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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Oct 2016

Vol. 926 No. 2

European Council: Statements

The meeting of the European Council which took place last Thursday and Friday dealt with several issues of importance to the Union. It began on Thursday afternoon with a substantial discussion about the complex issue of migration, which remains, quite rightly, a priority for the Union. The evening session focused predominantly on external relations, specifically the situation in Syria and our strategic relationship with Russia. On Friday, we discussed a number of trade issues, including the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, commonly called CETA, as well as TTIP, the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement, trade defence instruments and, more broadly, EU trade policy. A range of other global and economic issues were also agreed, as set out in the European Council conclusions.

In addition to the formal agenda, there were three substantive information points. The first of these was an update from Prime Minister Rutte on developments in the Netherlands since the referendum there on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, DCFTA, with Ukraine as well as developments on the MH17 investigations. The second was a presentation by Prime Minister Fico on follow up to the roadmap agreed at the Bratislava summit in September, which set out a plan for future work on the renewal of Europe. The third was a brief intervention from Prime Minister May on developments on Brexit. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, to touch on elements of the Russia discussion in his wrap-up remarks. I will address the other agenda items.

I will start by updating the House on Prime Minister May’s intervention, as I know the EU-UK relationship is of particular interest to the House. This was her first meeting of the European Council since becoming UK Prime Minister and President Donald Tusk welcomed her to the meeting. In her remarks, the Prime Minister confirmed that the UK decision to leave the EU is irreversible and that it will trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. She was very clear that until the Article 50 negotiations are conducted the UK intends to remain a full and active member of the European Union and to fulfil all of its obligations and responsibilities as a member state. As envisaged, there was no discussion of the issue at this meeting. However, President Tusk took the opportunity to reiterate the principles agreed by the 27 EU Heads of State and Government in June, that there will be no negotiations until Article 50 is triggered by the UK, and that access to the Single Market is linked to acceptance of the four freedoms.

I had informal exchanges with a number of my EU counterparts, including Prime Minister May, as well as Commission President Juncker, in the margins of the meeting. During these exchanges, I emphasised, as I do at every opportunity, Ireland's very particular concerns arising from Brexit, specifically the impact on the economy, jobs in the Republic and Northern Ireland, the peace process, citizenship issues, the common travel area and Border issues and the interconnectedness of our economies.

Responding to the migration crisis effectively and humanely remains, quite rightly, a top priority for the Union. Clearly, many problems remain, particularly in the central Mediterranean. Significant progress has been made, for example, in managing the inflow of irregular migrants through our relations with third countries. At the meeting on Thursday, the Commission gave a detailed presentation on the latest developments, and progress on the various measures already agreed. Many of these are having a positive impact. Most notable is the significant decrease in the number of people travelling the eastern Mediterranean route, where there has been a 98% drop in arrivals since the EU-Turkey statement was agreed in March. There was a constructive discussion about restoring the Schengen Agreement because of this progress. Although Ireland does not participate in Schengen, we recognise its value to the EU overall and we are supportive of the progress being made.

There was also a presentation by High Representative Mogherini on the migration compacts. These are proposed agreements between the EU and third countries, such as Niger and others in Africa, as part of the Commission's partnership framework. These compacts are born out of the understanding that we have to address the root causes of the migration crisis and not just its effects, and aim at bringing coherence between external policies and development policies. They are being worked on with a number of African countries in the first instance. Ireland is particularly involved in discussions about Ethiopia, which is a key partner of Irish Aid. In this context, Ireland is also a supporter of progress on the external investment plan in order to boost investments and job creation in the partner countries.

Despite our position on the far western edge of Europe, and our non-participation in certain justice and home affairs measures under Protocol 21 of the treaties, we continue to contribute to the EU response to the challenges posed by migration. Since May 2015 Defence Forces and Naval Service personnel have rescued over 14,300 migrants from the Mediterranean. The LE Samuel Beckett began patrols on 2 October and continues to play a vital role in this regard. I commend the members of the Naval Service and Defence Forces for the service they provide. They are a credit to our flag and our nation and we thank them for their service.

We are also playing our part in terms of our humanitarian assistance. We have provided over €42 million in response to the Syria crisis since 2011, and we have pledged a further €20 million in 2016. It is important to recall the Government’s decision to opt in to the EU measures on resettlement and relocation and to take up to 4,000 people in need of international protection. There has been good progress on the resettlement of refugees from outside the Union under the direction of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. To date, 500 have arrived in Ireland and we are on course to meet our 2016 target of 520 by the end of the year. There is no facility for taking refugees directly from within Syria. We are working with the UNHCR-Ied programme, which is currently focused on resettling refugees from the camps in Lebanon, and the programme is moving ahead. The Government has announced we will admit an additional 260 refugees on resettlement from Lebanon next spring, and a further pledge for 2017 is under active consideration.

On relocation, that is taking asylum seekers who have already arrived in Greece and Italy, progress has been very slow. This has been the case for all countries for a variety of reasons outside of our control. However, progress is at last beginning to be made and 69 people have now come to Ireland from Greece. We are building on this progress and it is anticipated that by the end of the year we will have accepted up to 400 people through the relocation pledge. The intention thereafter is to sustain the pace of intake throughout 2017 at the levels required to allow Ireland to meets its commitments within the timeframe envisaged by the programme.

The migration crisis is born out of instability across the north African and Middle East regions and in that regard the horrendous war in Syria remains a central factor. There was a lengthy discussion about the situation there, and the European Council was unanimous in its condemnation of the attacks by Syria and its allies, notably Russia, on Aleppo. It is a war crime to attack a hospital. It is a breach of international law not to protect civilian life and not to allow unimpeded access to humanitarian aid. Atrocities on all three fronts have occurred in Aleppo. We called for an end to these atrocities, for unhindered humanitarian access to be provided, and for the resumption of a credible political process under UN auspices. The European Council was also united in its assertion that accountability for breaches of international humanitarian law must be upheld. All options will be under consideration should the current atrocities continue. That, of course, includes sanctions if necessary, and Ireland fully supports this position.

There was considerable interest in the European Council discussions on trade. Our debate in the House last week heard a number of forceful interventions, in particular on the question of the provisional application of those elements of the CETA agreement which fall within the competence of the European Union. This was also the focus of media coverage last week as intense negotiations continued between the Commission, the Canadian delegation, the Belgian Prime Minister and the Walloon Minister-President. I appreciate there are differing views in the Dáil on matters of political philosophy, and I welcome this spectrum of opinion. However, let me be clear that Ireland, with one of the most open economies in the world, has been a beneficiary of free trade.

This openness is one of the reasons international companies locate here and why Irish companies, particularly SMEs, do so well exporting and trading on the international stage.

The Government, while watchful of our own interests, continues to support free trade agreements where the substance and the detail are right. From Ireland’s perspective, the discussions on trade at the European Council were probably the most significant. EU leaders agreed on the importance of trade in creating jobs, growth and investment, and on the need to respond to today's challenges with an outward-looking and balanced trade policy. I emphasise that, on CETA, Ireland was among a group of member states that successfully sought its designation as a mixed agreement. This means that only those elements of the agreement which fall within the competency of the EU would come into force upon provisional signature. Those elements which fall to national competency would not be in force until national parliaments, including the Dáil, vote to allow that to happen. The Government, along with others, insisted on this for legal reasons. Furthermore, the investment protection provisions have been specifically carved out from provisional application which means that they will be implemented only when the Dáil has voted for them. We fully support the provisional application of CETA at the earliest opportunity. When it is signed, there will be an accompanying interpretative declaration clarifying that the agreement will not affect public services, labour rights or environmental protection. It is still hoped that the agreement can be signed at the EU-Canada Summit on 27 October. The European Parliament would then be expected to give its approval in December. The prospects for finalising the TTIP agreement with the US are, of course, much more difficult. It will not happen before the presidential election.

More generally, the Council also discussed EU trade defence instruments. They came to the fore due to a variety of global trade factors, particularly pressure on the steel sector. We do not have a steel industry and we, therefore, are consumers. I intervened on the broad question of tackling unfair practices, and I stressed the need to ensure policies designed to help the few do not harm the overall competitiveness of EU industry. This is particularly important for a small, open economy like Ireland, which is dependent on importing products. However, we recognise that unfair trade practices need to be tackled efficiently and robustly and we have engaged pragmatically on this item.

