1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the status of the implementation of measures in the programme for Government. [48128/17]
Vol. 961 No. 7
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the status of the implementation of measures in the programme for Government. [48128/17]
2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the next progress report of A Programme for a Partnership Government will be published. [47837/17]
3. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the progress in regards to the implementation of the programme for Government. [48980/17]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the progress report on A Programme for a Partnership Government. [49113/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
The programme for Government annual report published on 10 May provides a comprehensive update on more than 300 commitments progressed across all of Government in its first year and highlights the specific plans put in place to tackle in the short and longer terms areas such as housing, homelessness, education, rural and regional development, job creation, broadband, agriculture and climate change. The report also highlights the ambition and steps to improve services for families, children, people with disabilities and mental health problems and older people, and reforms necessary in the health and justice sectors. It also reflects the significant work undertaken to ensure an effective whole-of-Government approach to the Brexit negotiations and takes full account of the Government's negotiating priorities.
Work is under way on a further interim progress report to reflect work advanced by the Government since May. The report, which is expected to be finalised in the coming weeks, will include an update on measures progressed by Government Departments, including actions to ameliorate housing and homelessness problems, such as the €750 million financing entity Home Building Finance Ireland, the new stamp duty refund scheme, projects approved under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, the national roll-out of the HAP place finder service and measures to progress delivery of vacant houses; actions to support rural development, including a €60 million regional enterprise development fund, €21.6 million allocated in the 2017 town and village renewal scheme and €10 million approved for Leader projects; actions to support businesses and jobs, including a €300 million Brexit loan scheme, which has been announced, €3.4 million in Brexit supports made available to SMEs, the reduction in USC rates and an additional €6.6 billion in capital funding allocated in budget 2018; and actions to support families and services, including a €5 increase in all weekly benefits, increasing the minimum wage for the fourth time, 1,800 additional front-line posts for the health sector, the new national cancer strategy, which runs from 2017 to 2026, an increase in maternity leave in the case of premature births and 2,300 extra posts for schools.
The Government will continue this work over its lifetime to protect and grow the economy, invest in and care for its people and plan for Ireland's future.
I recall from the programme for Government and interviews that the Taoiseach gave at the time that he indicated his appreciation of the importance of the arts and culture in Ireland and his hope to more or less double funding to that area over time, which all of us would support. Is he aware of a serious concern among professional musicians, particularly those working in the orchestras under the aegis of RTÉ, that there will be a severe reduction in the number of its orchestras, which currently stand at two? Given the size of Ireland's population, we have little in the way of professional orchestras. The idea that, under an RTÉ review, one of them would be closed down and many musicians would be deprived of employment is worrying.
The Taoiseach tries to have sweet music around him. On days like this, that is sometimes difficult.
The issue concerning the orchestras is very important to the future of culture in Ireland. Many musicians have been obliged to leave Ireland to get employment because there is so little orchestral employment here. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht told me she is not aware that RTÉ is carrying out a review of orchestras as part of an overall review of operations. She was not aware that submissions have been sought in regard to this matter. I ask the Taoiseach to express his concern and solidarity with the musicians in the orchestra, as well as all of the music students nationwide who are for working for music degrees and who will have little prospect of employment in their own country if the policy of closing down orchestras proceeds on his watch.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach as ucht an freagra sin a thabhairt dom. Tá súil agam go léireoidh an chéad tuairisc eile ar an dul chun cinn maidir le clár an Rialtais go bhfuil dul chun cinn suntasach á dhéanamh i dtaobh na mórcheisteanna atá ag cur isteach ar shaoránaigh ar fud an Stáit. Caithfidh mé a rá nach raibh mórán dul chun cinn le feiceáil sa tuairisc dheireanach, a bhí iontach éadrom.
Despite so-called new politics, the Government has failed to take decisive action on the big issues affecting citizens. In areas of significant challenge, such as housing, homelessness, the rent crisis, health and other areas, the Government is clearly failing. There has been little progress on areas for which the Taoiseach's Department has direct responsibility. The commitment in the programme for Government to fulfil the Government's mandate as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as honouring the commitments of subsequent agreements, has not been fulfilled.
The Taoiseach will be aware that a Sinn Féin delegation met the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, today. We told her that her Government must bear the greater responsibility for the failure to reach agreement on the restoration of the institutions, but the Irish Government also has a role to play. We told her there is no public confidence in talks which will be more of the same; they need to be meaningful. We told her that the provision of the Irish language Act, marriage equality, a bill of rights and funding for legacy issues are all British Government obligations and commitments. Progress is only possible if the British Government honours these commitments.
