1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if officials in his Department are working on the Pope's visit in August 2018. [11375/18]
Vol. 967 No. 1
1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if officials in his Department are working on the Pope's visit in August 2018. [11375/18]
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if his Department is involved in the planning for the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August 2018. [12935/18]
3. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Taoiseach the level of engagement his Department has held with the Vatican regarding the impending visit by His Holiness Pope Francis. [13726/18]
4. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Taoiseach the level of financial assistance that will be provided by the State for the impending visit by Pope Francis; and the level of input requested. [13727/18]
5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the work his Department is planning to prepare for the Pope's visit in August 2018. [13945/18]
6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if his Department is involved in preparations for the visit of Pope Francis in August 2018. [13983/18]
7. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach the arrangements for the papal visit in August 2018. [14206/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.
Last week Pope Francis announced that he will visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families from Saturday, 25 August to Sunday, 26 August 2018. While the main impetus for the visit is the World Meeting of Families, there will also be a number of official and public events. Full details of the programme will be released at a later date.
The involvement of civil authorities and various agencies in the visit and the related costs will be as appropriate for an official visit by a Head of State, similar to previous high-profile visits to Ireland. This will include security, public safety, protocol and co-ordination.
As is the norm for an official visit by a Head of State, staff in the protocol division of my Department, alongside protocol staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the event management unit at the Office of Public Works, are involved in preliminary meetings with key stakeholders, in the main concerning security and logistics for the visit.
Engagement with the Vatican is through the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, as is usual with such visits.
While this is not a formal state visit it will be a major event for Ireland, with a high degree of public participation and a high international profile, and I look forward to welcoming Pope Francis in August.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The decision of Pope Francis to visit the World Meeting of Families in Dublin is very welcome. He is a very positive figure in the world today, as a voice for the weakest and a leader who is grappling with enormous challenges and issues. It would be a positive way of approaching this visit if politicians refrained from trying to tell the Pope what he should and should not do when he is here. This is especially true of people who reject the idea that his words should influence us. He is the highly regarded leader of the religious faith followed by most people on this island. He is visiting primarily for pastoral reasons but also as an expression of his regard for this country. Hopefully he will take the time to visit different parts of the country, but we should not presume to tell him what to do. I and my party welcome the Taoiseach's commitment that the State will do all that it can to ensure that the Pope's visit is a success. The reality of the modern world is that this requires a major security commitment but this is absolutely reasonable. In 1979, there was no such thing as our current health and safety legislation or related types of statute. Planning for people's safety and security is essential. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that costs surrounding this visit will be treated as an exceptional event and that funding will not be diverted from other activities, especially Garda funding?
Far be it from me to interfere in the business of the Holy See and Pope Francis, and the point is well made that the separation of church and state is an essential part of any functioning, open and healthy democracy. In the remarks I will make, I do not intend to, and I hope I do not, blur that division. I want to raise, however, a point that has been made to me very strongly north of the Border, namely, a desire that the Pope visit Ireland in its totality. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, there have been some words to this effect from within the church itself, particularly from the Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, who spoke on Sunday and reflected accurately the view of many people in the North who would wish to see Pope Francis visit.
There has been some controversy over this matter. I am not sure what, if anything, the Government here can do to influence the thinking of the Pope in this regard. We all know there has been a long debate and a lot of hurt reflected owing to abuse in the church. There is an appetite among many victims and survivors for reconciliation and recognition of this hurt by the church. I have no special call on the thinking, mind or actions of the Pope or Catholic Church but I hope they reflect on that and respond appropriately.
I, too, welcome the confirmation of the visit of the Holy Father to the World Meeting of Families later this year. Pope Francis has inspired so much positivity and goodwill by practising what he preaches. He really demonstrates what is good about the church, of which I am a proud and active member. I signed up to volunteer at the World Meeting of Families later this year.
Acknowledging the separation of powers between church and state and what the Taoiseach said about the facilitation of the visit in terms of protocol, security and the funding that will be made available, I believe we have a role to play. I ask that the Taoiseach's office, in consultation and negotiation with the Vatican, outline some of the points raised by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald and also the change in direction. Originally, the Catholic Church produced pamphlets and booklets demonstrating the traditional Irish family and moved away from welcoming the non-traditional Irish family. Given that this country was one of the first to have a referendum to establish marriage equality for the gay community, I believe that move is regrettable. I ask that the Taoiseach use his offices, through the embassy, to make that point known. It is only right and proper that members of all families, not just traditional families, be welcome to participate in the World Meeting of Families.
