Other Questions

Ministerial Meetings

Eamon Ryan


29. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his recent meeting with Mr. Michel Barnier. [19857/18]

Joan Burton


33. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his meeting with Mr. Michel Barnier. [19110/18]

Michael Moynihan


37. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken with Mr. Michel Barnier recently. [17678/18]

Brendan Howlin


48. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his recent engagements with the Barnier task force on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom. [18781/18]

My general question which was transferred from the Department of the Taoiseach relates to the exact same topic. What will happen if there is no withdrawal agreement? Where will our backstop be in such circumstances? As I listened to what was said in Dundalk and as I watched what happened at Westminster subsequently, it struck me that the prospect of there being no withdrawal agreement was, unfortunately, increasing. If we get over the difficulties on the Border issue, agreement will need to be reached on the role of the European Court of Justice in governance matters. Even after that, approximately 700 areas involving regulations will have to coalesce and the European Union will have to maintain unanimity. There is a real risk that the British political system may not be able to do this. What will happen in these circumstances? Where will our backstop be then?

We have made it very clear that there will be no withdrawal agreement without a backstop on the Border issue. I think that is accepted by the British Government. If there is no withdrawal agreement, there will be no formal agreement on transition and no agreement in a range of other areas. Much of the text of the draft withdrawal agreement that the European Union has provided is agreed to but some of it is not. Some of it has been partially agreed to. Anybody who takes the time to read the draft agreement, the base document for negotiation, will realise this is about a very practical divorce arrangement. When Britain leaves the European Union, it will leave many agreements, organisations, licensing systems and so on.

We are dealing with Question No. 29.

The clock is ticking.

I think what I am saying is relevant because the context in which I am speaking is the conversations that have taken place with Michael Barnier, but it is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's call.

The Tánaiste will not have another opportunity to provide an initial reply.

We are going through a very delicate and serious period of negotiation. I do not say lightly that there will be no withdrawal treaty without a backstop. That is the position of the EU side because that is what the United Kingdom has signed up to. If we are not going to follow through on what we have committed to in the negotiations, we have to ask where are we going. Ireland needs a withdrawal treaty, as does Britain. Ireland and Britain, more than any other member state of the European Union, need a withdrawal treaty. I believe we will get one, but I do not think it can happen unless the British Government follows through on the commitments it has made.

The Tánaiste did not clarify that a number of questions were being taken together.

My apologies. Questions Nos. 29, 33, 37 and 48 are being taken together.

I call Deputy Eamon Ryan to ask his first supplementary question.

I absolutely agree that we need a transition deal. My reading of the political environment-----

Just to clarify, the first time the Deputy spoke on this group of questions was when he was given 30 seconds in which to introduce them. He now has the right to make a further one-minute contribution.

I agree that we need a transition arrangement, but my fear is that the UK political system might prevent us from getting it. The UK Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson, has said the customs partnership solution makes no sense. Many remainers and soft Brexiteers on the other side of the Tory Party are saying that to get a customs union agreement without also getting a Single Market agreement would be the worst of all worlds. They believe the United Kingdom would be better off in having a Single Market agreement. There is real confusion in the UK Labour Party because it does not seem to know what exactly it wants. It seems to be opting for a completely suboptimal solution. In circumstances in which the European Union does not have to move, the United Kingdom has to give on everything. My fear and my political assessment are that there is a real risk that the United Kingdom will not be able to square the circle and get a transitional arrangement. It will not easily get an extension of Article 50 because, as Michel Barnier said in Dundalk, that would lead to problems with European elections and budget contributions, etc. There is an increasing risk that there will not be a withdrawal deal. In these circumstances, the backstop arrangement for the Border will surely be imposed by the European Union which will insist on WTO rules applying, for example, at the border between counties Monaghan and Fermanagh.

