Post-European Council Meetings: Statements

I attended a series of European Council meetings in Brussels on Wednesday, 17 October and Thursday, 18 October. On Wednesday evening, we met in Article 50 format to discuss the Brexit negotiations. The meeting of the European Council proper on Thursday morning focused on migration, internal security and external relations. This was followed by a European summit, where we exchanged views on deepening economic and monetary union ahead of the December European Council. I also had bilateral meetings with the UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, and with the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.

I will focus my remarks today on Brexit, and will also outline the discussions on migration and economic issues. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will speak about internal security in her statement, as well as the external relations issues that arose.

From Ireland’s perspective, the priority was, of course, the Article 50 meeting on Brexit. In advance of the meeting, the UK Prime Minister outlined the UK perspective to the other EU leaders. Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, then gave us a detailed and candid update on the state of play with regard to those negotiations with the UK. He confirmed that, despite intensified negotiations over the past few weeks, the decisive progress we so urgently need has not yet been made. This is a matter of serious concern to us all.

Collectively, we reaffirmed our full confidence in Mr. Barnier and urged him to continue his efforts to reach an agreement in accordance with the guidelines previously agreed by the European Council, which we decided not to change.

President Tusk said that, for now, he would not convene a special summit in November but he would do so if and when Mr. Barnier reports that decisive progress has been achieved, thereby warranting a special summit.

As Deputies will be aware, a focus of the negotiations has been on the backstop or protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. I reminded colleagues of how much is at stake and how important it is that we get this right. We have always said that we want the negotiations to succeed. This will only be possible with agreement on a legally robust backstop, which must apply in the circumstances set out in the withdrawal agreement. The UK specifically committed to this in the joint EU-UK report last December. The UK Prime Minister reiterated these commitments in March and again in September.

The EU presented its detailed proposal for the backstop when it published a draft version of the withdrawal agreement in March. The UK has brought other ideas to the table in the course of the negotiations, although it has not published a formal, written alternative text.

In considering any proposals, we will continue to apply the tests outlined by Michel Barnier earlier this year as follows. Is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the Single Market and the customs union? Is it an all-weather backstop that applies unless and until an alternative solution supersedes it?

The EU’s proposal sets out practical and technical solutions to protect the gains of the peace process, and to keep the border open and invisible as it is today. It does not in any way represent a threat to the constitutional integrity of the UK, nor have we any interest in doing so. I support Mr. Barnier’s efforts to de-dramatise the protocol and to focus on agreeing the workable solution that it offers at its core. Colleagues agreed that this is not just an Irish issue; it is a matter of European solidarity. We have been consistent in saying that the UK must honour these commitments and that the legally operable backstop must be included in the withdrawal agreement, or there will be no agreement and no period of transition.

I very much hope and expect that the future relationship will be close, comprehensive and ambitious. However, that cannot be guaranteed until it is negotiated in detail and in due course ratified by the UK Parliament and the parliaments of all 27 member states. There are plenty of points along the way where this could go wrong which is why we need the certainty of the backstop.

As I said in Brussels, although we all recognise that the backstop cannot have an expiry date, it will enter into force only if there is no agreement to supersede it; I hope it will never need to be invoked. It would cease to be in force only when there is an agreement to supersede it and, therefore, I expect it would be temporary. While it is intended to be temporary, it cannot be time-limited in the sense of having an expiry date. I explained this to Mrs. May at our bilateral meeting on Wednesday and she acknowledged this.

Our unique concerns are fully understood and I am pleased that EU solidarity has been unwavering. I took the opportunity on Wednesday evening to thank partners for this, and also to thank Mr. Barnier and his team for their dedication and perseverance in the negotiations.

In my meeting with President Tajani, we discussed the role of the European Parliament in ratifying the withdrawal agreement. He emphasised the parliament’s commitment to ensuring that the backstop is included in the withdrawal agreement and he offered to visit Ireland to confirm the parliament’s support.

While we will continue to insist that a legally operative backstop is an indispensable part of a withdrawal agreement, it should be seen as an insurance policy; it is not our preferred solution. I believe that a positive outcome to the negotiations is still possible and that it can deliver a close and deep future relationship between the EU and the UK. However, if we are to have the withdrawal agreement secured, approved and operational by the time the UK leaves, we need to make decisive progress now. In the meantime, we are all stepping up our preparedness arrangements, including our contingency planning for a no-deal scenario. President Juncker updated us on the Commission's work in this regard at the meeting on Wednesday. It is important to realise, however, that irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations, things will be different.

The 2019 budget includes a package for Brexit readiness to insulate Ireland from the negative economic impact of Brexit. Various programmes to help businesses are in place, including a €300 million Brexit loan scheme for business and substantial investment in the agrifood sector. The Government has also launched a new "Getting Ireland Brexit Ready" public awareness campaign, which provides information on what help is available. Outreach events have taken place in Cork, Galway and Monaghan at which attendances exceeded expectations. I will participate in an event in Dublin tomorrow.

On other issues, migration continues to be a concern for the EU. Having had extensive discussions on this at the June European Council and again in Salzburg last month, our meeting on Thursday focused on the external aspects, particularly strengthening our co-operation with source and transit countries in Africa and the Middle East.

We welcomed the decision to convene a summit with our African partners in December. It will be helpful in developing a closer partnership with the continent. We also agreed to hold a summit with the Arab League early next year. Any long-term and sustainable solution needs to deal with the reasons people decide to migrate. We need to ensure they have better prospects at home when it comes to peace, democracy, security and economic opportunity.

On Thursday, we also discussed the Commission proposals on enhancing the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, as well as our ongoing efforts to reform the common European asylum system and the Dublin convention. The discussions on this issue are difficult, and member states have not yet agreed on the best way forward.

As Deputies will be aware, Ireland is less directly affected by large migration inflows and illegal immigration than many other countries due to our geographic position, our position under Protocol No. 21, and our non-participation in certain aspects of the Schengen Agreement. I believe, however, that the challenges need a collective response. We need to respond to migration in a comprehensive, fair and pragmatic way. This includes opting in, as we have done, to the EU relocation and resettlement measures; taking in additional migrants over the summer months from ships in the Mediterranean, which we did; contributing naval vessels to help with humanitarian efforts in the Mediterranean; helping to train the Libyan coastguard and disrupt the activities of human traffickers and people smugglers; and increasing our financial assistance. As I told my EU counterparts last week, Ireland intends to continue to play an active and constructive role.

A euro summit meeting took place in inclusive format – that is, with 27 member states, including members of the eurozone and those that may join – along with the Eurogroup President, Mr. Mário Centeno, and the ECB President, Mr. Mario Draghi. Discussions were focused on the further reform and deepening of the eurozone and the need to complete economic and monetary union, including a banking union and capital markets union. Mr. Centeno provided an update on the progress on implementing decisions reached at the previous euro summit in June, in particular on the further development of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM. Work continues on this at the level of finance Ministers.

