1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will consider providing a weekly update to Dáil Éireann on progress on planning, policy and Ireland's position on Brexit, whether oral or written. [34744/16]
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will consider providing a weekly update to Dáil Éireann on progress on planning, policy and Ireland's position on Brexit, whether oral or written. [34744/16]
2. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the contact he has had with First Minister for Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, regarding the implications of the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. [34890/16]
3. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will request that the Northern Ireland Executive establish the north south consultative forum at the next meeting of the north south ministerial council. [35214/16]
4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster. [36004/16]
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the details of his meeting on 16 November 2016 with First Minister Foster; the issues that were discussed; and the actions that are to be taken following the meeting. [36007/16]
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the details of his meeting with First Minister Foster on 16 November 2016 and their discussions on the Brexit upheaval and the competition between north and south in attracting foreign direct investment; and if Northern Ireland was seeking special status in the EU. [36008/16]
7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the First and Deputy First Ministers and on the North South Ministerial Council meeting held on 18 November 2016. [36012/16]
8. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting regarding the UK exit from the EU with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster. [36046/16]
9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the North South Ministerial Council on 18 November 2016; and the issues raised and any decisions made. [36327/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, together.
I met First Minister Arlene Foster at the Remembrance Sunday events in Enniskillen on 13 November and met her again in Government Buildings on 15 November and at the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, in Armagh on 18 November. At the meeting in Government Buildings, the First Minister and I had a business-like discussion about how we could work together to handle the very many issues that Brexit will create for both jurisdictions. On Friday, 18 November, I attended the 23rd plenary meeting of the NSMC in Armagh. Prior to the plenary meeting, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I had a short bilateral with the First Minister and the deputy First Minister.
At the plenary meeting, the NSMC had a comprehensive discussion on the implications of Brexit for both jurisdictions. It is clear from the meeting that there is a lot of common ground between the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on areas like trade and the economy, the peace process and the common travel area. We agreed that a number of senior officials from the Executive office of Northern Ireland, the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will meet regularly to review developments, serving as a high level working group on Brexit issues.
We agreed a set of common principles to guide our further work in this area. The meeting also discussed the overall economic picture North and South, including business, trade and employment, a report on infrastructure commitments in the Fresh Start agreement, the north-west gateway initiative and the joint North-South bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. We agreed to continue our discussions through the NSMC and bilaterally as required. The Government is committed to progressing our work to ensure the best possible outcome for Ireland and Northern Ireland from the future Brexit negotiations. The council also agreed that the next NSMC plenary meeting would be brought forward and held in the first quarter of 2017.
The Government has established the all-island civic dialogue as an important element in its preparations to meet the broad range of challenges posed by Brexit. In particular, the dialogue provides a forum for civic society groups from both parts of the island to participate in a highly consultative process along with political representatives from across the political spectrum. As indicated at the end of the initial civic dialogue event on 2 November at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a series of civic dialogue events on a sectoral basis are to take place.
I stated in the House on 8 November that I have no objection in principle to having regular sessions on Brexit-related issues subject to the agreement of the House Business Committee which is responsible for the scheduling of Dáil business. The Deputy should raise this issue in the first instance with the committee for further discussion. In any event, I will continue to update Members of the House on Brexit-related issues through a wide range of methods, including weekly responses to parliamentary questions and to Leaders' Questions, regular briefings for party leaders, statements to the House before and after European Council meetings and statements to the House as required. If Members feel there is a need for a weekly ten to 15 minute session and the Business Committee recommends it, I will not object.
There are five Members to reply and there are 11 minutes. Members will need to be reasonably brief if we are to get a reply.
I will be very brief on my three points. To pick up the last point first, it is imperative to have some lively, real-time debate and a reporting mechanism on what is happening. I suggested this last time. It would be useful to have a dedicated electronic newsletter on a weekly basis prepared by the Government for circulation to all Members updating us on all ministerial and official discussions of the week, any papers or discussion documents which have been circulated, any policy developments and any advance or change in thinking among member states or within the United Kingdom and its component parts to which we should be alerted. We could then make a decision on a week-by-week basis as to whether we should have a debate on those matters depending on how substantive they are. Certainly, we should have a debate periodically on the content of that update. I propose that the Government prepares that on whatever suitable day to give us a weekly update. We could then follow what is happening in real time.
I have two other brief questions. On the North-South plenary and the overall economic picture North and South, I remember the discussions very well over the five years. However, there is a new urgency about Brexit. As such, is there any progress on a mechanism to have an agreed approach North and South on the Brexit debate? Clearly, the initiative of an all-Ireland forum has excluded by its own choice the DUP, which is an extremely important political voice in the North. It seems to me that it is imperative to have Ireland and the issues of Ireland to the forefront both within the formulation before it is actually published of the British negotiating stance and in the response from the 27, which will directly involve Ireland. If we do not have some input into the British negotiating stance before it is formally laid out in Brussels on the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, it will be too late to mend our hand. We need to have a mechanism North-South to have the interest of Ireland impact on the British negotiating position.
