1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister and events during his trip to Canada. [24722/17]
Vol. 952 No. 1
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister and events during his trip to Canada. [24722/17]
I travelled to Canada between 3 and 6 May. This was the first visit to Canada by a serving Taoiseach in more than a decade and it provided an opportunity to develop and strengthen the important bilateral relationship between our two nations, which share deep historic ties and enjoy strong trading relations. Over the centuries, Canada has been an important destination for Irish immigrants. Today, over 4.5 half million Canadians - more than 14% of the country's population – claim direct Irish ancestry.
During my visit I had a series of engagements with political, business and civic society representatives in Montreal and Toronto and met a number of existing and potential new IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland client companies. These engagements provided very useful opportunities for me to promote Ireland as a location for trade and investment, as well as to emphasise our commitment to the EU and outline Ireland's priorities in the context of Brexit.
While in Montreal, I met Prime Minister Trudeau. We discussed the trade relationship between Ireland and Canada and Ireland's strengths as a location for trade and investment into Europe. We also considered ways to further strengthen the economic and trade relationship between our two countries, and agreed to prioritise the opportunities offered by the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. I also updated the Prime Minister on Ireland's Brexit priorities and outlined to him the current position in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister reiterated to me the Canadian Government's continued support for the Northern Ireland peace process. Members will be aware of the part played by John de Chastelain in decommissioning terrorist arms in that process.
Also in Montreal, I attended a business lunch with senior members of the Montreal business community at which I met potential and current investors in Ireland. I also visited the school of Irish studies at Concordia University where I met members of the Irish diaspora.
In Toronto, I addressed an Enterprise Ireland event and an event hosted by the Ireland Canada Chamber of Commerce, both of which provided me with opportunities to meet current and potential investors in Ireland. I addressed a Tourism Ireland event and visited Ireland Park, the Irish Famine memorial in Toronto, which is a magnificent site. I also paid a courtesy call on the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
My programme concluded with a meeting with members of the board of the Irish Canada Immigration Centre and other representatives of the Irish diaspora and an event with representatives of the Ireland Fund in Canada.
This was a very successful visit which I believe will provide a platform to further strengthen the bilateral relations between Ireland and Canada. I expect relations will be further enhanced during the trade mission to Canada that will be led by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, from 30 May to 2 June.
Clearly, as in the case of all his foreign excursions, the Taoiseach was certainly not idle; he had a full programme.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about two issues. First, he has acknowledged that he discussed with the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which we now call CETA. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, answered a parliamentary question on 9 May about the parliamentary ratification of CETA. She said that progress on ratification has commenced in 43 national parliaments and regional assemblies throughout the EU and that it would commence in Ireland shortly. When will those of us in this House have a chance to debate fully and determine assent or otherwise to CETA?
It is agreed at EU level that the agreement would have provisional application until such time as it is formally ratified. That is not a position that I object to but it would be useful to have formal approval or at least a debate in the House on the provisional impact of CETA in advance of formal ratification. I am keen to know whether the Taoiseach agrees that we should have useful discussions on the matter.
During the Taoiseach's visit the Canadian Prime Minister warmly praised the accepting of Syrian refugees. Canada has been very good at that. Unfortunately, our record is not so sterling. Let us consider the situation. Ireland committed to taking 700 asylum seekers from the resettlement camps in Italy last year and a further 459 from Greece. I understand that the Greek migrants have been accepted but that none have come from Italy because of the ongoing difficulty relating to accepting the vetting systems from the Italian authorities. The European Commission has urged Ireland to resolve this matter. How close are we to resolving it? How many of the 2,600 people that we pledged to take have actually arrived in the country to date?
I discussed CETA with the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau. Actually, as Deputy Howlin is aware, Canadian views are very much in line with Irish views on the benefits of trade agreements and the benefits of properly used globalisation for jobs. They are keen to have the agreement operate in the interests of both countries.
Some 50% of foreign direct investment from Canada goes directly to Britain. Since the United Kingdom is moving out of the European Union and the Single Market, this is clearly an opportunity for this business to thrive.
