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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016

Vol. 932 No. 3

Ceisteanna - Questions

Ministerial Advisers Appointments

Micheál Martin


1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the way in which he has filled the position left vacant following the departure of his economic policy adviser. [38479/16]

Gerry Adams


2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has appointed a new chief economic adviser. [39815/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

Following the resignation of my economic adviser last September, I reviewed the allocation of certain responsibilities within my office. Two of my special advisers will continue their work on policy and programme implementation within my office with some additional responsibilities. To reflect their added responsibility, I have revised their working titles to special adviser for policy and programme implementation.

The Taoiseach has previously said that we are facing incredibly challenging economic circumstances. The position I was talking about leaving vacant is that of economic adviser who has moved on to perhaps greener pastures. With Brexit coming down the line, questioning our relations with multinational companies and various domestic pressures, the Taoiseach will agree it is not time for business as usual. There are very serious challenges. When the Taoiseach filled this particular economic adviser role back in 2011, he said it was central to co-ordinating work across Government. As we discovered after the election, it was a role which at times appeared to carry more authority than many senior members of Fine Gael. Can the Taoiseach explain to me how the co-ordination of economic policy is now to be done within the Taoiseach's Department, particularly given the enormous challenges of Brexit, enterprise strategy and related issues? How many people will work in the economic area within the Taoiseach's Department?

Is it his intention to publish a White Paper on economic strategy? The only reason I put that question is because it seems to me that following the Brexit decision and the clear evidence that the Trump administration will mean America becoming more isolated and protectionist, we are looking at the prospect of a world that is becoming more protectionist and less amenable to a liberal trading environment. Ultimately, that will be injurious to Irish economic fortunes because we depend significantly on trading our goods and services all over the world. That is the key to our capacity to generate wealth and prosperity for the country. It is often forgotten about here and neglected by many commentators who decry every trade agreement that is ever signed, such as the Canadian trade agreement.

I have heard very little affirmation from anybody on the left, for example, that Ireland should seek international agreements that increase access to markets for our goods and services. Such things are critical to the future of Ireland and have been part of our industrial strategy since the late 1950s and early 1960s when Seán Lemass and T. K. Whitaker engineered a fundamental change in our economic perspectives, making the country more outward looking in its approach to industry, investment and trade.

There is a danger, in the current globalised context, of that changing. Brexit is a fundamental change in our economic structure. It will be a permanent change, if and when it comes about. It is not a passing phase nor a recession but something that permanently alters the structure of the economic model which we have had for 50 years. I do not get the sense that there is a strong economic co-ordinating capacity in the Department of the Taoiseach since the decision of the previous economic adviser to move on to other areas. The Taoiseach might indicate how he sees the challenge of co-ordinating economic policy and he might give more information on his intention to publish a White Paper.

There is enough time to take individual questions.

If I understand the Taoiseach's answer, he has not yet filled the position of social economic adviser. Am I right?

The Deputy is right.

The Taoiseach has previously said that this is a crucial position. We are still in economic difficulties and many citizens across every sector are under huge economic pressure. There is a housing and homelessness emergency and pressure in the public services, especially the health services. Brexit will not ease those economic difficulties but will increase them and the entire construct of successive Government policies will change. I do not know whether there is someone who could bring a focus to these issues or whether the Taoiseach should consider filling this position because his record on all these issues has been extremely poor. At the least, he needs to give us an explanation as to why a post which he said was absolutely crucial has not been filled, notwithstanding the difficulties we have and which may well worsen in the time ahead.

This question will be redundant if the Taoiseach does not appoint a new economic adviser, but if he does so, I ask that it be at the appropriate salary scale and will not breach the current levels. The former economic adviser was gifted over €60,000 in excess of the salary cap for such appointments, as was the case with others appointed by Labour Party Ministers in the previous Government. I welcome that new guidelines on advisers' salary scales have been brought in by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and there is now a different level of transparency. If the Taoiseach does not intend to fill this post, why is that? If he changes his mind, will it be at the appropriate salary scale and will he ensure the salary will not breach the guidelines?