The Taoiseach has just referred to principles in relation to Brexit. It would be very helpful to everybody in the House if he were to set out these principles. How many principles are there and has the Taoiseach or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade identified them, working with officials? It is urgent that they be set out. Are the principles about procedures or do they relate to the strategic issues in play in relation to the Republic, Northern Ireland and the whole of the island, respectively? While there are issues, strategies and, perhaps, principles we share in common, there are also areas in which there are strategic differences and in which we come from different spaces. Following from what Deputy Howlin has suggested, could the Taoiseach afford the House the courtesy of publishing the principles and setting them out as he sees them?
From looking at UK newspapers, it appears that a lot of the issues and, perhaps, principles will be dealt with at various legal levels. I would like to know if the Taoiseach has gathered together various constitutional legal experts with a view to advising on different potential scenarios and outcomes. A lot of people and, particularly, businesses, are very worried that we are in a kind of truce situation in which we are dancing around issues rather than really dealing with them. Not all of that is under our own control. In one particular area, however, the Taoiseach has a very important role. As leader of the Government, he is a member of the EU's innermost Councils at which the policy the rest of the EU will take towards Brexit will be determined. In that regard, I ask the Taoiseach if he can share that with people in Ireland.
We see a hard Brexit coming from some, a soft Brexit coming from other EU Heads of State and Presidents and now references to a normal Brexit are appearing. As the exit of a country has never happened before, I am not so sure what "normal Brexit" means. We have all these phrases being tossed around and I am sure lots of diplomats are working out what they mean. We are hearing different messages from the EU and the Taoiseach is our representative on some of the topmost Councils. We hear, for instance, that the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Schultz, may be resigning or retiring. We hear that if he goes, Mr. Juncker will go. I would not shed any tears if Mr. Juncker were to decide to up sticks and leave, but clearly as he is part of the inner circle of the EPP, as is the Taoiseach, the Taoiseach might share his thoughts on who he thinks will be negotiating for the EU and be the key strategy makers and leaders.
He will not get to share many thoughts if we do not conclude. I call Deputy Eamon Ryan.
Can we go into the next section? I think 15 minutes was allocated.
That would make sense.
Are people amenable to adding the time from the next 14 questions to the time for these nine questions? We might defer the third group of questions and take Questions Nos. 1 to 23, inclusive. We would be doing well there. We will take another 15 minutes for this and then we will have 15 minutes for Questions Nos. 10 to 23, inclusive. I ask everyone to try to be a bit briefer. Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is important to do that. This is one of the spaces where we get time to debate this in public and it is important to use it.
We need to look forward by a year and consider various different scenarios in terms of how things will unfold. However, when I do that, I see nothing but the worst possible news for the North, in particular. In terms of the effect of Brexit and the process, the North will be worst affected because its percentage of trade across the Border is far higher than anywhere else. It will be affected if any border is imposed. It will lose out if, as the UK Prime Minister said yesterday, the corporation tax is reduced to 15%. Any comparative advantage it thought it might have in a low-tax system to try to attract investment will be gone.
I see nothing in the negotiating process other than a very long five to ten year mess in terms of talk around trade agreements. One of our concerns is how a Northern economy will find it very difficult in that environment.
We need the Department of the Taoiseach and the Government to start doing scenario planning around what Brexit might mean and considering the possibility that it would lead to a change in constitutional arrangements. We might have to consider very seriously an all-island constitutional approach and a more united Ireland.
In order for us to have an informed debate on that issue, I ask the Department of the Taoiseach to start working out the cost implications and opportunities that will be available for the State. I know we are at the end of the constitutional process. It would first of all require a series of opinion polls to show that the people of the North are interested in such a process. The Secretary of State would have to sign up to the holding of a Northern referendum before we could have any referendum. It behoves us to treat that possibility seriously and to be open, honest and clear with each other on the costs and opportunities in moving towards a united Ireland. The alternative for the North under Brexit is looking increasingly grave.
The First Minister has thus far shown little acknowledgement of the view of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland who voted for the United Kingdom to remain within the European Union. It is fair to say that the Taoiseach probably mishandled the matter during the summer. The First Minister's dismissal of those who fear Brexit as remoaners was a bad signal.
That said, the Taoiseach has said that the recent discussion in the North-South Ministerial Council was the best ever. A cynic might say that it had to be, given what went before it. Could he indicate to the House the specific outcome of the North-South Ministerial Council discussions? Has he agreed to carry out a joint assessment of the impact of Brexit, in particular on the Border region? It would be very useful if the Executive and Government could agree a joint assessment of the impact.
Did the Taoiseach discuss the acknowledgement of the Northern Ireland Office in the Agnew and others case in the High Court in Belfast? It is an important case. The Northern Ireland Office essentially argued that the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 are in no way impacted by the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The argument was that the European context for the peace settlement is essentially irrelevant. It was also claimed that the Northern Ireland Assembly has fewer rights in regard to legislative consent than the other devolved Governments.
