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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 24 Jan 2017

Vol. 935 No. 3

Ceisteanna – Questions

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Gerry Adams


1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform took place on 12 December 2016. [40127/16]

The Cabinet committee on justice reform did not meet on 12 December 2016. Its last meeting took place on 21 December 2016 and the date for its next meeting will be scheduled shortly.

I asked that question because the State signed the Istanbul Convention to tackle domestic violence on 5 November 2016 and there are several outstanding Bills, the new domestic violence Bill, the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill and the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, which are all legislative actions required to facilitate the State's ratifying the convention. I understand that the domestic violence Bill will be published this week. Will the Taoiseach confirm this? Members are told the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill is a priority. What precisely does that mean in terms of publication?

I welcome media reports that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality brought a memorandum to Cabinet this morning to include within the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill a definition in law of sexual consent and, subject to seeing the detail, I hope it will fill a serious gap in the law because it is almost 30 years since the Law Reform Commission recommended changes in this regard. Can the Taoiseach tell Members when the amendments will be published and perhaps tell them whether it includes creating new criminal offences targeting online sexual predators? In light of all this, can he indicate when he expects the Istanbul Convention to be finally ratified?

I am advised, from the Garda Inspectorate report of 2014, that there is a deficit in the recording of incidences of domestic violence. The Central Statistics Office has said no specific assessment of the quality of domestic violence incident reporting has been conducted. Does the Government intend to ensure a proper record is kept of domestic or reported domestic violence incidents?

Does the justice reform committee include in its purview the issue of security at airports? Is that part of the justice brief or is that left to the Cabinet sub-committee on transport? In respect of the deeply worrying events that have come to light in the past couple of days, which obviously will raise very serious concerns for most people interested not only in people trafficking but in ensuring that we have robust security, if it is not part of the Cabinet agenda or the agenda of the Cabinet committee on justice reform, would the Taoiseach agree that it should be? Would he agree further to report back to this House on the issue of taking clear control of security at Dublin Airport away from the Dublin Airport Authority and having a bespoke division within An Garda Síochána to ensure we have robust mechanisms to ensure the security of our seaports and airports?

I am not sure, from recollection, whether activities such as the operation of the Garda Síochána College fall within the purview of the justice reform committee. The Taoiseach might indicate whether it does and if the auditing of the accounts of the college, for example, would be properly a matter for the justice review committee.

The Garda Síochána College would come within the remit of the justice committee. We have referred to that before in terms of the reopening of the college during the Deputy's time in government. I will follow through on any issue for him.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, spoke today about the issues we know about in Dublin Airport, the arrest of people and people smuggling. I expect to have a report on this tomorrow. As I understand it, the security of the airport premises is a matter for the Dublin Airport Authority. Deputy Howlin is well aware that gardaí are always in attendance in the airport area because of their connection with Interpol and Europol and so on. I take his point about having clarity about where and in what circumstances oversight and responsibility kick in for whichever of the agencies are involved. We will bring that before the House so that everybody understands it.

The domestic violence Bill will be published this week. This morning the Cabinet approved the recommendation from the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality in respect of the statutory definition of consent to a sexual act. The draft heads of that will mean that a person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act. The person does not consent to such an act if he or she allows the act to take place or submits to it because of the application of force to him or her or some other person or because of the threat of the application of force to him or her or to some other person or because of a well-founded fear that force may be applied to him or her or to some other person; if he or she is asleep or unconscious; if he or she is incapable of consenting because of the effect of intoxication or of having consumed some other substance; if he or she is suffering from a physical disability which prevents him or her from communicating whether he or she agrees to the act; if he or she is mistaken as to the nature and purpose of the act in question; if he or she is mistaken as to the identity of any other person involved in the act; and if he or she is unlawfully detained at the time at which the act takes place and if the only expression or indication of consent or agreement to the act comes from somebody other than the person him or herself. That section does not limit the circumstances in which it may be established that a person did not consent to a sexual act. These and other matters were approved by Cabinet this morning. I expect the Tánaiste will bring the amendment forward as soon as possible. This should have been done many years ago as the Deputy is aware.