I spoke about Ireland's commitment to the further development of European economic and monetary union, including completion of the banking union as soon as practicable, and the use of the ESM as the backstop to the Single Resolution Fund. I also took the opportunity to inform the Council that Ireland has now collected in full the alleged state aid from Apple. This will be held in an escrow fund pending the outcome of the appeal process before the European courts.

I also gave an overview of Ireland's 2019 budget, which will effectively see us having no deficit for the first time in ten years. It will allow us to continue to reduce our national debt as a proportion of GDP. I underlined our commitment to continuing to tackle the issue of aggressive tax planning and tax avoidance by some multinational companies, including through the introduction of an exit tax in budget 2019. All of these actions were very warmly welcomed by other Prime Ministers and Presidents.

We can work together as 27 member states, building close relationships with third countries, to manage the challenges we face, including Brexit, migration and security. From Ireland's perspective, we are building new strategic alliances and strengthening existing ones. Our active participation in the debate about the future of Europe, and the citizens' dialogue that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy McEntee, has been leading at home, have been really valuable here. I fully intend to have Ireland continue to play a constructive role and a leadership role in shaping the future of the European Union which we help to build.

I am sharing time with Deputy Lisa Chambers.

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that there was no white smoke, so to speak, at last week's EU Council meeting. It is remarkable, however, that the main message coming out of the meeting, unlike after Salzburg, was that work is ongoing and that it is still possible to reach a deal. This at least gives some hope as we all agree in this House that a no-deal scenario would be a disaster for Ireland, the UK and EU. Given the coverage in the UK papers since the Council meeting, more doubt has been cast on what Prime Minister May can deliver given her internal challenges in Westminster and her own party. No doubt EU members are very conscious of this challenge, and every effort is being made to enable the UK to realise the challenges ahead if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Today's headlines in the Financial Times, for example, outline how the United Kingdom is planning to bring in emergency supplies, such as food and medicine, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. When this was discussed at Cabinet, it was reported that one Minister said "an almighty row" developed. Obviously, the root cause of all the problems is to be found in the small group of Brexiteers in the Tory party who continue to campaign against the EU with almighty ferocity. They seem determined to cause chaos even if it destroys the economy of their own country. Added to this, there is the complicated scenario in which the DUP is adamant that Northern Ireland cannot be treated any way differently from the rest of the UK even when businesses and farmers depend on a seamless border to do their daily business and when the majority of citizens in the North voted to remain in the EU. It is exceptionally difficult to take the demand and criticisms from the DUP when there seems to be no effort to allow and enable the Northern Executive to get back up and functioning. It is now nearly two years since the Executive and Assembly met. It is no wonder that people in the North are so disillusioned with their politicians across the parties. Not having an Executive during such a critical phase of Brexit negotiations makes no logical sense. Party political ideologies are getting in the way of pragmatic politics and this is harmful and works against the interests of the people of the North.

My party leader has said on numerous occasions that a deal is possible, and Fianna Fáil remains committed to being generally supportive of what the Government and its diplomats are trying to achieve as we believe this is in the best interest of the island of Ireland and, of course, the rest of the EU and the UK. We must, however, prepare for every eventuality. While the budget allocated funding to recruit 400 additional east-west customs staff and to increase the allocation to IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland so that they will increase access to the overall European markets, Ireland must do more in case there is a no-deal scenario.

It was interesting to read the independent review by the PBO. It found that the Government prepared for an "orderly Brexit" and that there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the future relationship between the UK and the EU and the negotiations of this future relationship. For this reason, it is believed it may not be prudent to plan on the basis of an orderly Brexit. The office also cautioned on conventional economic models as they "may not capture the unprecedented shock that a disorderly Brexit represents". For Ireland, the economic damage, according to the only independent forecast commissioned by the Government is a hit equal to 7% of national income, which is the same as would be felt by the UK.

As our party leader said last week, the first priority must be to keep pushing for a form of special status for Northern Ireland that would guarantee it full access to both the EU and the UK markets. Northern Ireland would have a unique economic status where it would not be obliged to pay for membership of the Single Market but would derive all of the benefits. The special or "unique" economic zone status that my party has advocated provides a definite guarantee that no constitutional sleight of hand is being implemented. It utilises principles well respected in international trade law and which, by definition, involve one part of a state being given separate and preferential status by comparison with the rest. In this regard, we should note an area that we are all familiar with on the border of Germany and Switzerland, namely Busingen. Busingen is not technically part of the EU customs territory. As a treaty was signed in 1948 between Switzerland and Germany, it is part of the Swiss customs territory. An exception has been made for geopolitical reasons.

Other issues were raised at the European summit. Our European challenge is not just about minimising the damage of Brexit because we have also to renew our approach to the future of Europe. Last year, the French President, Mr. Macron, began a debate on the reform and development of Europe that cut to the heart of the issues involved. We cannot meet the challenges of a changing Europe and changing world if we continue with an approach to the Union that denies its ability to be more effective and ambitious.

For many years Ireland has been a supporter of incrementalism within the Union principally because we saw the need to stop the UK from opting out of everything. That reason will be gone following Brexit. We must look again at supporting a Union that has the resources and means to do more to help all of us meet challenges such as energy security, building a more robust financial sector and helping regions and countries in need.

I am glad immigration and cybersecurity were also discussed at last week's meeting. The call for increased co-operation should be adhered to as it is in every member state's interest and all states must work towards eradicating illegal smuggling both online and at sea. The asylum process was also discussed and proposals by the Austrian Presidency are to be worked on before the December Council meeting.

It was disappointing that no progress was made in the Brexit negotiations at this month's Council meeting. The lack of progress meant that no date was set for a special summit in November, as had been expected. We are in the final stages of Brexit and it is a crucial time for both the UK and the EU. It was positive to read reports in recent days of a potential new solution to the deadlock, with the EU offering the UK a UK-wide customs arrangement that would potentially be negotiated as a separate international treaty. This would be very welcome from an Irish perspective and go some way towards solving the remaining Irish issue of the Border. However, it does not, as was suggested by the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab, dispense with the necessity for a legally binding Northern Ireland-specific backstop, which is our insurance policy and still a requirement for a withdrawal treaty. We must stand firm in our rejection of such a notion.

It remains unclear whether Mrs. Theresa May can get any of this through the House of Commons, but we rely on there being a majority in the UK Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit scenario. There could still be a situation where the UK negotiating team strikes a deal in Brussels, including a backstop for Northern Ireland, but the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, is unable to get it through the House of Commons. The potential for a hard Brexit is still ever present and we must prepare for it, although we hope that outcome is very unlikely. We regularly hear from the UK that the future trading arrangement to be negotiated will solve all our problems and that a backstop will never be needed. However, if the UK continues to pursue its own trade deals and adopts a different customs regime and potentially different standards and regulations from those of the EU, in the absence of a Northern Ireland-specific backstop our current problems with the Border will persist. We must remain vigilant in these final stages of the negotiation and not get sucked into looking to the further trading relationship between the UK and the EU to resolve the issues pertaining to Ireland because it is quite likely it will not.