It is important to draw a distinction between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship agreement. Many of the issues being raised by the Deputy will not be dealt with in the withdrawal agreement. I refer to future relationship issues concerning trade, security, aviation, fishing and agriculture, etc. Consideration will have to be given to the potential for UK associate membership of EU bodies that are responsible for regulation, licensing and approval systems, etc., in order to ensure it will be able to trade into the European Union. All of these things are going to be difficult to negotiate for the United Kingdom and take time. Ireland will be a big ally of the United Kingdom in many of these discussions. We want to have the closest possible future trading relationships between Britain and Ireland and between the European Union and Britain. Separately, the withdrawal agreement is essentially about four things: citizens' rights, financial settlement issues, transitional arrangements and the question of Ireland and Northern Ireland. As part of the latter issue, consideration will have to be given to the common travel area, the protection of all parts of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to deal with Border issues through a backstop. They are the withdrawal agreement issues. The debate often conflates the future relationship and backstop issues. Some of the Irish issues are also trade issues because they cannot be avoided when Border issues are being discussed. The backstop is about maintaining full alignment with the rules of the Single Market and the customs union to prevent a border in areas of North-South co-operation where the all-island economy needs to function.

Go raibh maith agat.

Am I not answering for a whole load of Members?

Wait one minute. The Minister took his question off the cuff. He did not respond to Question No. 29 at all. That is his prerogative. We are now back to one minute questions and answers.

Okay. I am in your hands.

Before I call Deputy Joan Burton, I will allow Deputy Eamon Ryan to ask his second supplementary question.

I will be very brief. I understand the complexity involved. I agree that there is a difference between the withdrawal deal and the subsequent transition arrangement. We hope a transition arrangement will be put in place after the withdrawal agreement is finalised and implemented. I have to come back to my key question which the Minister has not answered. What will happen if we do not get a withdrawal agreement? Surely what will happen in such circumstances - the actual backstop - is what the European Union applies. Has the Tánaiste discussed this with Michel Barnier? Are preparations being made for this if it should happen? Please God, it will not. Looking at it from the outside, unfortunately, it seems to be a real possibility that the UK political system will be unable to organise this to get internal agreement on what the withdrawal agreement should be or to sign off on such an agreement. What will we do in such circumstances? What arrangements will apply along the Border in such circumstances? How will we manage such an eventuality? Are we planning for it? It is now a real risk.

For the record, I am answering Question No. 29 which is about my meeting with Michel Barnier. I am dealing with all of these issues. The Chair has twice said I am not answering the question.

The Tánaiste has answered the question. We have moved to supplementary questions. One minute is provided in which to ask each supplementary question. The Tánaiste did not take full advantage at the start.

That is fine. The issue to which Deputy Eamon Ryan is referring requires contingency planning. That is what has been happening. We have been doing a huge amount within the Government and across Departments. We will publish some papers on it in the coming weeks, but we will not publish everything. I do not think it would be wise to do so in the context of the negotiations taking place.

I believe the EU Commission is also putting contingency plans in place. However, everybody is focusing publicly on the negotiations because everybody wants to try to achieve a deal, which certainly makes sense for the UK, Ireland and the rest of the EU. While Michel Barnier is more than aware of that, he is also aware that there is a possibility of failure. If the political system in Britain cannot deliver an outcome which is consistent with the commitments that have already been made, then of course the UK, Ireland and the rest of the EU have to put contingency planning in place for what that will look like. I suppose in the absence of any agreement at all, World Trade Organization rules would initially apply. We are certainly intent on not allowing that to become a reality. I do not believe that the British Government will allow it to become a reality either. That is all the more reason to focus on making progress and on creating some optimism in this negotiation by the end of June.

Mine is essentially the same question. I have a number of specific things I want to ask the Minister. He mentioned that having commissioned papers, some of the papers on Brexit have been published but others have not. It would be helpful to the House if he could indicate those areas where he has chosen not to publish.