I will leave it at that. The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, will deal with Russia when he replies to the debate.

Next March will be the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which created what is now the EU. Within days of the anniversary, the UK will submit formal notice of its intention to leave the Union. In spite of 60 years successfully fighting the extremism of the left and the right and delivering a significant increase in living standards and a historic fall in poverty, the anniversary marks a dramatic escalation of what is a threat to the EU's very existence. June's Brexit referendum is not just bad for Britain; it is bad for everyone. Every day it becomes clearer that the hysterical anti-Europeanism of mainly English politicians, ideologues and media owners did not involve preparing any concrete plans for what to do after the referendum. They continue to abuse anyone who points out issues but they have yet to get beyond a shambolic and often arrogant statement that everything will be great when Britain leaves.

The damage to Ireland is not hypothetical. It is happening already and it risks becoming much worse. Following the forthcoming forum, we should have a detailed discussion in the House about our strategy for Brexit and seek to agree a resolution setting out at least a statement of core principles which can be supported by all Deputies who believe in Ireland’s long-term place in the EU. However, I reiterate that we are not confident that the scale of the threat and its urgency are being properly reflected in Government policy. Brexit represents a deep long-term economic and social threat to this country. It will impact our core economic model and threatens to reintroduce divisions on this island which we have worked so hard to overcome.

The budget was long on rhetoric but lacked any substance. It is welcome that we are targeting companies in Britain to encourage them to move here, and we should certainly seek the transfer of an EU agency, but this is only a small part of the challenge we face. Key industries and communities will suffer enormous damage from the volatility of sterling and the introduction of barriers to trade. I have outlined previously what the Department of Finance's own two reports on exposure of the economy following Brexit will mean. The Retail Excellence figures published last weekend are worrying as they suggest an initial reduction in sentiment and a downward trend. We cannot wait two years to outline a strategy to help companies to diversify and compete. We need to have our demands on the table from the start.

If the EU wishes to show that Britain made a mistake, and if it wants to keep the 27 intact, then it has an obligation to do everything to assist Ireland and any other part of the Union which can show a significant negative impact. Immediately following the referendum, it was a reasonable position to state that there should be no discussions until Article 50 was triggered. This is no longer appropriate and discussions should start now. First, the British have indicated when the two year period will be triggered, and, therefore, we are not talking about an open-ended negotiation. Second, it is increasingly clear that any agreement beyond a crude hard Brexit will require the full period and that may not even be enough. Finally, and more important, uncertainty and the fevered atmosphere which is developing are causing damage. We need clarity and that can only happen when at least some preliminary discussions happen. I agree fully with the idea that the British need to say what they want before there can be detailed negotiations, but it would be irresponsible to fail to at least agree formalities beforehand. It would be unforgivable if time were wasted on discussing how the negotiations would be conducted or who would be involved. It is ridiculous that there was no substantive discussion at this summit concerning the gravest threat facing the Union.

Fianna Fáil believes that it is also time for the British Government to follow up its warm words for Ireland with a concrete demonstration of its good faith. There is an increasing sense that Ireland will be prioritised only after the English Tory agenda has been addressed. First Minister Sturgeon's frustration about how the devolved administrations are being treated has been well articulated and should be of concern to our Government. There is much more to be said on this topic, but given time constraints, this will have to wait for another occasion.

The summit’s discussion on migration does not appear to have involved much of substance. The emphasis of the policies discussed should have been placed on the actions required to stop so many people feeling they need to make a potentially deadly journey in fleeing to Europe. I would like to again acknowledge the great humanitarian work carried out by our naval personnel. We should be immensely proud of them and continue to support them in their work. Separately, migration has been used by many political movements in a dark and cynical manner. I addressed this issue in depth in a speech last week. I will only repeat that it is our obligation to stand against the crude and divisive anti-immigrant populism which is present in too many countries. There is clearly a need to dramatically increase funding for the EU bodies that can systematically study and report on such racist activity.

The Taoiseach agreed yesterday that we would have a full debate on the current status of trade negotiations. I have no sympathy for those who see a conspiracy in every trade agreement and refuse to acknowledge any benefits of free trade. The fact is that Ireland is one of the world’s biggest beneficiaries of the freer trade of recent decades. To be anti-trade is to say to hundreds of thousands of Irish workers that their companies might not be able to compete fairly internationally. However, as these agreements become more comprehensive and complex, the need to review them in detail and to ensure public legitimacy has also increased. I hope the work on the CETA agreement will not be abandoned and a way forward can be agreed. Notwithstanding what happens in Wallonia and in Belgium, it is important that we have a debate on this House because it has been one-sided so far.

The benefits of an open free trade policy for Ireland have not had sufficient articulation. There are many issues in respect of job creation and so on.

The summit’s conclusions on the energy union are, to say the least, disappointing. Given our level of connectivity in energy and communications with the UK, an early statement is needed from Government on how it sees these areas developing as well as proposals for diversification where required.

I welcome the fact that the summit condemned in clear language the barbarity of the ongoing bombing of Aleppo by Russia and Syria. The fact that leaders failed to do anything other than issue a strongly worded statement on this humanitarian disaster is shameful. The people of Syria are facing another winter in terrible conditions. Millions are displaced and losing hope. If Russia and Syria continue as they are, then at east hundreds of thousands more will become homeless and will be driven out of their country. I am frankly sick and tired of the false equivalence we keep hearing from those who want to avoid singling out Russia for condemnation.

Let us remember something very simple. Russia is responsible for a brutal dictator refusing to hand over power to democratic forces. It is Russia which is using bunker-busting bombs to hit civilian hospitals and residential areas repeatedly. To compare this to the bombing by America and others of the inhumane and ghastly ISIS group is perverse.

It is a disgrace the Council failed to take a stand against Russia. The craven behaviour of certain governments, operating in the hope of some small commercial benefit, undermines them and the Union. The question for them is what Russia would have to do before they would be willing to take a stand against the Putin Government. It has already invaded and partitioned neighbouring countries, stood by while opposition politicians and journalists have been murdered, intimidated member states of the EU and funded right-wing parties in European states. It appears to believe the best way of promoting Russia is to undermine democracy.

Sanctions have been an effective non-violent weapon for democracies faced with regimes which flout basic standards. Sanctions were instrumental in bringing down apartheid in Rhodesia and South Africa. In recent years, they secured the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and a return to democracy in Myanmar. Sanctions targeting senior Russian personnel and the extension of Russian state power in Europe are the very least we can do. Existing sanctions have hurt and they should be extended.

Fianna Fáil strongly opposes the tone and content of yesterday's European Commission announcement on CCCTB, the common consolidated corporate tax base. It is manifestly an attempt to shift tax revenue to certain member states at the expense of others. The idea that taxing businesses more will increase employment and growth is absurd. The failure to produce a single piece of evidence backing these claims shows that it is purely about politics. Fianna Fáil will oppose any move by our Government to go along with these proposals. We will be demanding the Commission publishes the background documents which detail the impact on member states of these proposals.

I call Deputy Gerry Adams who is sharing time with Deputy Seán Crowe.

Last week's European Council meeting, being the first one attended by the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was a significant one. There was obviously a significant focus on Brexit. While it is now over four months since the Brexit referendum, the British Government still seems devoid of a clear plan for the negotiations which are to begin early next year. This is concerning. However, as I said before, we should not get too mesmerised by this. We need to get our own house in order.

On Monday's meeting in Downing Street, the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, told Theresa May that she cannot ignore the reality that the people of the North voted to remain in the EU or the enormous consequences of Brexit for Ireland. He also told her that continued attempts to drag the North out of the European Union undermine the Good Friday Agreement. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has refused to allow the Executive to have a formal role in the negotiations with the EU. The British Government clearly cannot, should not be allowed to or will not negotiate in Ireland's interests. London does not have the interests of the citizens in any part of this island at heart.

I hope the Taoiseach used the Council meeting to tell other EU member states that we do not want a border on this island. I have yet to hear him say that anywhere. During the Council meeting, did he inform other European leaders that any attempt to drag the North out of the EU is a fundamental change in its constitutional position, against the will of the majority of people, and that such action undermines the Good Friday Agreement? Are other European leaders aware of this? I asked the Taoiseach to raise this specific question during pre-Council statements in the House. Did he do so?

