fait with this.

The connections between Ireland and England in terms of interconnectors for gas or electricity and cross-Border, North-South, in terms of water are issues that need to be discussed.

I am coming to a conclusion now.

On the repeal of the law, the Prime Minister said that they want to introduce the law and have it ready for implementation when Britain actually leaves, which would mean that all the European issues would no longer be relevant in Britain. From a European perspective, and I assure Deputy Micheál Martin that they have been very clear on this, if one is to have access to the Single Market that carries with it the fourth freedom, that is, freedom of movement of people and labour. There will be no cherry-picking by financial houses or different sectors.

The Taoiseach has gone way over time.

I have just one other point-----

I know, but we have to move on.

If I may just raise this one-----

The Taoiseach is rolling over into the time allowed for the next group of questions. He is a minute and a half over already.

There were lots of questions. Do the Deputies want answers?

It will roll over into the time of those who have asked the next group of questions.

He wants to get his question answered.

I want to get my question answered.

We will move on to the next group of questions.

There is a really important element to a question, which I will answer within 30 seconds. When Deputy Micheál Martin raises the issue of a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, as we stand here, the position is unclear as to what is the agreed consensus of the British Government. Pulling out of the Single Market, the customs union or Schengen brings a range of complications. These are issues that we will have to focus on and discuss as things become clearer.

I do not think we were ever in Schengen.

We are not in it because Britain-----

It is not in it either.

-----is not in it. We are not under any pressure to join it. We are not in it and Britain is not in it.

European Council Meetings

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the contributions made by the British Prime Minister May at the October European Council meeting; if he had a bilateral with the British Prime Minister May; and the issues that were discussed [31634/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with British Prime Minister, Theresa May, matters relating to the North at the European Council meeting. [31699/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he had any discussions at the European Council meeting with regard to corporate tax reform. [31820/16]

Joan Burton

Question:

7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he had discussions at the recent European Council meeting with his fellow Heads of Government regarding the implications of Brexit for Ireland, both North and South. [31981/16]

Joan Burton

Question:

8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he had discussions with the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, at the recent European Council meeting regarding Brexit; and his views on whether this would result in a hard Border with Northern Ireland. [31982/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his contributions on Brexit at the EU Council meeting on 20 October 2016; and if any particular actions are being taken. [32047/16]

Joan Burton

Question:

10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if, during the recent European Council meeting, the opportunity arose to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria; and if a further opportunity arose to determine if any progress has been made in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in EU member states. [31983/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if specific and targeted actions were taken to assist families and children, in particular, from war-torn Aleppo at the European Council meeting on 20 October 2016; and if it was agreed to allow families to be accommodated in member states similar to actions taken in the past during previous wars. [32048/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 11, inclusive, together.

The meeting of the European Council which took place in Brussels on 20 and 21 October addressed a wide range of issues. The formal agenda included migration; external relations, specifically Russia and Syria; trade, including the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA, TTIP, the EU-Japan free trade agreement, and trade defence instruments; and a range of other global and economic issues.

Although the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union was not formally on the agenda for this meeting, Prime Minister Theresa May updated other EU leaders on recent developments in the UK as an information point. She confirmed that the decision to leave the EU is irreversible and that the UK will invoke Article 50 before the end of March next year. President Tusk welcomed the Prime Minister to her first meeting of the European Council, as did all other EU leaders. He reiterated the agreed principles that there will be no negotiations until Article 50 has been triggered and that access to the Single Market is linked to the four freedoms.

The future direction of the EU post-Brexit is a matter of ongoing consideration in accordance with the roadmap agreed at the Bratislava summit on 16 September. I did not have any scheduled bilateral meetings at this meeting of the European Council. However, I had informal exchanges with a number of my counterparts, including Prime Minister May and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, during the course of discussions and in the margins of the meeting. At every appropriate opportunity in my exchanges, I made it my priority to emphasise and explain Ireland’s particular concerns in relation to Northern Ireland, Border and citizenship issues, the common travel area, and the interconnectedness of our economies. The implications for Ireland are of the utmost seriousness and while there is an appreciation of this among EU partners, it is imperative that we continue to stress our particular position.

