European Council: Statements

Tá áthas orm seasamh os comhair an Tí le labhairt faoi chruinniú an Chomhairle Eorpaigh na míosa seo, a bhí ar siúl sa Bhruiséal Déardaoin agus Dé hAoine seo caite. Ar an Déardaoin, rinne an Chomhairle Eorpach plé ar inimirce, an Eoraip dhigiteach, cúrsaí slándála agus cosanta agus an caidreamh seachtrach. Ag bricfeasta ar an Aoine, phléamar todhchaí an Aontais Eorpaigh. Bhuaileamar i bhformáid Alt 50 gan an Bhreatain ina dhiaidh sin le dul chun cinn sna cainteanna maidir leis an mBreatimeacht a phlé.

In advance of the meeting, along with the Dutch Prime Minister, I was invited to join the leaders of the Nordic and Baltic countries, who meet regularly ahead of European Council meetings. Ireland is not part of a formal group in the EU, but as a small northern European nation and a trading country with an open economy, we have similar positions to the Baltic, Nordic and Dutch Governments, particularly economic issues. I was very pleased to have been invited to attend their meeting and to have the opportunity to share our views, especially on the future of Europe debate and on Brexit. I was delighted to have received such strong support for our position from all the Prime Ministers gathered there.

The formal meeting began on Thursday with an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Tajani, MEP. There was also a short discussion about natural disasters. I took the opportunity to inform leaders about Storm Ophelia. I suggested that flexibility in the EU Solidarity Fund might be a way to bring Europe closer to its citizens. I also thanked President Macron of France and the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, for the help we received from Scottish, English and French electricity teams.

Migration was the issue for the first working session. On this, there has been a fall in the number of migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Crucially, there has been a significant and welcome decrease in the number of lives lost at sea. I drew attention to the distressing human rights reports from Médecins Sans Frontières on the reception facilities in Libya. I also raised the question of support for Africa more generally, and what needs to be done to remove the root causes of migration. I confirmed that Ireland would double its commitment to the EU Trust Fund for Africa over the next few years, taking it from €3 million to €6 million. France and Poland also pledged to increase their support for the trust fund.

As I signalled here last week, the issue of Digital Europe was one of the most important agenda items from our perspective. The language we agreed for the European Council conclusions had been substantially proposed by Ireland and a group of like-minded countries. These include a high level of ambition for completing the digital single market, including the free flow of data and agreeing a future-oriented regulatory framework.

There is a challenging timeline for agreeing proposals in this area, but we have to be ambitious if we are to deliver practical benefits for our citizens and businesses, and ensure Europe remains globally competitive. There was a good exchange on the issue of taxation of digital companies. I emphasised that in a globalised world, a solution on tax must be global in nature.

Is the Taoiseach's script available?

I do not know.

Normally it is circulated.

I apologise if Deputies do not have it yet.

I will check with the ushers.

I rewrote it somewhat this morning and so there may have been a delay.

This is reflected in the conclusions we adopted. Without a level playing field internationally if Europe were to act unilaterally, we might end up handing an advantage over other non-EU economies. As Ireland has maintained on numerous previous occasions, the OECD is the best forum for dealing with this. That is why I asked for a reference to the OECD work in the conclusions ahead of any mention of the European Commission.

The Commission has also been invited to present proposals early next year but these will be for discussion and, as a taxation issue, will be subject to unanimity. A number of countries were very firmly of the view that taxation is and should remain a national competency.

As I flagged in June and again last week, given the challenges we face there is an increasing focus within the EU on security and defence issues. Most of our partners want to press ahead with permanent structured co-operation, which is known as PESCO, and is provided for in the treaties. It aims to provide a mechanism whereby military crisis-management capabilities can be developed by member states in support of Common Security and Defence Policy operations.

Discussions on PESCO are ongoing, with some aspects of governance, capabilities and projects still to be settled. The ambition is to be ready to launch PESCO in December. Ireland has been taking a realistic and constructive approach to the discussions and we hope that we will be able to participate in it.

We have a long-standing policy of military neutrality and of not joining military alliances. We also have constitutional guarantees which are reflected in the protocols to the Lisbon treaty. We will not, of course, do anything that compromises these positions. However, we are not a neutral country when it comes to issues such as human trafficking, terrorism or cybercrime. We are very much in favour of co-operating with EU partners on a range of security issues. We will approach PESCO and the other issues on the agenda in that spirit. The European Council agreed to have a fuller discussion and a progress assessment of PESCO and other security and defence issues in December.

We had lengthy discussions on a number of external relations items mainly relating to Turkey, but also relating to Iran and North Korea on Thursday evening. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will speak about these in her remarks.

The evening session also included a presentation by the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in which she made a number of positive points regarding the Brexit negotiations, including citizens' rights; the absolute necessity to protect the Good Friday Agreement; her wish to avoid any physical border on the island of Ireland; her recognition of the unique nature of Ireland as an island; her commitment that no member state will lose out or have to pay more into the current budget as a result of the UK leaving; and her intention that the United Kingdom should remain a strong security partner for Europe. Further detail is required on all these points but the presentation was welcome nonetheless and positively received.

While trade matters were not on the agenda and were not discussed in detail, there was brief mention of the EU negotiations with Mercosur, as well as requests for Council mandates to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. These are likely to feature in future Council discussions.

President Tusk chaired a useful exchange on Friday morning on the future of Europe, based on his leader’s agenda. I thanked him personally for taking the time to speak with each of the 28 leaders individually in advance of the European Council. The general consensus at the breakfast meeting was that President Tusk’s proposed process is the right one. The debate should not be led by any one country, Prime Minister or president or group of countries, but should be done by the community method as 27. His plan envisages additional meetings at the level of Heads of State or Government. While this requires is a significant time commitment, it should provide the impetus necessary for decision making.

As an issue, the future of Europe is at least as important for Ireland as Brexit is, because we are staying at the heart of the EU and we want to ensure it continues to work for our citizens. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to take the lead role on this and to begin an engagement programme which will interact with citizens and civil society so that we can set out and discuss what we want the future of Europe to look like.

After the discussions on the future of Europe, the European Council met in its Article 50 format to discuss progress in the Brexit negotiations. Michel Barnier reported on the recent rounds of negotiations on the withdrawal issues. As expected, he advised that there has not yet been sufficient progress to move on to phase 2 of the negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

In light of the good progress that has been achieved, however, we agreed that Mr. Barnier and the Council should start internal preparations among the EU 27 for the next phase.

It is worth recalling that, for there to be sufficient progress, we do not need to see the three issues fully resolved, rather we need to have achieved a degree of progress that gives us confidence that the 27 can move to the second phase. As Deputies are aware, Ireland has worked very closely with Michel Barnier and his task force and we will continue to do so.

Our overall priorities are clear: to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects; to avoid any new barriers to trade or movement of people on our island; to maintain the common trade area and all the rights and obligations that follow from it; to have an effective transitional arrangement leading to the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK; and working for the future of a more integrated Europe with Ireland at its heart.

Prime Minister May’s comments to the European Council, particularly in respect of rejecting any physical infrastructure along the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland were very welcome. However, more clarity is needed on how this can be achieved. I will certainly urge the UK Government to provide more detail on how its stated commitments in relation to the withdrawal issues will be given meaningful effect, in order that sufficient progress can be made as soon as possible, and ultimately an agreement reached.

I look forward to hearing the statements from other party leaders.

The Taoiseach mentioned that the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will respond to the statements but I understand the Order of Business provides for eight ten-minute slots. I apologise, there will be questions as well. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

Last week's summit reached no major or unexpected conclusions. While it was an important summit, unfortunately, it was not decisive in changing the direction of the European Union on any of the topics it discussed. If the House looks back to the early months of the Taoiseach’s predecessor and his first summit meetings, it will find a striking similarity in the claims made about what had allegedly happened. Deputy Enda Kenny, the then Taoiseach, had, according to his staff, broken with his predecessor in a whirlwind of breezy informality, addressing colleagues without notes and facing down a dastardly attempt by President Sarkozy to undermine our corporation tax regime. Of course, the full details which emerged later came nowhere near supporting the spin. Six years later, the Taoiseach, according to his staff, broke decisively from his predecessor by being a steady force, addressing his colleagues without notes and facing down a dastardly attempt by President Macron to undermine our digital tax policy. We should also remember that there were a number of bilateral meetings at the Élysée after which the then Taoiseach, to use yesterday’s quote, hailed improved relations.