The Pope should get a welcome only if he does what Pope Ratzinger refused to do, which was to provide the files containing the church's own information on clerical sex abuse by its members in this country. Ratzinger refused to provide the Vatican's own internal information on this after the production of the Ryan, Ferns and Murphy reports and so on. Ratzinger then, without any particular explanation-----
It is not appropriate to refer to a Head of State-----
I think it is entirely appropriate.
-----and a head of religion, for whom many people in this country have a lot of regard and who is now a very elderly man, in that form.
I think it is entirely appropriate because-----
The Deputy might but it is certainly not in keeping with the dignity of this House.
Pope Francis, when he went to Chile and Peru in January this year, was met with very significant protest because he appointed a bishop who was widely believed to have covered up and turned a blind eye to clerical sex abuse carried out by a particular Catholic sect. There were uproar and protests every day over his decision to appoint this bishop. We need to put to Pope Francis the question of whether he is going to provide the information the church has in its possession that relates to clerical sex abuse in this country, which Pope Ratzinger refused to give us. If this is a new papacy with a new disposition and outlook that is more progressive, let it bring the files. Otherwise, do not bother coming.
The Pope's visit to Ireland will be very much welcomed by Irish people right across the island from all different walks of life, not just Catholics. Clearly, the Catholic Church has a legacy in Ireland characterised by enormous difficulty and enormous pain, which was inflicted on people in various institutions of the Catholic Church who were abused, used or badly used. The Pope will probably be staying at the Apostolic Nunciature on the Navan Road, as was the case during the last papal visit. The Taoiseach might confirm that. The nunciature is just a stone's throw from St. Patrick's mother and baby home, one of the largest homes for mothers and babies in Ireland. It was a pretty tough place 30 or 40 years ago in which to have a baby on one's own, after which one might have given it up for adoption.
Will the Irish Government indicate, through the diplomatic channels, that the Pope's agenda may include an appropriate visit to a mother and baby home that is just next door to where he will be staying, particularly given that approximately 2,500 of the 9,000 or 10,000 children who went through St. Patrick's died there? These are the provisional figures we have.
My second question is a more local one on which I hope the Taoiseach and I agree. The Phoenix Park will be the venue for the visit. Will there be a definite fund provided by the Government to restore and reinstate the Phoenix Park, our premier public open space in an urban setting, after the Pope has gone home? During the last papal visit, the park almost collapsed under the strain caused by the great number of people in attendance. The people who visit will be welcome. The park is already putting in train arrangements to take down the gates at all the entrances and to refurbish them during the Pope's visit with a view to reinstating them afterwards. The damage to the park was very significant on the last occasion. The Taoiseach has a local interest in this, as do I. It is very important to Dubliners and people from around the country who use the park to ensure that the Government will provide money to reinstate it to its full glory when the visit is over.
As I mentioned before, although this is not a state visit it will be treated as such in terms of security costs, media requirements, protocol, a transport plan and crowd control. We anticipate that there will be a requirement for security. It is expected that approximately 3,000 international media will be in Dublin for the World Meeting of Families. There will be the necessary protocol on the Pope's arrival at the airport. This will include a Garda escort, an Army escort and a transport plan for him to get around and to ensure health and safety and crowd control. As this is a visit of an historic nature, akin to the papal visit of 1979 or the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 2011, we believe it is appropriate that the Government meet these costs. It is ultimately taxpayers' money but I believe the majority of taxpayers in the country would want us to meet these costs as it is an historic visit. The vast majority of people will welcome Pope Francis to our country.
With regard to the issue raised regarding families, the Government is very much of the view that there are many different types of families and that all types should be celebrated, including the traditional nuclear family with the man married to the woman with children, but also one-parent families, families led by grandparents, and families led by same-sex couples. We will make it known in our meetings with the organisers that in line with our commitment to personal liberty and equality before the law, the Government's view is that families in all their forms should be celebrated.