I gather there are now flights from Montreal, Toronto and St. John's to Ireland on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I think four airlines are coming in. They are keen on that.
The agreements provide a range of sectoral opportunities for Irish companies in Canada in financial software, telecommunications, digital technology, agricultural machinery, life sciences and medical devices.
CETA was signed on 30 October 2016 in Brussels by representatives from Canada, EU and member states. The EU and Canada have also agreed a legally binding agreement, a joint interpretative instrument, which has been added to CETA to provide further assurances in respect of public services, labour rights, environmental protection and investment.
A number of steps remain to be taken on both sides before this becomes fully operational. Meanwhile, aspects of CETA will be provisionally applied by both sides beginning, I hope, this summer. The provisional application of the trade agreement is a standard process in agreements of this sort. It allows those parts of the agreement for which the EU has competence to come into force, including reductions in tariffs on our exports, which will apply to 99% of exports. However, the provisions of CETA relating to investment protection will be excluded from provisional application.
The European Parliament voted in favour of the provisional application of CETA in February. The process of ratification is now commencing in member states. Canada is now finalising its internal implementation procedures to allow for ratification. I understand that Canadian Senate approval was secured on 11 May and the Bill now awaits royal assent.
I spoke to Canadians about beef, which was an issue here with the Irish Farmers Association. Canada is allowed 15,000 tonnes under the original agreement. Canada finds this difficult to meet because most beef from Canada goes the other way – it goes west to Asia. CETA increases that but it will be difficult for Canadians to meet that level.
You are well over time, Taoiseach. You have used three minutes.
There will be a Dáil debate, obviously. We will have it as soon as possible.
Will it be this side of the summer break?
I hope so; there is no reason why not.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, is keen to get this moving. Under the provisional agreement those of us on the EU side can move on it. Let us have this debate as quickly as we can.
You will have another opportunity.
In respect of refugees-----
I only asked one question.
You are right.
The question of refugees was raised. Canada is looking for more people. Those who cross the border from the United States, other than at formal crossings, are received with open arms and are being housed. They include 40,000 Syrians. The community in Ballaghaderreen has responded. They are making wonderful efforts to integrate our Syrian refugee people.
Are we close to resolving the issue with Italy?
The reason that erupted was that the Italian people were suggesting that we should take refugees or people without any vetting. Ireland refuses to do that because we need to know where they are from and, in so far as we can determine it, who they are.
Deputy Micheál Martin is next.
I am unsure whether we are close to resolving it but our people went down there on several occasions.
We have to be more focused. I realise it was only one question, Deputy Howlin, but there is precedent.
The same applies but it is always in different circumstances. Ireland's relations with Canada have always been excellent, although this is often over-looked due to the importance of our relationship with the United States. Given the new links between Ireland and "Star Wars" movies, it was a pity the Taoiseach did not match the Prime Minister's celebration of 4 May.
May the force be with you.
I have no doubt that when the leadership context is over between the Taoiseach's colleagues, both will be promising to make 4 May a national holiday.
I wish to focus on CETA. In particular, six months ago I asked for a debate on CETA because the issue of free trade is central to our economic development. There have been many loud noises here. We have heard that the loudest vessels make the emptiest noises, but I do not want to be that-----
Empty vessels make the loudest noises.
The point I am making is that there has been a certain narrative abroad suggesting that any free trade agreement is anathema to Ireland's interests, and that they are evil and should be condemned. CETA has been condemned even before it has been debated here.
I remember when I was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment I opened an Enterprise Ireland office in Toronto. Why did we open an office there? It was to get access and provide information and networking for Irish companies to sell their goods and services.
The economy of Ireland depends on selling its goods and services abroad. There are people in this House who believe that we should stop all of that and cut it at the knees. That is the view from the anti-austerity people. Sinn Féin has a negative view of free trade agreements too. We seldom hear positive affirmation of the idea of free trade in this House or of the idea that, as a small island economy, we need to sell our goods and services abroad, including food, intellectual property, project management services and so on. We are fantastic at software. Many countries throughout the world are keen to access our software. The same applies to pharmaceutical technology and so on. If we go down the road of protectionism and try to put up shutters, then we will ruin the Irish economy in future. There must be some resistance or balance in the debate in this House.