The job of the Irish Government is to ensure that it honours those commitments. We told the British Prime Minister that direct rule is not an option and that she must look at the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular the establishment of an intergovernmental conference involving the Irish and British Governments. I ask the Taoiseach to also press this with the British Prime Minister. There is an urgent need for the two Governments to act to deliver equality. As the Taoiseach is aware, that is a joint responsibility under the Good Friday Agreement and it needs to happen without delay. Will the Taoiseach press his British counterpart to establish an intergovernmental conference, as is the next logical step under the Good Friday Agreement?
The programme for Government states "Our approach to governing will be clearly seen in how we address the issues of housing and homelessness." Given that was stated as a priority and a key indicator of what the Government is like, what are we to make the series of statements coming from the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy English, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, Conor Skehan of the Housing Agency and Eileen Gleeson of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive? Quite frankly, they were scandalous and insulting statements which have tried to normalise, minimise or downplay the scale of the housing and homelessness emergency, or even worse, in the case of Eileen Gleeson, blame the homeless themselves. Her shocking comments referred to homelessness being a result of "years of bad behaviour" and chaotic lifestyle". The Minister of State, Deputy English, suggested that those who talk too much about housing and homelessness are doing damage to our reputation.
In so far as the Government has power over these agencies, is it going to repudiate these kind of comments? It should denounce them for what they are, namely, shameful attempts to cover up, downplay or normalise the housing crisis. Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that as the housing analyst Mel Reynolds has suggested, the real problem is the refusal of the Government to build council housing on the thousands of hectares of publicly owned land? There is an aversion to building council houses. The Government is playing with figures to try to suggest more houses are being built than is actually the case. The evidence shows that what is actually happening is the Government is refusing to use public land to build council housing.
I am going to be very strict on time because there are three important blocks of questions. There are 15 minutes. We have five minutes left.
I generally agree with what is said about the programme for Government in respect of housing, in terms of the language contained therein compared with the actual implementation. The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, has not worked. I understand only seven houses benefitted from the repair and relief initiative. A series of initiatives over the past two years have had very little impact. There is no sense that there is any urgency or conviction in respect of the scale of the issue.
It seems to me that recent statements from the Taoiseach, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the Minister of State, Deputy English, and from the Housing Agency and regional housing executive personnel are all designed to try to put the housing crisis in Ireland in some context. We are being told that things are not that bad compared with other countries and so on.
Yet all of us in the House are inundated with people coming into our clinics or contacting us who are in dire situations on foot of having no place to go with their children. Some are living in very overcrowded conditions with their parents and siblings in, for example, a boxroom in a small house. Many are on the homeless pathway and others are facing that route. It is very difficult to match the rhetoric and language we have heard with their everyday life experience. To be frank, the language which has come from officialdom of late has been insulting to them.
I put it to the Taoiseach that there has been a sense from officialdom for quite some time that the market will take care of this and that we do not need to build local authority houses to any great extent. That view has been there for the past three or four years. I met Department officials at the time of the formation of the Government when I was talking with Independents and that very much seemed to be what was coming from the officials. It seems to me that the entire approach has failed abysmally. I could go on to health and other issues, but my time is up. On the issue of homelessness alone, it is important not to insult people who are in desperate situations in terms of their personal circumstances and housing.
The questions were very broad, but I ask the Taoiseach to try to compact them into about four minutes. I know it is impossible.
I will do my best. On the first set of questions on the arts from Deputy Burton, she is absolutely correct to mention my commitment to increasing arts funding. I did not say this would happen over a period of time. I was very specific and said we would double funding for the arts over a period of seven years. That, of course, refers to the arts in total and not just to the Arts Council. There has been an increase in the arts and culture budget Vote for 2018 and 2017. It is not as much as I would have liked but, as the Deputy knows, the famous fiscal space was much narrower this year than it was last year and will be next year. The commitment to double total funding over seven years stands.
I am not aware of the detail in regard to the orchestras. I would share the Deputy's concern about any diminution of the RTÉ orchestra or any other orchestras in the State. I will certainly discuss that with-----
There are two.
The other one is-----
The concert and symphony.
There are two RTÉ orchestras and it might want to abolish one.
I will raise the issue with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.