However, we are also committed to freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. While we will express our view, therefore, we will not try to impose it on a religious body. Regarding survivors of Catholic institutions who were used, abused and mistreated in them, there is some indication, albeit I have not heard it through official channels but rather through the media, that the Pontiff may wish to meet with former residents. That might be the most appropriate thing to do. While he might also visit a location, the strongest statement would be to meet people who are in those places rather than just to visit them. Perhaps that is an option too.
I was not aware so much damage was done to the Phoenix Park in 1979. It is a piece of local history I was unaware of. Certainly, I will take that on board and am glad I am aware of it now.
It cost around £5 million to reinstate.
I assume the park will be reinstated fully and quickly. Certainly, I will look into the matter and ensure it is part of the discussions and deliberations in the months ahead. Rather than simply reinstate it, however, Project Ireland 2040 contains a commitment to upgrade the Phoenix Park with new facilities, in particular the full restoration of the Magazine Fort and a bridge to link it to the war memorial at Islandbridge. It is a very exciting project which will enhance the Phoenix Park as a national asset.
What about the visit to the North?
That is a matter for Pope Francis to decide.
8. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, on 8 March 2018. [12784/18]
9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, on 8 March 2018. [12795/18]
10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Mr. Tusk on 8 March 2018 and the issues that were discussed. [12801/18]
11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Mr. Donald Tusk. [12829/18]
12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagement with the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, on 8 March 2018. [13850/18]
13. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Mr. Donald Tusk on 8 March 2018. [13948/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 13, inclusive, together.
I was very pleased to welcome the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to Dublin on 8 March. Our discussions, which took place ahead of the March European Council, covered the Brexit negotiations, EU trade policy, economic and monetary union, taxation challenges posed in the digital era and a number of foreign policy matters.
On Brexit, we discussed progress in relation to the draft withdrawal agreement, including on Irish-specific issues. I stressed the importance of translating into the legal text the commitments and principles agreed in the joint report in December, including the backstop. President Tusk reiterated his strong solidarity with Ireland and said that our concerns were shared EU concerns and that Irish issues were European issues. We also discussed the EU guidelines on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, which were then in draft form and which took into account the parameters outlined by Prime Minister May in her Mansion House speech. I said that the draft guidelines reflected our ambition for a close partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom while ensuring a level playing field in terms of fair competition and the integrity of the Single Market. I welcomed, in particular, the commitment to revisit our position should the United Kingdom approach evolve further.
On digital taxation, I said that all companies, including digital platforms, should pay their fair share of tax in full where and when it is owed. We are committed to global tax reform and we need an approach which is evidence based, sustainable in the long term and focused on aligning taxing rights with the location of real, substantive, value-creating activity. That is why we have been working through the OECD to achieve the widest possible international consensus. This is a complicated area and it is important that we get it right. In our view, short-term and uncoordinated measures could lead to unintended and negative consequences.
On the future of economic and monetary union, President Tusk noted the joint paper which had recently been published by the Nordic, Baltic, Dutch and Irish Finance Ministers and looked forward to further discussions at the euro summit on 23 March. We exchanged views on EU trade policy and agreed that Europe and the USA should make every effort to work together as we would prefer trade deals to trade wars. We also discussed EU relations with Turkey and agreed about the importance of continued engagement notwithstanding our concerns in relation to human rights.
I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply. The strong support for Ireland of the President of the European Council in the Brexit negotiations is welcome. The president stated there could be no backsliding by the United Kingdom on the commitments it gave to Ireland last December, including the backstop option of aligning Northern Ireland with the customs union and the Single Market to avoid a hard border. However, agreement on this in the formulation of a legal text for a protocol to the withdrawal agreement has been pushed back to October. Originally, we were expecting this to be agreed for the June meeting. A transition period has now been agreed and free trade talks are about to commence. As such, is there not a real danger that the Irish question will be sidelined as the deadline for a final agreement looms and after the inevitable late-night political wheeling and dealing takes over, as it always does at European Council meetings? Can the Taoiseach give the House any reassurance in that regard?