When will the report by the retired judge Mr. Justice O'Neill be published and available to the Dáil?

From reports that are circulating, I understand that an inquiry will be announced. Perhaps the Taoiseach will confirm that. He might tell the Dáil when the inquiry will be set up and what will be its terms.

To be honest, I do not know what is in the O'Neill report. It was received by the Tánaiste before Christmas. As third parties are specifically mentioned in it, the Tánaiste quite rightly referred the report to the Attorney General for analysis and assessment of the form in which and the extent to which it might be published. I think the Attorney General has responded to the Tánaiste. There are some other matters to be finalised. I understand the Tánaiste will bring it to the Cabinet pretty soon. My understanding is that she will also make proposals for the implementation of any recommendations made by Mr. Justice O'Neill arising from the report. We will wait until it comes back to the Cabinet.

I would like to return to the events at Dublin Airport at the weekend. I congratulate the Garda on its success in identifying the issue. Does the Taoiseach feel it is necessary to ensure that all airports and seaports throughout the country are similarly alerted with a view to protecting the immigration checking that has to take place in the normal course of events?

I agree with that. Dublin Airport has some of the most sophisticated equipment of any airport. We have other airports, such as Cork Airport, Shannon Airport, Ireland West Airport Knock and the smaller regional facilities, and we also have ports. Millions of people come into this country through Dublin Airport every year. We do not yet know for how long this was going on. It appears to have been quite sophisticated. It seems that these diversions enabled people who had disembarked from aircraft to go to a different place before they got to passport and immigration control. I commend the Garda on its work in making a number of arrests on Sunday night. I hope that this matter will be taken very seriously and that it will be responded to in kind at all our airports and ports in terms of security and vigilance.

I would like to return to the two questions I raised earlier. In light of recent events at Dublin Airport, does the Taoiseach agree that there is no point in having sophisticated security systems if the mere fact of being employed in the airport by any of the companies that has an operation there is enough to exclude people from any scrutiny? Does he agree that we need to have some overarching security authority to ensure there is a rigidity about the constant checking of people who present themselves as purporting to be working for each company that is based at the airport? I understand, from what the Taoiseach said, that Dublin Airport Authority currently has this responsibility. I hope this will be contemplated by the review he mentioned.

I thank the Taoiseach for responding to the point I raised about the Garda College. He will have seen the disquieting report in The Sunday Times about the result of the internal audit. I am not sure if I can ask the Taoiseach specifically about whether this matter was discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee. It is highly likely that it was discussed. Will the Taoiseach, following on from his initial reply, ensure that this matter is looked at again to ensure practices like the presentation of gifts and the leasing of land that were unearthed in the internal audit are fully investigated?

As we are coming towards the end, I will call Deputy Burton as well.

I represent many tens of thousands of people who work in Dublin Airport, which is one of the most vital engines of the economy. Any breach or lapse of security at the airport has to an issue of the utmost seriousness for the Government. Dublin Airport is vital to our national economy. If we become seen as a soft touch in terms of abuse, it will be very damaging to us at a time when we are facing the uncertainties of Brexit and the new Trump Administration. This is about people-smuggling.

We have raised this issue many times in the past year and a half. The Taoiseach will recall that when the Labour Party was in office, we discussed this issue as a Government. It is important to understand that people-smuggling is one of the most evil things on the planet. It often involves younger people and women, in particular, being smuggled and ending up in prostitution.

They often end up in completely illegal situations over a long period of years. The vast debts they owe to the people-smugglers often carry on through families. If the Garda National Investigation Bureau has been doing more work on this issue as a consequence of the civilianisation of the airport, I welcome that. An immediate high-level inquiry is needed to ensure that what has happened in this instance is closed down. If these people somehow had access to the catering vans going out of the airport, what does that say about the access of those vans to the air-side when they go to service catering on airplanes? If there is a weakness in one direction, it is almost inevitable that there is a weakness in the other direction. That is why we need a high-level inquiry into this immediately.