There is an unprecedented deal on the table for Northern Ireland, the best of both worlds. With a special economic zone for the North, for which I and my party have advocated for at least two years, Northern Ireland could have access to the EU market and all the benefits associated with membership while still being constitutionally part of the UK and having full access to the UK on that basis. For some reason, however, the DUP cannot or does not wish to see this and is rejecting it. It is extraordinary that it would prefer Northern Ireland to fall off a cliff next March rather than explore this genuine opportunity which would provide real benefits for both communities, farmers, businesses and citizens. Of course, Sinn Féin is nowhere to be seen in the North at a time when it should be advocating strongly for this special deal.

Finally, with regard to our domestic preparedness for whatever type of Brexit occurs, it is accepted that even a soft, orderly Brexit will still be a negative shock for our economy, particularly for the agriculture and agrifood sectors. I am concerned that the take-up of Brexit supports, and the Taoiseach referred to the Brexit loan scheme, has been very low. In fact, as of this month only €8.5 million of the €300 million available has been drawn down. Over 80% of jobs in the agrifood sector are outside Dublin and are sustaining rural communities across the country. There are some 250,000 jobs in that sector. This would be the most strongly affected sector by Brexit and the Government must up its game and ensure it protects this industry. We cannot wait until next March to prepare for Brexit. The Government must do more in terms of getting the farming and business communities ready.

Táim buíoch as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tabhachtach seo um thráthnóna. Last December we were told that the so-called backstop arrangement was a guarantee or insurance policy that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland and that the interests of citizens in the North, the majority of whom voted against Brexit, would be protected. We were told at that time that this arrangement would be enshrined in a legal text by March of this year. When that deadline came and went, we were then told the British Government would produce firm proposals by June. After that, the deadline became the October European Council meeting. The Taoiseach said at the time that he would prefer to have the right deal in October than any deal in June. That was a fair position, given the scale of what is involved, but it is now nearly November and there is no deal in sight.

I am not blaming the Taoiseach for that. I believe he was led up the garden path by the British Government which, frankly, has engaged in bad faith. It signed up to the backstop last year and has spent every moment since then trying to renege on it. It has stalled and prevaricated. This is due to the fighting and division within the Tory party and Mrs. Theresa May's toxic pact with the DUP. That is the reality. The DUP has aligned itself with the most right-wing element of the Conservative party, UKIP and extremist Brexiteers, and moved from a position of seeking to avert or avoid a hard border to actively seeking one. In the months that followed Brexit even Jeffrey Donaldson, difficult as it might be to imagine it now, was making the case for a special deal for the island of Ireland. Now, due to pure politics, the language of the DUP has shifted to "not an inch" and "no surrender", and it is ready and willing to sacrifice the progress of the past 20 years just to be seen to be particularly staunch or hard-line. That is a reckless and irresponsible position, in spite of the considerable goodwill that exists across Europe for the North and a willingness to make arrangements that would be favourable to the North, perhaps more favourable than other areas enjoy.

The DUP does not represent the majority of people in the North and it does not represent the majority opinion in the North, which voted to remain. That point cannot be made often enough. The North voted to remain and that vote must be respected. The special circumstances pertaining to the North and the island of Ireland must be recognised. On Monday, Mrs. Theresa May addressed the House of Commons in Westminster in what was billed in advance as a significant statement on Brexit. Unfortunately, it was anything but. There was nothing new, only rhetoric. There were no new proposals on the backstop or the border and nothing new in respect of Ireland. Her proposal for a time limited backstop, which in reality means no backstop at all, is a non-runner. The backstop cannot and will not be temporary. She must grasp that reality and do it quickly. It is incredible that with five months to go, she still has not got the message. The fact is that she signed up and agreed to the backstop in December. It remains the bottom line in order to prevent a hard border and safeguard our political and economic stability, now and for the future. It cannot be negotiated downwards or watered down. The integrity of the peace process is at stake here and there is an onus on the Taoiseach and the EU 27 to ensure there is no resiling from that position and no return to a hard border on our island.

Unfortunately, time is running out. The Taoiseach said he is not interested in deadlines, and I accept that. A deal late in the day is clearly better than no deal. However, there will have to be ratification of any agreement and that will not be a straightforward process. Last week the European Parliament made it clear that it will not support a withdrawal agreement without a workable and legally operational backstop. I welcome that. It is recognition of the unique circumstances of our island. The European Parliament gets it. Mrs. Theresa May must do the same. There is an onus on political leaders to defend our country's political and economic interests. We can have our disagreements on a plethora of issues but this is far too important for everyone on the island. That has guided Sinn Féin's approach to this issue. We have supported the Government and the European negotiating team in their endeavours to get the best deal possible for Ireland.

We want that as the final outcome, and that should be the position of everybody and every party on the island. We will continue to defend the position of citizens in the North and across the island. People want a frictionless Border and the full protection of the Good Friday Agreement. The Brexit backstop must be the bottom line and the absolute minimum. There is an onus on the British Government to step up to the plate. The onus on the Irish Government is to defend and promote an all-island view. The Government must stand firm in defending the interests of the entire island and the rights of citizens. The Taoiseach and the Government must remain resolute in the face of British intransigence, and the EU must remain true to its word that without an agreed, legally enforceable Brexit backstop there will be no withdrawal agreement.

It is safe to say that the October European Council was an anti-climax. If we had hoped for any new proposals on Brexit, or any breakthrough in the negotiations, I believe we were all disappointed. This is a classic negotiation tactic. If one does not want to give more ground, or is unable to give more ground, one plays for time.

What we saw at the October summit was incredible. The British Prime Minister again offered nothing new. The British Prime Minister again demanded that the EU rather than the British should make new concessions. Previously Mrs. May has been accused of having spent two years negotiating with her own party to come up with her politically acceptable set of proposals for the Tory Party - the Chequers proposals - as if she did not subsequently have to negotiate with the EU 27 at all.

When Mrs. May proposes changes, as she has recently done in her speech to the UK Parliament, it is as likely to be one step forward and two steps back. Theresa May has contorted her position from last December. I have already said this to the Taoiseach during earlier questions. Last December there was a clear commitment to a Northern Ireland backstop agreement. However many times we repeat this, Mrs. May is certainly now moving her ground on this and doing complex manoeuvres that seem designed to disguise the fact that she is walking away from the solemn agreement that was clear and unambiguous last December.

Crucially for Ireland’s concerns, the British Prime Minister is seeking to transfer the risks associated with Brexit to Ireland. I made this point to the Taoiseach earlier. It is a fundamental point. Mrs. May has proposed a UK-wide Brexit backstop so that there is no need for the Northern Ireland-only version. The EU has agreed to this option, but rightly requires a Northern Ireland-only version in the legal text. This is what was expected from last December and it is still the position. The UK Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, has suggested that extending the implementation period is an alternative to the backstop. Clearly it is not. A longer transition, however, should be acceptable as the alternative to actually triggering the backstop, as long as the legal backstop exists. Prime Minister May has argued that the UK must not be kept in either a backstop arrangement or in a transition period "indefinitely". That is unacceptable, and if there is to be a backstop at all, it must have permanent effect. Again we see a significant shift from the December commitment.