Turning to the issue of tax, as the Taoiseach knows, there is a Commission proposal for a 3% turnover tax to be allocated to member states based on how many users of a company's digital service there are in each country. Fianna Fáil's position is that no basic groundwork has been done on this proposal and that a general impact assessment has yet to even commence. While reform is certainly necessary, this must be done on an international basis through the OECD so that EU competitiveness is not weakened. This matter has implications for Ireland, its corporate tax base and its capacity to attract foreign direct investment. However, change is inevitable in this area. Given these developments, are we reviewing our industrial policy, which has been in place since the 1960s? The position in relation to tax rules in the United States of America is a new development also. Many things are happening in this area and I would like to know from the Taoiseach whether we are reviewing our industrial policy, notwithstanding the fact that it has served us well since the 1960s, taking into account these new developments which will be discussed in the coming months?
The attack on the two Russians in the UK took place two days before the Taoiseach's meeting with President Tusk and was the subject of widespread comment in national and international media, in particular UK media. Did the Taoiseach discuss with President Tusk the implications of that attack? Was there any suggestion at that stage of a move to a common European position on the attack in the context of the relationship with Britain pre and post Brexit? It would be interesting to know if there was a discussion in that respect at that stage.
As has been pointed out, we would have expected the Brexit backstop situation to have been dealt with as required in the next couple of months. Instead, it has been deferred to October. In the minds of most people, that constitutes a significant potential weakening of the Irish position. Did the Taoiseach get any guarantees from President Tusk in relation to what the backstop will actually involve? We now have widespread declamations from people like Minister David Davis that there will be fantastic technical innovations which will allow us to have a technological border not located anywhere other than in the cloud while having a whole range of provisions he will list. I do not know if the Taoiseach heard commentary at the weekend from agricultural interests and business interests on the Border to the effect that this will not work for them even if they get preferred-trader status.
Last week, the Taoiseach once again showed a tendency to aggressively attack anyone who had the cheek to question him on Brexit and while he has been able to influence how parts of the media cover him, he seems to think that it is beneath him to answer legitimate questions being raised throughout Europe. It was rather pathetic that the Taoiseach resorted to using a silly Sinn Féin argument to attack Fianna Fáil on this issue, something which appears to reflect a growing level of comfort between those parties which they will deny but which has been on display here now for anyone to see in recent months.
The simple fact is that for a year the Government briefed that the negotiating strategy was to make sure that Ireland was not still being discussed when the last elements of the withdrawal treaty were being negotiated. This was, we were told, to ensure that we did not face pressures to accept a deal in the face of a cliff edge, as Deputy Haughey pointed out. It is equally undeniable that the Taoiseach's statement that he was fine with waiting until October for a deal represents a significant change in strategy. The Taoiseach can claim that it is the right approach but he cannot deny that it is a significant change and that Deputy Donnelly and others have every right to ask him and the Government to explain why this change has come about. If our interpretation is wrong, can the Taoiseach tell us why the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, stated yesterday in the House of Commons that the pressure is on the European Union to make the United Kingdom a better overall deal in order to avoid a hard border, and, if it is wrong, why did the British Prime Minister reaffirm that she will not accept the draft backstop text?
In light of the Taoiseach's claim that there is no problem going on to October and that only partisan opponents doubt this, perhaps he will comment on the following quote from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, yesterday, as reported by the BBC, "If we don't have it done by June, then I think obviously, we have to raise some serious questions as to whether it is possible to finalise a withdrawal treaty at all." This is close to what Deputy Donnelly said last week. Is the Tánaiste wrong to say that letting it drift to October causes us problems?
I would like to know also what, if anything, the Taoiseach said to the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, about matters Russian in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack but also significantly after widespread reports of known and confirmed Russian atrocities in eastern Ghouta, including the use of chemical weapons. There was no call, as I understand it, from the Taoiseach, the European Union, Mr. Tusk or anybody else for expulsions of Russian diplomats as a result of known Russian and Syrian use of chemical weapons against the people of eastern Ghouta, yet in his statement today, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, voiced his shock at the possible use of these weapons in the UK. I do not understand. If suspected but unconfirmed use of these weapons in Salisbury where no evidence is provided prompts expulsions of a Russian diplomat but confirmed and known use of those weapons in Syria does not, that, to my mind, means the expulsions just announced from the Government have nothing to do with the use of chemical weapons and have everything to do with a Government political decision to line up with Cold War posturing by the European Union, the UK and the United States in what is an escalating and, frankly, alarming confrontation that is developing with Russia. This Cold War-style confrontation smacks of John le Carré. The Taoiseach often accuses me of being a conspiracy theorist-----
I feel one coming.