It is a reasonable reading of London's position on this case to say that it reserves the right to act unilaterally in regard to Northern Ireland. I would be interested in hearing the position of the Government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, on the importance of the European Union provisions in that Agreement. Does the Taoiseach accept that residents of Northern Ireland must continue to have recourse to the European Convention on Human Rights, no matter what happens. It is a very important consideration. Would it be possible for the Government to publish a legal analysis of the position of the United Kingdom in regard to this?
In the overall context, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and the Department of Finance published a very good study last week on the likely impact of different Brexit scenarios on Ireland. The core finding was there was near complete consensus that Brexit will have a very significant negative impact on the United Kingdom. This is not a view held solely by economists here, but also by those across Europe. This will have a further significant negative impact on Ireland. Various calculations have been carried out on soft and hard Brexit that show 2% could be added to the unemployment figures, there could be a decrease in public revenues and a significant decline in national incomes over time in Ireland.
The study also stated that Northern Ireland would be hit harder than any other region. It all adds up to a dramatic threat to our economic future. By any yardstick, this is the greatest structural change to how our economic model operates in 45 years. There is no question about that. We entered into the EU Single Market with Britain, and it will now exit. It is already happening in the context of the decline in sterling.
I get the sense that the country has not yet seized the significance of what is happening. I genuinely feel that the budget was a missed opportunity in terms of making the public aware that Brexit will have an immediate impact and that we need to put funding aside. I suspect there are things we will have to do in order to stabilise jobs in Irish-owned companies which have tight margins in terms of exporting to the UK. We have to do something regarding VAT rates. We should put it to the European Union that state aid rules may have to be amended in order to cover the transition phase governing our economy as Britain leaves the European Union.
It is an unprecedented scenario. It is almost akin to accession treaties through which countries join the European Union. Within those treaties, countries are given transition phases in order to adjust to the new realities.
Have we put it to the European Union that we need room and it will have to consider supporting our position and the island in general? Where stands the argument around Northern Ireland having a special status that straddles the European Union and Republic of Ireland while at the same time being part of the United Kingdom?
Many of the issues being discussed are a direct consequence of the partition of the island. We have to deal with the reality of that, but the only solution is the reunification of the people and island. There is a constitutional obligation on the Government to develop a strategy to achieve that. The stance of the two main parties is that they want a united Ireland but not yet. I do not see why not. Why can we not develop a strategy?
Sinn Féin has published a discussion document and I will ensure it is sent to every Member of the Oireachtas, MLA, MP and MEP. I look forward to people's comments on the suggestions we put forward.
The posturing of the First Minister, Arlene Foster, is evidence of many of the difficulties arising from the outworking of Brexit. The last North-South Ministerial Council agreed that the two Governments would work together to ensure that the benefits of North-South co-operation would be fully recognised in any arrangement which emerges as regards the future relationship of the UK with the European Union, a very important commitment on which we need to build. That protection can best be achieved by the North being designated as having a special status within the European Union. It cannot be achieved by the North being outside the European Union. That would also be contrary to the declared wishes of the people of the North during the referendum.
Did the North-South Ministerial Council discussions cover the introduction of measures to support businesses on both sides of the Border which are suffering in the face of continuing currency fluctuations? I note the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, has reported that beef exports to Britain have dropped by 13%. Has the Government considered those issues?
A previous North-South Ministerial Council meeting agreed on an audit to identify the possible impacts, risks, opportunities and contingencies in all sectors in the period preceding and following the withdrawal of Britain from the EU.
Will the Taoiseach provide the House with an update on its progress?
There is a huge challenge in terms of the PEACE and INTERREG programmes. This is a big concern in Border communities, including in my constituency of Louth. We also expected that the North-South Ministerial Council would discuss other capital projects such as the A5, the Narrow Water Bridge and so on. I understand that the British Secretary of State's arrogant claim that Lough Foyle is under the jurisdiction of the British Government was also discussed. Will the Taoiseach make it clear to the House and to the Secretary of State, Mr. Brokenshire, that Lough Foyle and, for that matter, Carlingford Lough are not under British jurisdiction?
I am keen to hear from the Taoiseach whether he discussed the issue of corporation tax and corporation tax rates on this island with the First Minister, Arlene Foster, and, for that matter, the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. With the support of all the parties in the Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly has, under the Fresh Start agreement, been granted by Westminster the right to reduce its corporation tax, with the proviso that any reduction has to be matched with corresponding reductions in public expenditure. One could argue that the targeted reduction in public service numbers of 20,000 agreed by the Executive parties forms a major part of this expenditure reduction. A quarter of the target - 5,000 public servants - has already been taken out of the system, with resultant strains on public services. Have the Taoiseach and the First Minister been given pause for thought by a number of external events that glaringly place a question mark over the strategy of low corporation tax as a route to economic development?