That is why I am critical of the fact that a debate has not been scheduled. It need not be a debate for approval; it could simply be an open debate on the merits of a free trade agreement with Canada, which shares the same standards, by and large, environmentally and in the food industry. Across the board Canada has the same type of liberal open democratic economy and society that we enjoy. Of course there is toing and froing and give and take in such agreements. For God's sake, we should be urging the conclusion of this agreement between the European Union and Canada. It will be to the betterment of Irish companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, but we never hear that.
Time is up.
We hear the opposite. We here a torrent of negativity about the whole concept of free trade. I put it to the Taoiseach that we need that sorted with a debate. I call on the Taoiseach to indicate what measures Irish firms are taking to benefit directly from this agreement.
I agree with all the positive remarks about Canada. I have been there many times and I have family there.
There are very deep links with people here, particularly among people in the North and particularly those who live in Toronto. However, notwithstanding the Fianna Fáil leader's protestations, there are concerns about the implications of CETA, especially among farmers, workers and small and medium indigenous companies. The Government has ignored those and there has been no debate on these issues. This is the place where we should have had this debate and I have been asking for one for some time. The only vote in these Houses was in the Seanad, which called on the Government not to ratify the deal. The European Court of Justice, which took the EU-Singapore free trade agreement, FTA, as a test case determined that these new agreements can only been concluded by the EU and member states acting together and by the state parliaments having a vote on them.
There needs to be a debate. The Government has signed up to this provisional application of the deal at EU level without any deference to the Dáil. We have been given legal opinion to the effect that a referendum would be required before the Government can sign the final agreement on CETA. Does the Government have advice? Has it sought a legal opinion from the Attorney General and what is the Taoiseach's view of this issue?
I agree. We will have a debate on free trade with Canada in respect of the Deputy's request. I will see that it happens. It is a very good thing. For the Deputy's information, the provisional application is a standard part of trade agreements and allows those parts of the agreement on which the EU has competence to proceed. CETA provides for provisional application, as the process for ratification across all member states may take a number of years. In Ireland's case, the Dáil will be part of the final decision, which is not what the Deputy was talking about there but a debate on the benefits of free trade. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has observed many times that we export Irish agricultural products to over 180 countries and that is where our strength is built, the Deputy rightly points out. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation supports the provisional application as it allows for Irish medium-sized enterprises to export tariff-free to Canada.
Finally, I point out that 38,000 emigrants from Ireland - immigrants to Canada - went to Toronto in 1847, when the population of that city was only 20,000. They were welcomed with open arms. I want to commend Robert Kearns and his people on the wonderful memorial they have built on the shores of the lake there to those Irish emigrants. They are now moving to commemorate the medics who worked with people from the Irish community, many of whom died from diseases such as typhoid and cholera. This is an important debate which we will have.
2. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach the actions being taken to improve Dublin inner city; and if he has attended the forum meeting recently. [23280/17]
3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach the status of the implementation of the Mulvey report. [24170/17]
4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he still chairs the north inner city ministerial task force. [24273/17]
5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress update on the recommendations of the Mulvey report on the north inner city; and when he will appoint an independent executive chair, as committed to in February 2017. [24368/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, together.
Last July, the Government launched a major initiative for the Dublin north inner city with the establishment of a ministerial task force to oversee the long-term social and economic regeneration of the area. At the time of the launch a number of short-term measures were announced to help the community address some of the immediate challenges facing it and these are mostly completed, having been progressed by the responsible Departments and agencies.