In respect of people on both sides of the Border, including those in business, what is the Minister's take on the UK Brexiteer proposal on max fac? What exactly would that mean? Does the Minister have any idea of what it envisages? Essentially, it is a technological solution of an advanced kind to replace a traditional border. The very significant Brexiteers in the British Cabinet and Tory Party seem to be now quite hung into that. What is the Minister's take on it? Is it likely to happen?

In the same vein, what is the story in respect of the other arrangements for the Border, in particular the favoured trader status? Lots of firms go back and forward, not to mention agricultural products and livestock.

On what we publish and do not publish, I am happy to meet the Brexit spokespeople from each party or the party leaders to give them a very detailed briefing on all the work we have been doing in terms of contingency. For some of the work we have been doing, I do not think it is helpful to put it into the public domain. I certainly do not want to create an expectation that this is what is going to happen. Sometimes we can create self-fulfilling prophesies and that is not the way we approach these negotiations. We are negotiating to get a good outcome for Ireland. We already have clear commitments from the UK and the EU in respect of outcomes in a whole series of areas. In terms of the maximum facilitation option, or max fac, as it is called, I do not see it as a runner, unless I am missing something, which I do not think I am because we had looked at this issue. The idea that we can actually have a border that does not impact on movement of goods, services or people on the island of Ireland and does not impact negatively on North-South co-operation and an all-island economy, by having technology monitoring how goods move around on the island of Ireland, when we have at least 208 major road crossings between Ireland and Northern Ireland and many more by-roads - I just do not see how that works. It is also not consistent with the commitment that has been made that there will be no border infrastructure on the island of Ireland and no related checks and controls. That is not me being stubborn, that is just stating the commitment in black and white that has already been given. That is why I have said we would like to see more exploration around this concept of the shared customs territory or a customs partnership as a basis for negotiation.

Is the shared customs partnership primarily in respect of the island of Ireland? I know the area of the Border around Dundalk very well because of family relationships there. I do not get the sense from the Government that it fully understands what it would be like to go back to how it was before the Good Friday Agreement. In the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in fairness, the Good Friday Agreement is one of its major achievements. How does the Minister propose to protect the gains achieved by the Good Friday Agreement? Derry and Donegal are to all intents and purposes really one area except that they straddle two sides of the Border. What is going to happen in terms of Donegal and Derry itself in terms of its viability as an important city in the north west? I just do not get that the Minister understands quite how nervous, worried and upset people are. Through the British-Irish Parliamentary Association, I have met many people from farming and business over the last couple of years. I just do not get the sense of that from the Minister's contribution today.

With respect, I do not think the Deputy has been talking to me enough. I have been crystal clear in respect of the Border. Every time I speak in the media or privately in terms of briefings and stakeholders' groups, we have made it crystal clear that we cannot support any solution that is going to reintroduce physical border infrastructure onto this island. I regularly visit Northern Ireland. Two weeks ago I was in Derry. Between Derry and Donegal, in a stretch of just over 20 miles, there are 320,000 Border crossings every week - people going to college or work, going to the doctor, visiting family friends and so on. I get it. I have spoken to many people who live on the Border and have visited the Border with foreign Ministers from other EU countries to explain it to them too. Believe me, we get it. That is why we took the position we took in December, which created all the stress and strain around a very difficult week when we got an absolute commitment and a guarantee from the British Government in respect of no Border infrastructure. Now our job is to translate that into a legally operable text in a withdrawal treaty, which is what we are trying to do at the moment. It is not easy but we will do it in the end, in my view.

Diplomatic Representation

Maureen O'Sullivan


30. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if inquiries will be made into the continued imprisonment of a person (details supplied) in Honduras and the violation of human rights there. [21108/18]

My question concerns a particular individual, a lady who has been imprisoned in Honduras, and is also a general query about human rights violations in Honduras. I wish to ask whether our Government has made representations or inquiries and, if it has not, if it will do so as soon as possible.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this case to my attention. My understanding is that the individual referred to by the Deputy was released on parole on Saturday, 5 May and now awaits trial. I have asked officials of my Department to continue to monitor this case. The human rights situation in Honduras is a cause of deep concern. I echo the statement made on 12 March by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that the already fragile human rights situation in Honduras, which suffers from high levels of violence and insecurity, is likely to deteriorate further unless there is true accountability for human rights violations, and reforms are taken to address the deep political and social polarisation in the country.