The risk for Ireland now is that we will be asked to accept some diluted form of the backstop. Only last week I was rounded on by one or two spokespersons from the Taoiseach's side of the House for daring to suggest that such options were even being discussed in Europe. Now those comments are out in the open. The Labour Party warned that we must not allow the Irish Border to be part of the final horse trading at the end of these negotiations between the EU and UK. Just two weeks ago, Prime Minister May spoke very important words in Parliament about her "profound responsibility" to the Good Friday Agreement and how life on both sides of the Border in Ireland must be allowed to continue as it does now.

If the British were truly committed to the Good Friday Agreement, we would have seen a separate legal agreement on the table by now. For a while now I have told the Taoiseach that I am sceptical about seeing a legal version coming from Britain in relation to the December agreement. The Taoiseach had said that it was coming and that it was promised. By mixing it in with the other Brexit issues, Ireland’s concerns are always at risk of being part of a basket of negotiating positions in the final talks.

The Taoiseach's approach has failed to resolve the Border issue in advance of this final end game discussion. Last year the Taoiseach had promised that the commitment to a backstop was "bulletproof", "rock-solid" and "cast-iron". Quite obviously that is not the case because the backstop is the single major issue left to be resolved in the negotiations. While there are other issues to be discussed, when it comes to the crunch, this is the single blockage issue now. Deadlines for agreed legal texts on this matter have repeatedly been missed.

I have no doubt about the firm commitment of Mr. Michel Barnier’s negotiation team to Ireland’s demands. I have never doubted that. I believe there is solidarity in the other EU 26 for Ireland's insistence on no hard border. This is what I hear again and again. This, however, is not the point. We now see the British Government trying to wrangle a deal where it does not agree a legally binding and potentially permanent backstop. At the end of this period, the Taoiseach may well be asked by our European partners to choose between no deal or no backstop. The core issue in the backstop negotiations is that the risk associated with the backstop is not transferable and we need to be crystal clear about this. Either Ireland takes the risk of no backstop agreement, in the hope that the future relationship negotiated between the EU and the UK will be so close that border controls will be meaningless, or else the UK agrees a permanent backstop arrangement and takes the risk that this would never be invoked because the negotiations would arrive at a point where the relationship between the EU and UK is such that a border is unnecessary. This is the binary nature of the choices. The binary nature of this risk reduces the scope for us to produce any innovative solution to the dilemma facing Prime Minister Theresa May.

We need the Government to reaffirm that Ireland will, at this point, insist on no deal rather than allow any dilution of the legal certainty and permanency of the Northern Ireland backstop. If there is no deal, I believe a successor Labour Party government in London will make the agreement that we are seeking. The British Labour Party is committed to remaining so close to the Single Market and customs union that we would not have to trigger any legally stated backstop.

Is the Government now fully prepared for end game negotiations? After March, is it fully prepared for potentially months of a no-trade deal with the UK and a hard border, temporarily? If this happens, are we really prepared for what might happen at midnight on 29 March 2019? There is no doubt that the Government will come under immense pressure from business to avoid a no deal scenario. We will then be faced with a real dilemma, and it will be a real dilemma for the Taoiseach.

Will we fudge the backstop and sacrifice our political commitments to Northern Ireland? All of us in this House need to be alert to the level of risk that will arise in these critical final months. We will all come under pressure because Brexit will harm jobs and livelihoods. A temporary no deal scenario, even if it only lasts for a few months, will destroy businesses and end jobs. It will be a major shock to Ireland’s economy, but we have to be prepared to weather that storm because the alternative is genuinely worse. If we do not - all of us - hold firm on our demand for a potentially permanent, legally operational backstop, we take the risk of reinforcing and copper-fastening partition on this island. Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, with the flourishing of all-island economic activity and the great improvement in relations between the people, North and South, east and west, even if the risk of a hard border is low we should not take that risk at all.

I want to speak about what is happening with the Italian budget and the response of the European Commission to it because we are in uncharted territory. The Commission is refusing to accept a budget decided by an elected Italian Government. Although it is an Italian Government with which I disagree and which contains some horrifically right-wing forces in the form of the Northern League it is nonetheless an elected Italian Government. Here we have an illustration of precisely what we warned against at the time of the so-called fiscal treaty, which was in reality an austerity treaty. We warned that the crisis would be used to embed a system of authoritarian neoliberalism within the European Union. At the time, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, who has just left, called on the Socialist Party not to "lie" about the treaty and what it was about. He told us that if we did not accept the austerity treaty there was a risk that austerity might have to be faster, quicker and deeper. The then Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, informed us that this was an opportunity to vote for "economic stability and economic recovery", but what we have seen in the last week or so in terms of the relations between the Commission and the Italian Government on the question of the budget has been an absolute confirmation that what took place with the fiscal treaty was an enshrining and hardening of that system of authoritarian neoliberalism.

Explicit use was made of the Commission's power to say no to a budget put forward by an elected government, to refuse to accept it and to say, in this case, that the Government had three weeks to come back and present a different budget in line with the kind of mechanisms the Commission wants. If the Government does not do so, the Commission has the ability to fine it. Those fines will escalate. In the case of Italy they could reach up to €3.5 billion. The Commission has the right to take the Government's votes at the European Council away from it. Up until this point the European Commission has not used those powers. Instead it has relied on the softer powers of the European semester, putting pressure on governments to toe the line and so on. Now, however, authoritarian neoliberalism has bared its teeth within the European Union in a very blatant way to which everybody should pay attention because today it affects the Italian Government and some of the horrific characters involved in it, but tomorrow it could well affect a left-wing government trying to implement left-wing policies.

To be clear, I hold no candle for the Italian Government whatsoever. It is a fundamentally right-wing government. The Northern League and Matteo Salvini are guilty of horrifically racist rhetoric, but also of implementing anti-immigrant and racist policies since the party came to power. It is also fundamentally committed to a neoliberal model of capitalism and the maintenance of its rule. That is reflected in the fact that in the past clash with the European Commission it conceded on the question of the finance minister and ended up appointing a right-wing technocratic finance minister in order to attempt to please the European Commission.

This is a question of fundamental democratic rights. The Italian Government, under pressure from below, has delivered a budget which contains measures for which ordinary people have pressed, for example a minimum income for the unemployed, a reduction of the retirement age and a refusal to increase VAT from 22% to 25%, as requested by the European Commission. Under pressure from below on some level, it has not implemented the kind of harsh budget involving austerity across the board which the European Commission would request.