On Deputy Pearse Doherty's question, we all have a role to play in making sure the Good Friday Agreement works. I am disappointed when I hear Sinn Féin spokespersons, as has been the case for weeks, setting the scene for the blame game.
That is very disappointing and I call on Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, to come to an agreement to form a coalition government and do the right thing by the people of Northern Ireland.
On the Deputy's specific question, at my meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Gothenburg on Friday we discussed the Good Friday Agreement. As I have done at previous meetings, I said to Prime Minister May that the Irish Government could not accept a return to direct rule as it existed prior to the Good Friday Agreement and that if Sinn Féin and the DUP failed to form an administration, the Government I lead would expect the Good Friday Agreement to be implemented without them. That means convening the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference, as if nothing is devolved then everything is devolved to that conference. I indicated to her I would seek a meeting in the new year of the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference so British and Irish Ministers could meet to plot a way forward for Northern Ireland in the absence of the elected representatives in Northern Ireland being able to form an administration.
With regard to housing and homelessness, I do not wish to speak for other people but statistics are important. It is how we know whether things are getting better or policies are working. International comparisons are important also, notwithstanding the health warning that comes with them. It is how we know what examples to follow or not. Perhaps sometimes when we speak about statistics, numbers and policy, it can come across as being somewhat unfeeling. I want everyone in the House to be assured that the Government feels very deeply about the homelessness crisis we are facing and that it is worsening. It feels very deeply about the need for us to return to a status quo in which people can aspire to home ownership again, with homes being affordable and available for young people seeking to purchase them. That is our objective.
With regard to social housing more generally, we anticipate 2,000 houses will be built this year. They are social homes, publicly built homes, council homes or council apartments, whatever people wish to call them. That is up from only a few hundred last year, meaning the number has more than doubled. The aim next year is 7,000, with 3,800 direct-build and approximately the same number through other mechanisms. Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke about playing with figures but much of that is going around on all sides. I was in Clongriffin just yesterday at an Iveagh Trust project. Many Members know the Iveagh Trust, which has been providing social housing for people for over a century. It is associated with the Guinness family. It has 84 apartments and duplexes under construction and they will be occupied by 84 people and their families this time next year. When our opponents criticise our record on housing, they do not count such homes; to them, these 84 homes do not exist and the people who will be in them do not exist.
That is untrue.
It is not true.
That is not true but the Government is not building on its land.
I will tell the Deputies why it is true. It is because of the mechanism by which those 84 real social homes are being provided. That is a partnership between the Government and the Iveagh Trust, using a long-term lease agreement. It is not a direct build by a local authority.
We all know that.
It will provide 84 real social homes for people.
Who has said it does not?
That does not get the Government off the hook for not building council houses.
We will move on.
The Taoiseach has gone over by four minutes already.
I have seen so many times the opponents of what the Government is trying to do with social housing only counting direct build.
We recognise them for what they are.
They discount everything else that is done. That is not honest.
We mentioned social housing.
Only two weeks ago I opened a site at Hansfield in my constituency, where there are 1,000 new homes being built, approximately 100 of which are social housing. They are being acquired by direct purchase by the council from the developer.
We all know that.
Again, we see figures produced of Fingal only having ten or 40 houses, and it does not include such houses. It is a good idea to have integrated communities.
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings in the west coast of the USA; the companies he visited; and the issues that were discussed. [47081/17]
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if Ireland's corporation tax rate or the possible reduction in USA corporation tax rate and the proposal that the European Union will introduce digital taxation were discussed at his meetings in the USA. [47082/17]
7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the west coast of the United States of America. [47610/17]
8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting the chief executive officer of a company (details supplied). [47611/17]
9. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings in Silicon Valley. [47612/17]
10. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the United States of America; and his meetings with personnel from companies. [47836/17]
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States of America; and the details of the meetings and engagements he attended. [47838/17]
12. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States of America and in particular his meetings with representatives of a company (details supplied). [47860/17]
13. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his invitation to President Donald Trump to visit here. [47861/17]
14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his invitation to President Donald Trump to visit here. [49114/17]
15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if Ireland's corporation tax rate or the possible reduction in the USA corporation tax rate and the proposal that the European Union will introduce digital taxation were discussed at his meetings in the United States of America. [49115/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 15, inclusive, together.