It is my belief that all sides in Honduras must work within the political system and through the framework of constructive dialogue to deliver the political reforms necessary to secure the trust of the Honduran people in the country’s institutions.

The Deputy will be aware that Ireland contributed one long-term observer and one short-term observer to the EU election observer mission to Honduras last year. This was facilitated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I take this opportunity to, once again, urge the Government of Honduras to take on board and adopt recommendations for reform made by the EU observer mission, in order to help restore much-needed public confidence in future electoral processes in the country.

It is positive to hear that the lady in question is out on parole. That comes from the extent of the inquiries made on her behalf. There is well-documented persecution of the woman at the hands of the police. She made a complaint to the authorities there as one would. That led to even more persecution and more violation of her human rights.

Her case is not isolated in Honduras. There was the murder of the high-profile environmentalists Berta Cáceres and Nelson García. These are people who were speaking up for the indigenous people and their communities, trying to protect the lands from multinational companies and the big corporations. We are rightly appalled at the unjust killing in Palestine. That type of unjust killing of human rights defenders goes on continually in countries like Honduras and Colombia.

Ireland's role was acknowledged in the universal periodic review of Colombia at which we raised those concerns. Honduras has the highest murder rate for environmental activists. Our voice is respected. We should use it more in these cases because I believe we are listened to.

Depending on the case, it is sometimes helpful to raise international voices. However, sometimes it can put people at risk. Human rights defenders are sometimes difficult to defend because if one raises their profile, they are targeted more. Other times, raising their profile can protect them.

I take it that because the Deputy raised this case, she feels it would be helpful for us to raise the profile of the individual concerned in order to protect her. We will continue to monitor the case and I will keep the Deputy updated on it.

I believe the NGOs would not have brought it to my attention if they thought there was any danger to the lady in question. The broader point is that it is our societies’ demands for natural resources which is fuelling the conflict in these lands. In these countries, as well as that demand on the land, we are looking at corruption, organised crime, political instability and militarised police forces. On the one hand, there are the indigenous people, the poorest of the poor, while on the other, we have wealth and power. It is the rights of the poor which are constantly eroded.

The Minister referred to strategic development goals, SDGs, earlier. How can there be any success or movement on the SDGs when those kinds of human rights violations continue? There is an issue for the World Bank and the IMF which are funding these large companies. We already have had an example of Dutch and Finnish banks which have withdrawn their funding for some of these projects. We need more to do so.

I accept we were part of the election monitoring but there are concerns over it. There is no doubt there were abuses of the system. The EU's report was rather late in coming out and challenging what happened. We know people who lost their lives because they were objecting to the unfairness of the election and the corrupt way in which it was carried out.

I do not disagree with anything that has been said. The challenge for the international community, particularly through UN structures, is the sheer number of countries which the UN is trying to influence positively at the same time. There are so many conflict zones and governments which are not fulfilling their obligations under international law and so forth. This case has been raised by NGOs and by the Deputy. I will certainly try to ensure we follow the case closely.

Middle East Issues

Richard Boyd Barrett


31. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is pressing his EU counterparts for further actions in support of Palestinian rights in the context of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, the ongoing Palestinian protest on the right to return as allowed for by UN resolution and the ongoing aggression by Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21103/18]

The murder of 58 unarmed Palestinian protesters yesterday by Israel was cold-blooded premeditated murder. It was not an overreaction or an ad hoc response. It was premeditated. In the face of premeditated executions by Israel, does the Minister not think it is incumbent on this country and the European Union to impose sanctions which would actually impact on Israel to stop this slaughter?