The next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council takes place on 18 November and the all-island civic dialogue meets next week. Our aim should be to get a unified approach to ensure the best possible deal is won for the people of the island, North and South. Citizens in the North - the Taoiseach may be surprised at how many - are looking for leadership from the Government to ensure an all-Ireland view is taken. Many of those citizens have an entirely different position on the constitutional issue but wish to remain in the European Union. The role and responsibility of the Government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, must be to defend the integrity of the Agreement, as well as ensuring the "Remain" vote in the North is respected and upheld.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, the EU-Canada free trade agreement, was recently rejected by the French-speaking Parliament of Wallonia in Belgium, despite serious pressure from the European Commission. This has meant that Belgium cannot give its consent to CETA which has, at its heart, the controversial and undemocratic investment court system. Sinn Féin has real concerns about this deal as we had with TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We have been highlighting the lack of transparency over the negotiations and drafting of this agreement. The deal remains shrouded in secrecy and displays no transparency whatsoever.

This rejection of CETA in the Parliament of Wallonia is a victory not only for regions such as Wallonia, which have been severely impacted by job losses over the past ten years, but also for citizens all over the European Union who have campaigned hard to defeat this deal. CETA, a precursor for TTIP, was presented to the people under the same old pretences we heard rehearsed earlier today, namely what is good for trade is good for jobs. However, CETA is opposed by European civil society organisations, trade unions, consumer organisations, anti-poverty networks, non-governmental organisations and farming organisations. While the Government expresses concern about price volatility in the agrifood sector, it is cheerleading for this deal which will flood the market with an extra 50,000 tonnes of beef. CETA should not be enforced on the Irish State. There has been no debate on it in the Dáil. The Government ignored a recent motion in the Seanad earlier this month on the agreement. Will the Government commit to allowing a debate to take place on this issue in the Dáil in light of recent developments?

There are heart-breaking conflicts occurring, with significant humanitarian emergencies as a result. Some argue there is little we can do about them, but I disagree. One case in point where the Government has failed absolutely is to honour our commitment, one in the programme for Government, to recognise the state of Palestine. Almost two years ago, the Dáil and Seanad voted in accordance with that commitment. Since then matters have got worse for the Palestinian people. I will not repeat all of the details of the aggression by Israeli authorities and so forth. The Taoiseach has not yet raised this issue at European Commission meetings, despite having been asked by me and others many times to do so. On 26 September, in the course of Taoiseach's Questions, I raised the issue of recognition of the state of Palestine. He said he would come back to me on that but he did not. Previously on Wednesday, 8 June, I raised the issue of the Government acting on the Oireachtas decision on the state of Palestine. In his response, the Taoiseach said he would ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to brief me. He also stated it "might be no harm if we had a debate on the Palestinian situation in due course."

Neither he nor the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has come back to me on this issue, nor has the Government allocated any time for a debate on the issue of Palestine. It is time to stop the prevarication and formally recognise the state of Palestine. It is also time for the Taoiseach to take leadership on this issue in the European Council. That would send a clear signal to those caught up in war zones and refugee camps that someone is prepared to make a stand for peace.

During the pre-Council statements, I raised the pressure the Parliament of Wallonia was under to ratify CETA. Many parties in Europe would see this decision by a small region as an irritant or democracy gone mad. I see it, however, as a victory for democracy and citizens all over Europe who have campaigned hard to defeat CETA. Speaking of democracy, it is also regrettable the Government chose to ignore the vote in the Seanad against CETA. So much for new politics.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the democratic political process in Belgium must be respected and that all threats against the people of Wallonia should be lifted? There is a need for a serious rethink of the EU trade policy agenda, particularly the secrecy surrounding such deals, an issue I have raised on many occasions. There is clearly huge public opposition to trade deals such as the CETA. Most people are reluctant to give multinational corporations the power to control sovereign governments through an investment court system, previously known as the investor state dispute mechanism. This issue should be re-examined in the context of the fact that there has been no debate on the CETA in this House. I agree with previous speakers that it is wrong that we are pushing ahead on this agreement without a discussion of it, even at committee level, never mind anywhere else.

I would like in the time remaining to focus on the issue of migration. We are all aware of the humanitarian crisis because of the closure of the camp in Calais which I understand is on fire and in which there were hundreds of unaccompanied minors. I heard this morning that the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, was in Greece to discuss what Ireland could do to help in this regard. I am concerned about some of the deals discussed at the EU Council meeting, including the European Union's threat to reduce aid to Afghanistan if it does not accept the return of 80,000 deported asylum seekers. I understand tentative agreement has been reached between the European Union and Afghanistan in that regard, but how can we stand over this in the context of the human rights violations that will result? We know that, on average, 14 people die per day while crossing the Mediterranean. Reference was made by other speakers to the positive role being played in this regard by the Naval Service. However, we have shown poor leadership on that thus far, with only 69 refugees being accepted into Ireland. I have asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade a number of times this week and previously at various fora for a note on the difficulties being experienced in this regard. Perhaps the Taoiseach or somebody else might provide those of us who continually raise the issue of migration in this Parliament with information on where the problem lies and where the blockages are. He might take on the task of informing us of what positive action we could take in order that we could inform others.

In many cases it has to do with security checks made by institutions.

Following on from the European Council meeting last week, it would be easy for all of us in this Chamber to focus on Brexit. I will certainly make some references to it. Given that the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, took only a few minutes to set out her views at about 1 a.m., it clearly was not the focus of that meeting, but I will come back to the issue.

On the issue that dominated the European Council meeting, namely, Russian aggression in Syria and the migration crisis, the distressing scenes of devastation in Syria have, rightly, caused outrage and dismay. Last week in the Seanad the Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs, Senator Ivana Bacik, secured all-party agreement on a motion condemning the appalling bombardment of civilians in Aleppo and the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria. The Dáil also debated the issue last week in some detail. At such a remove from the war, it can be hard to make a real difference, but the Labour Party will continue to question the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, about what Ireland is doing and to ensure there will be a concentrated effort to deliver whatever assistance we can, humanitarian or otherwise. We have asked the Minister to express in the strongest possible terms Ireland's condemnation of Russia's support of the Syrian Government and its role in the horrific and inhumane bombardment of Aleppo. We want Ireland to support the extension of sanctions against Russia and vote against its admission to the UN Human Rights Committee. We have also called on the Minister to support the stronger approach being adopted by the German and French Governments to Russia's complicity in war crimes being committed against the civilian population in Syria. The failure of the European Council to include any reference to possible sanctions against Russia, given this complicity, is hugely disappointing, to say the least. I hope Ireland was not one of the country's responsible for this omission.

It is not acceptable for the European Union to stand on the sidelines and not take action. The delay in welcoming those fleeing the war to Ireland deserves criticism in this House. It is an issue for all Europeans. Surely, we can now all accept the need for greater urgency in the resettlement and relocation of Syrian refugees. Delays are occurring in Italy in the admission into that country of Irish personnel to help to process applicants for inclusion in the programme. It is about time we were given a concrete timeframe for the admission into Ireland of the 4,000 refugees we have committed to receiving. Our target is to have 520 refugees resettled in Ireland by the end of the year. Will the Taoiseach commit to increasing that number? Ireland is ready to provide for the safe relocation of those fleeing the war and we must deliver on our commitment.

When the budget was unveiled, the Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, criticised the Government for failing to include any increase in the Irish Aid budget, with only an extra €10 million being provided for overseas development assistance. Perhaps the Taoiseach might confirm if the additional €10 million will be used to support the EU-Turkey refugee deal. Faced with such a grave humanitarian crisis, we could have done better. Like Deputy Micheál Martin, I salute the commendable work undertaken by Naval Service personnel and also their humanitarian efforts and professional approach which have earned them respect and admiration across the world.

On Friday the European Council discussed the issues of trade and the CETA. The collapse of the trade deal does not bode well for a possible UK-EU settlement following Brexit. A key issue with the CETA was the lack of an input by national parliaments across Europe. If the European Union is to retain competency on trade issues, it must do substantially more to reflect the concerns of the peoples of Europe expressed through national parliaments and their representatives. There are many who welcome the stance adopted by Wallonia and Belgium as it highlights, in stark form, the democratic deficit at the heart of trade talks. Future trade deals are dead, unless legitimate concerns, in particular about agricultural and food products and the investor court, are addressed.