I agree with Deputies Howlin and Burton in respect of these matters. Deputy Howlin raised the reports in a Sunday newspaper regarding the presentation of gifts and the leasing of land. I will ensure that the matter is investigated fully.

We also need a review of the scrutiny of personnel. In most cases, there are points beyond which people cannot go because they do not have clearance. I am sure that the system at Dublin Airport is quite sophisticated. Clearly, there has been a breach. A scam operation that has been going on has allowed certain people who have come to this country to avoid making their way through to passport and immigration control. As Deputy Burton has pointed out, this is people-smuggling. As Deputy Durkan said, it is important for security matters at all our airports and ports to be considered at the highest level. I remind the House that we have pre-clearance in Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport for the United States. It is clear that these issues are rightly of concern to every country, but particularly so for the US and its Department of Homeland Security, as it has stated. It is very important for Ireland to be absolutely clear, accurate, competent, vigilant and professional in how it goes about its business here. A lapse has been identified thanks to the Garda and the arrests it made. The courts will deal with that matter. This is something that interests the entire country. It is a question of our national integrity.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Bernard Durkan


2. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach if, arising from ongoing developments and indications from the UK and Europe in respect of Brexit, he is satisfied that all EU colleagues remain supportive of Ireland's necessity to remain at the heart of Europe, while at the same time endeavouring to accommodate the island of Ireland as a single market incorporating a common travel and customs area and that recognition is given to that fact that this country's geographic location in the context of Europe is such that the 12.5% corporation tax continues to prevail, thereby addressing in some part the geographic disadvantages. [1705/17]

Gerry Adams


3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the informal meeting of the 27 EU Heads of State and Government held on 15 December 2016. [1715/17]

Brendan Howlin


4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the matters discussed and positions agreed on Brexit negotiations at the EU27 meeting at the European Council in December 2016. [1989/17]

Micheál Martin


5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the next EU Council meeting and the matters that will be discussed. [2736/17]

Micheál Martin


6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to visit and engage with the smaller EU member states prior to Article 50 being signed in March 2017. [3072/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, together.

An extensive programme of engagement with all other EU member states and the EU institutions has been under way for some time. Since the UK referendum on 23 June 2016, I have met Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, Prime Minister May, President Anastasiades, Prime Minister Muscat and Prime Minister Rajoy. I also met the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the head of the Commission's negotiations task force, Michel Barnier, in Dublin. In all my meetings, I reiterated and explained Ireland's particular concerns arising from Brexit including in respect of our economy and trade, the Northern Ireland peace process and Border issues, the common travel area and citizenship issues and the future of the EU itself. I will continue to engage with my EU counterparts, as will other Government Ministers, in the coming weeks to emphasise Ireland’s concerns and to ensure they are fully reflected in the EU position when the negotiations commence. There is a clear understanding from all of this of the significant implications for Ireland arising from Brexit. While this does not guarantee that it will be possible to mitigate all the negative consequences of the UK's eventual departure, it is vital to continue to engage to defend our interests and promote our views to the greatest extent possible.

Following last month's European Council meeting, a short meeting of the 27 EU Heads of State and Government focused on how the Brexit negotiations will be managed from the EU perspective. We agreed that the European Council will agree guidelines for the negotiations when Article 50 is triggered. We reconfirmed the principles agreed last June: that there can be no negotiation without notification, that the Single Market and the four freedoms are indivisible and that the UK will remain a full member of the EU until the withdrawal negotiations are concluded. There was no detailed discussion about the future of Europe.

This will be the focus of a separate summit in Malta on 3 February.