An already defining problem with this Government is that it spends so much time hyping things which were happening anyway. Indeed, it has established a new unit and a large budget dedicated solely to presenting ongoing activity as news. When it comes to something as serious as European policy, this gets in the way of an honest debate about fundamental issues. Off-the-record briefings focused on giving the illusion of candour to a favoured few journalists actually reveals nothing and is more about short-term management of headlines than promoting the type of discussions we urgently need.

What was important about last week’s summit is that it addressed two fundamental challenges for both Ireland and Europe, namely, managing a deeply damaging Brexit and reforming the future Union of 27. It remains the case that the Government has no stated policy on most of the issues which have now been placed on the agenda for discussion. It is purely reactive, responding to the initiatives of others and more concerned about what image it presents than having any real influence. Let no one be in any doubt, a policy will not magically appear because the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, has been sent around the country to hold meetings promoted with the Government’s new corporate branding. In fact, it will have as little impact as when exactly the same tour was conducted by the then Minister of State, the former Deputy Lucinda Creighton, five years ago.

On Brexit, the Taoiseach’s policy has veered wildly in recent months and has increasingly been seen to be driven by his hyper-partisanship. He has already established himself as more tribal in his core political instincts than any predecessor in recent times. This was one of his core pitches to his parliamentary party colleagues during the recent leadership election. He is breaking new ground with the regularity on which he tries to make puerile debating society points against others who have consistently sought and promoted a pro-European consensus among democratic and non-extreme parties.

When we last discussed Brexit here the Taoiseach insisted that he would not seek a special deal concerning Northern Ireland because he was not prepared to contemplate failing in achieving effectively a free trade area that also covered east-west trade. He also justified the decision not to consider alternative scenarios. Yet three days later he went to Derry and explicitly said he was preparing for other circumstances, that he would seek special solutions for Northern Ireland and was very much planning for what to do if the UK-EU free trade area was not attainable. These lines were delivered with a breezy indifference to the content or tone of what he had been saying in the Dáil. The core of this point is that he either wants a constructive Brexit process and will change his approach or he can continue with a strategy which is failing to put in place the foundations for a broad agreement and consensus.

The Taoiseach has said repeatedly that briefings are available to pro-EU parties on the negotiations. So far we have yet to be told a single substantive piece of information which was not already in the international media or announced by a member of Government. Unless we begin seeing some element of candour, the only conclusion we can reach is that Ireland’s preparations are as incomplete as many fear and its negotiating stance is as incoherent as the Taoiseach’s various pronouncements since August.

The conclusions of the summit on the Article 50 negotiations are reasonable. Given that the May Government is unclear in what it is seeking or offering, there is no real basis for moving to the next stage. The next six weeks will be a moment of truth on whether it is willing to become more specific and to do the hard work of acknowledging that the European Union has a right to determine its own interests.

We strongly welcome the communiqué’s statement that the EU 27 are committed to "to flexible and imaginative solutions [reflecting] the unique situation of Ireland". This is language which is very different from what the Taoiseach said here two weeks ago. The obvious and immediate problem is that there is zero evidence that our Government has developed any proposals for "flexible and imaginative solutions" - in fact, until 12 days ago it was the Taoiseach’s stated intent not to look for any such solutions.

As Fianna Fáil has pointed out repeatedly, there is only one credible way of fully addressing the need to ensure that this island as a whole retains access to the customs union and Single Market, while also leaving the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unaffected. This is the development of a special economic zone. It is long past time that we tabled this as a proposal and started working on specifics.

It is noteworthy that the person chosen by the Taoiseach to head the new strategic communications unit announced to the Public Relations Institute of Ireland - a body until recently headed by another of the Taoiseach’s advisers - that next year he will be launching a campaign on Brexit. Consequently, before our policy is fixed and before any direct aid is planned for most businesses being hit by Brexit, the marketing campaign for Government is already funded and planned. This says a lot about priorities.

The Taoiseach is reported to have made comments concerning people in Northern Ireland choosing Irish passports. The reports suggested that he had used a form of words which implied that this is an issue principally for the Brexit implementation period. This may have been misreported, but the Taoiseach should use an early opportunity to clarify that he is not trying to introduce a new understanding of the Good Friday Agreement in this area similar to his incoherent comments on the majorities required for implementing constitutional change under the agreement. To be clear, the core of the agreement is that Northern Ireland residents maintain a permanent right to Irish and therefore EU citizenship. The very point of the detail of the text is that people are not forced to choose a fixed identity and that their rights do not change based on their identity. As I said soon after the referendum last year, it is Fianna Fáil’s absolute position that we will not support any deal which infringes on the core and permanent citizenship rights of persons ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland.

As a related point, the common travel area has been supported in principle by both sides in the negotiation and the bulk of its details will be separate from any Northern Ireland-specific provisions. We need to see evidence that proper preparations are under way to define and legally underpin the common travel area when Brexit is finalised.

The summit agreed a list of topics and dates for discussions on the issues of eurozone reform, migration, internal security, trade and the future financing of the European Union. This is President Tusk’s initiative to try to put some shape on a very disorganised series of initiatives concerning the future of the EU.

We welcome this agenda but it is important to realise that there are certain problems with what has been proposed. At the most basic level, far too little work has been done on the specifics of proposals and on defining the realm of what is and is not achievable through legislation that falls short of a treaty. Conducting discussions in the absence of a model of what is proposed and a study of what its impact might be is foolish. In the past, the approach to major reforms was to empower a group to study specific problems and propose options. Each of the major reforms of the Union has proceeded in this manner. The objective was to try to stop a process that did not encompass both analysis and negotiation. Such an approach needs to be adopted now.

The issue of the digital economy, which was discussed last week, is a very good case in point. It is entirely legitimate to be discussing how to ensure fair taxation of online commerce. What is not legitimate is to push for decisions in the absence of the most rudimentary work on the impact of measures on individual states, businesses and the Union as a whole. The final wording of the communiqué was well signalled in advance of the meeting. Given the lack of preparatory work on legal, political or economic matters, it is arguable that the discussion should have been postponed. The proposal that action be taken only in the context of cross-OECD work is exactly the proposal adopted on wider issues six years ago. Ireland should join others in insisting that before the Commission returns with any proposal early next year, it should circulate a full economic impact study. Let us have a fact-based debate and not one driven by one-sided advocacy.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the Council’s decision to reaffirm its support for the internationally agreed Iran nuclear deal. Fundamentally, there was no innocent purpose behind Iran’s nuclear effort. However, the deal reached after years of negotiations is a fair one that promotes security and offers the hope of Iran being more open to constructive international relations. The decision of the US President to refuse to certify the deal is dangerous, particularly in light of the fact that we need some process for de-escalating the current proliferation. We should join our European colleagues in calling for the US Congress to maintain the deal and avoid an escalation at such a dangerous moment.

We should also note events yesterday whereby Russia vetoed a renewal of the UN’s independent investigation into chemical attacks by the Syrian Government against the Syrian people. Not only did Russia veto the renewal, it also attacked the clear findings of the most recent report about how a Syrian air force plane dropped chemical weapons on one village, resulting in 80 people being killed and many more being maimed. It is a deeply disturbing moment in world affairs when the covering up of war crimes receives so little attention.

In the context of migration, the summit marked no major move forward. We continue to support the principle of solidarity between members and we call for a significant expansion in support for humanitarian and development efforts. The reason so many have risked so much to reach Europe is a lack of hope. The only way this can be provided is to be far more ambitious and generous in terms of aid. Far too many things are compared to Marshall aid, which rescued democracy in Europe after the Second World War. However, we need something of this magnitude to help countries throughout the Mediterranean. Millions of people remain stuck in camps and are denied the basic opportunities to provide for themselves. Before the crisis surges yet again, we need to be looking at far more radical action.

Beidh mise agus an Teachta David Cullinane ag caint ar an ábhar sin.