I had a three day visit to Seattle, Silicon Valley and San Francisco from Wednesday, 1 November, to Friday, 3 November. The primary focus of the visit was growing trade, investment and tourism opportunities between Ireland and the US and highlighting Ireland’s priorities in the context of Brexit and other international developments.
In Seattle, I spoke at an event attended by approximately 250 people from Seattle's business community, as well as local Irish community representatives. I used the opportunity to emphasise Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for US investment and highlight our firm and ongoing commitment to our European Union, EU, membership. I also met representatives of Amazon and Microsoft, who between them employ over 5,000 people in Ireland. Our discussions focused on Ireland’s leadership in driving the digital agenda and the companies’ continued commitment to Ireland as a location for their global operations and European, Middle East and Africa, EMEA, headquarters.
I then travelled to Silicon Valley and the Bay area for a series of business engagements with existing and potential investors in Ireland. I visited the headquarters of a number of companies with significant investments and operations in Ireland, including Cisco, Facebook, Google and Apple. At each of these meetings, senior executives outlined their very positive experiences in Ireland, including the strong capabilities of their Irish-based workforces, and the positive outlook for their operations here. I was particularly pleased that Facebook announced its intention to create hundreds of additional jobs in its Irish operations next year. At my meeting at Apple, its chief executive officer, Mr. Tim Cook, highlighted the company’s very positive and long-standing experience of their Irish-based operations, particularly in Cork. The company briefed me on its data centre needs, including in particular its current data centre development in Denmark, and it confirmed that it will consider the Athenry site in the context of future business requirements. I advised the company of the Irish Government's approach, including the recent decision to designate data centres as strategic infrastructure for planning purposes. This morning the Cabinet gave the relevant Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the authority to prepare an amendment for Report Stage of the current planning Bill to do exactly that. We also had a brief discussion regarding the European Commission’s state aid case and on regional and global economic challenges.
In San Francisco, I spoke at a reception in City Hall hosted by the city's mayor, Mr. Ed Lee, and attended by approximately 300 Irish-American business and community leaders. I was also awarded the key to the city. I spoke about Ireland's economic and social transformation, Ireland-US relations and the strong and vibrant Irish community in San Francisco and the Bay area. I also had the opportunity to meet with the family of Ashley Donoghue, one of the people tragically killed in Berkeley in 2015. Also in San Francisco, I spoke at an Enterprise Ireland business networking event attended by 250 people, using the opportunity to promote the strength of Ireland’s innovation ecosystem and highlight the depth of our highly skilled workforce. I also met representatives of a number of Enterprise Ireland clients exhibiting at the event.
I officially opened the new San Francisco office of Irish company Linesight, which is projecting job increases of 200 worldwide in 2018, including approximately 90 jobs in Ireland. I attended the announcement by IDA client company, Twilio, that it has chosen Dublin as the location for its EMEA headquarters, with the establishment of 100 jobs. I attended a Tourism Ireland event with representatives of the travel industry and airlines, where I had the opportunity to promote Ireland’s tourism offering. I was very pleased to hear word at that meeting of the Aer Lingus plan to begin direct flights to Seattle, which has now been announced. Finally, I had the opportunity to meet senior executives from Lucasfilm and hear their positive experience of Ireland as a location for the Star Wars series.
I did not have detailed discussions during the visit on US tax reform proposals, which are entirely a matter for the United States, or on EU digital tax proposals, where our position is clear and consistent that, reflecting the international nature of the digital economy, this topic must be pursued on a global basis through the work of the OECD. No arrangements have been made regarding a visit for President Trump but I look forward to meeting him during the annual St. Patrick's Day functions in Washington, DC, next March. Overall, my visit to the west coast was very positive and a great opportunity to develop the strong links between Ireland and the United States, as well as promote Ireland's priorities in the context of Brexit and other global developments.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. It is fair to say companies headquartered in the United States employ tens of thousands of Irish people directly and indirectly. They are major contributors to our economy and wider society. That is why it is important that for decades, taoisigh and Ministers have made it a policy to visit regularly and maintain contact with these companies at the highest level.
The Taoiseach visited many companies which have been in Ireland for quite a long time on his trip to the west coast, including Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, among others. The consistent policy Ireland has had over recent decades is an important one and speaks to an industrial policy which, over four decades ago, was about making Ireland an open country which exported but also attracted foreign direct investment which acted as a catalyst to promote Irish-owned companies. I do not believe we should lose sight of that amid the commentary on tax issues.