As was set out in our statement after that meeting, Brexit will be constantly reviewed by the 27 EU Heads of State and Government and the negotiating guidelines will be updated as necessary. Mr. Michel Barnier will be the Commission chief negotiator and will lead the technical negotiations. The General Affairs Council, the European Parliament, the committee of ambassadors to the EU and the official level working groups will also play important roles in this process. The next European Council meeting is scheduled to take place on 9 and 10 March. An agenda is not yet available but I will, as usual, report to the House both before and after the meeting in March.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I ask the extent to which he remains committed - I know it is the case - to the concept of ensuring Ireland remains at the centre of the European Union and from that position will continue to negotiate strongly, in the first instance, in favour of this country's interests and in favour of the interests of the island of Ireland. As a result of that unique position which this country will be in, we should be committed to utilising negotiating value and strength from that perspective with a view to ensuring we as a nation will not in any way be disadvantaged in the course of the negotiations that will take place.

I assure Deputy Durkan, the House and the country that Ireland remains absolutely committed to remaining a member of the European Union and will sit among the 27 member states when the negotiations commence. We are well aware of our traditional contacts and connections with the United Kingdom in trade, social issues, the economy and all that over very many years. I have made certain agreements with the British Prime Minister in respect of the common travel area, no return to the borders of the past, the development of our economies and improvement in jobs and so on. Deputy Durkan can take it that Ireland remains 100% committed to remaining a central member of the European Union. It has a high regard for Ireland's contribution over the past 40 years or so. In that sense, I also assure Deputy Durkan that the interests of the people in the Republic and those in Northern Ireland are central to our focus as we have a co-guarantorship responsibility in respect of the Good Friday Agreement. As I stated to Deputy Adams earlier, the issues upon which people voted in Good Friday Agreement so many years ago were on the understanding that people would be and would continue to be citizens of the European Union, with those rights conferred upon them in that internationally legally binding agreement. These matters are really central to our negotiations.

The Taoiseach gave a detailed report of his meetings and I thank him for that. He outlined how he put the Government's main concerns, which include the Border, the peace process and so on. However, he failed to outline how the Government thought or thinks the European Union should address these concerns. That is vital and why we have been arguing for this proposition of the right of citizens in the North to a special designated status within the European Union.

I listened to the Taoiseach, who is a smart operator. He outlines the rationale of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government's obligation to uphold it, the fact the people in the North voted for that and so on. Having set out that criteria, he ignored the fact that the people in the North voted to remain within the European Union. I would like him to address that anomaly in his thinking. He then said he has an agreement with the British Prime Minister that there would be no return to the borders of the past, but that is absolutely meaningless. The European Union tax and customs Commissioner this morning confirmed there will be Border controls. The former head of the European Commission customs unit at the weekend stated the controls on the Border will be returned post-Brexit. The British Secretary of State, Mr. Brokenshire, in a report carried by The Sunday Times, stated there is an agreement with the Irish Government that there would be what would be interpreted as controls at our ports. I am paraphrasing those comments.

We must conclude.

The point is if the land frontier between the European Union and the British state will be on the island of Ireland, it will be a hard economic border. Sin é. There is no doubt whatever about that. We have been pointing that out and also pointing out a solution. If there is a special designated status, the frontier would be moved off the island of Ireland or at least to the coastal area of the island of Ireland, as opposed to across the island of Ireland from Dundalk to Derry. Given that the Taoiseach is failing to pick up that proposition, will he tell us why that is so?

Deputy Adams circles the issue on every occasion. The question of a hard or soft Brexit is one I discussed with the British Prime Minister the night before she made her speech at Lancaster House. I indicated to her that irrespective of how that presentation might be made, if it was the case that Britain would withdraw from the Single Market and customs union, whatever construction put on that would be deemed as a hard Brexit. Deputy Adams agrees with that. Prior to that we had agreed to maintain the common travel area and that there should be no return to a hard Border. What do I mean by a hard Border? It means customs posts on every road. Nobody wants the return of what was there along with those in the form of military installations. Neither does the British Prime Minister want that. The negotiations will take place in respect of the customs union or whatever. We will have to negotiate hard and creatively to comply with the agreement we have with the British Government in this regard.