During statements in advance of the European Council, I raised a number of very important matters with the Taoiseach, including Brexit, the plight of Ibrahim Halawa and the ongoing political crisis in Catalonia. Thankfully, there has been good news on one of those fronts. Ibrahim has returned safely to Dublin and I am sure we are all delighted with this development. It is important now that he has the proper supports available to him in order to begin the process of rebuilding his life. Tá go leor oibre déanta ag a lán daoine ar son Ibrahim. Tá sár-obair déanta go háirithe ag an Cheann Comhairle. Tá muid fíor-bhuíoch as sin. Tá mé fíor-chinnte go bhfuil Ibrahim agus a chlann an-sásta agus buíoch as sin fosta. On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, I extend céad míle fáilte abhaile to Ibrahim and wish him well as he returns to his family and friends.

I raised the matter of Catalonia with the Taoiseach previously and am going to raise it again today. On Friday, the Spanish Senate will sit to debate and approve the use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to suspend the administration in Catalonia, as proposed by the Spanish Government. This is a retrograde step, not least because it is a rejection of the call for dialogue and mediation from the Catalan leadership. So far, the Spanish Government has refused to engage in dialogue with the Catalans. It is saying that they have to acquiesce to preconditions, including an acceptance that talk of independence is illegal. This is the wrong approach and I make no apologies for saying so, as I did yesterday evening. We know this from our own processes on this island.

When I raised this matter with the Taoiseach last week and before that, he advocated dialogue. He said that dialogue was the way forward and he also volunteered to raise the imperative of dialogue directly with the Spanish Prime Minister, alongside his stated concerns about the behaviour of the Spanish police. In his statement today, unless I missed it, the Taoiseach made no mention of this. I would like to know whether, in keeping with these commitments, the Taoiseach raised these issues at the European Council or directly with the Spanish Prime Minister. The Spanish Government justifies its refusal to embrace dialogue on the premise that these issues are an internal matter for Spain. That is exactly the attitude adopted by the British state for decades in order to prevent scrutiny of British rule on our island.

I also note the comments of the Fianna Fáil leader in respect of Brexit. It is indeed the biggest issue facing the island over the coming years, although it took the Fianna Fáil leader a wee bit of time to come around to that perspective. It has been acknowledged by the Oireachtas that a special designated status for the North within the European Union is the way forward. Fianna Fáil voted for that, but is it really the party's position? At Fianna Fáil's recent Ard-Fheis, members voted for an electronic border. That is really ingenious. We would have a toll system operating in the same way as that which operates on the M50. That is great news for the people in the Border counties. I also note the comments of a Fianna Fáil councillor, Emma Coffey, who comes from my constituency. She called for a hard border to be implemented. Her statement goes on a bit about the economy and then she argues that a hard border is needed "to protect the influx migration entering Europe" through "my country, Europe's back door." What is the Fianna Fáil position on this very important and critical issue?

That is not Fianna Fáil policy. We do not bully our councillors. We have a bit more tolerance than that.

That is tolerance of racism.

It tolerates bigotry.

Am I getting injury time, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

Ar aghaidh leat, Deputy.

It must be noted that there are hundreds of Border roads, that there are tens of thousands of people who would be affected and that the Border has been in existence for nearly as long as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. What have they done about it? We all know that a European frontier would disrupt the social, economic, political and cultural fabric of our island. The only workable solution is to follow the lead that has been given by people in the North, which was to say, "No, we want to stay within the European Union."

According to his video, the Taoiseach enjoyed his visit to Paris yesterday. Some time ago, I raised with him the recent call by the French President for increased and accelerated EU integration, tax harmonisation and further military co-operation across the Union. There was a very worrying statement yesterday from the European Commission to the effect that it wants to turn its proposals on some of these issues into law and into practice, including a plan to create a permanent European Minister with responsibility for the economy and finance. These reflect the federalist dream but that is not what people on this island want. We look to the Taoiseach to reject these proposals and to push for proper democratic reform in pursuit of a European Union that delivers for citizens, that is social and that respects the primacy of its member states.

I will confine my remarks to Brexit and the lack of progress by the European and British negotiators recently in respect of the critical issue of Ireland. My understanding is that some progress has been made on the common travel area, which I welcome. It is the only area in respect of which there is an agreed principles paper.

That is progress, but there will be issues arising in regard to the rights of EU nationals who are not Irish citizens. While this will be a concern for some people, it is a step forward that at least on this issue there appears to be agreement. However, there is no agreement on the issues of the Good Friday Agreement and the Border. The Taoiseach knows that the Good Friday Agreement is incompatible with Brexit. The Good Friday Agreement is an international document. It is a complex document in many respects because it is underpinned by Irish law, British law and European Union law. If the North is taken out of the customs union and the Single Market against its will, and if the Good Friday Agreement is taken out of the European Union, in terms of the protections of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, it would be a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. All of these are very important issues. One of the proposals put forward by Sinn Féin is that the Good Friday Agreement would remain within the European Union and that it would be attached as a protocol or an annex to the eventual withdrawal agreement to ensure it continues to enjoy the full protections and legal underpinnings of the European Union. This is the only way in which we can protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. Is this also the stated position of the Irish Government?

There also has been no movement on the Border issue. I am concerned about the speech of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, in Florence, which was welcomed by the Irish Government and spoke of no physical border infrastructure. As the European Union has stated that it wants to protect the integrity of the customs union, the danger, if there is no physical border infrastructure, notwithstanding Fianna Fáil's reference to an electronic border, which is completely bonkers, is that responsibility for checks in terms of regulation and standards will be on businesses, farmers and so on, thus creating more bureaucracy and increased costs. The only way that we can square the circle of no Border of any kind, be it checks or inspections at business level or any physical infrastructure, and protection of the integrity of the customs union is for the island of Ireland, including the North, to remain in the customs union. While Britain remaining in the customs union would be the best outcome, if that is not possible and we can find common cause with people in Britain, will the Taoiseach support the North remaining in the customs union and the Single Market because if it is taken out of the customs union and the Single Market, notwithstanding all of the geniuses that might come up with all sorts of different solutions, the reality is that this will impact on the movement of goods and services, which will be bad for the economy.

Brexit is not good for Ireland. It is not what the people in the North voted for. It is not an Irish incarnation, it is a British one and we should not suffer the consequences. There can be no step backwards in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, no step backwards in terms of the Border and no step backwards in terms of citizens' rights. The best and only way to achieve this is to grant special status for the North within the European Union.

What is the current position of the British Government? We still have not had any tangible solutions from it. Has the Irish Government been given any documents beyond what is already in the public domain, because we are very concerned that nothing has been put on the table by the British Government up to now in terms of actual solutions.

There will be a questions and answers session later.

The EU Council came to a number of important conclusions last week on migration, digital Europe, security and defence, external relations and Brexit. Since we last spoke on this issue, a number of significant developments have progressed. In his remarks prior to the Council meeting last week the Taoiseach spoke on digital Europe and the importance of delivering practical benefits to our citizens. For the vast majority of EU citizens the agenda of these meetings does not speak to the day-to-day issues that they face in their lives. That is why the agreement of a text on the European Pillar of Social Rights agreed at the meeting on Monday is a key event in the history and development of Europe. The European Pillar of Social Rights was first published by the Commission in March 2016. It seeks to enhance the rights of EU citizens across categories of equal opportunities, access to the labour market, fair working conditions, social protection and inclusion. In an uncertain age it is difficult to disagree with the assessment of President Juncker that agreement on the social pillar is necessary to avoid social fragmentation and social dumping in Europe. If we are to meet 21st century challenges, we must deal with strengthening the rights of our peoples. I understand the text will be signed by the Taoiseach at the Social Summit in Gothenburg in November.

The Taoiseach will recall that I raised concerns with him and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, about Ireland's negotiating stance at the inter-institutional proclamation. The original Irish position had aligned us with countries such as Hungary which, in terms of its outspoken objections on the development of social rights, does not make a good bed fellow. I am glad that we dropped those objections. The principles and rights set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights should be implemented at Union and member state level, within their respective competencies and in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It also states that this does not entail an extension of the Union's powers and that it is up to individual member states to ensure those new rights are practically implemented.