I wish to begin by expressing my profound shock at the scale of casualties inflicted by Israeli forces on Palestinian demonstrators yesterday. Even if some demonstrators yesterday were using violence, there is no indication of anything which could possibly have justified this scale of shootings by Israeli troops, and many specific attested shootings were clearly indefensible. This has to stop. I call on Israel specifically to rein in its forces, and on all those who have influence with Israel to use that influence to this effect.

This morning I summoned the Israeli ambassador to Iveagh House and made these points to him in the strongest terms. These dreadful events tragically underline my view that the Israel-Palestine peace process and the situation in Gaza cannot just be left to fester until a better day comes. They must be addressed urgently, or we will only see more days like this.

As to the Deputy’s question about action at EU level, EU and international attention on the Israel-Palestine issue has naturally prioritised efforts to resume political negotiations, as the only way to bring the occupation to an end.

Ireland has worked also to maintain a focus on the justice and human rights issues affecting Palestinians on the ground, and to promote practical efforts to assist them. This relates notably to Israeli settlements and related land seizures, movement restrictions, evictions, deportations and suppression of protests. These are closing - literally - the political and physical space where a peace agreement might be built.

The EU has taken a number of actions in regard to settlements and their products, which we have discussed here. We are continuing to look at other possible actions, although it has to be said it has become difficult to achieve agreement at EU level on any such measures at present.

Accordingly, we have also explored actions with like-minded partners. Last year Ireland joined the West Bank Protection Consortium, a group of countries which seek to act together on land issues particularly. I am also working with some partners on specific project ideas to help ease the blockade of Gaza.

Ireland also funds a number of Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs active in combatting unjust occupation policies and taking legal cases.

Beyond the politics, people in Gaza have contacted me and asked that we would immediately provide medical and blood supplies. They have actually run out of blood in the hospitals in Gaza because they are overwhelmed with injured people and those who have been shot. That is a practical matter.

Who has been on to the Deputy?

People have been phoning me from Gaza, telling me the hospitals are overwhelmed. The Minister should use our contacts there to see if there is anything we can do to get blood and medical supplies there.

Beyond that, how many atrocities does Israel have to commit before the European Union stops giving it favoured trade status, for example? Why is that allowed? There are supposed to be human rights clauses attached to the Euromed agreement, yet we watch as Israel slaughters in cold blood again. This is not the first time but the latest in a series of atrocities, on top of an 11-year siege and systematic theft of Palestinian land designated for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. There are also systematic moves to annex East Jerusalem. It goes on and on and yet we do nothing. There are no sanctions or expulsions. The Minister expels Russian diplomats over an allegation but nothing about Israeli atrocities. The double standards are shocking.

The Deputy should at least know that there is not a unified approach across the European Union in terms of how to put pressure on Israel to change its approach in certain areas. We have a clear statement from all the EU member states which is clear on settlements, the need for a two-state solution and concerns about living conditions in Gaza. Beyond that, it is difficult to get consensus. One can call for consensus all one wants. However, I live in the real world in terms of trying to get things moving and agreed, as well as trying to find ways of Ireland making a constructive and real contribution towards moving towards a new peace settlement.

The events of yesterday and recent weeks make that far more difficult - I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett on that. If there are practical things that we can do, we will do them. We are already doing many practical things in Gaza. We will be spending a great deal of money there this year on energy projects, especially solar projects, and water purification projects. We want to do more.

A final supplementary question from Deputy Boyd Barrett.

In light of all the atrocities Israel has carried out, if we simply hand-wring, express regret and concern then the atrocities will continue. It is effective complicity, especially when we also give Israel favoured trade status. Israel does not give a damn about words, and the Tánaiste knows that. The Tánaiste said he talked to Benjamin Netanyahu three times and that he will talk to him again. Mr. Netanyahu does not give a damn. However, the Israelis are worried about the boycott movement. If there were sanctions it would actually worry them and it would make them pause to consider what they are doing.

I do not know whether Deputy Boyd Barrett has ever met the Israeli Prime Minister. I respectfully suggest that the Deputy has no clue what I am talking to Mr. Netanyahu about.