Thank you. We must be fair to other questioners.

We have spent some time for the past six or eight months analysing and settling Ireland's position and what is in the interests of Ireland. We have been looking to ascertain what exactly the UK position will be and that has become clearer. It is a much harder position than anybody in the House would have wished for and some of us hoped for. I am interested in the shaping of the position of the 27 remaining EU member states. How are we going to ensure the Irish position that we have talked about, and which Deputy Adams mentioned again, will be reflected in the common negotiating position of the 27 states? Is the Taoiseach sure it will happen? In terms of the European Union negotiating position, will it be-----

Frankfurt's way or Labour's way.

-----to oppose or tell the troika to take a hike and ruin the country? We could all look backwards but I am interested in looking forward in the interests of our people. What is the EU negotiating position on the hard Frontex border? Will it be the position of the 27 states to oppose the imposition of a hard Frontex border on the island of Ireland? Will the 27 EU member states support and maintain a common travel area between these islands?

Two other Deputies wish to contribute so I will give them 30 seconds each.

It has been a long time since the Brussels summit and much has happened in that time. What is the Taoiseach's view on two particular interventions, one from Commissioner Phil Hogan suggesting there should be a shift in Ireland's EU relationship? He went on to say there should be a move towards Brussels and away from ties with Britain.

He also stated that, post-Brexit, Ireland will need a different set of relationships with the EU. I am keen to know the views of the Taoiseach on this intervention, given that Commissioner Hogan was a close adviser of the Taoiseach at one stage.

A second intervention since the Brussels summit was made by a former Irish diplomat. Dr. Ray Bassett suggested that an Irish exit from the EU needs to be considered if Brussels fails to offer satisfactory terms. He went on to say that the country needs to stand up to Brussels in EU negotiations surrounding Brexit. What are the thoughts of the Taoiseach on those two particular interventions?

The Taoiseach has told us time out of number that his position in the negotiations is one of 27. What people have been trying to convey to the Taoiseach for several months is this position is inadequate. The consensus is there needs to be a distinctive position regarding the island of Ireland in all its complexity and in the context of the Belfast Agreement being an international agreement to which the EU, made up of those 27 member states, has signed up.

The Taoiseach is going to face problems. The Taoiseach and previous Taoisigh have faced this before. The members of the European Council, the leaders of governments, often try to gang up. They have ganged up on Greece and attempted to gang up on the Taoiseach shortly after the previous Government came to office. The formula is being used again. The problem is that the island of Ireland, which we all understand, does not specifically feature. This is because it is an island where, in respect of these negotiations, the northern side of the Border is the United Kingdom's border and the southern side of the Border is the European Union's border.

You are way over time, Deputy.

That is not satisfactory for people on the island of Ireland.

Will Members agree to take five minutes from the third group of questions to deal with this?

Deputy Moynihan is next and then Deputy Eamon Ryan. After that we will go to the Taoiseach.

This will be a fundamental issue as we progress. I want to put two questions. Have discussions taken place on Northern Ireland between the Government and London on seeking a special deal for the North of Ireland? Have indications emerged from London that UK negotiators are refusing to seek a special deal? As the negotiations on Brexit progress, these points will be fundamental to the entire future of the European Union and how it is to operate. A raft of issues arise with regard to the European Union.

In every corner of Ireland people are concerned about Brexit. It is having an impact on the daily lives of people, especially in agriculture and rural communities. I believe there is insufficient urgency in terms of dealing with this fundamental issue as well as other questions. For example, how will our relationship with Europe develop? How will our relationship develop with the UK? How will our relationship develop on this island to ensure peace and harmony in the Thirty-two Counties?

I asked the Taoiseach about this matter earlier. If the UK Prime Minister is not to speak before the House, I suggest we write to her to ask that the leaders of the various groups in the House would have a chance to meet her in the same way that we met Nicola Sturgeon. It was useful for Ms Sturgeon to hear the variety of views within the House. That could be an important part of the visit of the Prime Minister. Will the Taoiseach present that as a proposal to the British Prime Minister's team in advance of the visit?