The three broad categories and the 20 specific policy areas highlight the work that Ireland and Europe has yet to do. For example, secure and adaptable employment is a critical challenge for our people. Many find that although they work they cannot plan adequately for the future owing to technological disruption and the gig economy damaging and delaying family information, house purchases, pension plans and the planning of their lives. On equal opportunities and access to the labour market, education, training and life-long learning are areas in respect of which Ireland must examine how it proposes to ensure that all its citizens can fully participate in our economy as it evolves and changes. Despite being on track to full employment, an objective of the Labour Party and Fine Gael in government, there is need to ensure that not only jobseekers but all of our citizens are encouraged to upskill and to seek work. On social protection and inclusion, child care and support to children is an area where Ireland needs to do more. We know this. While there were token measures in this regard in the budget, there was nothing significant to reduce the high costs faced by parents in the area of child care. I attended a meeting in my constituency on this issue earlier this week. As I said, the budget provided only token measures in this regard. We need to have a comprehensive plan for this area. If we are to put Europe at the heart of people's lives and experiences, the pillars of human rights and social rights are a lot more tangible to people than the issue of digital Europe or other concepts that do not impact on their prospects for the future.

I welcome the report that the Taoiseach expressed serious concern about the conditions faced by refugees in prison camps in Libya and the doubling of Ireland's commitment to the EU Trust Fund for Africa to €6 million. I hope these sentiments will be backed by enhanced efforts to ensure Ireland meets its commitments on accepting refugees. In its conclusions on digital Europe the Council declared that, "it is ready to do what it takes for Europe to go digital." Has there ever been a more meaningless statement? The Taoiseach met yesterday with President Macron. Détente seems to have been declared on the French proposal for an EU-wide tax on digital companies by the insertion of references to a global playing field. As already referenced, the Commission has been tasked now with bringing forward proposals by 2018. It will be interesting to see how this will fair, along with the proposed structure that might evolve for a digital tax. Obviously, it is one in which we have a very clear strategic interest.

Once again, the move towards Permanent Structured Co-operation, PESCO, on a security and defence system for Europe was on the Council's agenda. During the Taoiseach's meeting yesterday with President Macron was this issue and the President's proposals for an EU army and a shared defence budget discussed? As I said last week, once a military intervention force is created we are on a path to a different EU to the one Ireland envisages and signed up to.

The Taoiseach reportedly said that Ireland is keen to take part in PESCO but will not make a formal expression of interest until the latter's full remit is clarified. It appears that the Government has concerns about neutrality and is unsure whether the State can join. The Taoiseach referenced that earlier but I am still not clear on his position. Will he clarify matters? Perhaps there might be a full debate in the House on future EU defence policy.

A debate was held on relations with Turkey. The communiqué that was issued contains only a short sentence on the matter but the debate lasted three hours and took up most of the working dinner. Plans are being drawn up to cut aid to Turkey and it appears that the long-stated objective of eventual Turkish membership of the EU may be close to being abandoned. What are the views of the Taoiseach on that issue and where does Ireland currently stand in respect of it? He reportedly said that Turkey is no longer on a European path.

I welcome the reaffirmation of European Union support for the Iran nuclear deal that other Members have mentioned and the strong statement made by the Council regarding North Korea.

After another summit, we are no closer to an agreement. If anything, we are edging inexorably closer to a hard Brexit. Initial reports were positive but the leaking and spinning in respect of Prime Minister May's dinner with the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, confirms the lack of trust, with recriminations emerging from both camps. The Taoiseach said - he repeated it today - that three key issues relating to phase 1 do not have to be resolved but that sufficient progress has to be made for the talks to move to the next phase. A report published on www.bloomberg.com last week suggested that Ireland was considering seeking guarantees that no border would be reimposed on the island as a price for allowing Brexit talks to advance. What is the Irish position and was that request made?

The Council's Article 50 conclusions focus on convergence on principles and objectives regarding protection of the Good Friday Agreement. Unfortunately, principles and objectives are not sufficient at this point and concrete proposals are needed. The suggestions emanating from the European Council that, by December, discussions with the United Kingdom may be able to move towards the next phase are a cause of concern because, as I said at a meeting earlier, our leverage will be diminished once we move from the first phase. I do not believe Ireland can entirely rely on either the UK or the EU 27 to ensure that our interests are fully protected. The train is coming at us rather quickly. The British Government remains woefully incoherent. Focusing more on the individual components could soften the political sensitivity regarding, for example, the exit bill, but I have yet to hear proposals from either the EU or the UK on how structural and PEACE funding for Northern Ireland might be dealt with.

It would be great if sufficient progress on the three key issues could be made by December but I fear that will not be the case. If sufficient progress has not been made on the issue relating to Ireland by the time of the December Council meeting, then we must be prepared to say that we cannot allow matters to progress to phase 2.

I am sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy.

The Taoiseach is once again walking out of the Chamber as a Deputy of the left begins speaking. That has become a consistent pattern. Apart from the high-flown rhetoric, the videos and the photo ops, the Taoiseach is not on the moral high ground in the context of looking for European allies and talking about the need to shape a new future for Europe because the priority of the Government seems to be to defend, at all costs - even against the opprobrium of the European Union - the tax evasion strategies of big multinational corporations. It is doing so to the extent that Ireland is now being threatened with legal action by the European Union over its failure to put the €13 billion owed to us by Apple into an escrow account pending the outcome of an appeal. That appeal might not even take place in view of the fact that the Government is backing up Apple and spending millions of taxpayers' money trying to ensure that the latter gets away with what was clearly tax avoidance. I have no doubt that the State was complicit in that tax avoidance, although that could be debated. However, there is no doubt that Apple and other big multinationals were and are engaged in aggressive tax avoidance and the Government is backing them against the European Union in order to ensure that they continue to get away with it and get their money back. That does not put the State on the moral high ground.

One could contrast that with the vision of a social Europe often mobilised by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in an effort to get people to vote for various European treaties. The European Social Charter is a big element of that vision. On foot of the charter, people should not worry about the European Union just being a corporate military entity. However, this week, as well as being threatened with fines relating to Apple, there was a finding against the State by the European Committee of Social Rights, which stated that we are in breach of Article 16 of the charter because we have failed to provide adequate housing for local authority tenants. Twenty local authority estates took a collective action to the European Committee of Social Rights because of chronic damp, poor plumbing, raw sewage leaking into baths and sinks, a lack of central heating and other absolutely deplorable conditions in local authority housing. A huge number of people cannot get local authority housing but many who have are living in chronically substandard conditions. The Government has not set out a timeline for rectifying the appalling conditions that are doing very serious damage to the health of families and children and exacerbating medical conditions such as chronic pulmonary disorder, asthma and so on that have reached chronic levels among young people, particularly those living in older local authority housing stock. We would have faced worse sanction from the committee but for the fact that a Fianna Fáil-led Government opted out of Article 31 of the charter, which deals with the right to housing. How much difference might signing up to that article have made in the context of the current crisis? What is the Government going to do? Did it or will it discuss with our European colleagues the failure of the State to provide proper living conditions in vast amounts of local authority housing stock and the fact that Ireland is in breach of the European Social Charter? The Government is prepared to go to war with Europe to ensure that multinationals do not pay tax. As a result of the fact that they do not pay any tax, we have substandard housing - or none at all - for poor, vulnerable, less well-off people for whom the State is supposed to provide. The latter must be seen in the context of the fact that the European Social Charter is supposed to guarantee the right to decent housing for local authority tenants.

We are in new territory in terms of the relationship of capitalist classes here with our so-called European partners and the relationship of the establishment here with that elsewhere.

It is clear that a section of the European elites wants to drive ahead with a capitalist integration process in respect of militarisation, the development of permanent structural co-operation, an EU military fund, common culture in the military, and capacity for independent European military action. It is integration on an economic level, including on the question of taxation. I note in this regard Mr. Juncker's remarks yesterday about bringing qualified majority voting into questions of taxation, which would include, on the one hand, a financial transactions tax and, on the other, the issue of corporation tax, and increased political integration, with the idea of an economic and finance minister for the European Union once again being raised.