On Brexit, on which issue I made a 20-minute contribution in April, the greatest challenge facing Ireland in Europe is presented by the prospect that there will be a hard Brexit. A hard Brexit would not be in Ireland's interests. The taking of a hard line in Europe means bad outcomes for Ireland. Whatever our views and whether we like it, the people of the United Kingdom have spoken and decided to leave the European Union. This is the time to engage in serious planning. We most definitely need to accelerate our planning process. I have heard too many people who think they are informed experts on this issue speculate about what might happen. My view is that a Brexit will take a considerable period of time to complete. Two years is only the starting base. It took Greenland three years to leave and it is a small country. A Brexit will take much longer to complete and this will create huge uncertainty. It could take four to five years for it to be completed, irrespective of people's commitment. I am, therefore, extremely concerned about this process.

Last week, according to reports, the British Prime Minister was given just a few minutes at 1 a.m. to set out her views on Brexit. That her contribution was met with silence before a group moved on to discuss other items should tell us a lot. It was reported that Mr. Juncker had responded to questions with a "phew". Francois Hollande said the negotiations would be hard, while Ms Merkel said they would be rough. It appears we are facing a further five months of uncertainty, as Article 50 will not be triggered until March. Has Ireland sought a place on Mr. Barnier's team? There are many experienced negotiators in Ireland, both politicians and civil servants, who played key roles in the peace process and EU negotiations. These skills should be available at the Brexit negotiating table, principally to protect the peace process, as alluded to by Deputy Gerry Adams, but also in the context of the unique circumstances faced by Ireland.

In recent days I read with interest the national risk assessment 2016 report which indicates that Britain's departure from the European Union is the number one threat to Ireland's prosperity and that this will impact on the economy, our social infrastructure and standing on the international stage. That is clear. We should not, therefore, underestimate the significant change that is likely to occur at EU level from a political perspective in terms of maintaining a balance.

As the UK and Ireland often found themselves on the same side in debates on critical decisions, a valuable ally will be lost in terms of future arguments. As my colleagues have mentioned, huge issues arise for this country with regard to the North and the South, the common travel area, the absence of customs and trade barriers and, of course, the Good Friday Agreement. From the agricultural perspective there are issues relating to bio-security and veterinary check and inspections, which are very important. All of these issues will require sustained argument and planning to achieve our objectives, which should be clearly spelt out.

What will happen following Brexit will remain a matter of conjecture and speculation. We are in a vacuum until the trigger is pulled next March. After that, I foresee a further period that will create grave uncertainty. We know how important trade is to our economy at all levels. That must be the focus of significant attention, and I acknowledge that the Taoiseach has set up interdepartmental groups to work on that. More than €1 billion worth of goods and services are traded between Ireland and the UK every week and 40% of our exported goods arrive into the UK market. Our food, drinks and agriculture industries are highly dependent on the maintenance of this trade in a free flowing fashion. The imposition of trade tariffs would have a disastrous and negative impact.

With regard to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and I am the Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture, the UK makes an €11 billion contribution to the EU budget. That is significant. The loss of this funding will have a significant impact on our CAP benefits, which will become the subject of renegotiation in 2019. We receive €1.2 billion in single farm payments, so that is another area that undoubtedly will be the focus of attention at the relevant time. There are a number of mushroom producers in my constituency. That industry sustained significant losses immediately. Three major mushroom producers have gone to the wall and two more are in the departure lounge, as it were, due to that impact. I was disappointed that some emergency measures were not brought forward in the budget. I believe that if the mushroom industry is assisted now in a short-term manner, it will be in a position to survive and continue. There were over 600 mushroom producers in the country ten to 12 years ago, now there are just over 60. The number has declined, although they have increased in scale. The industry involves high volume production but very little profit, and the currency situation has impacted it significantly in a negative way.

I cannot understand why we have not done what was done five or six years ago, whereby the PRSI rate for people in the industry could have been reduced from 8.5% to 4.25%. That would have had a significant impact. I implore the Taoiseach to ensure that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, examines this as a temporary arrangement to ensure the survival of the mushroom industry. A total of 85% of its exports go to the UK, so it will be significantly affected over the next couple of years. We must help it now. It is no use crying crocodile tears when it collapses.

I appreciate that the Taoiseach has remained in the House, as I realise he is busy and probably in a hurry to leave. I will set aside the normal political debate we might have in a debate such as this and raise a specific and urgent issue on which I hope there can be all-party agreement to take action. It could make a real difference to a very vulnerable group of people.

The Taoiseach is aware, and he referred to it in his contribution, of Ireland's commitment to take in refugees, and specifically unaccompanied minors. The demolition of the Calais "Jungle" is currently under way. There are 10,000 refugees in the camp, including over 1,000 unaccompanied minors who are in serious danger. Fires are raging in Calais as we speak. The last time a part of the Calais "Jungle" was knocked down, 200 unaccompanied minors disappeared, so there is an urgent issue at stake. A group called Not On Our Watch, which is endorsed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy and led by a great campaigner for refugees, Gary Daly, is liaising with an Irish woman, Karen Moynihan, who has been working in Calais specifically with unaccompanied minors. This morning it asked Members of the Oireachtas to take action on this and to liaise with Karen to try and save 200 of these young, unaccompanied minors by relocating them to Ireland. This would save them from the serious prospect and danger that they might disappear, as happened the last time, and be subject to trafficking, exploitation and degradation of a sort that is unthinkable for children but which has happened in recent times.

The campaign has drafted a motion which will be circulated to Members in the next hour. Representatives of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Deputy Clare Daly's office attended the briefing and have given agreement in principle to sign up to the campaign. We are hoping the Government will sign up to it as well, pass the motion and give a commitment to contact its French counterpart immediately. The motion hopes that the Taoiseach's Department might do this, taking a lead from the top, and contact the French authorities with an offer to relocate 200 of these children. They are currently in serious danger because of the fires that are raging and the potential consequences of the dissolution of the camp. If we act now, we could save and transform the lives of these young, unaccompanied children.

It would not cost us anything, which should be emphasised. We were told in this morning's briefing that 800 Irish families have contacted the Irish Red Cross and said they are willing to take unaccompanied minors into foster care. The families are ready to do this and there is an Irish woman, Karen Moynihan, in the camp who knows the children. She can vouch for their age and knows them personally, so we have a straight direct line to the children who are now in danger. The motion asks that the Taoiseach contact his French counterpart to make this offer, which is in line with our previously stated commitment to give refuge to unaccompanied minors, and asks that Tusla, youth services and other State agencies would co-ordinate with Karen Moynihan to identify these children and get them over here.

It is a very straightforward request, and it is in line with the Government's stated policy and commitment. Whatever difficulties there might be in identifying children in Italy and Greece, we can identify them in this case because we have people who are working with them. The motion will be circulated and I hope the Taoiseach will give serious consideration to supporting it and taking this campaign on board. The motion is from the campaign, not from us. Hopefully, we can sign off on it and get that commitment as soon as possible.

Sinn Féin supports the motion.

Last week, five Kurdish migrants were found in a shipping container in Wexford. One of them was a three year old girl. They had made an 18 hour journey from Cherbourg in a sealed container containing perishable goods. The migrant camp at Calais currently being dismantled contains 1,300 unaccompanied children according to some estimates. As my colleague has explained, these children are at extreme risk of exploitation and trafficking. How many lone children has the Government committed to taking in this year? The answer is 20.

I share the opinion of the Irish Immigrant Council that this is not acceptable. In fact, I would say that it is shameful.

Last week, "Match of the Day" presenter Mr. Gary Lineker called on the UK Government to do more and to take more child refugees into the UK. Although he was criticised and abused by The Sun newspaper and by Tory MPs, many ordinary people agreed with the substance of his comments. Where are the Irish Gary Linekers? Why are there not more famous people here speaking out? They should do so because 20 lone children is a scandal and many, many more should be taken in.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, currently hangs in the balance. This EU-Canadian trade treaty opens the door to the privatisation of public services and lowers regulation to the lowest common denominator in fields such as environmental regulation, labour laws and so on. It extends patent protection for prescription drugs, thereby pushing up drug costs and it establishes an investor court system. An investor court system will mean that corporations can sue national governments that introduce new legislation which might restrict their ability to maximise profits. This has the potential to unleash a wave of corporate law suits. Courts of this kind have been used in the past to undermine progressive legislation. For example, when the German Government, under pressure from public protest and public opinion, sought to phase out nuclear power, a Scandinavian nuclear power corporation sued it in an investor court and won hefty damages which were ultimately paid by German taxpayers. Such courts will be able to be used in this way under this new treaty. For example, if a government in an EU member state were to introduce legislation to ban the environmentally dangerous process of fracking it would be open to being sued and forced to pay damages should a case be taken to the investor court by a Canada based fracking corporation.