Taoiseach, you have four minutes to conclude on this matter.

Deputy Howlin raised several important issues, central to which is the nature of the proposition from the European Union. Of course, when Article 50 was written it was on the basis that no one would ever leave the European Union but as the saying goes, events, dear boy, events take place. Article 50 also states one cannot start formal negotiations until a country has completed its exit.

Deputy Howlin knows as well as do I that we cannot have two years of discussions about leaving without taking into account what Article 50 states and how it relates to the future framework relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. How do we ensure that Europe understands us? That is what I have been trying to say. We have had an intense engagement at leader level, ministerial level and at all the Council meetings.

What is Michel Barnier's position?

Let me come to that. At least every leader and country knows of Ireland's particular and special circumstances.

I can confirm to Deputy Howlin that no negotiations have taken place at the two meetings of the group of 27 I have attended. As Deputy Howlin is aware, if we started that we would have to go around the table ten times and everyone would have different views on their different priorities, irrespective of whether they were related to Brexit in so far as Ireland is concerned, Northern Ireland or whatever. That is an issue.

Will the European Union support the common travel area? Member states have not given their views, but they will be hearing clearly from me that they should, because we have agreed it, as two Governments, as something that we have had for so long.

Is Michel Barnier going to present a position?

There is a common travel area between Europe and Ireland and that will continue, as Deputy Howlin is well aware. The question of the arrangements between Ireland and England arises as well, and I expect that to be maintained, as does the British Prime Minister. I expect to have the support of our European colleagues when that question arises.

Deputy Haughey referred to the European Commissioner. I take the view that we have said we want to maintain the traditional links with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in terms of trade and so many other issues, including the Border and the common travel area. I expect us to be able to do that. That view is shared by the British Prime Minister.

We also share the view of the British Government that it should maintain the closest possible links with the European Union. The UK has given some clarity on removing itself from the Single Market and the customs union. In light of a proposal for a new trade arrangement with Europe, these areas are where the negotiations will arise. There is no question about that.

I have had no discussions with Commissioner Hogan about this. We will stay as a central member of the 27. We will stay as a member to follow the agenda of the European Union for the future, that is to say, with regard to the Single Market and the digital single market and the President's reports, which are in two phases. The first is to be implemented this year. The second has implications as far out as 2025. There are some complications that will cause difficulty for several countries and in respect of which we are either going to make the decisions or will not. Ireland will defend its interests in all of those. We want to maintain our links with the United Kingdom but remain a central and strong member of the Union for the future.

I have no wish to comment on the remarks from a former Irish ambassador. Anyway, I am not talking about an Irish exit from the European Union. We are talking about maintaining our central role as a European Union member for the future. People can make all the comments they wish. We will fight for our future, our relationship and for our Europe. We have voted on this consistently over 40 years, since it began to transform our country.

Time has elapsed. We need to move on.

Deputy Burton raised the point about a distinctive position. It is true that we are one country of 27. All 27 member states are not bundled in on top of Ireland. We have made that case, as has Deputy Burton, at Council meetings. The ministers in her group were not a collective of 27. Deputy Burton was one of 28 and she made her case vociferously, just as she should.

That was my job.

That is why we are engaged in the diplomatic work we carry out. The idea is that they all know and will all understand. In answer to Deputy Howlin's comments, it may well be that Commissioner Barnier might decide to say that if the only area in Europe where the land border will apply is between Ireland and Northern Ireland, then perhaps the negotiators should deal with that first. There is no constitutional issue, as there is in the case of Gibraltar. This is the only area where the circumstances apply. It may well be that they might like to have that matter dealt with first.

When is the position of the 27 member states going to be decided?

We cannot get into a further debate.

The 27 member states have not sat down to negotiate.

When will that happen?

This is the point I am making to Deputy Howlin.

When are they going to take a position?