Corporation tax reform was not discussed at this meeting of the European Council. As I mentioned, the appalling situation in Syria was on the agenda for the meeting, as was our relationship with Russia. The European Council was united in its total condemnation of the attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia, on civilians in Aleppo. Efforts to assist refugees from the Syrian conflict were also reviewed. While no new actions were agreed in regard to families from Aleppo, Ireland, along with other EU member states, is participating in the EU measures agreed last September to take in Syrian refugees.

The meeting will be the subject of a full debate in the House, as are all scheduled meetings of the European Council, tomorrow afternoon.

I tabled two questions in this group. On the presentation made to the European Council by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, media reports indicate the Prime Minister was asked to speak for five minutes at the end of a five-hour session, that no one said anything in response to her contribution and business was adjourned for the evening at that point. This reflects badly on everybody at the meeting and suggests there is a continued policy of throwing shapes in both directions, rather than getting down to substance and debating issues. It is hardly credible that a British Prime Minister's contribution to a European Council meeting would be met by silence around the table and the adjournment of the meeting. Is there any engagement?

No, that is-----

I note also the comments made by the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who cleverly stated she could not be accused, as she had been, of undermining the United Kingdom's negotiating strategy simple because no one knows what is that strategy. The phoney war must end. A great deal of sniping is taking place and there is much uncertainty, as the Taoiseach stated. I indicated, as per the reports of the Department of Finance, that very serious issues arise for Irish business, jobs and industry. It is time to get down to business and start negotiations. Given that the Prime Minister has indicated when Article 50 will be triggered, there is no need for further drift or acrimony. Substantial work can get under way and we should move away from the megaphone negotiations that are the order of the day. As I indicated earlier, the noises from Brussels and Britain are not good or constructive.

Did the Taoiseach specifically ask the Prime Minister the reason the Northern Secretary has been excluded from the main Brexit committee, yet the Tory Party chairman is on the committee? This is appalling and a clear indication of a lack of respect.

Europe is divided again on Russia and Russian sanctions.

Will the Taoiseach indicate what developments took place at the European Council regarding the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and will the agreement be debated in the House? Brexit was about moving out of a free trade scenario. Everyone wants to have access to the Single Market, yet there appears to be horror at the prospect of a trade deal with Canada. There may be issues surrounding CETA but these should be debated in the Dáil because the last time I checked, it was in the best interests of Ireland to have an open trading policy to sell our goods and services abroad to create jobs at home.

That seems to have gone out the window with all the hysteria and hype around CETA. Will the Taoiseach indicate if we can have a debate on the issue in order that both sides of the argument will be articulated in the House?

Did the Taoiseach take the opportunity to remind the British Prime Minister of her obligations under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in respect of all the rights and entitlements that are contained in the Agreement? Did he ask her about the British Government's intention to replace the Human Rights Act? Many of the protocols in the Good Friday Agreement are based on various European conventions. Did the Taoiseach ask the British Prime Minister about the reasons the British Government is not co-operating with the legacy process agreed at Stormont House two years ago? While I appreciate the Irish Government has co-operated on incidents that took place in south Armagh and an inquest that was outstanding, the British Government needs to be persuaded to set aside its narrow self-interest in relation to blocking legacy requests.

I have twice asked the Taoiseach a direct question in this Chamber which he failed to answer. I will ask it again. The British Government has claimed there is an agreement between it and the Government to have immigration control into Britain in place in Irish ports and airports. This is a simple, straightforward matter. Either there is such an arrangement, in which case the Taoiseach must tell us what it is, or there is not. Clarity is needed on this issue and the Dáil must be informed of what is going on.

I listened to the various contributions in the House, some entertaining and some interesting, as Deputies tried to figure out what the British are doing and what European Union leaders are doing. I am more concerned about what we are doing because I am not encouraged and did not receive any assurance that we are truly approaching the issue of Brexit from an all-island perspective and the viewpoint of genuine national interest. Different sectors in the North are looking for leadership from the Government in Dublin. I am referring to people who may have an entirely different position on the constitutional issue but wish to remain in the European Union. Did the Taoiseach take the opportunity to say to the British Prime Minister that is also the Government's position, as he has told this Chamber?

It is amazing that one issue has not been remarked upon in the whole discussion on the implications for this country of Brexit and it is an issue on which I want to understand fully the Government's position. While there has been much lamenting of the impact of currency fluctuation on certain sectors of the economy, it is not remarked upon that currency fluctuation is a result of currency speculation. Speculators are speculating against the British currency, which is why fluctuations are taking place. It is remarkable that, one the one hand, the Government is pleading that Brexit is having a bad effect on Ireland, the main one being currency fluctuation which is a result of financial speculation while, on the other hand, the same Government states it wants to act as a vulture by pulling more financial speculators from the city of London into the IFSC.