Some might say that there are not too many Canadian corporations that might go down that road but they should think again because 81% of companies in Canada are US subsidiaries. Approximately 24,000 US companies have office space and a base in Canada. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, a trade agreement between the EU and the US, is in serious difficulty, in large measure because of huge public opposition but CETA can be TTIP by the back door. There are real dangers involved here. I welcome the fact that four regional parliaments in Belgium have come out against it. They are reflecting public opposition, including huge trade union opposition, in that country. If there is to be any kind of democratic debate or check on this, democracy will win against this agreement. That is the popular feeling in Europe. CETA has been voted down in the Seanad. It will have to be brought before the Dáil and we must have a major debate on it. My colleagues and I will be making the case against this pro-capitalist, anti-worker treaty.

As the Minister of State will be aware, Deputy Clare Daly and I have been raising the issue of the Calais camp for several months now and have been pleading with the Government to do something proactive. Sadly, only last week I was told in this Chamber that the Government could do nothing about it because it is an unofficial camp, which I found to be an horrific response. In general, the Government's response to the refugee crisis in Europe has been nothing short of disgraceful from the start. The Government should be ashamed of how it has dealt with it. The total lack of political will to actually help has been horrific.

The French are dispersing these people to centres around France but have already said that they do not have the necessary facilities to deal with half the children, the unaccompanied minors, that are involved. There are over 1,000 such children in the camp at Calais. The last time the camp was cleared 129 unaccompanied minors disappeared. I will not even speculate about where they ended up. If, this week and next week, the children are taken to reception centres in places like Paris, statistics show that at least 40% will leave and end up on the streets. They will leave the reception centres. These children are not safe. The British have agreed to do something, at last. They are talking about bringing in a certain number of them. They have said that they will concentrate on those under 12 but it just so happens that there are not many children under 12 in the camp. There are lots of children aged between 12 and 18. Indeed, most of them are in that age group so I remain to be convinced as to just how positive a role the British Government intends playing in this.

Our Government is behaving as if this has nothing to do with us and is none of our business. Even if we had never allowed any military operators to use Shannon Airport, we must still feel some sense of responsibility if people are in trouble. Calais is only across the water from us. We say that we care but there is no proof that we do. We said that we were going to bring 4,000 refugees here by the end of 2017 but the chances of us reaching that figure are nil at this stage, given that we are still only at about the 500 mark.

The European Union has talked about dealing with migration and the problems involved. However, it has no interest in the root causes. We have the US giving munitions to Saudi Arabia every day at the moment to bomb the living daylights out of Yemen. Over 10,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen but we have not heard a word about it in here. What is wrong with us? The people who have survived the attacks in Yemen will become refugees. There will be hundreds of thousands of them because Yemen has a big population. There are over 20 million people in Yemen and hundreds of thousands of them will become refugees because they will have no other choice. They will be driven out of their own country because they are being bombed out of it. In the same way, the Americans bombed the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and, along with 14 other countries, they are bombing the people out of Syria. It is just total madness and we do not say enough about it. We are not neutral. We facilitate it by letting the US use Shannon Airport as a military base. Where is the rationale behind it? I would like to hear someone rationalise it for me and give me a good explanation as to why we allow Shannon Airport to be used by the US military's war machine.

There is just no end to this. It has been getting worse and worse since 2001. The whole region has been destroyed. The EU, in its infinite wisdom, tried to do a deal with Afghanistan a few weeks ago. The EU is going to send people back to Afghanistan. It just so happens that the majority of the people in the Calais camp are from Afghanistan. Deputy Clare Daly and I spent two long days talking to them there. We also spent a day in the camp at Dunkirk, which is mostly populated by Kurds. The Afghanis told us that they will do anything other than go back. They would rather die in Europe than go back to Afghanistan. Most of them have fallen out with either the Taliban, ISIS, or some other elements of al-Qaeda. Others have family members who worked with the US in Afghanistan.

They are afraid to go back because their lives are in danger but the EU is talking about doing a deal with Afghanistan to send them back.

We are now talking to the Africans. At a Brussels conference recently there was talk about sending people back to Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia. Leaked documents show that among the other countries been considered are Sudan and Eritrea. Imagine doing a deal with Sudan to stop people coming out of the country into Europe. The dictator of Sudan, Omar al Bashir, is wanted for war crimes and now the EU is considering hiring him to stop migration at source from the Horn of Africa. Last month Amnesty International released a report with evidence that earlier this year Bashir's air force was dropping chemical weapons on some of the remote villages yet the EU is interested in doing business with this person in order to stop migrants coming to Europe.

The many people who are still drowning in the Mediterranean are not coming because everything was grand where they were but they would like it better in Europe. They are being forced from their homelands and the West has played a huge part in that. We bear a huge responsibility for what is going on. The race for control of African minerals by western powers is linked to the fact that so many migrants are trying to get out of the continent of Africa. Huge numbers are coming across the Mediterranean from the Middle Eastern region too. Look at the number of Palestinian refugees in the world today. We still entertain the Israelis as if there is nothing wrong with their relationship with the Palestinians, or with the fact that they are engaging in genocide. They are trying to obliterate the Palestinian people and our Government is okay with that. Will we continue to trade with Saudi Arabia? There are people in here who say we should have nothing to do with the Russians. I would not defend them for one second, as what they are doing in Syria is deplorable, but so is what the Americans, the French and the British are doing. The Saudis today are arming Al-Nusra which has become a more powerful force than ISIS. We reap what we sow. There are munitions going through Shannon to Saudi Arabia that are being used to kill innocent people in the Yemen and arms going through to Al-Nusra who are every bit as mad as the ISIS crowd yet we are still comfortable working with them. When will we regain our neutrality? I firmly believe that the majority of Irish people would like Ireland to be neutral.

I am delighted to speak today after the European Council meeting. I spoke ten days ago before the council meeting. There can be no doubt but that Europe stands on the threshold of fundamental change. Many of the crises facing the EU are the products of its arrogance. That cannot be overstated because it is out of touch with ordinary countries and the project we all voted for fadó fadó in the 1970s. It has neglected democratic principles and set aside the democratic will of member countries when it suited. We have seen countless cases of that. Is it any surprise that enormous sections of the population in member states are in open revolt against the increasingly elite view that is at the heart of the European vision which is alien to most ordinary people?

The European Union has come late to the condemnation of the genocide of entire populations of Christian and Muslim minorities in the Middle East. I visited Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and saw the appalling vista. I saw the grannies and the young children who were orphans. I saw the trauma in their faces and the welcome they gave us but we are doing nothing. When I came back from that trip with Deputy Grealish and Senator Mullen I asked the last Government countless times in this House for a debate on it. I asked the Fianna Fáil party for one. No one wanted to hear about it. See no evil, speak no evil: what we cannot see we will not worry about. Now we are worried. I do not always agree with Deputy Wallace but this is genocide, under the dictators in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Charles Haughey went out to Libya and made deals with Gaddafi on beef. There was control. The Christians and the minority Muslim sects were allowed to practice whatever faith they wanted with total impunity and freedom and they were respected. Now there is a seismic shift. I recently met His Holiness the Pope and he begged us to do something about it. He called it what it was, a world war being waged on Christian communities and minority Muslim communities. We are sleepwalking while it goes on. The Government refused to debate this. I am asking now for more time for a proper and meaningful debate in view of the crisis.

We all acknowledge the deep concerns that exist because of the Brexit vote. The budget paid scant regard to it. I said that in my statement on it.

I welcome the Harrington family and their friends from County Waterford who are in the Visitors Gallery. They are business people and farmers but they are also Christian people who are aghast at what is going on and at our lack of emphasis on Brexit and its impact.