To be specific, the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been flagging for some time that corporation tax would be reduced across the UK and yesterday confirmed her objective that, tied in with Brexit, it would have the lowest corporation tax in the G20. The announcement by Donald Trump of a reduction in corporation tax to 15% is well documented. Last week, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, announced that it would be reducing corporation tax to 9%. The multinationals must be laughing all the way to the bank at this carry-on, but for the people on the island of Ireland it is not a laughing matter. This is a race to the bottom that cannot be won. The very attempt to win it comes at a massive cost to society in terms of revenues forgone that could have been spent on public services and public service workers. A different strategy is needed that is based on State investment in job creation. Did the Taoiseach discuss the future of corporation tax rates on this island and the futility of this race to the bottom with the First Minister?
Deputy Howlin asked the first question. He stated that we should have a lively, real-time debate in the House and suggested that a regular e-letter to Members of the Houses and others might be appropriate. I do not object to that. He suggested it could set out policy papers, decisions and upcoming events, etc. We should discuss whether it would happen on a Monday or a Friday, but it is certainly a valid suggestion. Whether Members of the House want ten or 15 minutes or otherwise in terms of leader briefings and so on, I am quite happy to provide that, as it moves along.
Could we initiate it then?
Is it every week?
We could have a shot at it and see if we could prepare an e-letter that is relevant and factual and that is not left at home every week, if the House knows what I mean, because Members do not have time to read all these things.
Deputy Howlin mentioned the DUP. I met the First Minister, Arlene Foster, three times in the space of one week. We want to continue the formal discussions through the North-South Ministerial Council. On the issues that were raised at the meeting in Armagh, every Minister had been in contact with his or her counterpart and they all spoke at the meeting in respect of those discussions and the issues that concern their Departments. As the Deputy is well aware, many of these issues are completely intertwined North and South. This is particularly so in the agrifood sector where there is movement in both directions across the Border. There are also significant numbers of people crossing the Border every day for work. These issues were discussed and Ministers will continue to meet and discuss the issues with their counterparts regularly. We agreed that there will be another meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council before Article 50 is triggered by the British Prime Minister. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister are working towards an agreed set of objectives arising from the letter they wrote after the July meeting to the Prime Minister which set out their priorities in respect of there being no return to a hard Border, access to labour and other matters which are of concern to us here as well.
Deputy Joan Burton spoke about dancing around the issues. We are clear on some things, but we are not clear on others. The first thing we are clear on is that the Prime Minister stated that she would move Article 50 before the end of March. The second is that the Irish and British Governments agree that there should be no return to a hard Border. The third is that the Irish and British Governments agree that there should not be a diminution of any of the benefits of the common travel area. This has been in place, in both countries' interests, since the 1920s, when we were outside and inside the European Union. Now a different situation arises, but we are both very much in agreement on the issue.
However, we do not know what the future holds for the British Government. Tomorrow, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his autumn statement. There is an exceptional deficit. I have noted the comments of the Prime Minister in respect of a reduction in corporate tax. I have also noted her comments in respect of a £2 billion allocation for research and innovation. These issues are of concern to us. It is clear that we must not rest on our laurels in respect of the third level sector and research and innovation. We must focus on continuing to be relentlessly competitive because that is what keeps the country up in the higher echelons, which is where we need to be. Until we are clear on these matters, is it a case of borders being protected or is it a case of access to the Single Market and, as a consequence, the movement of people? European leaders have said that they are not negotiating on the issue, that it is not possible to cherrypick and that there will not be approval for access to the market without the free movement of people.
On who will be negotiating, the European Commission appointed former Commissioner, Michel Barnier, as the lead negotiator. I had a good meeting with him when he was here. He made it perfectly clear that his role was not to make decisions, but to engage with all the European countries and the British. He has set up a task force and we have a member on it. Officials are in Brussels today for a detailed analysis of what is happening. From our point of view, we will have an accurate flow of information about the issues that are being raised, which will be of interest to everyone here. Mr. Barnier made clear that his job is not to make decisions, but to negotiate and discuss. This will only happen after Article 50 is triggered. It is the European Council - the elected political leaders - that will oversee the decisions to be made.
Deputy Eamon Ryan noted that this was a worse case scenario for Northern Ireland. There are many reasons to be careful about that fact. When we look at the Common Agricultural Policy and its contribution to Northern Ireland, will the British taxpayers be asked to make up the difference when it is no longer contributing? Will they make it up in whole or in part? Will there be more or less? We have to plan for the future.
The issue of a united Ireland was also raised. People North and South voted on the Good Friday Agreement and people down here voted to remove Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
When the negotiations start, unlike Scotland, which was told that if it left and subsequently sought to rejoin the European Union it would have to go through the application process again, in the same way as East Germany was absorbed into West Germany, we need to have language which recognises what people voted for in the Good Friday Agreement and successive agreements, including the dropping of the territorial claim in Articles 2 and 3. If, as a consequence of the Good Friday Agreement, people North and South were to indicate at some point in future that we should have a united Ireland, the language of the negotiations should cater for that. After Britain removes itself from the European Union, we should not have a situation in which Northern Ireland, having expressed a wish to join the European Union as part of a united Ireland, would have to go through the whole process of reapplying and renegotiating EU membership.
The Taoiseach exceeded his time by two minutes.
Deputy Micheál Martin asked a number of important questions.