This is the point I am making. The first thing that has to happen is for the UK Prime Minister to trigger Article 50. Second, within a two-year span, the exit or divorce proceedings will take place.

Is the Taoiseach suggesting we do not settle on a position before negotiations begin?

Technically speaking, under Article 50, no formal negotiations begin until that matter is dealt with.

Deputy Howlin and I know that, in the real world, these things have a habit of running in parallel.

Deputy Moynihan raised the question about the Government and London. The Prime Minister herself has referred to the special relationships between the Republic and Northern Ireland and between Ireland and Great Britain. We want to see those special relationships maintained. The Deputy said there is not enough urgency. I cannot move Article 50 and neither can anybody else, except the British Government. That is what everybody signed up for and voted on so many years ago. Not until the British Government moves Article 50 will the negotiations for exit be triggered. When the Deputy says there is not enough urgency, the 27 member states are not beavering around wondering what time this letter is coming in to say that Britain is moving out. The discussions that we are having are making arrangements for the options that we are going to have to deal with and the possible outcomes of all of those options - they cover a wide a range of things - in order that we are well prepared and that everybody knows our particular and specific circumstances.

To respond to Deputy Ryan, there is nothing to stop people writing to the Prime Minister, but I cannot control her diary or the events that she attends. She did indicate that she is coming here and I will be very happy to receive her and hopefully have a really worthwhile discussion about some of the issues Deputies have raised in the House.

Do Members wish to ask supplementary questions or can we move on?

As a point of order, the next set of questions is actually about the question we have just been dealing with. There is no need to extend the previous session.

I propose we move on.

How many minutes have we left?

We have about six minutes left. We will leave the third tranche of questions until tomorrow. We will come back to them. We will take supplementary questions and start with Deputy Howlin.

I think that is better. There is no point in embarking on six questions in six minutes.

I am looking for clarity on the settling of the negotiating position of the 27 member states. From what the Taoiseach has said to me, it seems to be that he cannot begin the settlement of the negotiating position until negotiations begin. That makes no sense to me. If the EU is actually negotiating with Great Britain, it has to know what it wants to achieve. It cannot sit down when the negotiations begin without knowing what exactly are its objectives. I believe it will take some time for the 27 member states to agree a negotiating position. Is it to be, as the Taoiseach envisages it, a timescale of the British Government triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and then a period of time, probably weeks or maybe months, in which the 27 EU member states settle their position before settling down bilaterally with the United Kingdom to negotiate on each of those issues? Is that how the Taoiseach envisages the timescale?

I will take the other supplementary questions. The Deputies have 30 seconds each.

The special relationship between Ireland, Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland, the North of Ireland and all of that is taken as one. As an island nation on the periphery of Europe, we will have a major problem when our neighbours are outside the European Union. We have more to lose than any other country. Has the Taoiseach confidence in the European institutions to be able to deliver a result from the negotiations that will reflect Ireland's position or benefit Ireland?

In these negotiations, there is a big difference between asking and telling. Frankly, I do not think we should be asking. People in Ireland, Britain, in the North and in the South of this island say they want to maintain the common travel area. It should simply be told to the European Union that that is going to be the situation and that we are not accepting anything less than that. I believe we should say the same thing about any question of reimposing a hard Border between North and South. It is just not acceptable.

The Taoiseach said he is in agreement with the Prime Minister in Britain that there will be no return to the Border of the past, as though it is something wonderful. That is absolute rubbish. He also has an agreement with the British Prime Minister for a civic forum in the North, an all-Ireland civic forum, a bill of rights for the North, a joint North-South committee on human rights, an all-Ireland charter of rights, obligations with regard to the European charter for regional and minority languages, the introduction of Acht na Gaeilge, a Weston Park commitment on a Pat Finucane inquiry and legacy issues.

Thank you, Deputy.

The British Government has not acted on any of those and the Taoiseach is also remiss in his obligation to act on any of those. What worth has this nonsense about not returning to the Border of the past when these are all clear breaches of the Good Friday Agreement?