The crisis in Europe was largely self-generated. We dismissed it and took our eye off the ball. We can all say now there are leaks about what Theresa May said then, and dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi go raibh fear i dTiobraid Árann a bhfuil póca ina léine aige. It is an old proverb. It reeks of snobbery to say that the people in the UK are fooled into this decision. They are a democratic people. They always vote wisely. Will it be like the Lisbon treaty? They have a growing sense that the EU has removed itself from us and intruded into sovereign areas in many member states with bully boy tactics. The Taoiseach had a habit of sucking up to Ms Merkel. Last week I told him now it is time to be paid back after being the good boy for years. Now it is time to look after Ireland and if we cannot deal with Britain as a sovereign country let the EU deal with it. The last thing we want is what I saw recently going from Bosnia-Herzegovina into Croatia, a hard border, on a motorway that was easy to travel. There were 52 people on the bus and all our passports were taken away and scanned, which took a full hour. It is unimaginable to think that might happen in Newry or Aughnacloy or places I travelled to in the bad times and can now travel to with freedom. Noises coming from Britain now suggest it wants a hard border. That will have a huge impact.

The mushroom farmers, who have a big industry in Tipperary, have been ravaged and devastated. I know they were given a few bob in the budget but they were struggling already and now the difference in the sterling value is crazy. I met British visitors in my guest house this morning who talked about the poor value they are getting now. There are huge issues. We need a Minister for Brexit. We need proper appreciation of what will or might happen and the impact it might have. We all claim to be Christians. We need to go and see the genocide that is happening and have the courage to have a debate in this Parliament and stand up as a neutral country, which we always were. We were respected all over the world. Our missionaries and emissaries went all over the world as good people. We need that debate here now.

I thank the Minister of State for the work he has been doing, past and present, in his role.

I appreciate the Minister's work. With regard to the humanitarian crisis, I compliment the people working in our Naval Service. As Deputy Wallace rightly said, they are picking people from the water they should not be in. We should not have allowed the humanitarian crisis to get to where it is. Every effort, political and otherwise, should be made to address this issue. There must be a better answer to the problem than people putting themselves in that kind of danger to get to what we would call a better place. Through dialogue, work and politics, many from this House and other parliaments were involved in stopping people killing each other on the streets of the North every day. Surely be to God, if that could be done, this humanitarian crisis can also be dealt with to allow us to reach a position where people can express their religious beliefs. I do not care what religion a person is and respect whatever religion it is wherever he or she is from in the world. That must be reciprocal, however. Where Catholics are willing to accept other religions, other religions should reciprocate and accept the Catholic religion and other Christians. That is only common sense, right and fair.

I turn to Brexit. Since becoming Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, I have embarked on a weekly dialogue with ambassadors from different countries. Earlier today, for instance, I met the Spanish ambassador. Spain faces many of the same implications from Brexit as we do. We have one very important thing in common with the UK, which is the Border. We are unique in that respect. The difficulties and problems we face represent unprecedented and uncharted waters. We are in a place with regard to our farming and business communities where we really do not know what the implications of Brexit are going to be. What we do know, however, is that we must be political and sensible about it. We have to be workmanlike in trying to minimise the negatives while maximising the positives if there are to be any for us as a nation. I compliment people like Deputies Mattie McGrath and Seán Haughey who are members of the committee and are doing Trojan work to grasp the problem we face. Last week, we met Members of the House of Lords and Commissioner Phil Hogan was here from Europe to give his overview. We might not have agreed on a lot of things in the past, but we respect the implications of the problem we all have currently. We have to deal with the situation we are in. We are all willing to put our shoulders to the wheel.

Deputy Mattie McGrath touched on the following a few moments ago. I would like to remember fondly and positively the great work that was done in the past on international relations. Deputy Haughey is in the Chamber and I refer in particular to his late father who did great work on our behalf and on behalf of our farming community. I acknowledge that because it is time things like that were said publicly. I will not back down from that for anybody. I am very concerned about the implications of Brexit and we have a job of work to do together in that regard. I will continue to do my best. Meetings are scheduled for many weeks to come with ambassadors and officials to grasp the problem we have and the committee and I will not be found wanting in that regard. We will work in co-operation with the Minister because this is too serious an issue about which to be political. The Minister and his colleagues in government are our Ministers. I want to be proactive, workmanlike and sensible about this and not score political points because for the farming community and business people, it is too important a matter about which to be politically adversarial.

It is useful for us to be able to review the European Council discussions. It is useful to have a debate beforehand and afterwards. It is where so much of our key political discourse is taking place and it is appropriate for the House to spend time giving attention to it. This brings us to the big issues. It brings us out of the local and into the international and the great forces shaping our world and times. It is important that we address those. It is interesting to look at the key issues which dominated the Council. These were the movement of refugees and our treatment and management of the refugee crisis and the management of goods, having particular regard to CETA, the Canadian-European trade arrangement which does not look like it will be signed tomorrow. It seems to me that the approaches we are taking to these issues are connected.

I turn to the refugee issue first. I share the concerns that have been raised here and elsewhere that what I read in the Council conclusions and in the reporting from the summit suggests a certain sense of satisfaction about the worst aspects of the crisis which we saw last year, in particular with a large number of people crossing the Aegean from Turkey into Greece and from there into the Continent of Europe. The figure quoted in the Council conclusions is that 98% of the level of travel has ceased. The real fear is that, whatever about the management of the joint arrangement with Turkey, the management of those who have been caught in the middle in Greece in particular is indicative of an approach which sees the European Union failing to learn or change or improve its procedures. We have gone from an open-door approach to a complete shut down, which will serve neither Europe nor the people who are trying desperately to flee conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas neighbouring the EU.

I note in the Council conclusions references to the rapid deployment of permanent co-ordinators in the Greek hotspots. However, the reports from people engaged with those desperately isolated and vulnerable refugees caught in the middle of this whole policy change suggest that there is no sense of that actually happening. I go back to our own local example which is that only 69 of the 4,000 refugees we promised to take almost eight months ago are here. To take 69 out of 4,000 when the 4,000 are sitting in camps where they are mobile, easily accessible and easily identifiable is an indication of the wider problem. We can only fear that it reflects a European Council approach which is perhaps pleased that we have sealed off the problem on one immediate border and can now resort to restoring Schengen as if the current arrangements are working. They are not working. They are not working on a humanitarian basis or even in terms of the European Union living up to its promise to be a safe haven and an enlightened Union which treats people in flight from danger in an appropriate manner. I must raise concern on behalf of my party. The clearing of the camp in Calais, the horrific situation whereby a whole range of young people are now completely lost in the international response and the lack of a co-ordinated European approach to managing that and the restoration of national controls are signs that our European refugee policy is not working.

I referred earlier to the related issue of trade because the two are connected.

It is interesting in some ways that the European Union is constantly, correctly in my mind, telling the United Kingdom that in any negotiation on Brexit the movement of goods and people cannot be separated. This issue is connected to trade because the fear is that the European Union has been excessively concerned with protecting the interests of those who trade goods as opposed to social and environmental considerations. It is a world in which capital can move remarkably fast and international corporations often have power that exceeds that of countries because of their ability to trade and access finance across borders. It is the indisputable power of capital and its speed of movement that give it an unfair negotiating position in comparison to labour and natural capital which is less mobile. It is the underlying concern that in its broad approach the European Union has had undue regard to the interests of capital compared to labour. That is behind the fundamental concern of the Green Party throughout Europe about the nature of the trade agreements that have been signed. For all the reassurance provided in the Council conclusions that trade arrangements will try to maintain the capability of national governments to regulate, in the agreements we have seen it is evident that there is a continuation of the policy of giving excessive power to capital as compared to labour and natural capital.

The Minister-President of Wallonia, Mr. Paul Magnette, has taken a very prominent and, to my mind, the correct position in standing up for his region by saying he does not agree with the proposals made. Despite extensive pressure exerted on him and his parliament, as I articulated in my speech prior to the European Council meeting, he helped to stop the CETA process. It is better for us to recognise this at this stage and look to renegotiate the agreement. It is not that we are opposed to trade, but we need to be able to move capital. It has to be balanced. The existing trade agreements, the CETA and the TTIP, are not properly balanced and we should use the opportunity to restore faith in the European Union and the balance between capital, labour and natural capital. This should be done through a variation, such as that for which the Wallonian Parliament and my colleagues in the Green Party in the European Parliament have called.