Unless we come to some arrangement, we will have to move on to Questions Nos. 10 to 23, inclusive, for which only 15 minutes remain.
In that case, let us move on.
Deputy Martin is happy to move to the next set of questions.
I can send the Deputy a response to the questions he raised.
I asked a series of questions. I ask the Taoiseach to have someone identify where the blanks were in his response and provide the appropriate answers.
I also asked several questions which were not answered.
I would appreciate a written response to my questions.
Deputy Barry raised an issue he has raised on previous occasions. Corporate taxes are a matter for each individual country.
Everybody is prepared to facilitate the proposal to move to the next set of questions, including Deputy Adams who also asked some questions. Fifteen minutes are available to discuss Questions Nos. 10 to 23, inclusive and eight Deputies tabled questions in this group. I suggest that following the Taoiseach's initial response, they ask a brief supplementary question and the Taoiseach can then reply. If Deputies are not brief, others will not receive a response.
Will we each have a few minutes to ask supplementary questions?
No, Deputies will have approximately one minute each to ask a supplementary question. Otherwise the Taoiseach will not have time to reply because we must conclude after 15 minutes.
One minute each is not much.
We will see what happens.
10. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he has made contact with the President-elect of the United States of America. [34861/16]
11. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he has made contact with the President-elect of the United States of America. [34863/16]
12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to amend the Government's strategy on the undocumented Irish in the United States of America following the election of Donald Trump and the President-elect's publicly stated views on immigration. [34866/16]
13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the contact he has had with the office of the President-elect of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump; and the implications of his election for the future of US-Ireland relations. [34888/16]
14. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the details of and issues discussed in his telephone conversation with President-elect Donald Trump. [35161/16]
15. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach the detail of the discussions he had with the President-elect of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. [35188/16]
16. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversation with the US President-elect, Mr. Donald Trump. [35196/16]
17. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has had any contact with President-elect Donald Trump following his election victory. [35215/16]
18. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with President-elect Donald Trump. [35219/16]
19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans regarding the Government's strategy on the undocumented Irish in the United States of America and the rate of corporation tax, which may impact on Ireland's ability to attract foreign direct investment in the future, following the election of Donald Trump. [35164/16]
20. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach the details of his conversation with President-elect Trump; and his plans to visit the White House on St. Patrick's Day. [35977/16]
21. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the future relationship between the USA and Russia with President-elect Trump in his recent telephone call. [36131/16]
22. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if, during his recent conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump, there was any discussion of the Paris Agreement or climate change. [36342/16]
23. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the details of his conversation with President-elect Trump; and if TTIP was discussed. [36009/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 23, inclusive, together.
I am expected to answer all the Deputies' valid questions in 30 seconds.
As I reported to the House, I wrote to President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence on Wednesday, 9 November, offering my congratulations on their success in the US elections. Following those letters, on the night of Wednesday, 9 November, I spoke by telephone with President-elect Trump. During the course of our ten minute conversation, I congratulated Mr. Trump on his electoral success and we both committed to working together to the mutual benefit of Ireland and the United States. Reflecting on the long and tough electoral campaign that took place, I welcomed the conciliatory messages contained in the President-elect's victory speech, noting that a united, inclusive and tolerant America is good for the rest of the world too.
In discussing the importance we place on continuing the strong relationship between Ireland and the United States, President-elect Trump and I spoke about the long-standing tradition of political engagement by Taoisigh in Washington each St. Patrick's Day. Mr. Trump confirmed that he intends to continue that tradition and I look forward to seeing him in the White House for St. Patrick's Day 2017.
President-elect Trump commended Ireland's recent economic progress and noted that he looks forward to doing business with Ireland. I assured him that the Government will work closely with his Administration when it is appointed. I spoke of the real value of US investment in Ireland and noted that this is largely due to the quality of our young people. I also mentioned that approximately 100,000 US citizens are employed in Irish-owned companies across 50 US states.
Last Friday, 18 November, I had a telephone conversation with Vice President-elect Mike Pence. It was a warm and friendly exchange, during which I congratulated him on his election and we discussed the US-Irish economic relationship. He displayed a good understanding of Ireland and Irish-American issues. Vice President-elect Pence has Irish roots. He fondly recalled his visit to Ireland in 2013 and said he looks forward to a further visit to Ireland.
I raised the matter of the undocumented Irish in the United States with both the President-elect and the Vice President-elect. Achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants in the US and protecting and supporting the peace process will remain priority issues for the Government, in particular the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and our embassy in Washington as well as our consulates in the United States. We will also continue to focus on deepening and strengthening our economic, trade and investment links with the United States.
Neither conversation encompassed any other specific policy issues. It would be premature to attempt to anticipate or comment at this early stage on President-elect Trump's specific policy priorities or our potential responses to these.
We are all acutely conscious of the particular responsibility of the United States for leadership and engagement across the globe in our endeavours to address shared challenges. The Government will continue to work constructively and productively to ensure that our bilateral relations will continue to prosper during the next four years, and we look forward to working closely with our new colleagues in the White House. In the meantime, the Government will continue to engage actively with the Administration of President Obama until he completes his term on 20 January 2017.