I am somewhat taken aback that the Taoiseach did not have any detailed tax discussions with any of the company representatives he met and that there was only the briefest discussion with Apple representatives on tax matters generally. I am not talking about specific tax issues with each company but rather the European Union tax policy, which will affect companies, and the US tax policy. It is incorrect to say that it is just a matter for the EU. It is clearly a matter for Ireland and is fundamental to our corporate tax strategy in terms of attracting foreign direct investment. President Obama had radical proposals while he was campaigning. When I was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, we put people into the embassy to monitor what was going on in terms of politics in Washington and to make sure we could get a proper read on what was likely to come through in terms of policy proposals and what the impact would be on our own inward investment strategies.
The Taoiseach has said that he is keeping an active watch on tax proposals in Washington. Will he give the House his analysis of the proposals which have passed the House of Representatives and have now been reported out of committee in the Senate?
Commissioner Moscovici has in recent days started an aggressive new approach to changing tax rules. He has done this without publishing a single piece of paper on impacts or economic justification for these actions. These measures are separate from the digital taxation measures already promoted. Has the Taoiseach demanded the publication of impact studies before such proposals are considered? It is simply unacceptable that a serious proposal has been launched and promoted at European Commission level without even the most basic economic studies being undertaken on its impact.
What discussions did the Taoiseach have on the issue of taxation during his visit to the west coast? I believe he met the CEO of Apple. My understanding is that Apple is one of the most aggressive multinationals in terms of its approach to taxation. Notwithstanding the fact that it has a real presence in Ireland and that it contributes to taxation in Ireland, we nonetheless have the ongoing issue of the €13 billion it owes on foot of the announcement by the European Commissioner. Has the Government even received €1 billion of the €13 billion for placement in an escrow account at this point or has that process been stalled? Is Ireland refusing to receive the €13 billion because of other potential consequences?
I asked the Minister for Finance some weeks ago about tax repayments made by Ireland due to the double taxation agreements. The Minister indicated that hundreds of millions are now regularly being repaid as repayments are becoming due in respect of double taxation agreements. I understand from the type of answers I am getting from the Revenue Commissioners that, although they cannot name the companies, Apple is among these companies and that many hundreds of millions are being repaid by the Irish tax authorities because of double taxation agreements to countries such as Italy and India.
The Deputy is out of time.
I have some time.
The Deputy is out of time.
It is time that we had a debate in this House about where the country stands now. Will the Taoiseach, and Fianna Fáil, commit to supporting the Labour Party's amendment to the Finance Bill which would establish a standing, permanent commission on taxation which would address these issues and loopholes as they arise?
I was at the sustainable nation event last night. Many of these companies, based in Ireland and in the United States, were there. The consensus across that dinner last night was that what the Taoiseach is overseeing is a republic of missed opportunity and that we are not moving with the new industrial revolution which features clean energy and renewable power which those companies want. There are 116 companies in the world which have committed to going 100% renewable. I hope the Taoiseach is listening. Adobe, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, HP, Microsoft and Salesforce were among the companies which the Taoiseach visited. These companies all want to go 100% renewable. Ireland cannot even commit to going to 40% renewable by 2030, and we are fighting at every turn in Europe to take away ambition in that area. Did any of the companies bring up with the Taoiseach when he met them their ambition to go low carbon and renewable, and did they ask why Ireland, which has some of the best renewable resources in the world, did not have the same ambition that they had? It is one of the reasons behind the Apple decision to go to Denmark rather than Ireland, which to my mind is a disaster for the development of the west of Ireland because it is a clear signal that these companies are starting to realise that this Government does not believe in that new, clean industrial revolution. It is not leading or partaking in it, and we are starting to see the consequences. Did any of the companies with ambitions to go 100% renewable raise that issue with the Taoiseach when he met them?
Did the Taoiseach have the opportunity to raise the plight of the 50,000 undocumented Irish during his visit to the United States? Did he have an opportunity to meet any of their representatives? President Trump has said that he wants Congress to pass an immigration reform Bill within six months. That provides opportunities, but it also provides serious threats. Everyone in this House is hoping for a sustainable solution to address the plight of the undocumented in America. Many of us have family members there and understand the difficult situation they have to go through and the missed opportunities back home. We also know people personally who have been deported recently. Has the Taoiseach discussed that? He needs to lead the way with robust lobbying and make sure that we seize the opportunities in terms of any future immigration reform Bill.