The response of the European Commission to that has been absolutely vicious. It has refused to accept the budget. Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, has said the "budget represents a clear and intentional deviation from the commitments made by Italy last July" and that Italy's compliance with the debt reduction benchmark agreed by all member states is in question. This requires, as outlined in the fiscal treaty, a steady reduction of the debt level towards the 60% threshold referred to in the EU treaties. This is about locking Italy into literally decades of austerity to pay down this debt. Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said "The Italian Government is openly and consciously going against the commitments made" and that it is tempting to cure debt with more debt but that at some point debt weights too heavily. The Commission's recipe is to attempt to cure conditions that are partly the effects of the crisis of austerity by heaping on yet more austerity. It is a recipe for a downward spiral.

I saw someone mentioning that bond yields are being checked in Italy like it was 2011. We are back again to that point at which markets are being used as a threat against the Italian Government and any government that would threaten to vary outside the extremely limited strictures of the kind of neoliberal and austerity policies promoted by the European Commission. Sebastian Kurz, the Chancellor of Austria, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, said that Austria is not prepared to stand behind the debts of other states while those states are actively contributing to market uncertainty. That is the same sort of rhetoric we saw six or seven years ago in attempts to make governments comply with the diktats of the market, as represented by the demands of the European Commission.

This is a right-wing Italian Government which has no redeeming features whatsoever. The left in Italy is absolutely correct to oppose this Government and to attempt to bring it down through struggle. These fiscal rules, however, are an impediment to resolving the crises that face ordinary working-class people. That is a fact. It is also a fact in this country when it comes to the question of housing. The rules function in such a way as not to allow us to use the massive resources that exist in this country in NAMA or the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to invest in resolving the housing crisis because doing so would mean investing at a rate higher than our growth rates. The fiscal rules are a barrier to resolving crises that affect ordinary people. The effect of the fiscal treaty was to hammer those fiscal rules, which started their life in the Maastricht treaty, absolutely into law and to give significant power to the unelected European Commission to ensure that governments do not come under pressure from below and that austerity policies are implemented.

It is a very unfortunate reality that it is a right-wing Italian Government which is coming into a clash with the European Commission on this question. The betrayal of Syriza was very unfortunate. It did not carry through a confrontation with the European Commission which now unfortunately allows the right to be painted as those who are willing to stand up the European Commission when, in reality, it has already bowed down in terms of the finance minister and is likely to seek some sort of compromise on this issue. It is important for the left to be absolutely clear here. These fiscal rules are an absolute disaster from the point of view of ordinary people. The model of the European Union, which has become increasingly authoritarian and which has neoliberalism at its core, is no model for any social progress or any democratic vision of Europe. It has nothing to do with any idea of internationalism whatsoever. Left-wing governments which do not bend the knee to austerity policies and the European Commission, as happened with Syriza, will be elected again and those left governments are going to face these rules.

A choice will have to be made to say clearly that we refuse to accept the fiscal straitjacket and refuse to be bound by the fiscal rules. It is a choice between abiding by its rules and not facing its sanctions and not implementing austerity and policies that are disastrous for ordinary people. If we break with austerity and neoliberal policies, we will clash with the European Commission, safe in the knowledge that in doing so we will be standing up for the interests of millions of people across Europe who similarly reject those sort of policies and the very authoritarian model of the European Union that we have now. It will be part of a struggle for a very different type of Europe, a Europe that is built democratically from below and which has social and socialist policies at its core, including pro-worker and pro-environmental policies. It will have policies of global solidarity and social justice as opposed to the imperialistic austerity driven capitalist policies which are at the core of the European Union.

I will return to the issues I brought up last week when we made pre-European Council meeting statements. The first is the situation in Myanmar and the role the EU could play there. We know what is happening to minority groups in Rakhine State, Kachin State and Shan State and the EU has a role. In a reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said Ireland is working with the UNHCR and the EU to put measures in place for investigating human rights violations and holding those responsible to account. When was this last discussed at the EU? When will it be discussed again? The peace process, which is funded by the EU, is just not working.

I will also raise the question of Yemen and the role of the EU. In a Topical Issue debate last week, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, acknowledged the devastating consequences for civilians. The UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen, Lise Grande, estimated between 12 million and 13 million people in Yemen will be at acute risk of famine in the coming months if the conflict continues. We can take it as a given that the conflict will continue because there seems to be little, if any, effort being made to bring the warring parties around the table. I know the difficulties. There are a number of warring factions in the south who are fighting each other but they will come together to fight the Houthi.

In three years, the EU has given €438 million in aid to Yemen. The aid is vital. We can imagine what that aid could have done in Yemen if it was not needed to address the needs of those who have been affected by war. We are told the public health system has broken down. People, including children, are dying from illnesses that would be very treatable if it was not a war zone.

Germany has suspended arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. So too has Norway, while not being in the EU. Other European countries and the US continue to fuel the fighting. Where is the EU with one voice in confronting this? The naval blockade on the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef is violating international humanitarian law because the impact on civilians is disproportionate to the military benefit. That blockade is enforced by Saudi Arabia. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, said he raised these issues with the Saudi, Iranian and UAE embassies in Ireland but he did not tell us what their responses were. Ireland was part of a group driving a resolution by consensus to establish a group of eminent experts on Yemen. In the meantime the humanitarian situation worsens. It is very alarming to hear of NGOs working in the humanitarian field being under attack and shot at. The spotlight is on Saudi Arabia because of the very regrettable murder of Mr. Khashoggi but we cannot lose sight of the other aspects of Saudi Arabian involvement. It is time for the EU to call for its member countries to stop selling arms which are facilitating the war.

The EU has to speak with one voice at the UN on the arms trade. The EU being a voice against the arms trade is looking more and more unlikely because we hear about a comprehensive agreement between EU members that Britain and the US will have access to PESCO on a case-by-case basis after Brexit. Last May, a group of countries presented a document pushing for PESCO to be open to outsiders but others, including France, were concerned that opening that door to American and British companies would deny lucrative contracts to arms industries in the EU member states. That leads to the point about the EU Council spending a lot of time on migration and internal security. Part of it is stepping up action against the smugglers. I am totally in agreement with that because we have seen what their activities have led to. We know the cost that people are paying economically through overcrowding and fatalities. The Council says it will do this through co-operation with the countries of origin and transit, particularly north Africa. How does that fit in with EU values? Those values are under threat. They talk about the need to protect the democratic systems but we are not seeing that with the rise of so many right-wing groups and individuals in Europe.

There are concerns about this work being directed through the European external investment plan and the EU trust fund because there have been questions about the trust fund. While the EU says it is committed to democracy, I do not know that the policies on migration and defence are examples of democracy. The supreme irony is that all these problems and the conflicts in many African countries can be traced back to the colonial and imperial powers of countries that are members of the EU. While the EU continues to be a major funder of aid it is important that it confronts members in the arms trade that are creating the need for aid.