This has resulted in €1 million invested in sports and youth projects in the area, €700,000 spent on local community projects targeting children and youth, including some drug projects. A further €3 million has been spent on improvement works to the area, including roads, housing areas, parks and lighting and refurbishment of the Sean McDermott swimming pool. Further investment will take place in response to the publication of Kieran Mulvey's independent report in February and the Government's agreement to implement his recommendations in full. The first step has been the establishment in the local area of the programme implementation office with staff assigned from Dublin City Council. In addition, the Secretary General of my Department established an oversight group last month to oversee preparatory work across a number of Departments. The next step is for the ministerial task force, which I chair, to appoint an independent executive chairperson who will lead the work and engage with community structures and local residents. That person will be based in a premises and office in the north inner city.
In respect of the last debate, we should be told which socks Deputy Varadkar or Deputy Coveney propose to wear should either become Taoiseach, having regard to Justin Trudeau's fashion in that area.
The ministerial task force was set up as a result of the awful Kinahan-Hutch feud, which continues. There was a shooting in broad daylight in my local petrol station in Clonshaugh recently. There were 70 people in that garage at that time. In Clontarf, with which the Taoiseach will be familiar, there is a permanent armed checkpoint on Castle Avenue, I presume it is manned by the emergency response unit, which is very unnerving for local residents. Can the Taoiseach assure Members that the Garda is making progress in bringing the feud to an end?
The Taoiseach visited Scoil Uí Chonaill recently. His commitment to this project is well known and the work done by Kieran Mulvey is recognised as having been very productive but what will happen now? Who will drive this project? The Taoiseach will step down from his role in the next few weeks and while I wish him well in his retirement as Taoiseach, we need to drive this project. I am not sure that the proposed structures for the report's implementation are adequate. The Taoiseach should consider the establishment of a north inner city authority to address the challenges and champion the north inner city's social and economic regeneration. We have the report. Some progress has been made but we need to drive it forward and my fear is that when the Taoiseach retires, that will not happen.
I also acknowledge the Taoiseach's personal engagement, and particularly the occasions when he arrived in the north inner city and was not accompanied by the media. However, the report was launched on 16 February in the Sheriff Hall. Three months have elapsed in the meantime and we have to ask what we have seen in that time? We know that it is not only the current Government which is to blame; it is successive Governments and their indifference and neglect, not to mention the austerity budgets and their adverse effects. It is also fair to state that without the murders, violence and resulting headlines, we would not have had a Mulvey report and the indifference and neglect would have continued. There are glaring absences in the report, particularly with regard to housing, drugs, new communities and mental health issues. The North Inner City Community Coalition has produced its own report and there is a need to look at both and see how they might merge together. I am asking three things: first, when will the chairperson be announced? The second, which I have already brought to the Taoiseach's attention, is the need for community representation at all levels, not just one member on the highest level of the implementation team and we need to see the implementation structures at all levels. Money is welcome but we all made the point at the outset that there was no point in throwing money at the area in the short term but must consider long-term solutions. This is not merely about the north inner city, because drugs and violence are not common there. This is a question of national relevance and if we get it right in the north inner city, it can be rolled out elsewhere.
I welcome the Taoiseach's interest in the north inner city. The ministerial task force was launched with great fanfare and there was a lot of hope among citizens there that finally a Government was about to take their needs and concerns seriously. We all know, as the Taoiseach acknowledged in his remarks, that the north inner city, like other working class districts in Dublin and other urban areas, has been deliberately neglected by successive Governments and victimised over the past few decades by vicious criminal gangs. The report compiled by Kieran Mulvey, Creating a Brighter Future, has been ready since February but there has been no substantial progress or investment and no evidence of any meaningful effort by the Government to establish viable local structures to oversee the changes we all wish to see. The Taoiseach said last month that the Government would act on the advice of the report. Does that include the refurbishment of Rutland Street school as a community centre? In February, he stated he would shortly appoint an independent executive chair to head up a number of implementation bodies. As it is almost June and that still has not been done, when will this appointment be made? He also said he intended to visit the area again.
The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in response to Teachta McDonald, said the Taoiseach will meet with the North Inner City Community Coalition. Will the Taoiseach meet the North Inner City Community Coalition, which is the parent body that represents the people in the area? Will the Taoiseach say when he will do it? Will he bring with him some properly funded proposals for implementation?