Anyway, we have an obligation as politicians to find ways of protecting Palestinians and to recognise the legitimate security concerns of Israelis too. Most important, we have an obligation to find a way of moving towards a peace agreement. That is the only medium and long-term solution that can allow two peoples to live side-by-side in states of their own that are safe and secure. We are a long way from that today.

Let us suppose we take Deputy Boyd Barrett's course of action, which is essentially to focus solely on protest to make a point. It would absolutely be seen as solidarity with Palestinians today, but where would we be next month and in six months' time in terms of our ability to be able to deliver projects to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and so on? I am trying to look at ways in which the Government and the State can actually help people there and help the politics of trying to move both sides towards a peace agreement. Unfortunately, that has been made far more difficult by events in recent weeks.

Foreign Conflicts

Seán Crowe


32. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to a report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that found rockets and heavy machine guns fired from Afghan Government helicopters killed and wounded at least 107 boys and men attending a religious ceremony (details supplied); and his views on the concern of the UN with regard to the matter. [21084/18]

In recent months the war in Afghanistan has escalated rapidly. Significant civilian casualties arose due to attacks by Jihadists and Afghan military operations. In April 2018 the UN stated that rockets and heavy machine guns fired from Afghan Government helicopters killed and wounded almost 107 boys and men attending a religious ceremony in the northern city of Kunduz. Has the Tánaiste seen the report? Does he believe this was a violation of international law and possibly a war crime? What is Ireland doing to assist those affected by the war in Afghanistan?

I thank Deputy Crowe for raising this issue. It is an atrocity. I welcome the report issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report was prepared in accordance with the UNAMA Security Council mandate. It has the broader aim of minimising the impact of armed conflict on civilians. Independent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civilians is essential for the regeneration of Afghanistan, as is the support that strengthens and protects civilians affected by armed conflict. Ireland strongly supports any initiative that promotes compliance by all parties to the conflict with international humanitarian and human rights law as well as the constitution and laws of Afghanistan.

Ireland urges the Afghan Government to investigate, fully document and conduct a transparent review of the circumstances that led to this incident and to take immediate steps to ensure accountability for those responsible along the chain of command. Since the incident, the Afghan Government has acknowledged that civilian casualties occurred. In this light, I welcome the establishment by President Ghani of a commission to look into the incident as well as a provincial-level investigative committee established by the Governor of Kunduz. The Afghan Government is obligated, as the primary duty-bearer, to protect civilians from harm and ensure accountability for those responsible for violations of international and Afghan law. To prevent unnecessary and unacceptable harm to civilians in future, measures should be implemented to strengthen accountability and transparency within the context of the planning and conduct of military operations.

It is another brutal reminder of the disaster that unwise foreign military intervention can bring. The USA and Britain, along with their NATO allies, have wreaked havoc in that country. The war has rapidly escalated in recent months. According to the UN more than 10,000 civilians lost their lives or suffered injury during 2017. Yet, the conflict has largely slipped off the news agenda.

The UN report on this attack, which killed 107 men and boys, is harrowing. The report was published last week and underlined the risk of a new Afghan military strategy developed with US advisors. The strategy has seen a significant increase in Afghan air power. Helicopters equipped with rockets and other attack aircraft have been deployed to try to break the stalemate with the Taliban. According to the report at least 36 people, including 30 children, were killed and 71 were injured. Moreover, the helicopters continued to attack as people fled nearby roads and houses and there were allegations that the aircraft deliberately targeted civilians.

The attack is clearly a violation of international law. I have listened to what the Tánaiste has said about how the Afghan Government has to be made accountable. Does the Tánaiste agree that providing the Afghan military with such extraordinary air power is unwise given the repeated violations of international law?