I dtús báire ba mhaith liom dhá rud a úsáid a dúirt An Breitheamh Charleton i gcomhthéacs An Garda Síochána le déanaí. Dúirt sé nach féidir an dubh a chur ina gheal ach seal agus chomh maith leis sin dúirt sé áit éigin eile sa tuarascáil gur ionann an ceist ceart a chur agus a bheith leathbhealaigh tríd an próiséas chun freagra a fháil. Mr. Justice Peter Charleton, in his recent report, which I will be looking at tomorrow and which I will not go into now, used two phrases I will make use of here. He said one can only deceive for so long and that to ask the right question is to go far in answering it. We see a Europe developing where we are not allowed to ask questions. We see foreign policy discussed in terms of who is and who is not our friend.

Unfortunately, we have received a letter from the Ceann Comhairle. I understand he might have been in a difficult position but he has written to all Deputies and said clearly he is not telling us what to say or how to act but he is reminding us that the one China policy has long been in place. It is the Government policy. He tells us it is up to us but it is important to remind us that China is our friend and Taiwan is not. We have similar use of language on Saudi Arabia and a failure to condemn it. There is a similar use of language on Turkey. Despite all the complexity and education, we are now reducing foreign policy to who is our friend and who is not.

I proudly canvassed against the Lisbon treaty because, leaving out the references to the market and the free market, it primarily set down in black and white the militarisation of Europe. There was one good little paragraph in the Lisbon treaty that said all decisions should be made as near as possible to the citizen. That has been absolutely ignored and we have decision after decision made by unelected people. Twice in this Dáil session we have been subjected to two unelected people from Europe talking to us in the Dáil. I think it is unprecedented but I am subject to correction. I watch with dismay and take every opportunity to highlight the continued use of Shannon, as do my colleagues Deputies Wallace, Clare Daly and Maureen O'Sullivan. The continued use of Shannon is tolerated with no questions asked and when questions are asked no answers are given. I have watched PESCO be signed in my name, which I never gave permission for, and we have committed to regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms in order to reach agreed objectives. At present it is 2% of GDP which equates to an eventual increase in military spending to €2 billion per year. We had the EU's High Representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, calling it an historic day for European defence. Imagine an unelected woman telling us that this is an historic day for defence. It is more and more money going into the militarisation of Europe. I do not have the time to go into all the details but at a time of pressing social need, particularly in housing and health, how we can commit to increasing the money going into defence - I put that word in inverted commas - in Europe? It is simply dochreidte i ndáiríre agus bheadh mé ag súil le athrú ó na mná atá istigh sa Rialtas, go mbeidh siad frithchogadh agus ag taispeáint an bealach chun síocháin a bheith againn sa saol, seachas a bheith taobh le na fir atá i mbun cogaidh.

Another aspect that is of great concern to me is the European Border and Coast Guard Agency which was there but which has been accelerated.

The creeping militarisation of Europe has become an accelerated process, with a plan to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which was established in 2016 with a force of 1,500 members, by increasing it to 10,000 members in order that we can protect "fortress Europe".

There are pre-European Council statements and post-European Council statements, which utterly fail to deal with the challenges. While Brexit is a challenge, compared with climate change it pales into insignificance. Compared with the militarisation of Europe and the consequences thereof, Brexit pales in significance, as it does when compared with the democratic deficit that led to the Brexit vote in the first place, which this Government and other Governments refuse to look at. It is clear to me that a huge part of what led people to vote for Brexit was the democratic deficit that Europe and the Council in various meetings refuse to look at.

The first anniversary of the death of a Maltese journalist, fell this month, while another journalist was murdered recently in Bulgaria because she dared to talk about corruption in that country. We have seen how our own High Court judge was treated by the newspapers in Poland. There are serious democratic problems in all countries in Europe, yet we dare to lecture or tell other people how to live.

I am a proud Irishwoman and a proud European, but we joined up for a market and a trade deal. We never joined up to lose our sovereignty or neutrality. It is time for this country to grasp the nettle, stand up and speak for peace in this country rather than determine our foreign relations by who our friends are. That is akin to what children might do in a playground. We have learned nothing from the group mentality that led to the disaster in this country.

I am grateful for having the time to speak on this important issue. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, I follow the proceedings of the European Council with great interest. Before the European Council summit last week, we all made statements in this House hoping there would be much-needed progress on the Brexit negotiations. Unfortunately, there was no great progress to report, which is disappointing. It is unfortunate we are still at the same stage as we were in June after the last European Council meeting.

I reiterate the urgency of this whole matter. "Brexit Day" is less than six months away. If the UK crashes out of the EU next March with no deal, there is no doubt it will be an unmitigated disaster. We are simply running out of time to resolve this matter and we need to find solutions. I understand political solutions to the backstop impasse are being discussed and I hope an agreement can be struck soon. The next European Council summit on 13 December will be of paramount importance. It is nearly two months away and, therefore, it is vital we have agreed everything before then in order that the final agreement can be approved on time and people can make the necessary plans.

I commend the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Ministers, as well as the Minister for State, Deputy McEntee, and our officials who work hard to ensure Ireland's interests are heard in Europe. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle served as an MEP for many years with distinction, and I compliment our MEPs, from all political party persuasions and none, who have all succeeded in making Ireland's case in Europe, the benefit of which we now see in our neighbours' solidarity on the Border issue. It was extremely important for people such as Mr. Guy Verhofstadt and Mr. Michel Barnier to appear before this House and before committees to meet people like the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle, the Taoiseach and various Ministers and stand shoulder to shoulder with us in saying that if the deal was not good for Ireland, it was not good for Europe while if it was not good for Europe, it was not good for Ireland. That type of solidarity is important.

While for us the headline issue of the European Council summit was Brexit, it is also important to note that the European Council drew other conclusions regarding migration, internal security and external relations. These are important decisions about big issues that affect all of us, such as preventing further illegal immigration, increasing cybersecurity, combatting disinformation and fighting climate change. The committee I chair attends interparliamentary meetings with members of other national parliaments from across the European Union and MEPs. We know from attending these meetings and taking part in the debates that migration, in particular, is a huge issue for our European neighbours. It is a much bigger issue than Brexit for many member states. Our neighbours have shown us solidarity on Brexit and, therefore, it is important we support our neighbours on their priority issues. I hope we will continue to work together to find constructive solutions to issues which affect us all and help our neighbours where we can.

I mentioned the battle over climate change. It would be neglectful of me not to put on record that today is a black day in Ireland because of the news of a great organisation, Bord na Móna, winding down the great jobs which it created and which contributed greatly over many years. Many young apprentices came from all parts of Ireland, went to the midlands, trained, became mechanics, got qualifications and benefitted greatly from the knowledge and expertise of Bord na Móna. Many people from County Kerry went to the upper floors of Bord na Móna in management and so on, while many other people worked for them in various capacities over many years and were grateful for the work. It is sad beyond belief that the whole issue of climate change has made it normal and acceptable for us to think those jobs will be lost, with no clear pathway for Bord na Móna in the future. What will create the jobs that will be left void after the next number of years? The whole cessation of peat production is a retrograde step with which I do not agree. More harmful emissions come from busy places such as China or Japan in one hour than what we will produce in the midlands over the next 50 years. We are going along with it, however, and we are agreeing with it, which is wrong. The whole peat industry should have been protected by allowing it continue rather than being ceased. The production of peat briquettes, for example, was nothing in the world to be worried about or regretful about. We should have kept producing the way we did for decades and there would have been nothing wrong with that.