I share other Deputies' surprise that the person who vacated this role has not been replaced. I know how pivotal the former economic adviser was to Government policy formation in the past five years. When the 2011 Government was formed, the economy was at the heart of everything we did and we established the Economic Management Council as a core vehicle for the analysis of economic decisions. The previous economic advisers to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste played a crucial role for our country in that period. I do not see that things have altered so remarkably for a very senior economic adviser to the Taoiseach not to be warranted, even though we have made significant economic improvement in the past five years.

Cheap publicity can always be had for comments that we should pay somebody at a lower rate, but to get people of the calibre we need, to match wits with the World Bank and the IMF, the European Commission and the ECB, we need people of calibre. I do not believe the public service should be denuded of people of calibre and I have had this debate with Sinn Féin in the past when that party was arguing against decent salaries in the health service, a hook it got off when its members realised it was not sustainable. We need to be realistic about public service pay if we want to get people of calibre. For the economic strategising that needs to inform the decision-making of the Taoiseach, the Government and this House, we need people with independent, trained economic minds to be available to us. We established the independent economic evaluation unit within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform over the past five years and there are now more than 100 economists trained in economic analysis across the public service. Is it that the Taoiseach has not yet appointed an economic adviser or is it that he does not intend to appoint one?

I thank Members for their support in this important issue. As Deputy Howlin pointed out, when the previous Government was appointed in 2011, the situation was well-nigh catastrophic economically. Both of the people to whom he referred were quite extraordinary. I have rarely met anybody of the calibre and quality of my own party's nominee as economic adviser. He is capable of running any of the institutions Deputy Howlin mentioned and has a particularly strong, trained economic mind. It was important that there be a balance between the Department of the Taoiseach and the other two Departments, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance. I have looked to replace that person but it is well-nigh impossible. It is not that I have given up. Instead, I have reassigned responsibilities in the area of policy and programme implementation.

We have a very close relationship with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance and it would be through the Department of Finance that a White Paper would come to Government. Deputies will be aware of the changed situation in which there is now a spring economic statement. Bodies such as the national economic forum, the independent Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, the ESRI and other institutions put forward economic views and perceptions but the Government would adopt a White Paper on the basis of what would come from the Department of Finance. Any appointment would have to be commensurate with the ability of which I have spoken, and Deputy Howlin is correct that if one looks for somebody with an exceptional capacity, one has to remunerate them accordingly. It is true to say that cheap publicity can be gained by saying a person is being paid such an amount for doing a job.

This is about our country. It is about maintaining steady management of the economy in very difficult times. As Deputy Martin pointed out, Brexit will not go away. It will have implications for us all on this island. The new Administration in America will have global implications. In this sense, it is important that we understand that in a partnership situation, this entity requires different thinking, different consultation and different support in order to keep it moving in the interests of the country. This is an important consideration. It is not that I have decided not to make an appointment. The particular kind of person we need is not that easy to find. In the meantime, I have reassigned responsibilities to two very capable people who are working on policy and programme implementation.

I take from the Taoiseach's reply that he has endeavoured to secure a replacement for his economic adviser and that he is on the hunt for, or that there is a vacancy for, an economic adviser if the right person comes along but that so far he has not been in a position to secure a suitable replacement. Is this because of salary issues? Is it perhaps because of a worry about the longevity of the Government, given the antics of the Taoiseach's Independent colleagues? Sorry, I withdraw that. We will not use the word "antics", but the-----


I thank Deputy Howlin. Yes, the unpredictability or, may I say, volatility from time to time of certain members of the Independent Alliance, the Minister of State present, Deputy Canney, excepted. It is clear the Taoiseach has been seeking a replacement. It is important that there is a broader economic perspective on this because the challenges are so fundamental that they require a fundamental rethink of enterprise strategy, our economic model, our industrialisation policy vis-à-vis small-to-medium-sized companies and a greater role for such and the degree to which our economy is fit for purpose in a more isolationist and protectionist post-Brexit world.

I have an offer to make. If the Taoiseach were prepared to change his policy, we could lend him Deputy Pearse Doherty or some of our economic advisers, who would advise him properly, point him in a different direction and really bring in new politics.

The Taoiseach already has a propaganda Minister.

I have given consideration to the Deputy's offer and have decided not to go down that road.