I am sure people will sleep soundly in their beds in the knowledge that the custom of presenting the US President with a bowl of shamrock on St. Patrick's Day is set to continue. Everyone was extremely worried about this. I am not sure if the presentation will move from the White House to Trump Tower but perhaps the Taoiseach has some news on that.
On a more serious note, people have noted the swift U-turn the Taoiseach has made in terms of his attitude to the President-elect. Whereas last year, the Taoiseach described Mr. Trump as dangerous and a racist, he now says Mr. Trump is willing to heal wounds. Donald Trump is not willing to heal wounds; he is opening wounds. We see this with the appointment of people such as Steve Bannon, a far-right, anti-Semitic white supremacist who is also a misogynist. We also see it with the appointment of Mike Flynn, who is anti-Muslim and Senator Jeff Sessions, only the second person in the United States to be rejected as a federal judge on account of racism. How are these appointments healing wounds?
With regard to developments in the United States, I have heard journalists and others argue that people should not protest because it is not democratic to do so and Mr. Trump has been elected. The right to protest is part of democracy. Minorities in the United States, whether black people, women or immigrants, are not stupid. Since the election of Donald Trump, racist attacks have increased more than 600 fold. In the week or two since Mr. Trump's election, the number of racist attacks has equated to the number normally recorded in six months. I salute those who are sending Mr. Trump a message that they will not take this lying down.
On Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the Taoiseach sent a gushing tweet over the weekend in which he said Mr. Pence certainly knows Ireland and the issues that matter to Irish people. Last year, Irish people turned out in droves for the same sex marriage referendum. Vice President-elect Pence is bitterly opposed to same sex marriage and has argued, for example, that resources should be provided for conversion therapy to assist those seeking to change their sexual behaviour. How is that in accordance with the views of Irish people?
A Teachta, le do thoil, beidh an t-am rite agus ní bheidh seans ag daoine eile atá ag iarraidh.
Given the extra time provided for the previous questions, I would like to contribute for a couple of minutes.
My role is to implement the orders of the House. The discussion must conclude when the time provided for this group of questions elapses. The eight Deputies who tabled questions would like responses.
I ask for 30 seconds to conclude given that we did not argue when more time was provided for the previous group of questions.
While I accept that the Taoiseach must go through the motions of formally greeting the election of world leaders, does he have to do so in such a gushing manner? Last week, the cast of a soap opera treated Donald Trump in the way he should be treated. Rather than sending Mr. Trump a message that he hopes he will respect gay rights, minority rights and immigrant rights, the Taoiseach has been sending a message that he is dying to meet him.
My question asks the Taoiseach what are his plans to amend the Government's strategy on the undocumented Irish in the United States following the election of Donald Trump and remarks made by Mr. Trump yesterday about looking at every single visa in terms of the degree to which it may undermine American workers' rights. The position is becoming serious for the undocumented Irish in the US in terms of how they are feeling about all of this. President Obama relaxed the position for the undocumented and gave some certainty to those who had been living with undocumented status in the United States for more than 20 years and, in particular, their families. President Obama recognised, for example, that the sons and daughters of the undocumented in the US had particular rights. It seems President-elect Trump is anxious to roll back these rights.
We need to take a fresh look at how we will approach this issue in the light of President-elect Trump's agenda. People may lampoon the bowl of shamrock, but it is not about that; the bowl of shamrock is symbolic. The substance of the week in which St. Patrick's Day falls in the United States is important for Ireland. It is important for the maintenance of Irish jobs and in the promotion of tourism, Irish food products and agriculture. Representatives of very few countries get the opportunity to meet the democratically elected President of the United States, irrespective of one's views and so on, that we get through the deep historical connection between Irish emigrants, the diaspora, the people and the Government because of St. Patrick's Day. It is a gilt-edged opportunity. However, we do so on the basis articulated by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the aftermath of President-elect Trump's election. She made the point eloquently when she said German-US relations would continue on the basis of the same values and ideals which had always informed the relationship. In other words, Chancellor Merkel was not resiling from any of her deeply held values and principles on how society should be organised. I am in a similar vein. I hold steadfast to the principles enunciated before and after the presidential election which I will continue to pursue. I recognise democracy and the decisions taken by an electorate, even if I have my own views and opinions on it.
The undocumented Irish are of immediate concern to us. When he spoke to the President-elect, did the Taoiseach refer to the presence in Ireland of multinationals, which has been a cornerstone of Irish industrial policy for the past 40 odd years and yielded thousands of jobs? The President-elect and the American Government are entitled to do what they want with tax rates. However, we do not want to see a hostile attitude towards American companies based in Ireland, given their investment and the jobs they have created here. We need to highlight that issue.
Before I call Deputy Joan Burton, it looks as if the Taoiseach will not have time to reply as the 15 minutes will soon be up and there is an order of the House. He might think about how he might reply in written format.