-----but the Taoiseach is the one who has made a decision that has profound implications for Ireland's neutrality based on a conspiracy. The Taoiseach has presented to us a conspiracy that there is no other plausible explanation. That is not evidence; that is a conspiracy.
The Deputy's time is up.
Yet when it comes to the appalling use of these weapons by Russia in eastern Ghouta, not a dickie bird is heard. In fact, last week in the Dáil, myself and Deputy Gino Kenny asked that the Taoiseach summon the Russian ambassador to the Dáil over what Russia was doing in eastern Ghouta. He ignored us and refused to do it. This week, the Taoiseach is expelling an official from the embassy over something of which the Taoiseach has not presented any evidence. It is riddled with hypocrisy.
I would be interested to hear the Taoiseach's answer to the previous questions.
I wish to raise with the Taoiseach in as friendly a manner as I can, given apparently that is the ordre du jour, his remarks in respect of the withdrawal agreement at the European Council meeting last week. The Taoiseach stated - he may correct me if I am wrong - that he would rather have the right deal in October than any deal in June. I merely want to place on the record again that, certainly, for Sinn Féin's part, we believe it is essential and a matter of long-term national interest that we get the right deal. I have not made or will never make an argument for rushing the fences, cutting corners or acting imprudently if that would in any way jeopardise that necessary outcome. That is where my party is coming from on this issue.
I lay the responsibility, in the first instance, for coming up with the British proposal as to how it meets its stated aims to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts and to avoid the hardening of a border on our island and all of the disruption that would flow from that with the British Government. That is the position. It has prevaricated and delayed. It is at this stage, frankly, chancing its arm-----
I thank the Deputy.
-----in its failure to produce anything credible, workable and in legal text. The Disneyworld stuff around technological solutions has been dismissed at a European level, has been dismissed within the Dáil and is worthy of dismissal again, but it is a grave mistake to create an impression that we are fine about further delays until October. I actually agree with the Tánaiste.
Deputy McDonald is eating into other Members' time.
Deputy McDonald is over the time and eating into other questions.
The Acting Chairman has only come in. Everybody has run over time on this.
I am abiding by the rules. I call the Taoiseach.
First, to answer the questions on the withdrawal agreement, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Everybody ran over time.
That includes the transition period. What was agreed last week was the term of the transition period which, I believe, is a good development. Most people in Ireland want there to be a transition period. It is good for business. It is good for farmers, exporters and those whose jobs need to be secured. We now know that there will be a transition period. It will run until the end of 2020 and despite the fact that it said this would not be the case, the United Kingdom now accepts that during the entirety of that transition period the United Kingdom will remain in the Single Market and in the customs union, bound by the ECJ, will continue to pay into the European Union budget and yet will have no say on any of these matters. That is the basis on which the transition period was offered to the UK and it is what it accepted. It at least means Irish people, business, farmers and those whose jobs are dependent on exports and trade with Britain know that nothing will change until 2021. However, those are the terms. It is not agreed until everything is agreed.
It is our intention to agree the terms of the backstop by June. It is our objective to have it done by June but as I stated in Brussels, I am not willing to settle for anything just because it is June. It has to be a good deal and it has to be the right deal. It has to be a good outcome.
Even if we agree the terms of the backstop in June in the way we have agreed the terms of the transition period just last week, it is still the case that the withdrawal agreement will not be finalised until October. Nobody believes that the withdrawal agreement will be fully finalised until October even though it may be possible to agree the terms of the backstop in June in the way we agreed the terms of the transition period just last week - it is turning the yellow and white into green, if people are following how that is being worked. Nonetheless, the withdrawal agreement will not be finalised until October. Even at that point, it has to be ratified by the European Parliament and the UK Parliament and this will be an ongoing negotiation.
In terms of the text of the backstop, the UK is now engaging on the European text for the backstop.
We are also open to any alternative it might wish to put forward. There will be meetings at an official level almost every day this week on that. Our view is that the best way to resolve and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is through a deep, new free trade agreement and customs partnership with the UK which would negate the need for any new barriers between Northern Ireland and Ireland or between Britain and Ireland. That is the ideal outcome for us, so of course we will engage on that.
It is not intended that the free trade agreement and the new partnership agreement with the UK will be concluded in October. That is not the case at all. What we hope to have in October is a political declaration or agreement on what should be in that new EU-UK free trade agreement.