It is precisely that policy of a competitive race to encourage and induce the speculators that is leading to the fluctuations that are wrecking sections of the Irish economy. It shows the absolute madness of our position.

I would be keen to know what the EU actually says to the Taoiseach about our whole approach on corporate tax, a stance which I would characterise as plain old piracy. We have been involved in tax piracy and Britain was our main ally in defending our position on this. Now that Britain has pulled out of the EU we are in a very awkward position because it was our main ally in imposing things like the financial transactions tax. Is the lesson of this precisely that we need a financial transactions tax, which the Government resists, and we need serious reform of the corporate tax area, because it is this stuff that is destabilising our economy and the wider European economy?

The Deputy should conclude.

I will be brief. The Taoiseach mentioned the Syrian refugees. A project will be unveiled tomorrow by the Irish campaign, Not On Our Watch. ICTU is sponsoring the briefing tomorrow morning and I encourage the Taoiseach to send representatives to it. The specific ask by this campaign in regard to Syrian refugees and unaccompanied minors more generally in the camps is that we would take in 200 unaccompanied minors in a specific measure to help these young people.

Will the Taoiseach support that initiative, which is an Irish equivalent of the Dubs amendment?

Has the Department of the Taoiseach or any other part of the Government recalculated revised estimates of the economic impact of the greater devaluation of sterling in terms of the budget and of planning in regard to the capital programme, given all of these will be greatly impacted?

As I go around talking to people, I speak to many in the retail trade who have complex import-export arrangements in regard to buying their products from Britain and who cannot instantly source them from France. I am talking about retail companies that are in business a very long time, in particular small-scale businesses. No information of any kind is available from the Government to help or guide them. These are people in business a long time who work hard but the Government has made no information available to that kind of traditional business. If the Taoiseach takes a walk around Dublin, he will come across those kinds of shops in any ten-minute walk.

When I asked the Taoiseach a couple of weeks ago, he was highly confident Mr. Barnier was going to have a very high level Irish person in his cabinet. The way the Taoiseach spoke, it appeared he was going to announce the name of that person and that he was to be part of that cabinet almost immediately. Weeks have passed since the Taoiseach promised that and we have heard absolutely zilch.

The Taoiseach is a person of his word. He and I reached an amicable agreement many months ago that 4,000 refugees in families and with children would be accepted by Ireland and that this was an appropriate gesture taken by Ireland, given the calamity in regard to Syria and other migrant crises.

The Deputy should conclude.

The Taoiseach may have seen the article by Sr. Stan-----

I am looking for the same time as the other speakers.

The Deputy has had more time.

The Taoiseach may have seen the article by Sr. Stan in The Irish Times this morning, full of goodwill for a Government action of which at the moment we are seeing almost nothing.

As the Deputy has the next question, she is eating into her own time.

Where are the Taoiseach's officials? I know Tusla is supposed to have gone to Greece to find the child refugees who are definitely there.

Please, Deputy. I am asking you to conclude.

Honestly, can the Taoiseach really stand so idly by? He reached an honourable agreement with me on numbers.

You have had more time than the other speakers. As the next question is in your name, you are eating into your own time. I ask for the Taoiseach's co-operation in giving a short reply.

Yes. In respect of Deputy Burton's question, the task force set up by Mr. Barnier is not a task force of very high level people. Ireland will be represented on that task force and the important point to remember is that the presence on that task force will give us a constant and accurate feed of information in respect of the issues that are coming before the task force, but in respect of which political decisions and oversight decisions will only be made by the European Council. There were some 300 applications for the position and there are 20 to 25 on it, and Ireland is represented on that.

Second, the comments made in respect of the pound-----

Will the Taoiseach give the name and rank of the official?

-----have led to a strengthening and weakening of sterling. As the Deputy knows, every time a statement is made about a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, withdrawing from the Single Market or withdrawing from the customs union, it has impacted on the fluctuation of sterling. While we do not have any control over that, some measures were announced in the budget such as extra finance for Enterprise Ireland, extra personnel and new programmes for the development of new markets so we can continue to be very competitive.