What ethical framework is the Taoiseach applying to his dealings with President-elect Trump? President-elect Trump has expressed reprehensible views about people from Mexico, whether they are living in Mexico or have transferred to the United States. He has expressed appalling views about women and his approach to them. He has advocated jailing his opponent in the recent presidential election. In foreign affairs Ireland has always sought to operate in difficult circumstances, as no doubt these are. We are all aware that the man is a significant business owner in the west, which is not to be disregarded either. As the leader of the Government, will the Taoiseach set out the framework and the ethics he is applying to how he is approaching President-elect Donald J. Trump? Without a doubt, in his first two weeks as President-elect, he has made an extraordinary number of pronouncements which could certainly influence the future of the world as we know it, as well as the approach to many issues, from tearing up trade deals to reintroducing an emphasis on investment and employment. Some are measures we would support but his views on people of colour and race are reprehensible. His views on women are also shocking.
The Deputy is way beyond time.
Does the Taoiseach have an ethical framework which he proposes to use in dealing with President-elect Trump and addressing our interests?
The Taoiseach said he had had a conversation with President-elect Trump and welcomed the conciliatory messages which had come from him after he was elected. Does the Taoiseach have any concern about the appointments he has made, many of which have been mentioned here? There are appointees who come from the far right, who are homophobic, warmongering and express everything that is negative in undermining the gains which have been made globally and in American society in dealing with race equality, equality for women and homophobia? In the Roman Empire Caligula wanted to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. I suspect that if Donald Trump were to say tomorrow that he wanted to appoint his horse to office, the Taoiseach would probably still warmly welcome it and greet him in Washington on St. Patrick's Day.
That is an outrageous remark.
Is there any level of degradation to which Donald Trump's appointments might go where the Taoiseach might say that is enough and that he will not bring the bowl of shamrock to Washington next March? Donald Trump has filled his Cabinet and surrounded himself with the chief executive officers of JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Cerberus which is at the heart of a scandal with NAMA in this country. This is not a man who is a friend of working people. Instead, he represents the 1% who are creating gross inequalities, both in America and across the planet, as well as attacking public services and the conditions for working people, while reversing the gains made.
I disagree profoundly with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence. However, we just have to accept the fact that they were elected. They are the President-elect and the Vice President-elect.
And the last.
We will probably have opportunities to voice our concerns about them in the time ahead and, I hope, not about their actions. My question is relatively straightforward and is about the undocumented Irish. I was in New York for two days last week and the undocumented Irish working on building sites, in pubs and in restaurants there are genuinely concerned they will hear a knock on the door and be raced out of the place. I have commended the Taoiseach in the past and know that he has raised this issue consistently. I understand he might be travelling to the USA next week. If so, I recommend he meet as many Irish-American organisations as is possible in that time and raises their concerns directly.
Unfortunately, that brings us to the end of Question Time. It is very clear that there are 45 minutes allocated for Question Time. An internal arrangement was made within the 45 minutes. That arrangement has now elapsed.
It has not.
It has by almost one minute. I will, however, give the Taoiseach one minute in which to reply.
I just want to make one point. There were some comments made here which, if left unanswered, would find their own way of becoming headlines and they are not true. I deliberately spoke to Vice President-elect Pence about the undocumented Irish.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, one cannot exclude Members from raising their questions and then allow a response.
I am afraid that I cannot allow this, unless the House comes to an arrangement.
We should extend the time allocated.
The Taoiseach can write to us.
Deputy Micheál Martin raised a valid point which needs to be answered. Vice President-elect Pence said-----
May I interrupt the Taoiseach for one minute?
It is Government time on which we are infringing. Is the Taoiseach prepared to give some Government time to allow Deputies Brendan Howlin and Eamon Ryan to raise their questions?
Give us 15 minutes and we will all be happy.
No, we do not need 15 minutes.
May we have ten minutes of Government time?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
All Members are hearing at first hand from undocumented Irish-Americans about real anxieties. I take it that the Taoiseach received no advice from either the President-elect or the Vice President-elect on whom he should appoint as our ambassador to the United States?
Apparently, that is the territory they are in. In response, the Taoiseach said he had raised the issue of the undocumented Irish with both the President-elect and the Vice President-elect. I did not hear him say what response he had received. The only response we have heard in the past 48 hours has set out President-elect Trump's 100-day strategy.
That really has driven more fear into the hearts of undocumented Irish Americans. Mr. Trump has talked about forensically examining every visa to determine whether it will have an impact on American workers. That is basically a recipe for saying there will be no more visas. There are two fear points. First, those who are in the United States fear they will be summarily arrested and removed because Mr. Trump is talking about deporting 3 million people. This is an incredible number. Second, those who have a prospect of getting a visa now fear this avenue will be closed off. I will be interested in hearing not only that the Taoiseach raised this but also the concrete response he got.
I am looking forward to the Taoiseach's response. He said outrageous remarks were made. I am interested to hear what he says in that regard. Does he accept that this is a difficult issue for all sides of the House? We could, as Deputy Adams said, just accept that the candidates got elected and move on.