The incident took place in the wider context of a continuing deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan. Conflict-related civilian deaths in the first quarter of 2018 are especially alarming. The largest single spike in civilian casualties occurred during a ten-day period in January when Taliban and Daesh forces separately attacked numerous targets in Kabul killing more than 140 people and wounding hundreds. Ireland condemns these terrorist attacks in the strongest possible terms.

There is an obligation on the Afghan Government to try to protect its citizens. To do that, the Afghan Government must have military capacity. The idea should be to allow the Government in Afghanistan to protect itself and its civilians and I am unsure whether disarming it would be a good strategy.

Deputy Crowe should not forget where Afghanistan was before US intervention there. It was a country run by the Taliban. It was a country that had international training camps for terrorists who were sent throughout the world to wreak havoc. Let us not pretend that foreign intervention has caused the carnage in Afghanistan. Clearly, there are complications with it, but extremist thinking and terrorists are the causes of havoc in Afghanistan. We have to support the Afghan Government to protect its people.

We are talking about 115,000 dead and 3 million refugees. Civilians are at the butt end of this conflict. More weapons will bring more war and conflict and that is not going to resolve anything. The problem is that there are constant violations on both sides. The suicide attacks by Jihadists have largely targeted civilians going about their daily lives. These attacks have had a devastating effect.

This is what I am trying to get at. What is Ireland's way? What are we doing to assist the people of Afghanistan? Year after year they continue to live with insecurity and fear. Are we providing aid to those displaced by the war? Are we going to do anything to assist them in efforts to try to end the war? That is where we need to concentrate. Others will supply weaponry and power from the air and so on. I believe we need to say something different and we need a different approach. That is why I am asking these questions. I am not trying to score points.

I accept that. Attacks in recent months have been especially devastating and relentless. In January, the Taliban conducted two attacks. One was on Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel and the other involved an ambulance suicide bomb. Of particular concern is the rising influence of Daesh in the region. The group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on 21 March near the shrine in Kabul that killed 31 people. A suicide bomb on 22 April at a voter registration centre in Kabul killed 57 people. On 30 April, the group attacked central Kabul killing 25 people, including nine journalists. This is what a government and a state have to try to respond to. It is not easy. I believe Ireland can speak out in terms of adherence to international law.

We can try to ensure that when atrocities take place they are properly investigated. We can and do support refugee populations in the region, although our primary focus is on Syria. We have spent more than €100 million supporting refugees in the past ten years or thereabouts.

With six minutes remaining, I am anxious to take another question and make some progress.

Question No. 33 answered with Question No. 29.

Brexit Negotiations

Charlie McConalogue


34. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the implications of the decision to defer the need for agreement on the Brexit backstop to the European Council meeting in October 2018, which will address preparations to ensure the protection of cross-border workers' rights post-Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16354/18]

Charlie McConalogue


58. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the details of his engagement with the EU Brexit negotiating team and the UK Government with a view to ensuring regulatory alignment on agriculture matters post the UK leaving the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20907/18]

The first of the two questions asks what are the implications of the decision to defer the need for agreement on the Brexit backstop to the European Council meeting in October 2018 which will deal with preparations to ensure the protection of cross-border workers' rights post-Brexit. The Taoiseach indicated that the backstop agreement could wait until October. The Tánaiste has since firmed up the position by saying it needs to happen in June. It was supposed to be delivered in December 2017, however. Approximately 5,500 people cross into Northern Ireland from County Donegal every day for work and study and they are seriously concerned about how Brexit will impact on them. What is the Tánaiste's understanding of the reasons for the absence to date of an agreement on the backstop?

I ask the Tánaiste to be economical in reply given the time constraints.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 58 together.

I must correct the Deputy as Ireland has not deferred anything and nor has the Government. We are trying to secure a deal as quickly as we can. In December, we had a clear commitment on the outcome needed in respect of the process of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. We now have an agreement, which was reached in March, that a legally operable backstop text on the Irish Border issue that guarantees there will be no border infrastructure will be part of the withdrawal treaty. We are not in the process of trying to negotiate the wording. The EU has put forward a proposal, a legally operable wording that would deliver that outcome, and the United Kingdom has indicated it cannot accept that approach. We have asked the UK to come back with an approach that could deliver the same outcome. We have stated we need to make progress on this by the end of June because the full legal text of a withdrawal agreement needs to be concluded by the end of October.