The Irish establishment likes to portray itself as very pro-Europe and does not have a problem with the vast majority of this but it does have a problem with one crucial issue, namely, corporation tax. The Irish political establishment - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour - have sold our status as an effective tax haven as a key part of Ireland's so-called offering to the world. The reality is that, post-Brexit, this is coming increasingly into the focus of other European powers and will lead to a relationship of tension. The remarks at the start of the Taoiseach's speech about the meeting with leaders of Nordic and Baltic countries were interesting. I just question the Minister of State whether it is the Taoiseach's intention to continue to attend those meetings in the future. It is clear the Government is looking around for allies in a post-Tory Britain scenario. It is also clear the Government's response to the European Council is to continue what it has been doing, which is to hide behind the OECD process and say the Government is in favour of dealing with the problem of the massive rip-off and robbery of public services around the world by big corporations, in particular big digital and Internet corporations, but it is in favour of the OECD doing so, in the hope that it never happens and to avoid taking action in terms of the European Union now.

I noted with interest the reports of the Taoiseach's meeting with Emmanuel Macron yesterday. It is interesting from the point of view of relations between countries, etc., but also interesting politically. An element of the political strategy of Fine Gael could be summed up as the Macron or the Trudeau strategy, which is to get a new young leader to try to look socially progressive, with no substance whatsoever behind that, to repackage the same right wing, neoliberal ideas as new, modern, fresh, outward-looking, globalised, etc., and to bang on about being the new European centre, despite representing the continuation of the same old European right. I wonder whether the Taoiseach got an update from Mr. Macron on how that is working out for him, because it is not working out very well. His opinion poll ratings are the lowest for any French president at this stage of the presidential term. He is facing mass opposition to his so-called labour reforms, which will massively flexibilise the labour market in France, mass protests and mass strikes. I do not think it will go very well for the Taoiseach or for Fine Gael either.

The differences are real. For all the talk of how well the meetings went, etc., it is clear that there are real differences in respect of what are referred to as multinational Internet companies and tax policy. Mr. Macron represents, along with Mr. Juncker, precisely that integrationist approach, which includes the question of taxation. We are not in favour of any policies being imposed on this country. We are in favour of a democratic discussion and debate and people in this country making a decision on what policies exist. That was our approach to all the austerity that was imposed. We do favour an increase in corporation tax. It is deeply ironic that the Irish Government and the establishment wrap themselves in the green flag when the interests of the big corporations are threatened.

Finally, I note that President Macron is today rightly being described as the president of the rich in France because he has cut the wealth tax by 70% at the same time as cutting a €5 grant to students for their accommodation. Perhaps the media could take this from the Macron experience and apply it to our Taoiseach, who is also a Taoiseach of the rich.

I had a read of President Tusk's statement of 24 October. He stressed the point that the leaders agreed on the previous Friday that the priority was unity among the 27 member states. His words were that his intention is to build on what connects, not on what divides. On the question of migration, the key message seems to be protection of external borders. I agree that there is a need for more support for those countries directly and immediately affected in this regard, such as Italy, Spain, Greece and Bulgaria, but what form is this support taking? That is the question we must ask. President Tusk referred, as the Taoiseach did today, to permanent structured co-operation in defence, PESCO. Alarm bells grow because that is not really the language we would expect when we talk about dealing with migrants, who are very vulnerable people coming from awful situations of poverty, hunger, conflict and displacement and, of course, we have an increase in the number of climate refugees now. President Tusk and the Taoiseach say they are supporting the big organisations - the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme - and I know they do good work, but it is the smaller non-governmental organisations, NGOs, that are at the front line of working with these people in very vulnerable situations that are not getting the recognition and support they need. We have discussed the so-called reception centres in Libya before, which we know are detention centres, and it is those smaller NGOs there that are giving us real information on what is happening. The Taoiseach said, and we hear this all the time, that we must tackle the root causes of migration, but that is more than just putting up a physical barrier so that migrants cannot move, whether internally in Africa or wherever or externally. It is a matter of examining the causes, and there is a need to monitor that and see what progress is being made. That is what the sustainable development goals are about, that if we eradicate poverty and hunger and the abuse of human rights, people will not have a reason to move.

President Tusk discussed Brexit and, again, there was a call for unity among the 27 member states and he said it was up to London how this will end. His words were "good deal, no deal or no Brexit". He said the common interest would be protected by the EU 27 being together but I fear, as do others, that the smaller countries, especially Ireland, will not be as well protected as the bigger countries. I know that our officials, our Departments and other organisations have been working extremely hard in the lead-up to Brexit to try to plan for something they did not know would happen at all and then, when it did happen, did not know what form it would take. Of course, we still have a lot of vagueness about that.

I return to Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which reminds us that the EU was founded on values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities. However, we see more and more issues in this regard and we have examples where the EU has been lacking and its voice is not being heard, or it is a voice that is only being heard and not being followed up with action. These are the issues that must be taken up, whether at the leaders' section or by individual Ministers.

I wish to focus on one particular issue. It is a forgotten area and one that I hope can be discussed. I refer to the Golan Heights, which I know Deputy Brendan Smith raised. He is Chairman of the foreign affairs committee. We met a delegation, a human rights group in the Golan Heights, that pointed out the lack of EU statements on the Golan and the unavailability of EU funding. The funding is available for NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territories but is not going across to the Golan. There are five remaining Syrian villages there. There is a general lack of knowledge internationally about what is happening to the people who are still left in those five villages in the Golan. We know Irish troops are deployed there but that is probably about as much as we know about the area. There is an EU-Israel Association Agreement council meeting which is about developing a broad bilateral partnership, dialogue, co-operation, mutual accountability and a shared commitment - I have read this in the blurb - to human rights and democracy, which includes the rights of persons belonging to minorities. The EU and its member states could speak about commitment here. We talk about the viability of the two-state solution but this area is not coming into it at all. We know the concerns about the expansion of the settlements. We know they are undermining the possibility of a two-state solution and that there are concerns over settler extremism and settler incitement. I am very aware of this because I have been there recently. The EU's funding is going into the occupied territories and Gaza. The EU-Israel Association Agreement is all about the occupied territories. There are references to Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Arab minorities but there is nothing about the Golan, which has been taken over.

They are caught in this no man's land between Syria, Israel and Palestine. If we are committed to defending human rights, there is a need to consider the people who are living there. As I said, we met them recently and heard about the situation on the ground for people there. Some 95% of the Syrian population was transferred or displaced, so there is only 5% left. A city and over 300 villages and farms were destroyed. There are 23,000 Israeli settlers living on these lands, with the remaining Syrian population in only five villages. There are plans for the construction of further settlements which are illegal under international law. It is a fertile land with plenty of water, but the Syrian population in those villages pay up to four times more than the Israeli population. Oil exploration is going on and we can wonder to whose benefit that is going to be. There are also the remnants of the landmines from both the 1967 war and previous wars. I hope this is an area that could be addressed when there is an opportunity to do so at EU level.

One other question is that of multilateral EU funding and the lack of transparency regarding some aspects of that funding. While we know the total amount, there is a need for more transparency. We know about the European Development Fund and know that the EU development co-operation budget saw an increase, as did the European trust fund, but there are questions about exactly where all of this is going.

We had statements on Catalonia yesterday and certain aspects are very clear. One is in respect of the Catalonian culture, language and identity. The second is an acknowledgement of the very heavy-handed tactics of the central government in dealing with the peaceful protests and with the democratic right to vote. The third is the need for dialogue to resolve these issues. The question is whether the EU will provide that space and support for the dialogue and engagement.

Last Sunday in Geneva, at the World Parliamentary Forum, there was a call for parliamentarians to support the establishment of the UN binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. This is very opportune, given our own report on human rights and business is coming some time in November. The EU has stated its commitment to human rights. The UN Human Rights Council established a working group to develop this legally binding international instrument on transnational corporations and business enterprises in respect of human rights. The aim is to put an end to the global loopholes so all companies are accountable when it comes to human rights and worker rights. This will be major because we see so much unregulated globalisation, especially in the poorest parts of the world. Again, will the EU be a supporting voice in this regard, given labour rights are being violated? The EU could be an active voice in this UN process. That would be part of the tax justice agenda in order to stop the illicit flows and profit shifting which deprive the poorest countries in the developing world of the revenue which they need for food and health. It is almost as if the EU is at times soothing its conscience in its development aid budget and not looking at the other aspects of tax loopholes and workers' rights. I see the next meeting of the leaders is about culture and education, which would be an interesting issue to debate here in the next while.