In respect of refugees, officials from the Department of Justice and Equality have been in Greece looking specifically at the question of unaccompanied children, and they are probably now back with evidence of that. A problem was that the Italians would not accept that some security checks should be done on those wishing to be brought to Ireland or to any other country, and that caused a real problem in Italy. It has been ironed out somewhat but it is still very slow. Things are moving better in respect of the Greek situation and, as I said, our people have been there. I read Sr. Stan's document today and I will come back to her.

In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, who is no longer present, the Government this morning looked at the question of actively promoting Ireland as a competitor to receive the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, both of which it would be very appropriate to assign to this country. However, there is competition from other countries.

The Deputy mentioned the corporation tax rate and pointed out that Britain will no longer be a member. The corporate tax rate does not depend upon allies: it depends upon the treaties. It is enshrined in the treaties and that is our business.

There will be a debate on CETA. It is a mixed agreement and there must be a debate and approval by each parliament.

We should debate it in advance.

It took them a while, given they are seven years at it.

I mean that we should debate it.

We will have a debate.

The Taoiseach should conclude.

Deputy Micheál Martin raised a very important point about the meeting. He has not been at these meetings - to date, anyway.

I have, in the pre-Lisbon days.

The meeting began with a presentation from the President of the European Parliament, as is normal procedure. They then go off and have their picture taken. There is then a round table discussion about issues such as migration. Prime Minister May spoke eloquently and well on a number of occasions at that meeting - she intervened on a number of occasions, as was appropriate. Afterwards, they went off to have their meal. In the course of the discussions around that table, she updated the European Council on the situation in so far as Brexit is concerned.

She spoke eloquently and well, and it was received in that way. There was not any intention that it be otherwise. The meeting continued for four or five hours after that.

There was no discussion about her contribution.

It was just a verbal update. It was not a discussion about Brexit. If it was, it would still be going on.

It was just a verbal update, then a silence.

I ask Members to calm down. We will move on to Question No. 12 from Deputy Burton.

Gabh mo leithscéal.

I am not allowing any further discussion.

I asked the Taoiseach three questions; he never answered one.

The Deputy may take that up with the Ceann Comhairle or whoever. We must proceed to Question No. 12, in the name of Deputy Burton.

I had 37 seconds to answer all the questions asked, including those of Deputy Adams. I will have to come back to that one for him.

He did not answer the hard ones.

We gave the Taoiseach a bit more. We shall proceed to Deputy Burton's question.

Departmental Properties

Joan Burton

Question:

12. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the landlords that his Department or bodies under his aegis paid rent to in each of the past three years; and the amounts paid in each case. [31638/16]

The properties occupied by my Department and the National Economic and Social Development Office are provided and managed by the Office of Public Works.

The intent of the question is to have the Taoiseach identify what rents his Department is paying. I will accept a written answer because I appreciate there are statistics involved. I would like to hear his important answer to the next question so, to facilitate the House, I will accept a detailed written answer on the rents paid by the Department of the Taoiseach and the various offices under its aegis.

I will send a reply to Deputy Burton.

Perhaps I could help. I asked this question five years ago. It was revealed that the State was paying ground rent to landlords, such as the Earl of Pembroke for buildings on Merrion Square and the Duke of Leinster, who owns land where the National Library is situated. These ground rents, which are a legacy of our colonial past, are also known as leaseholds. The State's ground rent bill for Iveagh House, where the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade presides, is paid to an absentee landlord. The same applies to Dublin Castle. In the year of the centenary of the Easter Rising, we are perpetuating a system that is a hangover. The money involved is quite small. The ground rent for Iveagh House is a mere €257. That for the Four Courts is a mere €200 and the bill for Dublin Castle is only €7 but there are 250,000 ground rents around the State that have an impact on individual homeowners who want to sell their homes but who need to require the freehold in order to do so. Will the Government consider introducing legislation to end this system once and for all? It is a feudal tax and, as I have said, it is a hangover from the days of British colonial rule on this part of the island and should be abolished.

I recall from many years ago that there were some constitutional issues where ground rents were being paid to absentee landlords and all the rest of it. The law was changed. As far as I know, the majority of leaseholds can be bought out and become freehold but there are some constitutional difficulties with some properties. I will give Deputy Adams a note with an update on the position outlined to him the last time he asked this particular question.

Will the Taoiseach give me a note on the other questions I asked in respect of Question No. 11?

Of course I will. He knows well I will. I will give him full and comprehensive information each time he asks me a question like this.