Enterprise strategy is absolutely critical. It was discussed just yesterday at a Cabinet sub-committee. We recently saw the publication of the report by the National Competitiveness Council on dealing with competitiveness and productivity, which is critical. The lack of a replacement adviser so far has nothing to do with the longevity of the Government. We have a very fine supply and confidence agreement with Fianna Fáil, a three-year programme with a review to be carried out at the end of 2018. The Government will honour all the commitments in the agreement, as required by the agreement. We understand the different ways in which Government must now decide how things can move forward. We are on the look-out for a replacement adviser. One never knows: the fact that the Deputies have raised the matter today might bear fruit very quickly.

Cyber Security Policy

Micheál Martin


3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his Department has a policy on the use of unofficial e-mail accounts for official purposes; and if not, if his Department plans to have such an e-mail policy in the future. [38480/16]

Gerry Adams


4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the protocols his Department has in place for the use of unofficial e-mail accounts for official purposes by him and Ministers of State in his Department. [39814/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 4 together.

My Department has detailed lCT policies relating to the use of e-mail and the Internet which are provided to all staff. These policies also deal with software downloads, media device usage, remote access and the security responsibility of users. The existing policies do not explicitly ban the use of unofficial e-mail accounts for official purposes but they do stipulate that individuals using the Department's electronic media should handle their communications with the same care as with any other type of business communication.

These policies are being reviewed and consolidated, and text dealing explicitly with the use of unofficial e-mail accounts for official purposes will be included in the consolidated policy.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. There appears to be conflicting accounts from his office on this matter. My understanding is that, as he said, the practice has been that he and the political staff of his Department are given access to encrypted communications on a limited range of devices, including laptop computers. The objective has been to control tightly how official documents and information is handled. The Taoiseach might indicate why he thinks there is a need to operate a separate account. Is this for personal matters? What steps have been taken to ensure that all documentation is preserved in accordance with the requirements of freedom of information legislation? Has the Taoiseach submitted his e-mails to any security review? Have the arrangements of his staff been reviewed?

The backdrop to this is the very strong, conclusive evidence of hacking against democratic Governments and political parties across the globe. We are in a new era. The core question is whether the existing system in the Taoiseach's Department and across Government is adequate to cope with the present challenges. Is there a need for people to be fundamentally brought up to speed on the present dangers or the capacity of other states and organisations not only to hack into and disrupt our systems, but also to obtain vital information to undermine aspects of State policy, for example, or to create political mischief? This is a very real situation and a new avenue for espionage and cyber-warfare. I endeavour to ascertain from the Taoiseach whether he is satisfied that our system is fit for purpose in the context of the challenges democratic Governments now face regarding the security of their IT systems, in particular in respect of e-mail accounts and so on. There is the official route of encryption of official documents and so on but also the separate matter of the use of unofficial e-mails. What is the Taoiseach's perspective on this?

As the Taoiseach knows, the issue of hacking has hit the news recently as a result of allegations that the Russian Government has in some way hacked into the American Democratic Party computer system. The outgoing President has initiated an investigation into this. We read that more recently, in the past few months, there was a theft of millions from Tesco Bank in Britain, so there are a number of issues of concern in this regard. As I understand it, websites of different Government Departments have come under cyber-attacks in the past 12 months and there has been disruption of services, both for workers in the public service and for citizens who avail of online services. We now live in a world in which citizens rely on online services to apply for grants and medical cards, to complete tax returns and to do much more besides, so there is a possibility of personal information being accessed as this continues. As I understand it, the HSE, the CSO, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Courts Service and the Taoiseach's other Department, the Department of Defence, have all been targeted. I read that the Oireachtas network has been targeted as well. I tend not to pay an awful lot of heed to what the media reports, but it was reported that the Taoiseach used Gmail for official correspondence and that this was under review. It is also reported that he and five other Cabinet Ministers had personal information, including passwords, stolen by hackers who targeted the LinkedIn website. I do not know whether the Taoiseach wants to clarify any of these issues for the Dáil. Is he satisfied that enough is being done to ensure that Government IT systems are protected? Government policy does not, I understand, ban office holders and staff in the Taoiseach's Department from using non-departmental e-mail services.

Is that the case throughout all other Departments? The Taoiseach said this is being reviewed. If so, will the Taoiseach indicate the status of the review and when it will be concluded? Will we get a report on it in the House?