I am pleased to speak about this interesting meeting. I note from the report by President Donald Tusk to the European Parliament following the meeting that he is “obsessed by unity". This is interesting. He must be having a very anxious time of it when we recall the recent outcome of the Austrian election. Austria now has a very young president who swept to power on a mandate of less Europe, not more. We see the recent events in Catalonia and the votes in the Lombardy region and Venice in the north of Italy, and we see the growing sense that, despite their best efforts, the people of Europe are rejecting outright the extreme federalism that is at the heart of the EU project. This is obvious and anyone who wants to see it can see it. This is happening for certain reasons, in particular because the EU is not listening in the first place - cluasa dúnta, closed ears. They do not want to hear what is going on. We have not been very good at communicating our fears from this side of the House. That is the situation as I see it. We are in the middle of Brexit and that is why.

What else can Mr. Tusk expect when people see an increasingly centralised power emerging and their own local and cultural identities being submerged? It is interesting that the next meeting will be about culture and identity. We need to respect that, especially in our case, but in all other cases too. We had a debate last night at which the Spanish ambassador was present. I welcomed him and felt he should be entitled to be here without being lectured and verbally attacked. We have diplomatic people all over the world and we expect them to be received, listened to and respected in parliaments. Does Mr. Tusk think we are all obsessed with his narrow vision of unity? He must think that. We want co-operation and friendship between the states but the idea of ever-closer union has become a noose around the neck of national territories. They are getting a dose of that and they have not learned. After the banking collapse, they came in here, lectured us and told us what we had to do - they put us into straitjackets and kept us in those straitjackets. Why? It is because the then Taoiseach, Mr. Kenny, and the then Minister, Mr. Noonan, were ready to get into the straitjackets as if they were life-jackets, when they were anything but. They were straitjackets and we are still in them. With their fiscal rules and fiscal policy, we could only have a skift of snow to give out to everyone, and it went with the first ray of sunshine. We need some autonomy here, as do other countries, and we must be respected for that.

As I said, we want co-operation and friendship between the states but the very idea of ever-closer union has become a noose around our neck and the necks of other countries. Can they not wake up and smell the coffee? This is what is happening. I note also that President Tusk gave a very mean-spirited and self-pitying account of all the amazing efforts he had put in to keep the UK within the European Union. If he had listened to the reasons and had less regulation, less intrusion and fewer penalties and threats, it would have been different. A carrot and stick is one thing but threats and bullying is another thing.

Unfortunately, President Tusk said, “this was not enough for the Brits.” That is his wooing and his courtship. He must not have had much experience of courtship, like some of my colleagues might have had in the hills and glens and valleys. It is this kind of posturing that makes people extremely frustrated with our dear leaders in Europe. I say that tongue in cheek. They are not my dear leaders anyway, given the penury they forced us into. It is as if the ability of a sovereign people to determine its own fate is something that must be gifted to them. We are entitled to it and it is no gift of Mr. Tusk or any of his predecessors. We are entitled to our sovereignty. We fought hard for it, in particular the people of 1916, 1921, 1922 and 1923, my late father included. If they choose to seek another model of engagement with Europe, they are considered reckless, frivolous and not interested in courtship, like being refused a dance for the third time. The Minister of State might understand what I am talking about, although I do not mean that in any disrespectful way. We would all want to dance with the Minister of State, although she might not want to dance with us. The tunes might not be right or our moves might not be the best.

This is patronising stuff of the highest order. I fear that if Mr. Tusk continues down this line, he will make it more difficult to achieve the beloved unity that he never tires of telling us he is obsessed with.

I am sharing time, by agreement.

I welcome the outcome of the European Council last week which discussed many of the key issues for the EU at the moment, such as migration, defence, external relations and, of most interest to us, Brexit. The special European Council on the Article 50 negotiations showed the continued focus of the EU 27 in achieving the three key outcomes on financing, on our own Border situation and on citizens’ rights. These are three core issues and it is a pity that more progress has not been made yet. Achieving agreement here is vital before we can progress to talking about the future of the EU-UK relationship.

At the same time, we need to be ready and prepared for that next stage, so I also welcome the beginning of the internal preparations for those talks in the second phase by the EU 27. If these first phase negotiations have shown us anything so far, it is that preparation is fundamental.

Alongside the Brexit negotiations, we must continue the work of the European Union in other areas. It is encouraging that the approach to the migration crisis is finally yielding results and delivering a lasting solution. This must remain a priority. It is one of the trickiest public policy challenges and the risks are high for the lives of the many people who get into boats on the Mediterranean. At the same time, countries around the Mediterranean are working hard to deal with the numbers arriving.

While I cautiously welcome the ongoing work on the permanent structured co-operation on defence, we must take care. Ireland has a particular position on defence and we must be clear on what our role should be in that context.

I wish to discuss the digital Single Market. In order to be central to Europe's future, Ireland must lead. We have particular strengths in this regard. This week, I had the pleasure of meeting the Swedish ambassador and we discussed the benefits of digitalisation and the opportunities it presents. This is key to keeping Europe ahead of the curve and capable of competing with the rest of the world.

In continuing the pursuit of this agenda, I particularly commend the Irish involvement in the "Digital 9" group of member states. It is clear that the completion of the digital Single Market and the development of what many may call the fifth freedom, that being, the free movement of data, are integral to the building of this future.

Overall, this seemed to be a workmanlike European Council that progressed the issues but made no major breakthroughs. I would like to see much more progress by the European Council in December.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, continued good work. She is performing well. She is also workmanlike with our committee, which I appreciate.

The IFA, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and all other farming bodies are concerned about our €2.5 billion beef deal with England. That is how much we depend on the British market. If we were to lose that, it would be disastrous for the whole of the country, especially the western counties, of which County Kerry is one. Cow numbers will collapse. The bodies are asking that, before Britain exits the EU, Ireland be allowed to continue supplying beef to Britain. If we are not and there is a hard Brexit and large tariffs, it will be disastrous for the entire farming community.

We watched and listened to Prime Minister May saying that progress had been made. We wondered what that progress was. I certainly did anyway on behalf of everyone whom we represent, especially the farming community, which is under significant pressure. Prices are dropping as we speak.

Not for many years have farmers faced a winter like this one. They have been feeding cows and other animals for the past two months. That will make for a long winter before the animals can be put out to grass again in the middle of April or early May. That is more than six months, so we must be aware that there will be a shortage of fodder. On top of this, people are concerned about whether we will retain our British market. The farming organisations are asking that the market be assured before the UK exits the EU.

I am sorry for going over time by a bit, but my colleagues took some of mine.

Sure, you took up the whole time the other day.

It is unusual for Deputy Danny Healy-Rae to exceed his time.

While a specific reference to Ireland in the conclusions of the 20 October European Council meeting is welcome, it is with growing alarm that we note a complete absence of detail regarding what the new EU external frontier will look like post Brexit. I do not know how many more times we will have to stand in the Chamber and welcome vague assertions that a hard border will be avoided. Detail and a plan are needed. Unfortunately, these seem to have been absent thus far, especially from the UK.

In her post-European Council speech in Westminster, Prime Minister May stated that significant progress had been made on Northern Ireland. She again committed to having no physical infrastructure on the Border. There is nothing new in this assertion, yet we still have no detail of how it is to work. Visualising how it could work is extremely difficult.

It has been more than six months since Article 50 was triggered and the withdrawal process began, yet the EU is still requesting that the UK "present and commit to flexible and imaginative solutions called for by the unique situation of Ireland". That this assertion on such a basic and fundamental aspect of the Brexit process still needs to be made six months after the UK began the withdrawal process is alarming.

The unpublished internal Revenue Commissioners report that came to the media earlier this month paints a stark picture. I recognise the fact that the report dates from September of last year, but we must heed the warnings contained therein, given that not much has changed since then. Despite what is being said publicly, there is a view in Revenue that the idea of a frictionless border for trade is unworkable and naive. These are Revenue's words, not mine.