I thank the Taoiseach.
We will then spend probably the entirety of the transition period negotiating the legal text of that.
Go raibh maith agat.
The day after the referendum, Deputy Michael Noonan told me that some people view Brexit as a storm, as something that will be rough for a while and will then blow over, but it will not be like that. He said that Brexit would go on for years and years, and he is absolutely right.
We will move on to Questions Nos. 14 to 17, inclusive.
There was no answer regarding Russia.
There was not time.
The Taoiseach does not want to answer.
14. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Xavier Bettel on 5 March 2018. [12785/18]
15. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Xavier Bettel and the issues that were discussed. [12787/18]
16. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. [13984/18]
17. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagement with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Xavier Bettel, on 5 March 2018. [14008/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 to 17, inclusive, together.
I welcomed the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, to Dublin on Monday 5 March. Our meeting was part of my programme of strategic engagement with other EU leaders, which is strengthening our relationships with key partners across the full range of issues on the EU's agenda.
Xavier Bettel knows Dublin very well from his time as a teenager studying English in Malahide and he was very pleased to be back here, this time as Prime Minister of his country.
Our discussions were friendly and constructive and focused on Brexit, financial services and taxation, as well as institutional issues relating to the future of Europe.
On Brexit, I set out our view on the draft withdrawal agreement and our preference to resolve issues relating to the Border through the future relationship, while emphasising the vital importance of the backstop as set out in the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Bettel expressed his strong support for Ireland in the negotiations and the need to maintain the unity of the 27 states, not least so as to preserve the integrity of the Single Market.
The Prime Minister was accompanied on his visit by a business delegation from the financial services sector and in respect of the sector he was cautious on the Commission proposals for reforming the European system of financial supervision and the European supervisory agencies. He was also cautious about the Commission proposal on digital taxation, which was published on 21 March.
On EU institutional issues, Prime Minister Bettel was opposed to any move away from unanimity on tax matters and underlined the importance of having a Commissioner for each member state.
We agreed that we share many common positions and that we should work closely together on these and other issues in the period ahead.
I also raised Ireland’s candidature for a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 term and our interest in participating in the BeNeLuxA initiative on medicines.
Later that evening, I was pleased to be able to host a dinner for the Prime Minister in Malahide Castle, which was attended by senior political and business representatives.
We have about eight minutes left for this question. In order that everyone is heard, I propose that we have one minute each, not on this round but for supplementary questions.
The support of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg for Ireland's position in the Brexit negotiations is welcome. I note he is supporting our opposition to the Commission's proposal for a digital tax along with Belgium, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands, according to media reports. I also not that the Taoiseach and Prime Minister discussed the post-Brexit future of Europe. The UK leaving the European Union will undoubtedly have all sorts of consequences. Ireland is losing an ally on many issues and could begin to feel isolated as a result.
The Taoiseach received a little slap on the wrist in yesterday's editorial in The Irish Times. It stated:
Brexit will require the biggest strategic-cultural shift in Ireland’s foreign relations in half a century. The Government has yet to show that it grasps that.
I am sure the Taoiseach is quaking in his boots on the back of that. New alliances are needed on many issues, particularly in respect of the smaller states. These include areas such as farm subsidies, security and defence, corporate taxation, eurozone integration -----
Thank you Deputy.
-----and EU integration generally. Can the Taoiseach tell us how we are we doing in forging these new alliances on these issues in the post-Brexit new Europe? I would appreciate a comprehensive response on this.
Over the last four years, I have regularly raised issues during Taoiseach's questions and European statements concerning the growing aggression towards Europe being shown by the Putin Government. While many in this House spend their time attacking the European Union, claiming that it is some dark military entity undermining us all, in reality the increasingly repressive Russian Government sees Europe as a danger because it adheres to principles of democracy and the rule of law. Under Vladimir Putin the Russian Government has decided that it wants to undermine democracy and the rule of law and has done this through a near permanent campaign which includes funding right and left wing extremism, disinformation, the invasion and partition of a neighbour, cyber warfare against European Union states, interference in a rising number of elections and assassinations of opponents. That is its record. Every time I have made those comments in the House, I have noted either the silence of others and the deference that parties such as Sinn Féin, Independents and others show to the Russian Federation. Notwithstanding that, I get the impression that when the Taoiseach went to last week's summit, he did so not anticipating the acts of solidarity that might follow the nerve agent attack on the UK.