I raised this issue with the Taoiseach a number of weeks ago. I acknowledged at the time, and since the Taoiseach took the initiative in the summer of last year, that there was a consensus in the House that we could use a model over a number of Dáileanna to invest, improve and transform an area that needed that level of focus and maybe potentially use the model elsewhere if it worked. When I was back in the north inner city with Joe Costello two weeks ago, I met many of the local groups. One of the concerns they have, as I said to the Taoiseach, is that the Taoiseach moving out of the office of Taoiseach will mean the focus and momentum will be gone. The Taoiseach indicated to me the independent executive chair would be appointed. Are we very close to that now? Will it happen before the Taoiseach vacates his office? What role does he see for the Department of the Taoiseach in the future in ensuring the very detailed Mulvey recommendations are put into effect? Is there a commitment there? A number of local Deputies, including the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, have an interest in the issue and I presume the Minister will commit funding in the short term but in the longer term, can we have some device that ensures the entire programme is safeguarded against future change of Government or Minister and that we will achieve what the House wants, a model redevelopment in this part of our national capital?
A number of things are important here. The Mulvey recommendations said to set up a north inner city programme implementation board, a north inner city programme office, a new community consultative forum and a local programme working group. The programme implementation office has been established in the area and has commenced work on a number of actions. An independent executive chairperson, referred to by Deputy Howlin and others, will have the lead responsibility for the programme implementation board. I expect that person to be appointed very shortly and hopefully we can do it before I leave this seat.
The Taoiseach really should try to do it.
The person will be based in the north inner city working closely with community groups, as Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and Deputy Haughey said, and with Dublin City Council in making these arrangements. Once appointed, arrangements for the remaining board to include community representation will be finalised. A meeting of the community consultative forum will convene following appointment of the chair to ensure there is ongoing wider community participation and feedback on various aspects of the programme. The Secretary General of my Department has established an oversight group to support the work of the ministerial task force and to ensure these actions are monitored and implemented. That group held its first meeting on 6 April and discussed progress and a list of actions from the Mulvey report. It is expected to meet again today.
Some of the things that have happened are €1 million was invested in sports and youth projects, a multi-use games pitch in Sheriff Street community centre, a fit-out of the new premises for Ballybough boxing club, improvement works to pitches at Sheriff Street youth club and Larkin Community College. Small grants and equipment were distributed to about 40 local youth groups and sports clubs and a local GAA and soccer coaching programme was supported. I was glad to see the Deputies out at Scoil Uí Chonaill in Clontarf the other day. A full-time local sports co-ordinator was employed to make the most of the local facilities and get people involved. There was €700,000 spent on community projects targeting children, including the successful Bally Mac Sheriff Halloween festival, local library and school based projects targeting reading and digital skills, the Brighter Futures restorative practice projects across two age groups in the area and funding for third level access programmes. There were 15 local drugs projects supported and grants to support local arts projects and men's sheds community garden project, which were all very successful. There was €3 million spent on the physical improvement of Ballybough House and Courtney Place, Ballybough and road resurfacing works at Sean McDermott Street, Railway Street, Cumberland Street North, James Joyce Street, Beaver Street and Buckingham Street Upper to improve the physical aspect of the place. There were improvement works in Mountjoy Square and Portland Place park and internal and external refurbishing of the Sean McDermott Street pool.
I congratulate former chief superintendent Leahy who was appointed by the independent Policing Authority to be assistant commissioner. He was a superb policeman, really on top of his job and I hope his successor will do the same.
Deputy Haughey raised the issue of gangland crime and the checkpoint. It is unnerving but necessary, given the situation that has applied there for some time. The Garda Commissioner is overseeing the operation of the Garda special crime task force to enhance the response to organised crime. The task force has been in operation since July 2016, has made serious inroads and has a big success rate. Operation Hybrid was established to co-ordinate the response to violent crime in the area and address public concerns about community safety. Operations are reviewed on a weekly basis to maintain that kind of impetus. The Government has approved an extra €55 million for An Garda Síochána to assist in a number of initiatives including concentrated policing which targets gang-related crime. Obviously we will look at the question of Fitzgibbon Street Garda station being opened. It is an iconic building and there is work to be done there.