Wonderful co-operation between the two gentlemen. That concludes questions to the Taoiseach. We shall now move on to-----

Is that it, then?

I presume it is. I am going by what is on my sheet.

There are 11 minutes remaining.

I asked the Deputy whether he wanted to make a contribution.

No. There are many more questions tabled.

I have been given a programme. That is what is in it. If the Taoiseach wants to deal with the next question, I will have no difficulty.

On a point of order, if we are allowed to do so we should dispense with the next question. There are 11 minutes left.

I am "game on" here.

With the agreement of the House, we shall proceed to Question No. 13. There are ten minutes remaining.

Appointments to State Boards

Joan Burton

Question:

13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a list of all vacancies that existed on 26 February 2016 and all positions that have arisen since, including the date each vacancy arose, for State boards or governing bodies under his control; the names of those appointed since the Government was formed; if each position was advertised and a short-list was provided to him by the Public Appointments Service; if the appointments were approved by the Cabinet; and the positions under his control that are not subject to the Public Appointments Service system. [31639/16]

I make appointments to the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, in accordance with the provisions of the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006 and the National Economic and Social Council (Alteration of Composition) Order 2010 - SI 603 of 2010. The Statistics Act 1993 gives me authority to make appointments to the National Statistics Board, NSB. I have delegated this authority to the Minister of State at my Department and Chief Whip, Deputy Regina Doherty. In the case of the NESC, the legislation provides that I appoint up to 20 members on the basis of nominations from the organisations or interests set out, with up to six public servants and up to eight independent members. The independent members are mainly from the academic sector.

The Statistics Act 1993 provides for an eight-member NSB, including the director general of the CSO, ex officio, one representative each from my Department and the Department of Finance, two nominated by the Minister of State and three by organisations representative of the users of official statistics and providers of information under the Act.

One vacancy existed on the NESC on 26 February 2016 from one of the nominating organisations. No vacancies existed on the NSB. Since then, the five-year term of the full NESC has expired. I have not yet reappointed a council. On 8 September 2016, Mr. John Callinan, second Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, resigned from the NSB and was replaced on 15 September 2016 by Mr. John Shaw, assistant secretary in my Department. There have been no other appointments to the NSB since this Government was formed.

Under the legislation, appointments to either the NSB and NESC do not require Government approval. Where appropriate and consistent with the legislation, future vacancies in the NESC and NSB will be advertised on www.stateboards.ie in accordance with the guidelines on appointments to State boards.

I am concerned about what the Government is doing regarding appointments. I wish to draw to the Taoiseach's attention the appointments to the board of Ervia announced by his Government on 6 July 2016. The four members appointed are the chairman, Mr. Keohane, whom I understand is Irish, a Mr. Banks, whom I understand is from Scottish Water, a Mr. Barry, whom I understand is Irish, and a Mr. Keith Harris, whom I understand may be English but who at least is appointed in the context of his having served on the board of Wessex Water. With regard to having people from all over Ireland and possibly Northern Ireland on the board, there are, from what I read, two Irish appointees and two from the United Kingdom. Most noticeable of all is that, among the four people appointed to a board on one day, there is not one woman. Do we not have at least two female engineers in this country or women involved in business or finance, either from the North or South, who could actually have an audience with the Government with a view to being appointed to a major board that oversees gas and other energy networks and also our water networks? What happened on this occasion? Was the collective Cabinet asleep? When I was a member of the Cabinet, the issue of the number of women appointed to boards was always a matter for attention, not least by me but also by other Cabinet members, including those from the Taoiseach's party. I really want to understand this.

I have looked for an answer and have read the documentation on these people from Ervia. Obviously, the Public Appointments Commission must have recommended them all, but Deputy Simon Coveney made these appointments. What came over him in a country which is weighed down with qualified women North and South that he had four major appointments to make and could not recommend one woman. Apparently nobody in the Cabinet, unless the Taoiseach is prepared to share information to the contrary with us, put up his or her hand and asked whether we have a few women in this country. Supposing four women were appointed, and there would be more than four women perfectly capable of taking on this position, maybe one of the lads would have put up his hand and ask why there were no men. Could the Taoiseach please explain what happened on 6 July 2016? Presumably, the new-ish Cabinet is very eager to show its mettle on very important issues, such as the proper and full participation of women, as of right, as of ability and as of what they have to contribute but they have been entirely excluded from this board appointment.