I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this important issue, which takes preference over almost everything else, and rightly so because it has so many possible implications. It creates so many problems for farmers and businesspeople, and virtually everyone in the country will be affected if we have a hard border. The British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, has many different movements and positions, and I am not just alluding to her ability to dance, for which she would not win any medals either. The problem is that when the English people voted in that referendum to get out of Europe it was basically to sort out the immigration problem that they have and that they still think they have.

It is hard to understand how some sort of backstop would ever be accommodated by them. The MPs are clear there definitely will not be another referendum. That was what we had all hoped for, and I think I was the first person in this House to ask them to do that. It was the immigration problem that led a majority of people to vote to leave the European Union. If immigrants come here and want to use Ireland to get to England, if there is no Border or some sort of checkpoint and they get into the North of Ireland, it is easy for them to access England. It is hard to visualise how we are not going to have a hard border when that is what the English people looked for and voted for.

It will definitely effect business and jobs and even our fishermen who were badly served by the agreement reached in 1973 because it certainly did not favour them. Our fishermen will find themselves in a far worse situation after this. There is also the movement of cattle and of vehicles. Are we really prepared? Is this country really prepared? Is our Government making the necessary preparations for a no deal scenario? That is where we could suddenly find ourselves. I hope the Government is successful with a backstop for Northern Ireland because the United Kingdom will not help us. If the Government is successful it has to be a permanent backstop for Northern Ireland.

As my brother, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, just said there is so much hullabaloo about climate change. We are only a small country. If we were to be totally emissions-free we would only make 0.13% of a difference in the world wide context. Consider Japan and places where one cannot see one's nose with smog and smoke, and yet we are closing down Bord na Móna and are considering stopping cutting our own turf. I spoke of this last week. We are trying to stop people cutting turf to heat themselves. What grander sight was there than to see the people out this summer out cutting turf, saving it, turning it and bringing it home. Now they are able to have their own fuel but think of that in the context of the people who have to buy fuel for heating, whether gas or oil, the cost of which has gone up. Home heating oil has gone up by 30%. Look at the cost of that on people. What was ever wrong-----

I have to ask the Deputy to stop.

I apologise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Since the foundation of the State, and going back further, people were cutting turf.

I have to apologise to the House for allowing this to run over.

All right. Thank you very much.

The next speaker is Deputy Eamon Ryan. I apologise.

I welcome the chance to add a few comments, primarily on Brexit, to this debate on the European Council meeting. The meeting was not a key moment in the whole Brexit process and the work really needs to be done away from Councils prior to a final decision, hopefully at a special European Council meeting in November, December, or, as some people are now suggesting, in January. However, it provides a staging post where we can consider where we are. I happen to have been in London yesterday and the day before speaking at various events on Brexit and these have informed my thinking here.

It seems that we have ended up in a very unsatisfactory position in the sense that we are now the last item on the table to be resolved. It seems as though what the Prime Minister, Theresa May, says is true, namely, that 95% or 96% is done, and much of that is good work. There has been a satisfactory level of progress around arrangements regarding the free movement of people and so on. However, it is very unfortunate that this is the last unresolved issue. All along, I recall the Taoiseach and others saying that the key was to get it resolved early - last December, then in the spring, in March, before the return - but we missed every deadline. This is the last issue between a deal and no deal. In any negotiation, that is not the position in which one wants to be. I do not blame the Irish Government for that, but merely recognise that things have not worked out as we would have wished.

We should stick to our principles, the primary principle being that when the people signed up to and voted for the Good Friday Agreement, and amended our Constitution by revising Articles 2 and 3, that was a hugely significant constitutional moment for this country. It was a very positive one, in recognising that a return to a united Ireland would only be delivered in the context of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland desiring such an outcome and a willingness to work and co-operate with the North through the various structures which were established, recognising the Unionist position and tradition and their rights to their constitutional position. It was a very progressive step and one which probably took 12 years to negotiate with the UK Government. It is one that we have been trying to implement for 20 years, for good and ill, but it is an agreement that it is right to hold to. It is not only that we hold to the Border, it is holding to that constitutional decision that we made as a people, in amending Articles 2 and 3 which was no small or insignificant thing. It is right for us to stand by that and it is right that this House has been unified in that central position that we bring to the negotiations. It is good that we have had almost universal support for this position from our European neighbours and I do not believe that we should cede it at this late stage. That should not mean that we do not seek a deal, because that would be better. When one considers that we have had difficulty negotiating a withdrawal agreement, imagine what it will be like negotiating a permanent agreement when a whole range of commercial and other vested national interests are at play. It will be even more difficult.

It is very hard to understand what the precise nature of the final deal will be, although it seems clear that the officials on both sides seem to have it in place and all that is left to happen is the final political management. From what I hear, the resolution to the backstop deal will be some sort of two-phase process where we agree something along the lines of what was agreed in December or March, namely, that we have a backstop guarantee that is not time dated within the withdrawal agreement and that protects us from any introduction of a hard border. However, I imagine that within the political declaration, which accompanies the withdrawal agreement, there will be some sort of commitment towards engaging during the transitional period in more detailed negotiations on what regulatory alignment and customs arrangement approach might apply on an all-UK basis - not only Northern Ireland - and that we would signal that we would be willing to engage in that process. That would be with a view to having a slightly revised, or different, agreement. That might not be necessary if we had a full agreement, but there might be two phases with the prospect of a second backstop which would recognise the outcome of that negotiated process over a period, perhaps two or three years, depending on the length of the transition.

It is very hard to read between the lines and one reads so many views.

I read The Times the other day, which featured comments such as "Theresa May puts it up to Europe". Denis Staunton from The Irish Times covered the same speech from Westminster, and he read the situation much more accurately, to my mind. It interpreted the speech as being indicative that there is a real mechanism in place now for resolving the backstop issue. If that is the approach to be taken we should be willing to be flexible and engage with it in a creative way. We should hold the line on our constitutional position, but that does not require us to have something today which will be engraved in stone for the next 20 or 30 years. We should be willing to engage in that two-stage process if it will help to break the deadlock. Other parties on this side of the House have said the same, which perhaps should give the Government flexibility and room for manoeuvre because it knows it would maintain support here. It is important that we maintain that united position.