Has the Taoiseach considered the plan to bring forward a referendum on voting rights for citizens in the North and the Irish diaspora further? Is the Government still expecting that it will happen in mid-2019 or is it willing to expedite that?
The Taoiseach mentioned that he met Tim Cook and discussed the state aid ruling with him. Was the escrow account discussed? Has the money gone into the escrow account? Was the timeline for the case discussed? My information is that this could be heard as quickly as next year and that the court case could be in 2018. Was the fact discussed that the European Commission is now investigating the post-2015 structure of Apple to see whether state aid applies to that structure?
The Taoiseach's predecessor, famously and to his later embarrassment when he was elected, described the comments of Donald Trump as racist and dangerous. He has been in power for almost a year and the evidence has piled up that it is not just his comments which are racist and dangerous but that the man himself is racist, sexist and dangerous. Does the Taoiseach agree? In recent months he spoke at a rally where he called on NFL bosses to fire American football players such as Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee in protest against the killing of black Americans by the police. He said, "Get that son of a B off the field right now. He is fired. He is fired". In the aftermath of Charlottesville, a violent protest by far-right and fascist forces which saw the murder of Heather Heyer, President Trump said that there was blame on many sides. He went on to describe the anti-fascist protestors as very, very violent.
He continues to push with the so-called Muslim ban being blocked by protests and courts and he threatened North Korea with fire and fury, illustrating what a dangerous man he is in the most powerful political position in the world. Does the Taoiseach not agree that instead of an invitation and encouragement he needs public criticism? Surely it would send a very powerful signal if an invitation was to be withdrawn with an explanation for its withdrawal? Or will the Taoiseach continue to put forward a false perception of economic interests, a craven approach to US multinationals and imperialism before human rights and the environment?
There are more reasons than I can think of to withdraw the invitation to Donald Trump to this country. The Taoiseach's standard response when we ask him about this is to say our relationship with the American people is more important than that with any individual president. I do not want to hear that again because it is dodging the issue of Donald Trump, his policies and what he is doing. Is there any line over which he crosses that will make the Taoiseach say that is too much for us, that we must speak out and that it is not appropriate to invite somebody who supports or allows these kinds of policies? I will mention two: in Yemen, as we speak, a country of 28 million people, 80% of the population now has no food security. Millions are teetering on the brink of starvation in one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times. There is a cholera outbreak, a diphtheria outbreak, no secure water supply because Saudi Arabia has blocked all ports, all aid shipments into the country and is literally starving the entire population. This is a policy that was promoted, supported and facilitated by Donald Trump when he visited there and signed a massive arms deal to arm that state. Is there a point at which we say that is not acceptable, we are going to speak out, we are not going to invite somebody to this country who is complicit with a genocidal policy in Yemen? Is there any red line this man crosses that will cause the Taoiseach to say that is enough, we are having nothing to do with him and we are certainly not inviting him to this country?
In response to Deputy Martin, a big part of our message now in the United States is a little different from the one we would have had in the past. There is a view in the United States, shared by some in the Administration there, that is hostile to free trade, that takes a different view of trade than did previous administrations. One of the points we make very strongly is that trade goes both ways. While the United States has a very large trade deficit with us on merchandise, we have a very significant trade deficit with it on services. They pretty much balance each other out. Americans are often surprised to hear that because they think it all goes one way. We also make the point that jobs and investment go both ways. Approximately 100,000 Americans in 50 states are employed by Irish owned firms.
We have always made that point.
We have broken that down by state and are trying to break it down by district. We need to make the point more strongly in our visits to the United States, that trade, investment and jobs, go both ways and make everyone better off in the round especially because the climate in the United States is different now, people are more sceptical about the benefits of global free trade.
US tax policy is a matter for them. It is not a matter for us to tell other countries what their tax policy should be but we do monitor it very closely. If the United States wants to follow our lead and reduce corporation profit taxes, that is a matter for it. That is a decision for it. If it wants to bring in a mechanism that allows profits to be repatriated to the United States we would welcome that. We are often told that there are trillions of dollars in Europe that have been already taxed but are sitting there and have not been repatriated to the United States because of the high taxes there. Some of that money is in Ireland and we have no difficulty about its being repatriated to the United States. It is a matter for it to change its tax laws to allow that happen.
We are very straight on our own tax policy: there is a rumour going around America that Ireland will reduce its corporation profit tax. We assure it that is not the case. It will stay at 12.5% with the research and development exemption and the knowledge development box. It will not go up or down.