Obviously, all e-mails generated within the official systems within Departments sent to any e-mail address whatsoever are retained on the central servers and are amenable to being accessed for freedom of information purposes or any other purpose. There have always been concerns over the vulnerability of communications. Back 20 or 25 years ago the concerns would have related to telephones, mobile telephones and the hacking of mobile telephones and so on. I do not believe we are ever going to have a fool-proof system.

It was believed 20 or 25 years ago that any communication between Ministers here was always subject to oversight by GCHQ in Britain and the CIA. That was always a view. Whether that was true, I do not know, but it would be naive to think that sophisticated external intelligence agencies throughout the world would be unable to listen to any communication if they so wished.

The question of cyber attacks and cyber manipulation represent a new dimension. Does the degree of priority or urgency correspond to the implications of revelations in the United States? I am not suggesting that those of us in this jurisdiction would be subject to the same focus applied by the Russian Government or any other government to the United States. Anyway, we need to take measures to ensure that, as far as is practicable, we have the best defences that technology can provide.

I am advised that the situation is secure. However, given what we read internationally about what happens with WikiLeaks or whatever, is anything secure that is put in electronically? I note from correspondence in America that there were over 60,000 cyber-related attacks on the US Government last year. I have spoken to representatives of some of the companies in California and the United States generally. Cyber attacks take place on their systems every day of the week. Many of these companies have continuously to employ people with a real interest who can look ahead at the challenges that will arise.

Deputy Adams asked when the review would be complete. I am assured that these things are fireproofed or fire-walled and safe. I am assured that the review and the consolidation process are almost complete. I expect that that new consolidated process will be completed by the end of January.

I have a private e-mail account that pre-dates my time as Taoiseach and which I use for personal correspondence or for party political correspondence that would not be appropriate to transmit on an official e-mail account from the Department. The Department has an official account for my constituency office for receipt of matters relevant to the Cabinet or the agenda in that sense. Sometimes I receive correspondence through that official e-mail address. If it is a matter that should be addressed to the Department or the Minister who might be concerned with it in an official capacity, I will send it off to the person concerned.

The private office uses a number of secure corporate e-mail accounts for conducting day-to-day business on my behalf, such as dealing with correspondence from the public or arranging events to be attended. My constituency office also has a secure corporate e-mail account. These accounts are managed by staff in my office and are only accessible on the Department's network. I also use a secure corporate e-mail account to enable officials to send me priority e-mails when I am out of the office. I can access this e-mail account on my mobile telephone or iPad. No corporate data, other than e-mail and calendar data, is accessible from these devices. All corporate data on the devices is encrypted. Both devices are protected through specialised mobile device management products.

The official e-mail accounts are only accessible by the Department's network in Government Buildings and remotely using official laptops and mobile devices. All devices issued to staff for remote access are fully encrypted and remote access to the network is only permitted from sanctioned devices using strong authentication protocols. Corporate e-mail is deployed on some telephones and tablets, but my Department's mobile security policy has to be deployed on the devices first. This policy controls a number of device settings, including enforcing the use of a complex passcode. Apart from e-mail and calendar data, no other corporate data is accessible from these devices. All mobile devices are managed using a leading mobile device managing product. In the event that a device is reported lost or stolen, a device-wipe signal is sent to the device to remotely remove all access to e-mail. My information technology unit also has the capacity to render the devices completely unusable.

The Department of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, has a unit dealing with security encryption and this particular area. The unit is being expanded for obvious reasons. It is going to be located in UCD separate from the Department. This initiative is already paying dividends by way of warning individual entities or institutions of a cyber attack. Clearly, this is a specialised area. The issue is being addressed through the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Department will have a unit removed from the Houses of the Oireachtas area and located independently in UCD, operated by personnel who are specifically focused on working on this area. The Department intends to expand those numbers again next year.

The Taoiseach has confirmed that he has his own separate personal e-mail account. Is that correct?

I have had it since before I became Taoiseach.

Can the Taoiseach guarantee that it is the case that no Government business or material or material pertaining to Cabinet ends up in that e-mail system? Presumably, less security is attached to the Taoiseach's personal e-mail account than would attach to his Government related e-mail account. Can the Taoiseach clarify that? Is material that may go from one to the other sufficiently secure in the Taoiseach's private e-mail account? I presume the service is owned by a private company. Can the Taoiseach clarify that for us?