Along with additional infrastructure such as storage facilities for goods at Border crossings, greatly expanded ICT capabilities and increased staffing at ports and airports, it is estimated that an external frontier would mean an 800% increase in the volume of customs declarations by companies trading with the UK. This would mean a significantly increased volume and complexity of paperwork for firms, many delays, additional costs and an inevitable knock-on effect on the wider economy, North and South. In 2015, goods worth almost €18 billion were imported from the UK and goods worth €15.5 billion were exported by Ireland to the UK. Revenue has stated that the administrative and fiscal burden on the companies involved cannot be underestimated. Any restriction on this flow of trade would have severe negative consequences for the entire island of Ireland. The impact of this could be catastrophic on particular elements of Ireland's trade. We are not being realistic about the potential damage that can be done.

While we all hope for the best, we need to do much more. We must prepare for the worst. This means having clear contingency plans in place. While I agree with the Taoiseach that it is not up to Ireland to design solutions for the UK, we must be prudent, which means being prepared for all eventualities. We do not share the belief of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, that preparing for the prospect of a hard border is a self-fulfilling prophecy. His suggestion is short-sighted and dangerous. It is critical that we have good contingency plans in place in the event of the UK exiting without a deal. This does not mean putting in place the investments that are referenced in the Revenue report, but it does mean having in place contingency plans for such facilities.

Michel Barnier was not overly optimistic about the potential to avoid a hard border when he spoke to us in the Chamber earlier this year. Whether one accepts that there is potential to address the movement of people, he was bordering on the pessimistic in respect of the movement of goods. Of course, we share the hope that these issues can be resolved as part of a trade deal that may come after the Brexit negotiations have concluded but the pace of negotiations thus far and the ongoing wrangling over the divorce bill do not inspire confidence that a full agreement will be in place before 2019.

I welcome the progress on work to secure the common travel area. The flow of our people across the two islands must be allowed to continue uninhibited. The Government and the EU seem to have secured that, which is welcome. The question then returns to the free movement of people between the UK and Ireland and between Ireland and the EU. This stumbling block is one to which we seem to return again and again. Will Ireland be forced to act as a clearing house for fellow EU nationals entering the country to ensure that they do not attempt to travel to Northern Ireland or onwards to the mainland UK? What are the full implications of that? Will Ireland be centrally involved in the design of any such arrangements or will they be handed down to us by the EU? Will there be compensation for the considerable expenditure involved for Ireland where we have to man a border to monitor the movement of people within the EU or on entry to Northern Ireland and the UK? There are many unanswered questions on Brexit and there is a great deal of concern at a level of complacency on the part of Government. That needs to stop and we need to start to get real about this. The potential is undoubtedly extremely serious for this country, which is why it is important to develop confidence among people and the business community that, in the event of things not working out to Ireland's satisfaction, there are clear contingency plans in place which can be mobilised. There is a strong sense that we are not very well prepared at this stage and that we are engaging in wishful thinking.

In its conclusions on the meeting of 19 October, the Council welcomed the significant progress being made by member states to establish closer security and defence co-operation through permanent structured co-operation, or PESCO. It noted that this programme could be launched by the end of 2017. The Taoiseach has stated that he is open to Ireland participating in this new security arrangement. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister of State to clarify which aspects of PESCO they are open to participating in. It is important that we hear it. Our current remit within the common security and defence policy, CSDP, is limited to humanitarian missions, crisis response and peacekeeping. As it stands, PESCO alludes to closer co-operation with NATO and makes overtures on a defence industry Single Market. I urge the Taoiseach to stress Irish non-alignment in the context of the development of PESCO, thereby ensuring that our participation is limited to our current involvement with the CSDP.

That concludes contributions. As per the Order of Business, there are now 20 minutes for questions and answers. We will start with Deputy Haughey. I ask Members to bear in mind that the Minister of State will have five minutes at the end.

The Taoiseach met President Macron of France yesterday and it is reported that he agreed with the latter's proposal for democratic conventions on the future of Europe. I am not quite sure what that means, but the Taoiseach informed the House this afternoon that as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee would be making an announcement on how we can engage with citizens, civic society and businesses in this country to plan for the future of Europe. What is the Minister of State's thinking in that regard? As she knows, the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, of which I am a member, is engaging with stakeholders and will produce its own report. It is very important to engage with the citizens of this country and such engagement should be much more than a box-ticking exercise to say we have done it. We must engage them. I ask what the Minister of State's proposals are in that regard.

The French President also outlined that he wants a change in the way multinational tech companies are taxed. He wants their tax liability to be based on the place sales happen and not where they are registered. He also wants corporate tax harmonisation and a common tax base. Are we taking these proposals seriously? They challenge Ireland's long-standing corporate tax model and our industrial policy generally. Was there much discussion about this at the Council meeting, which the Minister of State also attended, and are we building alliances on this key issue for Ireland? As we plan the future for Europe, we must be conscious of the moves in that direction as regards corporate tax policy.

Last week, I asked the Minister of State and the Taoiseach about the human rights situation in Turkey. Both indicated that they would look at the matter, specifically the first hearing in the case of ten human rights defenders from Amnesty International, the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly and other entirely peaceful NGOs and civil society actors. These people have been arrested and charged on absurd grounds by the Turkish Government. The hearing is taking place today and there were hopes that there would be observers from the Irish consulate. The request was made by some of the human rights organisations and I passed it on in the House last week. Has the Government acceded to that request and what is it doing to ensure that human rights organisations are not the victims of the Erdogan Government's horrendous purge of all opposition, dissent and criticism from anybody it does not like?

Beyond that particular case, what are the Government and the European Council saying about what is going on in Turkey, which is beyond belief? There are 50,000 people in prison and 150,000 under investigation, including teachers, journalists, civil servants, trade unionists and MPs. People have been interned without trial. It is the kind of thing one would expect to see in a horror movie. The Turkish Government seems to be able to act with impunity and one has to ask whether the EU-Turkey deal, which allowed the European government to outsource the issue of Syrian migrants fleeing the disaster in their country, is causing us to be quiet about what Turkey is doing internally by trampling on human rights.

Have the Minister of State or the Taoiseach had discussions with our European counterparts on the damning ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights on the inadequate standard of local authority housing for thousands and thousands of local authority tenants who are living in chronic conditions in damp and substandard accommodation and what are we going to do about it?

I also met some members of the group highlighting the trial of the ten accused in Turkey. Another person has been put on trial in the meantime. That is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the clampdown on civil society and the effect on the education system in Turkey, particularly when one considers that a huge number of teachers have lost their jobs and many are in jail. Has there been progress in addressing that issue?

I thank the Minister of State for the breakdown she sent me in reply to a question I asked last week about funding going to Libya. As I said then, there are large sums going into the European Development Fund, the development co-operation budget, the trust funds, etc., but where exactly is it going thereafter? This issue has arisen in other places.

The next meeting will be on culture and education. Has the Minister of State an indication of what will be the parameters of that meeting and what might be included?

I will make my contribution and then deal with the questions. I accompanied the Taoiseach to Brussels last week for the October European Council meeting. As he indicated, I will focus my remarks on the external relations items that were discussed on Thursday evening last. These included a wide-ranging discussion on EU relations with Turkey. Turkey retains candidate status and, although we cannot ignore the ongoing restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression, a policy of constructive dialogue - keeping all available lines of communication open – remains in the best interests of the EU and the people of Turkey. We will continue to urge Turkey to fulfil its obligations as a candidate country and hope that policies which undermine democracy, human rights, the rights of minorities, including the Kurdish minority, freedom of expression, including media freedom, and the rule of law will become things of the past.

Turkish accession is not an immediate prospect in the current climate, but the EU will continue to extend the hand of friendship to all Turkish citizens. The long-term welfare of all these citizens lies at the heart of EU relations with Turkey and this critical engagement is particularly important now. We must be candid with our Turkish friends. We will continue to encourage them to return to European values and to ensure that basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected. It is important to note that, thanks in large part to the efforts of Turkey, there has been a significant reduction in the number of migrants losing their lives in the Aegean Sea. Turkey remains a front-line state in the migration crisis and is host to approximately 3 million Syrian refugees. The EU will continue to assist in this formidable task.

The European Council also discussed Iran in light of President Trump's decision not to certify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA. France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European External Action Service, EEAS, all gave their strong support to the JCPOA, and confirmed that it continues to function. This is a key element of the nuclear non-proliferation global architecture and is crucial for the security of the region. The 28 member states have reaffirmed their commitment to all parts of the JCPOA and to its continued full implementation.