Can the Taoiseach say why he not only blocked Deputy James Lawless's Bill but has also refused to give a commitment to take any concrete action to prevent Ireland being targeted with the type of online disinformation which has been seen throughout Europe?
Thank you, Deputy.
Deputy Lawless has written to the Taoiseach who should reconsider his negativity towards that legislation with a view to facilitating its passage through the House. We will take amendments and so on, but it is an important Bill.
Deputy Joan Burton is next, for Deputy Brendan Howlin.
Luxembourg is one of the founding members of the European Union. Although it is much smaller than Ireland, it is very much aligned with Ireland on various small country issues, particularly on services and certain aspects around taxation. The Irish Examiner reported that the Prime Minister had commented on the 12.5% corporation tax rate in Ireland but also compared that with the 45% rate of tax on workers. In view of the changes in the economy it is difficult to see where tax structures are going.
Did the Taoiseach discuss tax policies in relation to small countries and, in particular, did he have any discussion around a minimum effective rate of tax? Headline rates are fine but if a corporation is allowed to avoid effectively all of the headline rates, it may end up having avoided paying any tax, as is the case with ten big companies in Ireland.
I thank the Deputy. I must stop Deputy Burton because in fairness Deputy McDonald is next and there are only three minutes left. If the Deputy wants a response from the Taoiseach -----
The Acting Chairman did not stop anyone else.
-----she will need to bide her time. I call Deputy McDonald.
The Acting Chairman did not stop other colleagues, but how and ever.
I most certainly did.
The Acting Chairman did not. I watched very carefully.
And so did I, thank you.
It is just a woman thing.
I can actually read the clock-----
The Deputy is wasting down her own time now.
-----I am very gifted that way.
Acting Chairman, I think it is a woman thing, actually. It seems to happen to women Deputies more than men.
There is a clock here in front of me that dictates the time. If people want to waste other people's time that is fine.
I thank the Acting Chairman. We can read the clock. I am numerate, you know.
The clock is moving now.
I want to place on record that far from being deferential to the Putin regime, I recognise its anti-democratic and authoritarian nature. I have no issue putting that on record. However, the issue at play in the actions taken by Government are not about Russia, in the first instance, they are about Ireland and Ireland's policy stance and particularly our position as a militarily neutral state.
That is what this is about and Deputies are well aware of it. Did the Taoiseach raise with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg the issue of the backstop and his stated intention and desire to have agreement on the British proposal on that matter as regards avoiding a hard border in Ireland and protecting the Good Friday Agreement? Did he raise that matter with the Prime Minister and has he lobbied other Heads of Government on it?
First, I certainly did discuss the backstop. Prime Minister Bettel is 100% behind us on this matter, as is the Government of Luxembourg. The Deputy may even have heard President Tusk's speech two or three days later. I cannot really remember when he met me, it might have been a week later. He pointed out in his speech that the first issue Xavier Bettel raised with him was Ireland. He did not raise matters about Luxembourg first, but matters about Ireland. That is significant. Once again, I want to put on the record that when we talk about the backstop, backstop means backstop. If we can find a better solution which creates a new trading arrangement between the UK and EU that is so similar to what we have now that it negates the need for a backstop at all, I would be totally for that solution. As I have said many times, I do not want to see a border or barriers to trade between Dublin and Holyhead or between Larne and Stranraer any more than I want to see them between Newry and Dundalk. If we can solve this problem on a UK and EU-wide basis, it would be all the better. That is why backstop means backstop. It is not our preferred solution. It is exactly what it says on the tin, which is backstop.
In a previous debate, I outlined some of the flaws which the experts and officials in this area have identified with Deputy Lawless's Bill. If it is useful for the Deputy to have a direct engagement with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, or the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, I would be happy to facilitate that. If the Bill can be improved and made workable, I see absolutely no reason why we cannot work on it together.
I have spoken to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, and asked him to engage directly with Deputy Browne on the mental health Bill, which we are all keen to progress very quickly. Just on-----
I thank the Taoiseach.
Is our time up?
I will give the Taoiseach three or four seconds.
I am afraid I cannot answer in three or four seconds.