Penetration by hackers and other states has been acknowledged as has the ease with which they can penetrate people's accounts and so on. In parallel, there has been a headlong rush to move everything online and to put all manner of crucial information online, including financial information. Increasingly, Revenue operates online, banking transactions are going online and so on. It is somewhat paradoxical. We are telling everyone to do this while the security situation is not sorted. Gaping holes exist in terms of people's security. It is a wider issue of policy. We need to be more cautious in forcing Seán Citizen down a certain line when the security for Seán Citizen is not sorted in terms of either the privacy he can expect or phishing relating to banking and so on.

I have had an e-mail address since long before I became Taoiseach. Obviously, I generally use the corporate e-mail for official purposes. In the past, there have been occasions when I have used that personal e-mail because of operational reasons. However, information does not go there from the secured encrypted e-mails. Government agenda or business comes to me via encrypted e-mail addresses.

I have seen what happens internationally. Irrespective of the firewalls put in place, I have a healthy scepticism regarding the ability of people to be able to breach them. Let us consider the extraordinary extent of e-mail production throughout the world.

Hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages that apparently were deemed to be encrypted are being published. I have to say I have a scepticism about things that are put on the cloud electronically. There is somebody out there with a capacity to breach that unless the walls are absolutely fireproofed. My Department has assured me that these e-mails are completely encrypted and encoded in a complex manner. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is expanding the unit of people who are dealing with this. The unit will be in a stand-alone position to advise and inform companies and institutions regarding cyber attacks. As I have mentioned, I learned last week that there are thousands of attempted hits and attacks on the systems of American companies every day. In addition, there were many thousands of attacks on the systems of the American Government last year.

Brexit Issues

Brendan Howlin


5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will reaffirm comments attributed in the media to him regarding the potential for a united Ireland following the negotiations on the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union; and the specific plans he has in place for such a measure. [38617/16]

Gerry Adams


6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meeting of the Cabinet committee on Brexit that was held on 24 November 2016. [38637/16]

Brendan Howlin


7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach to set out how his Department will work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Brexit; and the process for dealing with the overlap of functions on relations with EU member states between the two Departments. [39818/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, together.

The Government wants to ensure all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement are provided for in any new arrangement between the EU and the UK. This includes the principle of consent and the possibility of a change in constitutional status in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement and its successor agreements contain a very clear measure to the effect that people North and South of the Border may, under certain conditions, have the opportunity of voting by referendum on a united Ireland. As Taoiseach, I have made it clear that the Government is mindful of the need to ensure the future option of a Border poll, as part of the totality of the Good Friday Agreement, is upheld.

The Cabinet Committee on Brexit has met on a number of occasions, most recently on 24 November last, to continue the overall co-ordination of this country's preparations for the negotiations on Brexit which will take place as soon as the British Government submits its Article 50 notification.  The committee is also considering the potential impact of Brexit for Ireland, as well as any economic opportunities that may arise.  Separately, a special Government meeting was held on 16 November last to consider Brexit issues and, in particular, to prepare for an important plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh on 18 November.

The Government has considered Brexit issues regularly since the UK referendum, including on foot of ten separate memoranda for Government. I am ensuring a whole-of-Government response to Brexit is being developed, including through the Brexit Cabinet committee I established following the referendum result. I chair the Cabinet committee, which involves all Ministers as required. The issues involved concern all Ministers, Departments and agencies and require a consistent and comprehensive whole-of-Government response. As I have told Deputies previously, I have restructured my Department to ensure Brexit is treated as a crucial cross-cutting issue, including by creating a newly amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division under a new second Secretary General. The work of this division includes supporting the Cabinet committees on Brexit and on European affairs.

Work on Brexit is supported by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and his Department, both of which now have a greater role in EU matters overall. The newly created EU division in the Department and the existing division in the Department dealing with Anglo-Irish affairs both have important roles to play. Relevant Departments, agencies and overseas missions across the Government are being strengthened to deal with Brexit. There is ongoing interaction on EU issues on a daily basis between the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and Trade. Under the restructuring I announced in July, a second Secretary General has been appointed to lead a new integrated division in the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for supporting me on EU, Northern Ireland, British-Irish and international affairs, including through the Cabinet committees on European affairs and on Brexit.