Does Deputy Micheál Martin want to make a short contribution at this point?

Do the NESC and the NSB come under the public appointments system?

I do not think so.

I noticed that the Taoiseach's language was-----

They are nominated by organisations, and most of them are academic.

Yes, so they do not come under the public appointments system. I noted from the Taoiseach's reply to us-----

I do not think they come under the public appointments system, but I will confirm that to the Deputy.

There is a wonderful phrase in the Taoiseach's reply, something like "where appropriate" and so on, which I took to mean that it is not appropriate and that they do not come under the public appointments service at all. The civil servant used the kind of language that gently lets one down, but it was very good. I just wanted to clarify that point.

Second, how well is the public appointments system working? I got the sense that the last Government tied itself up in knots by announcing principles by which people were to be appointed but, when it came to their own appointments, doing it differently and using the ministerial exemption clause or various other reasons to appoint people who circumvented the public appointments route. The Taoiseach may not have the information to hand but perhaps he could communicate to me the number appointed to State boards that have gone through the public appointments system and those who were appointed in a way that was not subject to that system. I also await the reply to Deputy Burton's question.

I will have to come back to Deputy Micheál Martin on the latter point. As far as I understand, it seems to be working reasonably well in that applications are invited. They are made completely independently of anybody in Government. The applicants go before the Public Appointments Service. It is not even known, except by those processing the application, who applies. Whichever Minister is responsible then gets a list of persons with appropriate experience to serve on whatever the board in question might be. I will supply Deputy Martin with all the information in this regard.

As Deputy Burton is well aware, there are now more women serving at Cabinet level than ever before. The Chief Justice is a woman, the Attorney General is a woman, the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, is a woman, all of whom are working away and doing a very fine job. In the case of the board Deputy Burton mentions, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has dealt with this, but there is a requirement in this case that a board of that nature have an input from NewERA in terms of the qualifications, experience and so on of the people to be appointed. I cannot answer the Deputy's question as to why an exceptionally competent, experienced woman is not on the board. I will give Deputy Burton some details in this regard. For instance, the gender balance of the board of the NSB has improved. I think representation of women on the board is up from 12.5% to 37.5%. The chair of the board is Dr. Patricia O'Hara, who was reappointed in order to ensure continuity with the ongoing work of the board. She brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this role, including from her academic career and as a member of the European Statistical Governance Advisory Board. I will give Deputy Burton the up-to-date information as I get it.

I call Deputy Burton to respond very briefly because we are almost out of time.

We really do not need "fine girl you are" style compliments.

That is not fair.

I think everybody here knows the capacity and ability of women in this country. I ask Deputy Enda Kenny, in his capacity as Taoiseach and chairperson of the Cabinet, how a set of board appointments came to the Cabinet in this manner. By the way, as I am sure the Taoiseach remembers, the outgoing chair of this institution was a woman - a very well-known businesswoman - yet when a time came for major changes on a very significant board, which has control-----

-----of billions of Government assets, four appointments-----

I will not allow a speech now. We are over time.

I ask the Taoiseach if-----

I was more than finished and I let Deputy Burton back in.

There is supposed to be a situation in government whereby, as far as possible, 50% of appointments are women.

Four appointments on any one board is a lot of appointments to make, so why did the Taoiseach or anyone else not put up his or her hand and ask-----

The Deputy should give the Taoiseach-----

-----why they did not have women for these positions-----

-----in equal numbers?

I call the Taoiseach to respond very briefly.

I assure the Acting Chairman that the Government has absolutely every intention of appointing as many competent women to positions as they are nominated for. I do not have access-----

Is the Taoiseach implying that-----

It is wrong of Deputy Burton to suggest or imply that there is some sort of bias from a Government perspective about the appointment of capable women to positions. She picks out one statistic showing that four men were appointed. That is not the same as the ordinary Public Appointments Service board nominations. This is a very big commercial entity that requires an input from NewERA, as she is well aware from her experience.

I will supply Deputy Burton with all the lists of those who have been appointed through the Public Appointments Service in the hope that there be a recognition not only of the value of women's input into this, but also of the improvement in the gender balance from what it used to be.

That concludes questions to the Taoiseach. I offered a lot of latitude there, and as we move to questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, I will adhere strictly to the time slots, which are six and a half minutes.

Come on, St. Brigid's.