What the Taoiseach has said is true. This one of the most open trading economies in the world. We, therefore, have to get the balance of trade right. We are dependent on free trade and will be most successful when we stand up for fair as well as free trade, but I did not read anything about this in the Taoiseach's speech or the analysis produced by the Government. That needs to change.

Reference is made in a Sherlock Holmes book to a dog or a hound that did not bark. There was a lack of attention to Brexit within the European Council. That was probably correct because it behoves the UK Government to present what it wants to do before the Council starts to develop its approach. I reiterate the approach we should take which I mentioned to the Taoiseach yesterday during questions on Brexit. We need to stand in solidarity with the other 26 member states. We need to stand up for the connection with the movement of goods and people. We should not look for a side deal, reflecting Ireland's peripherality or particular circumstances on the Border. We have to manage that issue, but it should be as part of an overall co-ordinated European Union approach, not an approach whereby we try to side with the United Kingdom in a side deal which we bring to our European colleagues to be ratified as part of whatever arrangement is put in place.

I very much appreciate the chance to reflect on the European Council's conclusions. The upcoming Council will be critical, particularly in dealing with the Brexit issue. I look forward to receiving as much information as possible in briefings from the Government, as the Taoiseach promised, in order that we can make a contribution to the overall policy approach to be adopted.

There is provision for questions and answers.

I welcome the debate and the fact that we are allowed to have post and pre-summit debates, as in the case of the Bratislava and Brussels summits. The reform was introduced following the rejection of the Lisbon treaty.

A lot of the discussion in the House has centred on Brexit. I note that the Taoiseach informed the House that Ms Theresa May was attending her first meeting of the European Council since becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Interestingly, he went on to say there had been no discussion of the issue at the meeting, which certainly says a lot. There was a brief comment on the Prime Minister's intervention by President Tusk.

We are all aware of the concerns in Ireland and our unique circumstances arising from the vote of UK citizens. There are concerns about the common travel area, the possible introduction of a hard border, the introduction of barriers to trade and the sustainability of the peace process. Does the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, think there is now an understanding of the special circumstances of Ireland arising from the vote of UK citizens? Obviously, the Taoiseach has met Ms Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Commissioner Michel Barnier and others, but I am interested in hearing the perspective of the Minister of State, given that he has mixed with his counterparts from other member states, on whether we have got the message through that Ireland has unique circumstances.

I understand the Minister of State will deal with the position of Russia and the civil war in Syria in his closing remarks. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, the direct Russian intervention in the civil war in Syria a year ago was aimed at bringing about a shift in the balance of power in the conflict. The prospects for a diplomatic solution to the conflict have never been favourable, with a number of international and regional actors putting their strategic interests above a resolution of the conflict. However, the direct Russian intervention was characterised by military stalemate. With the aid of Russian air support, the brutal regime of Bashir al-Assad has been emboldened and believes a decisive military victory is possible. Direct Russian involvement in the conflict has further undermined the prospects for a sustained cessation of hostilities and a negotiated resolution of the civil war.

The horrifying reality of the current situation is no more apparent than in the city of Aleppo, much of which has been subject to a sustained arterial bombardment by the Syrian regime and Russian military. The indiscriminate bombing campaign has led to significant civilian casualties and brought terror to the 250,000 inhabitants of eastern Aleppo. There was some talk prior to the summit that sanctions would be imposed, but this does not seem to have taken place. What action against Russia was considered by the summit?

There has been a lot of discussion about the dismantling of the jungle in Calais. I ask the Minister of State to outline the position on the over 1,000 unaccompanied minors in the camp and whether the Government can respond to the crisis.

I will deal with the issue of Russian intervention in Syria in my closing remarks, given that we are operating within time constraints.

On that point I will answer the Deputy's other question by describing the sense I have of the position taken by our colleagues in other member states regarding the unique position that we have in Ireland. There are many areas where we and other member states have significant areas of common concern. It goes to the point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan that it is vital to acknowledge Ireland will continue to be a strong and enthusiastic member of the European Union and we will be part of the 27 member state and the negotiations that will take place with the United Kingdom. Many countries share significant concerns that we already have around trade, a reduction in activity through the Single Market and the effects in other countries for their SME sectors, exporters, businesses, the jobs that are created and their people. It is true that Ireland will be more affected by that given the €1.2 billion worth of trade crossing the Irish Sea every year and the 400,000 jobs on either side of that trade.

While travelling recently in north-eastern Europe it struck me that the United Kingdom is the second biggest market for many other countries. We therefore have many areas where we can work with other countries. Spain for example, and its land border with Gibraltar, has similar issues to be addressed as Ireland has with the North, but not as complex as Ireland's. It is fair to say that Ireland has unique difficulties and while we will not be seeking to have a side deal, as was asked, within the deal that the European Union has with the United Kingdom, there will have to be a specific part of that process that deals with this island's unique circumstances. These unique circumstances are the common travel area that has existed for so long now, the deep and significant progress made in the peace process, the legally binding international agreements that exist, through the Good Friday Agreement, between the United Kingdom, Ireland and the parties of Northern Ireland around governance, and the substantial support of the EU’s PEACE and INTERREG programmes and other financial supports that have come to Northern Ireland and the Border areas. There is a strong acceptance about these aspects.

The Taoiseach has met with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Tusk and Michel Barnier, who will be negotiating on behalf of the Commission. Our concerns are being expressed but the reason for the very brief intervention by Prime Minister Theresa May at the Council meeting last week was because, unfortunately, until the British come forward with their proposals there cannot be a reaction from the European Council or EU leaders as we do not know what the UK's ask will be. Earlier in this discussion today reference was made to a scenario where the UK gets what it wants and Ireland's needs will come afterwards. That is not the case. The United Kingdom will present its suggestion after it triggers Article 50. Ireland has no advance knowledge as to what that might be. At that point, negotiations can commence properly and the Opposition will have a very important role, not least through the influence of its own party political groups. I know, as Chairman of the European affairs committee, that many Deputies are active members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, ALDE, which, along with our group, the Green group and the other groups, can make sure Ireland's voice is heard at the EU Parliament, not just by Ministers, but also by other key politicians in the EU political institutions.

Perhaps the Minister of State could ask about a note I had asked of the Taoiseach on the migration crisis. I have asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at various venues if he would come up with a note. I believe the Taoiseach was indicating that he might be able to supply the House with that.

The migration crisis. The asylum process is clearly broken in Ireland and other European countries. There is a problem in Italy, for example, around the system there. There is a handful of people coming from Greece but there are clearly problems there. I, and other Members, meet people every day who are asking about what Ireland is doing with regard to the crisis. We would like to know of, and have some sort of sense of, the difficulties and problems there are, and how we propose to fix them. Other speakers today referenced the meeting we had about Calais and the fact that it is burning and the serious concerns we had about that. One of the questions was whether the Government would agree to relocate unaccompanied children from that site. Is the Minister of State in a position to address that issue or can he come back to us on it? There will be an all-party motion hopefully coming to the House and we can get some sort of an agreement on that.

I am concerned about the African and Asian states with which the EU is negotiating new bilateral agreements on migration. With which countries are these agreements being discussed? Are some of these areas war zones - it was suggested that Sudan was one of the areas - or are they countries with disgraceful human rights records where minorities and those who are gay or lesbian face discrimination? Are they countries from where many people are fleeing religious persecution? Could the Minister of State outline which countries these bilateral agreements are with? Reference was made to Afghanistan and the 80,000 Afghani nationals being sent back there. Can the Minister of State confirm if Afghanistan is one of the countries being looked at?

The European Commission has launched proposals for a common corporate tax base and a common consolidated corporate tax base. The context is the renewed push across Europe by people who are concerned about tax avoidance. I believe there are genuine, well-founded concerns around that. Many of us have serious concerns about the impact of the proposal on Ireland's right to set its own tax rate. While the ability to set our own tax rate will not be affected by this proposal the rules of calculation, deductions and exemptions will infringe on the rights of EU member states to set policies. What are the Government's views on these recent proposals?

Reference is also made to the fact that migration has dropped off but will the Minister of State confirm that the October death toll had reached the same as the death toll from October last year? We are now approaching November and we still have December coming up. With people taking much more dangerous routes to get into Europe, unfortunately more and more people are dying.

I invite the Minister of State to respond but I remind him that I want to give an opportunity also to Deputy Ryan.