I will go down there on Monday with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to look at many of these projects. Joe Costello and others are all welcome to turn up in the afternoon.
The Taoiseach could not keep him away.
I mentioned Scoil Uí Chonaill. Community involvement is very important. We will see it happens. Deputy Adams raised some of the issues I have read out. I will visit the area next Monday. Deputy Howlin mentioned local groups. The Secretary General of my Department is in situ now to oversee and monitor the implementation of the full programme. The point the Deputy makes is about where we should be here. This template should be transferable to other locations in this city and any other city so we can have all the community leadership come forward with their views and a response from a Government that listens. To make this point in the wider context, if the banlieues of Paris or other places were inhabited by people the Government had no interest in for 20 years, it could not expect model citizens to come out of them. That is where Government has to listen to all voices, including discordant ones, and deal with them. That is the way the centre can always and will always hold.
The points made by Deputy Haughey, O'Sullivan, Adams and Howlin are all valid in this case.
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economy, trade and jobs last met. [23333/17]
7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on the economy, trade and jobs last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [24272/17]
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economy, trade and jobs last met; and when it next intends to meet. [24723/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, together. The Cabinet committee for the economy, trade and jobs last met on 10 April 2017. The next meeting will take place shortly.
Some of this was dealt with yesterday when the Taoiseach replied at length but he did not answer all of the questions. The disruption of Brexit will be profound and it is not yet clear what the scale of the response will be from the Government or the European Union in terms of the facilitation of solidarity mechanisms which might enable us to help industries under pressure or help industries to transition as a result of Brexit. In monetary terms, Brexit could be very significant for the country. The Taoiseach mentioned yesterday that an economic paper is being finalised. I accept there is a balance here and the Government wants to promote the country and its well-being but we cannot understate the scale of the challenge. There is no point in telling people not to be so negative about Brexit and not to talk down the economy. The reality is Brexit is a fundamental change to our economic model. It is a once in a generation change that changes how we have been operating for 50 years. It obviously depends on the trade component of the Brexit deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is about damage limitation. Can the Taoiseach indicate what the current estimate is of how much trade may be undermined by Brexit? Will he confirm which sectors will be worst hit? There is ongoing coverage of Ireland bidding for EU agencies to locate here. Is there any update on these bids? Are the reports today true that the State may have to cover rent to land EU agencies? Will the Taoiseach outline where we are in terms of that competitive bid?
We all recognise that Brexit is the greatest threat facing the economies of this island and particularly the imposition of an economic border.
There was confirmation by Revenue at last week's meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee on finance that there will be significant customs checks, which flatly contradicts the Taoiseach's denial that it will happen. Revenue told the committee at least 8% of the 2 million heavy goods vehicle journeys between North and South each year will need to be checked, including physical inspections. This means that approximately 160,000 heavy goods vehicles will be subject to customs checks each year. Will the Taoiseach update the Dáil on the work taking place to prepare for customs checks and, in light of his denials that Border checkpoints or customs checks were being planned, perhaps set the record straight? How many customs officials is it anticipated will be needed? Has the Government estimated the likely cost of implementing European Union law in respect of border customs security?
At the same meeting, an official from the Department of the Taoiseach confirmed that the Government has never raised designated status for the North with the European Union. I have been asking the Taoiseach questions on this matter for a long time and he has always avoided confirming this. The Dáil, Seanad and Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation have all endorsed the need for special designated status for the North. The vast majority of people in the North voted for this status, or at least they voted to remain in the EU, and the majority of MLAs support it. The Taoiseach's responsibility should be to defend this vote. Will he start to do so? Will he indicate when the Government's additional paper on the economic implications of Brexit will be published?