A second Secretary General has been appointed to lead a new EU division in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This Department, working closely with my Department, has lead responsibility for the general co-ordination of EU affairs. The two second Secretaries General and their respective teams engage closely on an ongoing basis to ensure a comprehensive whole-of-Government approach to EU affairs is provided. In addition to the regular engagement between the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and Trade, there is ongoing interaction across all Departments on the range of EU issues, including through regular meetings of the senior officials group on the EU and the interdepartmental group on Brexit. As Members will be aware, the European Council is meeting in Brussels this week.

The section of the Taoiseach's comprehensive response in which he referred to Northern Ireland was quite orthodox. I am intrigued by a quote that was attributed to the Taoiseach in an article in The Irish Times headlined "Kenny says Brexit could bring about united Ireland" on 25 November last. The article began:

Britain's exit from the EU could result in an "uncomplicated route" to a united Ireland, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told a private Fine Gael fund-raising event. Mr Kenny again raised the prospect of a united Ireland as a possible outcome of Brexit at an event for one of his backbenchers.

Would the Taoiseach care to share with us what exactly he said at that meeting? It might be better for him to clarify the matter rather than having this quote out there. What was the thinking behind the Taoiseach's statement?

I am still a little confused about the exact working of the new EU division within the Department of the Taoiseach. It is now a merged EU-Northern Ireland division. Under the previous Administration, many staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, headed by an assistant secretary, were transferred on secondment to the Department of the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach has now told us that there is a new EU division in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade itself. Are two units of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - one in the Department of the Taoiseach and the other in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - dealing with EU affairs? How is the "co-ordination" mentioned by the Taoiseach happening? There is an assistant secretary in each division. How do they relate to each other? How do they relate to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who has the front or lead position in relation to foreign policy under the Constitution?

The Taoiseach will be aware that throughout her campaign to become Tory party leader and since she was appointed as Prime Minister, Theresa May has repeated that "Brexit means Brexit". Not content with that, she coined a new phrase last week when she referred to a "red, white and blue Brexit". That is her new mantra. The British Government has made it clear where it stands. It is standing up for what it perceives to be Britain's national rights. The people of this island, North and South, are not a priority for it. That is entirely understandable from its perspective. The people of this island have to be a priority for the Taoiseach, however.

As I have said previously, the vision of the Taoiseach and the leaders of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party is limited, restricted and blinkered by the parameters of this State. We need to be thinking about the entire island all the time. The Taoiseach's reply to the questions before the House referred to the need for consent if there is to be a united Ireland. I accept that proposition. I am working with others in Sinn Féin to get that consent. We recently published a discussion document on Irish unity. I sent a copy of it to the Taoiseach. I am not sure if he has had a chance to read it but I would commend it to him. I sent copies of it to all Deputies.

The Government does not have a strategy for Irish unity. It is only mentioning it now in the context of Brexit. Over the entire existence of this State, no Government has had a strategy for Irish unity. Sinn Féin is prepared and willing to work with the Government and all the parties in here to develop such a strategy. I commend that position to the Taoiseach. Short of ending partition and achieving Irish unity, the main objectives of any Government should be to end poverty and to bring inequality to an end. Ending partition and ending poverty are linked in many ways. We have consistently urged that there should be an all-island vision when it comes to negotiations. We have argued that the result of the Brexit referendum in Northern Ireland has to be respected as part of the principle of consent, about which the Taoiseach spoke earlier. We have argued that a special designated status should be created to allow the whole island to remain within the EU.

Again, we published a document on the case for the North to achieve designated special status within the Union, which seeks to address many of the issues that we have touched on and which the British House of Lords EU committee deals with to some extent in the report it published yesterday. The Taoiseach is arguing that such a status is implicit in the different propositions that have been put forward, but Northern Ireland will be outside the Union. There is a qualitative difference between what we are arguing for, not least because it is based on the democratic decision of the people in that part of the island. They have not given their consent to be moved out of the EU. Will the Taoiseach continue to focus on this? Is he prepared, in terms of the united Ireland proposition, to work with our party and the leaders of Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Independent groupings and the other smaller parties to bring forward such a proposition?

The great victory for democratic republicanism on this island was the winning of the right to call a unification referendum if such a vote might conceivably be won.

The Deputy refused to put it to the British Government.