I will be as brief as I can. The LE Samuel Beckett has rescued today 122 people in the Mediterranean Sea. I know people have been very complimentary about the work of our Naval Service in the Mediterranean Sea and this brings the number rescued up to 14,555.

Some of the figures we got earlier on migration were not correct as some of the Deputies have slightly inaccurate figures. With regard to the numbers of people who have come to Ireland through resettlement and relocation, the Government has committed to 4,000 people. It is fair to say that the numbers coming over have been lower than we would like. There is a desire in Ireland that we welcome people who are in very difficult situations and that the compassion of the Irish people would be shown through these commitments. We have committed, through resettlement, to take 780 people before the end of 2017 - to date, 520 in 2016 and an expected 260 in 2017.

Relocation, which Deputy Eamon Ryan mentioned, has been much more difficult. So far 69 people have arrived in Ireland, but more are expected to arrive imminently, with perhaps up to 400 people coming in the next two to three months. The figure of 69 is correct with respect to relocation, but we have done a little better on resettlement. On adding the two figures, they do not come to 4,000. It is to be determined whether a number of them will be dealt with through resettlement or relocation.

I will leave it there to allow Deputy Ryan ask his question.

It is true that we all await some clear understanding of what is the UK Government's position, but one thing the British Prime Minister did seem to make clear in her speech at the conference was that the UK Government post-Brexit would not recognise the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, as a court of arbitration. In any of his discussions, informal or otherwise, with UK Ministers or officials, did the Minister of State get any sense of what the UK's intention is in that regard? For example, the Minister of State is au fait with the area of digital policy. The CJEU has, in effect, been acting as legislature in this area in the absence of clear legislation on complex issues around privacy and copyright. On all the complex digital policy issues, it is effectively the CJEU that has in a sense set the policy. We trade with the UK with people buying off the Internet all the time. If the UK will not recognise the CJEU's jurisdiction in digital services, what arbitration or jurisdiction might it use? Has it given any indication of what alternative court mechanisms it might have in mind following the comments of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May?

To take a second example, which is more directly applicable here at home, we are working on the development of an I-SEM, that is, an integrated single electricity market. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, who is sitting beside the Minister of State, is working on it. How can we have an all-island electricity market if there is no final court of arbitration should there be a dispute? How could we prosecute someone in the North or have any such trade arrangements if we do not know what is the final arbitration system? I am keen to know if there has been any informal indication or sense from the UK authorities, if it is not going to recognise the CJEU, of what court system it will recognise. How can we trade with a nation where there is no arbitration process to determine disputes?

Deputy Ryan is correct. An arbitration process for disputes would be required. Neither the collective European Union nor Ireland, as a member state, has got any indication as to what the UK's intention is with respect to the courts and a court system. It is important to note that all member states agreed the rules, so to speak, or the laws that the European courts, in a general sense, subsequently interpret. It is not that the courts dictate to member states remotely. The courts enforce laws and treaties that have been agreed by member states. Deputy Ryan's question goes to the core of why we need to wait to see what proposals the UK will have to unpick itself from more than four decades of agreements. To be blunt and to answer the Deputy's question, at its most basic, no, we have not received any indication from the UK of the answer to that particular question at this point.

There is time for one more question.

I asked a series of questions and I did not get one answer.

Hopefully, the Minister of State will use the five minutes he will have to wrap up to give Deputy Crowe an opportunity-----

The Acting Chairman is asking for more questions, but we have not got answers to the first lot. It is crazy.

I have a brief question. The Taoiseach mentioned this afternoon that there was a presentation by Prime Minister Fico on follow-up to the roadmap agreed at the Bratislava summit in September, which set out a plan for future work on the renewal of Europe. I would be interested to know more about it. The Brexit vote raised questions for the European project in every member state in terms of the threat it poses to the European Union, the democratic deficit and the declining support in some countries and so forth. Will the Minister of State tell us what is the roadmap regarding the renewal of Europe and where it is going?

I ask the Minister of State to use the five minutes to answer both Deputy Haughey and Deputy Crowe and to make whatever points he wishes.

That will not be possible because I have committed to addressing the issue of Russia.

I did not answer two of Deputy Crowe's questions. Very briefly, on the common consolidated corporate tax base, CCCTB, our priority will be to seek agreement on the proposal that will tackle further hybrid mismatches. The Commission recently published a series of corporate tax proposals, which include the re-launch of the CCCTB. The Department of Finance is examining this and I will be happy to deal with it more specifically at the next meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs.

Deputy Haughey is aware that the renewal of Europe was the subject of the leaders' summit in Bratislava. In parallel to the security, migration and economic crises and now also Brexit, the challenge for the remaining 27 member states is to continue to deal with and not to forget the bread and butter issues that matter to the citizens of Ireland and the other 26 member states, including youth unemployment, in particular, job creation and other social issues.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to wrap up this debate. It has been a long and detailed meeting and we can continue the work with the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. The European Council meeting had a long and detailed strategic policy discussion on Russia and there has been a need for some time for this discussion, as Members will be aware. It is important to state from the outset that Ireland wants to have, and wants the European Union to have, a stable and strong relationship with Russia in the long term. This is in all our interests and consistent with our European values. Notwithstanding a number of different positions of detail, it is fair to say that this objective is shared and was shared by member states at the European Council meeting. It is important to stress that there is a strong sense of unity with respect to Russia and that strategic goal over the long term.

However, there has been quite clearly a serious deterioration in relations between Russia and the European Union in recent years. The conflict in Ukraine is central to this but there is also the matter of Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict and the European Council's adopted conclusions reflected this reality. In March the European Union agreed a set of five principles to guide our relations with Russia and Ireland agrees that these principles remain the structure through which we must move forward.

On the positive side, one of the key points in the discussion was the recognition that there is some merit in engaging selectively with Russia on individual issues and on specific sectoral areas that are of interest to our European Union. However, we must be clear that any resumption of selected dialogues should be gradual and used by the EU to seek a change in Russian behaviour. As I stated, the conflict in eastern Ukraine remains central to this overall relationship. It is very hard to believe that two years after signing the Minsk agreement we are still here calling for a stable ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. This remains a matter of deep concern for us all. We can be very clear on what needs to happen. The path for a resolution of the conflict is set out clearly in the Minsk agreement.

The European Union has been totally consistent in linking the economic sanctions imposed in 2014 to the complete implementation of the Minsk accords. The decision to impose such measures, which also have negative economic consequences for EU member states, is an indication of the seriousness with which we regard Russia's destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine. There needs to be an urgent de-escalation of hostilities in the conflict zone and Russia needs to use its influence to help ensure the full implementation of the agreements. Sanctions cannot and should not be amended before this happens.

The European Council meeting was clear that the EU will never recognise Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea which took place in 2014. This will remain an important principle in our approach. Unfortunately, there has been no major change in policy by Russia or any indication that it is seeking to improve its relationship with the European Union. While this is highly regrettable, it is also a matter of fact.

As the Taoiseach outlined, the position in Syria was also discussed and there was unanimous condemnation of the attacks by the Syrian Government and its allies, most notably Russia, on Aleppo. We are all shocked and outraged by the appalling scenes of suffering we are witnessing. The excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of military force against people in Aleppo is a clear violation of international law. The Dáil heard statements on the conflict in Syria just last week and Ireland continues to call for these atrocities to end, unhindered humanitarian access to be provided and the resumption of a credible political process under United Nations auspices. It is worth recalling that the European Council's position is that all options remain under consideration if the current atrocities continue, including sanctions if necessary. Ireland supports this position.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has conveyed Ireland's concerns regarding Syria, in particular the city of Aleppo, directly to the Russian ambassador in the clearest possible terms, most recently on 24 October. I join him in urging Russia to use all of its influence in Syria to end these inhumane actions against a defenceless civilian population.

Notwithstanding the appalling circumstances in Syria and our strong condemnation of Russia's role, it is important to note the European Union can take steps to bring about positive change. The EU is a beacon of hope to many people. Our values of democracy and tolerance remain a shining light to those suffering oppression and we must remain engaged to help them. For example, it is of great importance that the EU maintains its support for civil society in Russia, which is now very vulnerable. To reiterate, while we desire a strong and stable relationship with Russia over the long term and we must bear in mind this goal in future, we do not expect any significant change in the European Union's approach if Russia does not change its ways.