There was also a brief discussion on the situation in North Korea with partners expressing concern at the alarming rate at which North Korea has progressed its nuclear and missile programmes. Ireland, together with its partners, believes that the EU policy of critical engagement with the Government of North Korea remains the best approach. We will continue to combine pressure with sanctions and other measures, while keeping communication and dialogue channels open in the hope that the situation will cease to escalate. The EU is united on its position. North Korea must comply fully with international obligations, abandon its programme of nuclear weapons development and engage in meaningful dialogue with other stakeholders to bring about stability and peace to the region.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised the Turkey issue with me last week and she should have received a reply because we looked into that. There is no official currently at the trials. My understanding is that an attempt had been made in a similar circumstance previously, although it was not an Irish national who was on trial, and that was not allowed. However, we have officials monitoring the trials closely. Any attack on a member of Amnesty International or somebody of that stature is something we need to keep a close an eye on and we will follow this. We said at the previous Council meeting that pre-accession funding to Turkey must be reassessed in respect of where it is going. We have suggested that it could be sent-----

Is Turkey not allowing observers from the Irish consulate into the trial?

No. It is my understanding in a previous scenario similar to this there was not an ability for an Irish official to attend. A similar circumstance arises now. However, officials are monitoring the situation and will continue to look at it closely.

The Deputy asked what we are saying about Turkey. We have been asking that pre-accession funding to Turkey be reassessed and that it be sent to civil society organisations but no decision has been taken on that.

With regard to taxation and the digital economy, the Taoiseach made it clear that it is very much our view that work is under way by the OECD, which is taking a global approach to this issue. Our position is clear - obviously France has a different position - which is that this issue should be examined solely through the EU. While a Commission report is due to come out in the new year, we have been clear that wording particularly focused on the OECD report and the global approach should be clearly stated in the Council remarks following last week's meeting.

With regard to democratic conventions and the future of Europe, we agree there should be a unified position on this and that we should work together moving forward. However, at the same time, there have been a number of different proposals around how this should work. Last week, there was a conclusion based on a proposal by the Council President, Mr. Donald Tusk, that the Council would take back membership of the future of Europe debate and that it would happen on a phased basis over two years with a number of position papers and the process developing over time. We very much feel that citizens have different issues and they need to be dealt with differently. On 15 November, we will officially launch the future of Europe civic dialogue in Ireland. We plan on holding a number of regional debates with citizens. We plan on engaging with our educational bodies through our universities, colleges, primary and secondary schools. We will have focused stakeholder engagements and we will be supported through agencies such as European Movement Ireland and the Institute of International and European Affairs, IIEA. There will be further work and progress on that specifically with Oireachtas Members.

A number of questions were asked about PESCO. The issue was raised with President Macron yesterday but not specifically in the context of his proposals. There are ongoing discussions about the specific wording and that will be finalised in the November meeting of the FAC before being brought forward to the European Council. We would like a scenario where all member states are involved but we are clear that there cannot be any impact on our neutrality and there cannot be anything that would contradict the treaties to which we have signed up. Anything that is proposed will have to come back to the Chamber.

I was asked whether the Catalonian issue was raised with the Spanish Prime Minister. My understanding is that the Taoiseach did not get to speak to him directly but he spoke to officials and representatives. We reiterated our support for the territorial integrity of Spain and our respect for the rule of law.

With regard to the agreement and the social pillar, it will be signed at the social summit. Obviously, this is not a legally binding document and the reason for the delay is that we wanted to be sure of what it was we were signing up to but that will go ahead.

On the question of whether sufficient progress was made on the Irish issues in the Brexit talks and specifically on the Border question, a commitment has been given by the UK Government that there will not be any physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland. We also know, however, that they are claiming they will leave the customs union and the Single Market and, therefore, we need a roadmap as to how that will work because our preferred route is that the UK would stay within the Single Market and the customs union to ensure that we do not need physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland.

Our focus will continue to be on tackling the root causes of migration and continuing our naval efforts to ensure those responsible for people smuggling are stopped. Our inclusion in Operation Sophia and our naval efforts overall have saved the lives of more than 40,000 people. When it comes to the trust fund on migration, the annual report on the fund's implementation last year showed progress in addressing root causes, which are destabilisation, forced displacement, and irregular migration by promoting equal opportunity, security and development. More recently, we have given a commitment to double our allocation to the emergency trust fund for Africa. Decisions on where this money will go have not been finalised and we are saying that we need to focus any response to the crisis where we use money of this kind on the long-term drivers and what will best address the root causes. Perhaps we could follow up on the Deputy's suggestion that this would be laid out in detail and made clear to and available for individuals.

With regard to the British beef market, we are talking about trade, which is extremely important. When we talk about our key objectives in terms of citizens' rights, the Good Friday Agreement, protecting the common travel area and lack of infrastructure, protecting our trade between Ireland and the UK is also a key priority. Any future arrangements and agreements will be dealt with in phase 2 and the agricultural sector will come under that.

It is also reported that a process for reallocating the two EU agencies was agreed at the summit. I refer to the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority. According to press reports, there was extensive lobbying at the summit en marge, and the Taoiseach was involved. I understand that a decision will be taken on the relocation of these agencies next month at the General Affairs Council and that it might involve a vote. Can the Minister of State assure us that Ireland's case with regard to these agencies is being put forcefully? Will the Minister of State report on our lobbying as regards those two agencies?

At the Tallinn digital summit last month, the need to complete the digital Single Market within a year was agreed. It was also agreed that the EU should be the global leader of the digital economy. This means having the EU Single Market freedoms go digital. This is in the interest of businesses and citizens and it is important for us to meet the challenge. As the Taoiseach said earlier in the House, it is challenging but it is essential for our economic growth and to putting Europe to the forefront of the global economy. Will the Minister of State assure us that Ireland is to the forefront in meeting the challenge? Given our unique circumstances and with so many corporations involved in the area here, it would benefit Ireland and I hope that all 27 of us can meet the challenge.

I assure the Deputy that we are putting our best foot forward in both bids, namely, the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency. We feel that we have two credible bids. We are realistic, however, and we will most likely not get both although we feel that we have the ability, infrastructure, proximity and the capability to house both of them. At the moment, we are working and engaging with other member states and looking to see what is our best possible outcome. We will continue to work on those two credible bids until the vote in November.

On Tallinn and the digital summit, the Estonian Presidency has put forward an ambitious target and deadline with regard to the digital Single Market. We consider it important that there is an ambitious target and that we try to stick to it. The Commission has put forward a number of papers on cybersecurity. We also know that the free flow of data is important. We support all the work that is being done and will do what we can to ensure that it moves along as quickly as possible. Any barrier to doing business online is a barrier to development, growth and jobs. We see that clearly.

I want a bit of clarity on the Turkey issue. The Minister of State said there were other similar cases where we were not able to send observers to court hearings. I find that response slightly disturbing. This country, which is a candidate member of the European Union, is engaged in a purge of Stalinist proportions against all of its opponents, civil society, trade unionists, journalists, MPs, Kurds, leftists - you name it - and other Islamic factions. What is going on is horrendous but the Minister of State is telling us that we cannot even send along our diplomats to observe court hearings to see if fair procedures are being followed. I find it quite disturbing that, in terms of absurd trumped-up charges being levied against leading representatives of Amnesty International, we cannot even attend the court.

I know the Minister of State had a long list of questions to answer. However, I did not catch it if she responded to the question on the European Committee of Social Rights and its ruling on the damp conditions and inadequate standards in local authority housing. What does the Minister of State know about it and what will we do about it?

With regard to the last question, as far as I am aware the issue was not raised at last week's meetings. I can come back to the Deputy on the issue though.

On the current trial, as I clearly stated, we do not agree with a lot of what is happening in Turkey. We believe that we need to keep the lines of communication open. With regard to the trial, it was brought to my attention that there was a similar scenario previously. I can get more detail for the Deputy on it.

If the Minister of State could-----

However, in this particular case we do not have officials there but we are keeping a close eye on it. We are keen to see the outcome because this impacts not just on those in Turkey but those outside it also.