No one has yet demonstrated that calling such a referendum would be anything more than a gesture at this time and we have no intention of exploiting the Brexit issue to pursue a divisive agenda.

The more urgent issue is protecting the full right to joint Irish and British citizenship for residents of Northern Ireland. We need the Taoiseach's assurance that he will not put up with any attempt to weaken this right on the part of the UK Government or the EU and I ask him to give this assurance. In essence, we will be faced with a situation where the largest number of EU residents living outside its boundary will be in Northern Ireland post-Brexit. It is a unique situation and those EU citizens demand special status and a unique approach and resolution in the aftermath of Britain leaving the Union and in terms of the future arrangements and relationship between the UK and the EU. As the forum the Taoiseach established recently illustrated, there is capacity to bring people together on the island on economic, industrial, farming, trade union and community issues, devoid of a political context saying they will used to browbeat people into a united Ireland. The approach in the context of Brexit should be to continue to work with the stakeholders and to get the right deal for the people of this island in respect of the impact of Brexit because it will be bad for Britain and the Republic but it will be worse for Northern Ireland. That is what the economic analysis so far is telling us. We need to knuckle down on the practical implications of Brexit and come up with resolutions.

Has the Department examined the recent London Supreme Court case? In that case and the Belfast High Court case, the UK Government has taken a disturbing approach to its right to change international agreements. I do not know whether the Taoiseach is aware of this but the UK Government rejected as irrelevant parts of the Good Friday Agreement which gives EU law a role in Northern Ireland institutions. It said that the Northern Ireland Assembly has fewer rights of consultation than the assemblies in Wales and Scotland. It also insisted that it may act unilaterally to withdraw from agreements. Has the Taoiseach considered this matter? What is his position on the position the UK Government took in the Agnew case, in particular? Has he conveyed to the UK Government the fact that we must agree before any changes are made to the content and implementation of previous agreements?

The Taoiseach will have to condense his reply into one and a half minutes.

I am happy to clarify Deputy Howlin's question, which I have answered previously. Second or third-hand reports generated into headlines are not what I was talking about. The Good Friday Agreement clearly contains within it the opportunity in the future, if so desired by the people, North and South, to vote in a referendum on the question of Irish unity. In other words, if there was a strong feeling and a strong motivation among people in Northern Ireland arising from a Border poll or whatever and the majority view was to join the Republic and form a united Ireland, that is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements. Brexit negotiations and discussions, whenever Article 50 is triggered, will have to include that wording and that principle in order that at some future time, were that to become a reality, the conditions applicable under the Agreement would apply. As Brexit will then have been implemented and Northern Ireland will be outside the EU, there should not be a long process if the people there wish to join the Republic in a united Ireland as a member of the Union in the same way that applied when East Germany was assimilated into West Germany. I was not suggesting what the headline said. I was making clear that in the discussions and negotiations that will arise, the principle, wording and understanding in the Good Friday Agreement, an internationally legally binding agreement, would be clearly put into the negotiated wording. I will do that from the EU's side of the table. This is an internationally binding agreement, as Deputy Martin will be well aware.

Deputy Adams asked about the question of Brexit meaning Brexit and standing up for people's rights. I have identified our priorities on many occasions: jobs, citizens, economy, relationship with Northern Ireland, the peace process, relations with the UK, the common travel area and our future relationship with the EU. When I met Prime Minister May, a number of things became clear. First, she said she would trigger Article 50 before the end of March. Second, there will be no return to a hard Border. Third, there will be diminution of the benefits of common travel area between the two countries which has applied since 1922. Both Governments agree with that. Implementing that will be an outcome that we look forward to arising from the discussions and the negotiations that will take place. That is where our priorities are and will continue to be.

The Deputy referred to qualitative differences and special status and so on.

The Taoiseach should observe the clock.

Gabh mo leithscéal. I would like to know, and I would be happy to hear, what the British proposition is as to the kind of relationship it wishes to have in future with the Union once Article 50 is triggered. There are court cases with decisions to be made. We can then decide on the options and how that relationship should be structured. We need to focus also on the future of the EU with 27 member states minus Britain and where Europe wishes to be in five, ten or 20 years and the decisions it must make to get there.

I am happy to give the assurance Deputy Martin mentioned in respect of citizens in Northern Ireland.

I extended the time because of the importance of the questions.