I did not say that.
The other day, after the Taoiseach's telephone call with Vice President-elect Pence, various gay friends of mine were straight on to me asking how the Taoiseach could receive a telephone call and not raise or stand up for gay rights with someone who, as stated, argued gay marriage would bring about the collapse of society. For example, the Vice President-elect has advocated state funding for conversion therapy to turn LGBT people straight. There is a balancing act between being diplomatic and standing up for certain values, rather than just normalising positions that are beyond the pale. I am interested in hearing the Taoiseach's view on this. I would like the Taoiseach to consider the example of gay rights, which he will rightly say the previous Government championed. We all introduced marriage equality. How can we protect the fundamental principles we now hold in a diplomatic way?
Deputy Coppinger raised the question of the shamrock. Deputy Martin has answered this very well. It has been symbolic of the links between this country and the United States for very many years. It has nothing to do with the shamrock itself but the link-----
The bulk of my questions were not about the shamrock.
-----established between the two countries over very many years and one we are very glad to see will be retained in the time ahead. Vice President-elect Pence was very strongly in favour of continuing in his role in the same way as Vice President Biden over recent years.
Did the Taoiseach discuss the marriage equality referendum?
Out of all this comes the recognition that politics matters, including in respect of Brexit and the American presidential election. The decision has been made. It has been made by the electorate of the United States. It went to the ballot box and elected Vice President-elect Pence and President-elect Trump. Politicians the world over have to deal with the consequences of whatever Administration emerges from that, as I have said in this House before. That Administration is not in place yet and decisions have not been taken. I note that when Japanese Prime Minister Abe met President-elect Trump, he said that he was a person he could work with in the interest of Japanese-American relations. President Obama himself, despite the campaign he carried out for candidate Hillary Clinton, said it is now accepted in America that there is a transition period and that one should allow for an orderly transition to a new Administration. The same was said by Hillary Clinton herself. She said it is time for America to move on and that the decision has been made by the people. The Administration is in the process of being appointed.
We stand up for our own rights by our own actions. Deputy Eamon Ryan made the point that arising from the first ever citizens' convention, we had a referendum on gay marriage and equality of rights. I was very happy to support it. It was a wonderful period of exultation and excitement among Irish people at home and among the Irish diaspora abroad.
I spoke deliberately to Vice President-elect Pence. It is important to acknowledge that he knows from his own roots, since his ancestors travelled through Ellis Island into the United States, what this actually means. I put it to him that there was concern about Irish people who live in America, who may be married to an American, pay their social security payments and work in the interest of the American economy. The point he made to me was that the comments made by President-elect Trump were, in the first instance, in respect of border security and that, second, his priority was in connection with the undocumented with criminal records or criminal intent. On that spectrum, this is where we need to work with the Administration to be appointed. Vice President-elect Pence was very clear about the priorities in respect of security of borders and those undocumented who have criminal records. He did not go beyond that.
Three million of them.
Thirteen million was the figure.
It is a point on which we must now work with the Speaker of the House, who has strong Leinster roots. I will be talking to the Speaker of the House in due course.
I mentioned multinationals to the President-elect and made the point that, over many years, America invested in Ireland because of its strong legal base, its English-speaking population, its access to the European Union and its static corporate tax rate, which was our business under the European treaties. I made the point to him that the real reason American investment is taking place here and has grown substantially over the years is the quality of the education system and of the young people emerging under that market. I made the point to him that it is now at a stage when Irish-owned firms employ almost 100,000 US citizens across the 50 US states.
Deputy Burton should note that we must work with the US Administration when it is appointed. This is politics. We will not lose any of our ethical standards or values in this country. Why should we? We do not have control over the American system, nor does it have control over ours. In politics, however, one has to make decisions that are in the best interest of the people of our country and the economies of our countries. Obviously, we are prepared to work on that.
Deputy Bríd Smith should note that the comments made by the President-elect were conciliatory. Deputy Howlin mentioned the real anxiety among the undocumented. I have said to him what the Vice President-elect said to me about the priorities of the President-elect. I intend to follow through on that, obviously. I note today that the President-elect's 100-day strategy, published in The New York Times, sets out the areas where he can act unilaterally as President, where he will require congressional support to act if he follows through on various measures, and the areas where there might be a need for other interventions, be they administrative, bureaucratic or otherwise, in respect of the priorities he has set out.
Deputy Ryan has left the Chamber. We stand up by our own actions. The new US Administration has not taken up office yet and decisions have not been made. Obviously, we now have to have our own connections with a Republican party that controls both the Congress and Senate, in addition to connections with the American political system in general. These are all issues on which, from a political perspective, we need to be able to continue to work with the United States, as other countries will and must do. In that sense, it is an international challenge. We have a number of these facing us now. When the President-elect takes up office on 20 January, we will see the shape of the Administration and its views. Our personnel, diplomatic relations and business connections with the United States will be important in the sense of continuing to build on where we want to be.
In respect of Caligula and his horse, they are long gone.
I thank all the Members for their co-operation. It was an important issue.