I raise a different issue, which is of great concern. It is my understanding that, in determining the fiscal space available to the State, the Government decided to disregard the 2015 figures on gross domestic product, GDP. While we happily took the additional corporate taxes generated in this period from the relocation of corporate profits to the island of Ireland, for some very odd reason that I genuinely do not understand the Department of Finance decided not to take advantage of the 2015 growth rate. I understand the European Commission was happy to accept the 2015 figure, which would have given the State an additional €7 billion of fiscal space. This money is needed to invest in infrastructure. Why arbitrarily reduce by €7 billion the fiscal space available between now and 2021 by ignoring the 2015 growth figure? This was a political choice that will impact on our capacity to invest in infrastructure at a time when, as the Taoiseach noted, money is cheap and available.
The leader of the Fianna Fáil Party is pushing for more public private partnerships, PPPs. I argue for a cap on PPPs because they are the most expensive approach. When the State can borrow money at very low interest rates, it does not make sense to have PPPs rather than direct investment, although PPPs make sense in some areas. We must have a debate on the infrastructural needs of the country and how they should be funded. I am puzzled by the arbitrary political decision, despite the views of the Commission, to lessen the capacity of the State to invest in infrastructure.
Deputy Micheál Martin is right that the outcome of Brexit will have profound implications. There is no denying that as this is a totally new situation. When Article 50 was written, no one envisaged that a country would decide to leave the European Union. This has happened, however. In addition, the British Government, in respecting the wish of the electorate, has decided to remove the UK from the Single Market. A changed situation arises in respect of the trading negotiations.
It is true that we export 90% of what we produce. Some elements involved in addressing this will be to have a much stronger concentration on the eurozone and arrange trade missions to sell the agricultural and food products we produce. The agriculture sector is already under pressure. As Deputy Micheál Martin is aware, currency fluctuations mean we are down €500 million in six months. Our response has been to provide low interest, longer-term loans and increase the capacity of Enterprise Ireland to further assist exporting companies.
Did the Government provide €500 million?
No, €500 million was lost as a result of fluctuations in the value of sterling.
In respect of the European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority, we have applied to have both agencies relocate here and we are obviously in competition with other countries. The matter will go through the normal process and will come before the European Council for final decision in the autumn. There are major implications and opportunities for whichever location is chosen. Ireland has made a case for hosting both organisations and we will compete with many other countries.
Deputy Adams referred to customs controls. The official who spoke at the joint committee last week was referring to hypothetical scenarios. We have an agreement politically that there will be no return to the Border of the past. Nobody wants to have a situation such as that which applied at the Killeen crossing and right along the Border for years and which brought with it, as Deputy Adams is aware, sectarian violence and militarisation. As I stated previously, if, arising from the Brexit discussions, tariffs are not applied to goods moving between the Republic and Britain or Britain and the rest of Europe, we will still have two different jurisdictions and a way will have to be found to deal with that. What we agreed with the British Government and Mr. Michel Barnier, who addressed the Dáil only a short time ago while standing next to where Deputy Adams is seated, was that the solution will have to be creative and imaginative. The independent members of the Revenue Commissioners will say that they may well have a job to do here and will look at the different options. However, the committee also agreed that it is not clear what will be the outcome. What is clear is that there is a political imprimatur of no return to what we had in the past. Deputy Adams knows the importance of that as well as I do.
Designated status is an issue I have always referred to in the sense of our particular and unique circumstances, which were outlined to the House by the chief negotiator on behalf of the European Union when he referred to our citizens, economy, jobs and relations with the United Kingdom, the protection of the common travel area, our place in Europe and the fact that we do not want to return to what we had before. We unreservedly condemn the latest atrocity in Manchester. I was glad to hear the First Minister, Ms Arlene Foster, express the hope the other day that an Executive would be formed. While there are political differences, it is important that the Executive faces in the direction of the future and we will be able to have the North-South Ministerial Council, the cross-Border agencies and the development of infrastructure into the North, which are very important for the future.
I will have to revert to Deputy Howlin with some detail on the matter he raised. I do not want to lead him astray but I think the issue is related to the arrival in Ireland of a great deal of intellectual property from corporate firms, which caused a spike in the figures.
Will the growth figures be accepted?
I will provide the Deputy with detail on the position if I may.
I apologise to Deputy Burton who indicated she wished to ask a question on the inner city of Dublin but we must move on.