On foot of the Taoiseach's suggestion, would it be possible for the Ceann Comhairle himself to write to the British ambassador's office or the Prime Minister's office, subject to the agreement of other leaders of the groups in the House, that part of a visit would involve meeting the heads of the groups and the leaders of the different parties in the House in recognition of the need for all parties to be able to engage and to listen to what the Prime Minister has to say? Would the Ceann Comhairle be able to draft such a letter if it received support from the leaders?

Taking the Taoiseach's explanation of his strategy, he has said repeatedly that nothing happens until Article 50 is triggered, but his problem in terms of a strategy is that everything happens when Article 50 is triggered. Historically, the most important thing - the Taoiseach might agree with me - is that the Franco-German-Italian alliance becomes the absolute leadership and key force in the European Union. There are also countries like Hungary among the 27 member states who have said they are strongly in favour of Brexit. What we are saying to the Taoiseach, and what Brendan Howlin has made absolutely clear to the Taoiseach, is that it is not good enough for him to sit on his hands until Article 50 is triggered.

Thank you, Deputy. You are over time.

He has to start actually negotiating Ireland's strategic position in identifying the strategy right now-----

The Deputy is over time.

-----before we see this historic change.

To return to Commissioner Hogan's comments last month, he went on to say that once Article 50 is triggered, the centre of power and influence will move away from London and towards the other EU states. Are we preparing for a post-Brexit situation in terms of the overall EU?

Does the Taoiseach think that there is a recognition among the heads of the other 27 member states remaining of the importance of the position being taken by him on behalf of this country and the implications for the European Union as a whole in the event of the situation not going as anticipated?

I notice that these questions will continue tomorrow. Perhaps these questions could be answered then, as we are now out of time.

The answer to Deputy Durkan's question is yes. That is why we are meeting them individually away from European Council meetings, at Council meetings, at ministerial meetings and so on. They are fully aware of our very particular and specific circumstances.

In response to Deputy Haughey's question about the post-Brexit situation, Britain will not have left the EU until the exit negotiations are completed. It remains a full member of the European Union, it pays its way and accepts its responsibilities until it has left.

Deputy Burton does not seem to want to hear the fact that the day after the vote was taken, we set out our strategy.

Ireland's strategy.

On 9 September last in Oxford, I set it out in detail.

Not the island of Ireland.

We will have the all-island forum on 17 February. There will be 12 sectoral divisions working in the meantime. There will be sections in every Department dealing with their particular responsibilities. That has been communicated to Europe in order that it knows that Ireland will be the most adversely affected of all the countries when Brexit actually happens. From that point of view, we are not hanging around waiting to see what is going to happen. We are out there telling people of our particular needs and circumstances in order that they are fully acquainted with that.

No negotiations begin until Article 50 is triggered. There will be elections in the Netherlands, in France and in Germany. These will obviously take up quite a deal of the attention of the people in those countries. In practical terms, my view is that when the Prime Minister moves Article 50, negotiations on Britain leaving the EU will then start. Britain is leaving the Single Market. There is the question of the customs union. When Britain has gone, there is the question of how to negotiate a new kind of trade arrangement.

That is the British strategy and that is what we sought when looking for clarity. That clarity has been given on a number of those fronts. Are the other 27 member states now sitting down in a huddle and saying "What are we going to do about this?" They have not sat down like that but they are all, obviously, talking about it - at least those countries that are really interested. That concerns us greatly. That is why our diplomatic engagement is to talk directly to these people so that they do understand that when negotiations commence - either in parallel or at the end of point X - they will know exactly where we stand.

I am interested in the comments from people who speak about the special status. We have a special status in that the EU recognises our is the only peace process that is supported by it. This is a situation where the two sovereign Governments co-guarantee the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I would be the first to say that it has not all been done by any means. That is why we persist in the context of what we believe in, namely, Acht na Gaeilge, human rights and other matters. I will return to this issue tomorrow.