Four per cent.
Part of what we offer more so than almost any other country is tax certainty. Corporation profit tax is going down in the UK under the Conservatives and in France under Macron and in the US under Trump. Under a Corbyn or Melenchon government or perhaps a left wing Sanders government in the United States, however, it might go the other way. We are offering people certainty because there is consensus in this House, between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, that we should leave our profit taxes at-----
That is not consensus.
It is almost consensus.
There is always the 1% or the 3% or whatever it is these days. There are always a few contrarian voices and they are always welcome. They add to the quality of debate.
That is how they thought of Sanders.
We also always emphasise tax sovereignty. It is our view that nation states should set their own taxes, that national parliaments should set their taxes and budgets. I also make it very clear that Ireland is not a tax haven, does not want to be a tax haven and does not want to be seen as a tax haven. That is why we will close loopholes that are being exploited by certain companies and individuals to avoid taxation. We have done that already. We will do it some more. We have paid some attention in recent weeks to this "single malt" issue, which is new to most of us but which appears to concern Maltese tax law more than our tax law and the fact that Malta has not signed up to the particular Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, convention that we have. It does not appear to be something particular to Ireland but we need to figure that out in more detail.
That is what the Taoiseach said about the double Irish.
Exactly. It is a big figure, that is the problem.
I have met with Apple twice as has the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. There have been meetings at official level. We have indicated to it that we want the escrow account established and funds to be paid into that account without further delay. We do not want to be in a situation where the Irish Government has to take Apple to court because the European Commission is taking the Irish Government to court. That message is understood and I would anticipate progress on that in the coming weeks.
Has it paid anything yet?
Not as yet.
Not a cent.
The account has not been established yet. Nothing has been paid into an account that has not been established yet. It has made provision for it in its 2018 accounts and 2018 is only a few weeks away and I would be confident enough that it will be in its 2018 projections.
There will have to be a material restatement of the accounts if it wants to do it in 2018.
In response to Deputy Eamon Ryan's question, while I am sure he will not believe it, none of the companies raised renewable energy, with the exception of Facebook. It is the only one that wanted to speak about being zero carbon.
I heard differently.
When we discussed Athenry with Apple renewable energy was not an issue it raised. It raised concerns about planning and legal delays, eirgrid connections, and who would build the substations on its site in Athenry. It did not raise concerns about renewable energy as something that was delaying that project in any way. I appreciate that does not fit the Deputy's narrative but that is the truth.
In response to Deputy Doherty's questions, the undocumented Irish did not feature because I met only one politician, the Mayor of San Francisco, and as the Deputy knows, San Francisco is a sanctuary city so I did not particularly need to convince him of our position on it. That is, however, something that is being pursued very intensively by Deputy Deasy at the moment. It was also a feature of my discussions with the US acting ambassador yesterday who I met in Government Buildings. The difficulty, as I am sure most people appreciate, is that it would be difficult to secure some form of arrangement to regularise the undocumented Irish in America in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, in other words, to ask for an arrangement for the Irish that would not then apply to El Salvadorians and Colombians and people from other countries. That is the difficulty at the moment. If there were comprehensive immigration reform I think we could do it but looking for a special deal for Ireland is difficult.
That does not mean that we will not continue to pursue it and to see what we can offer in return that might make it possible.
The anticipated date for the referendum to extend voting rights in presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside the Twenty-six Counties is still 2019. It would not be possible to have this done in time for the next presidential election and it does not make sense to elect a President using a different franchise, so we intend to hold the referendum after the presidential election in 2018. Therefore, the referendum will be in 2019.
On Deputy Paul Murphy's questions, I disagree with many of the Trump Administration's policies, particularly on migration, climate change and North Korea. I am not as well-informed as Deputy Murphy is on Yemen, but it is something I will read up on. I will not attack President Trump personally. I do not believe doing so would bring about a change in policy and it would not benefit us as a country to do so. If I have the opportunity to meet him in March, I intend to raise some of the concerns which Ireland as a country has and the Government has on these areas.
Out of respect for Members, I gave the Taoiseach considerable time to answer their questions, as he had been limited to a minute and half. That is largely because so many questions were grouped. Unfortunately, I do not have the opportunity to continue to the next group of questions. It is regrettable but that is due to the restraints placed on the Chairman by Standing Orders, which ought to be reviewed in the context of the grouping of Taoiseach's Questions and those to the Ministers.