The Tánaiste states progress needs to be made by June because the withdrawal agreement needs to be concluded by the end of October. A backstop is something that is available in the event of a final agreement or another agreement not being reached. If the backstop is not agreed until October, it will not be a backstop but a final agreement. Unfortunately, as matters stand, there is no agreed backstop.

In the run-up to the December negotiations, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste made clear that negotiations would not proceed to the next stage unless the issue of the Irish Border was solved. The Tánaiste subsequently described the agreement as bulletproof. It has since become clear that there are two different interpretations of the agreement and it is still not clear what the agreement will be. What are the implications of this for the 5,500 people who travel daily from County Donegal to Northern Ireland for work and study, including 3,000 people who travel to Derry to work? It is crucial that we provide some clarity for them. What is the Tánaiste's view on where these people stand in the Government's engagement with Mr. Barnier's team and Mr. Barnier's negotiations with his counterparts in the United Kingdom?

The Deputy is correct that a backstop is normally something one implements if nothing else can be agreed. What we have achieved in these negotiations is an acceptance from the United Kingdom and European Union sides that we would agree the backstop first, if one likes, because we will not know what the final deal looks like until the future relationship negotiations have been completed. It will take a couple of years to agree the future relationship in trade, security, data sharing, aviation, agriculture, fishing and other areas that must be negotiated over time. The Government has stated we will not proceed with that unless we know we have agreed a backstop at an early date that can reassure people in Donegal and Derry that the Border, which does not impact on their lives today because it is largely invisible, will remain that way through Brexit. The British Government's agreement to that approach was the significant step forward achieved in March and we are now trying to agree a legally operable text for the backstop.

Everybody involved in the negotiations accepts there will not be a withdrawal treaty unless it includes a backstop. The withdrawal treaty is just that - the divorce arrangements. A future relationship agreement will then need to be achieved and if we can reach an agreement on borders and trade that is so seamless and attractive as not to require any border infrastructure on the island of Ireland, we will not need the backstop. However, we will insist on having the backstop in place as an insurance or fallback mechanism as part of the withdrawal treaty. To use the language of the negotiators, the backstop will be there unless or until something better is agreed.

I will be brief because I am keen to hear the Tánaiste's response. Is it his understanding that the negotiations on the future trading relationship will be completed by October and in advance of the treaty negotiation? I understood they were to be completed by October, after which a two-year transition period would apply. Will the Tánaiste clarify the position in that regard?

In December, the red line from Ireland's point of view was that clarity would be provided. People expected a legal text at that stage but what we got instead was a form of words, with a legal text to follow. The legal text has still not been agreed. It will not be a backstop unless it is agreed in June because otherwise it will be the final agreement.

As the Tánaiste understands, the issues at stake are serious, particularly for County Donegal. It is important that the line is held in June, clarity is obtained and there is no slipping back.

The Deputy raises an important issue. The future relationship will not be agreed by the end of October. The detail of the future relationship agreement will not be agreed before Britain leaves the European Union. The full length of the transition period will still be a negotiation around what the final future relationship looks like post-transition. However, the withdrawal agreement needs to be agreed by the end of October because it must be ratified by the European Parliament.

The two separate agreements that are needed are essentially agreements on divorce arrangements and the future relationship. The divorce arrangements or withdrawal agreement is where most of the key Irish issues are being dealt with. These are the Border, protecting the Good Friday Agreement, the common travel area and so on, in other words, where we will stand on the day after Britain leaves the EU. With that, we will probably have a statement or some kind of framework agreement on the future relationship which sets the parameters for a detailed future relationship agreement. This will be a combination of a free trade agreement and many other things and it will certainly take some time to negotiate.

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