What I heard in London was scary, because it seems that the prospect of a no-deal crash-out is something the UK is increasingly willing to countenance. In some ways it exposes some of the underlying objectives of those seeking a hard Brexit. The UK Government produced a paper on 12 October showing the likely consequences for the areas of climate and energy in a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. It seems to be considering leaving the European Union emission trading scheme, ETS, and taking the deregulated route, thinking that would cushion the hardships that would come from the breach that would occur in faith, relations and trade with their European Union partners. It exposes the underlying philosophy behind the Brexit deal. I mention that because there was another event in these Houses today which informed my thinking. In the audiovisual room today, a series of Northern Ireland environmental campaigning groups presented an analysis of what is actually happening. The reality is that our Border is becoming a dirty border in a dirty Brexit, and that there is unregulated illegal dumping, development of pig and poultry farming where there is a disregard for the polluting effects of ammonia and slurry used, and uncertainty as to where the materials used in such activity are going, and mining licences are being considered in the absence of any political administration to assess the strategic direction being taken. We have debates in this House and are concerned when we hear that a Minister has met a developer without a civil servant being present. We are hearing that in the North, civil servants are meeting developers with no politicians present, which is just as worrying. Legislation is being passed in London today. It is a very black day for Northern Irish politics; politics are being written out as administrative civil servants are being given ultimate power. It is a very bad day for Ireland and for Europe, and one we cannot ignore.

I do not know if this was raised in the European Council but perhaps we have been blinded by Brexit to everything else going on in Europe. The Italian Government seems to be in direct conflict with the European Commission about its budget. There are concerns about what may happen to the Italian economy, and we are not going to be immune from any fallout of that. I do not know whether the Irish Government has taken a public position on that, but it should. We cannot just fixate on Brexit. We have to return to thinking about where Europe is going and where we are going within Europe. Brexit is blinding us to that, and that is another problem it has brought. We cannot ignore that.

There is provision for questions and answers, and the Minister of State will then have five minutes to conclude. There are so few Deputies present that we could bundle the questions together and have a second round if necessary.

There were European Council meetings in September and October. At the September meeting, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called for a constructive approach to solve the migration crisis. He also called for a broader vision of partnership with third, non-EU countries, which would go beyond co-operation on migration issues. I believe he is correct with this approach. I noted the welcome afforded to the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs at the October summit. I presume that Ireland fully supports that particular approach. If we are to deal with the migration issue we have to look at the broader picture and deal with the problems in these African and Middle Eastern countries as best we can. I believe the EU has obligations in that regard.

I note that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was looked at by the leaders of the European Council, as well as the need to implement the Paris Agreement. Ireland has much to do in that regard. It is significant that it came after budget 2019, which did not introduce carbon taxes. That is a warning sign for us on climate change, particularly given how it has been pursued at European Council level.

Deputy Connolly mentioned the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, and the proposal to increase it by 10,000 guards by 2020. I would like to hear the views of the Minister of State on that matter. Conclusions were postponed over issues of sovereignty, and I would be interested to know what the Irish approach is to that particular proposal.

I note that the European Commission is going to examine measures to combat the spread of disinformation in election campaigns. The European Council considered that matter. I believe it is a big issue, and is something that this House will have to return to, considering how election campaigns are now being conducted globally.

I have a number of Brexit-related questions. My first question concerns the inevitable delays that will be experienced by trucks coming from Ireland and heading towards the Port of Dover. Even in the event of an orderly soft Brexit, which we are hoping for, there will still be delays because there will have to be some checks on UK trucks. We will be caught up in the middle of that. What is the Government doing to prepare for that to protect our supply chains and our haulage industry and to ensure that those delays do not result in empty shelves in supermarkets in Ireland?

My second question concerns EU funding to support Ireland in a post-Brexit world. Funding was made available to the member states most affected by the migration crisis because it was an extraordinary event. Some member states shouldered more of the crisis than others. Brexit is quite similar in that not every member state is affected equally. We are clearly the most affected. Have requests been made by the Government at EU level for the establishment of a Brexit fund we could draw down from and use to try to protect ourselves and offset the worst effects of Brexit, even if it is soft?

My final question concerns the structures for dialogue between the Irish Government and the UK Government in a post-Brexit world. What does the Minister of State envisage will be in place to replace the regular meetings at EU Council level to ensure that Dublin and London are in regular contact? I refer to discussions between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, as well as discussions between Ministers on both sides.

I am returning to the issues I raised during my contribution earlier in order that they will be addressed. There are many serious human rights issues and violations going on in the world today and while the EU is a strong voice and provides aid, how much discussion, debate and concern is there at EU level about the two situations I mentioned today, namely, the problems in Yemen and Myanmar? As the EU is talking about co-operation with Africa, I also mentioned the appalling current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo where we are told there are 2 million malnourished children. It is a conflict zone where there has also been an outbreak of the Ebola virus, which the authorities fear will spread to surrounding countries.

Is there anyone at EU level who is even slightly conscious of the irony of giving aid with one hand and taking with the other through lucrative arms deals? It just does not make sense but that irony seems to escape the EU.

Regarding the up to 10,000 operational staff mentioned by Deputy Haughey, I understand two contradictory things are being said by the EU, namely, that the force will operate only on request from a member state while at the same time, when it is in the EU's interest, it will launch if necessary an emergency intervention even without approval. Can we have clarity on that?

What steps are being taken concerning the numerous deaths of journalists in the EU? Within one year, there have been three deaths. It is a year almost to the month since the murder of the Maltese journalist. Recently, there was the murder of a journalist in Bulgaria and, prior to that, one in Slovakia. What steps have been taken on what this represents?

Monopoly game type figures are being used for the climate change fines Ireland will face, varying from millions to billions of euro. As we are not going to meet in the first instance our 2020 climate change targets, what is the figure now?

I thank Members for their contributions and questions.

On approaches to migration and its root causes, the Taoiseach addressed this in his speech today and when he presented to his European colleagues at the Council meeting last week. Africa has come under the heading of external relations as well as migration. We need to acknowledge that our relationship with Africa should not be solely placed in the migration box. We must continue to develop our relationships and to provide for the EU-Africa fund, as well as addressing the economic, human rights and conflict issues. By building that relationship, we can address politically the challenges they are facing. On 18 December, a meeting will be held between the African Heads of State and the EU, which will be led by the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, as EU Presidency holders. This will give us an opportunity to have further political dialogue and to engage on the proposals put before the European Council for disembarkation platforms and the proposals to address the root causes not just in Europe and Africa but in the Middle Eastern region.

The recently published report on climate change highlighted the fact a rise in global warming of 1.5° Celsius would clearly highlight the negative impacts of climate change and very much illustrate the unprecedented urgency to step up our global efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change. The report makes it clear that parties to the Paris Agreement need to strengthen significantly their future commitments. This includes Ireland. I know there were concerns we did not raise the carbon tax. It is important to note that the Minister for Finance has committed in this year's budget to put in place a long-term trajectory for carbon tax increases to 2030. This is in line with recommendations from the Climate Change Advisory Council and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. We have a national policy position on climate action and low carbon development, underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. We have a national mitigation plan, the purpose of which is to specify the policy measures required to manage Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. This year, we published the national development plan which reaffirms the Government’s commitment to transitioning Ireland to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy and society. Most importantly, funding of almost €22 billion, coming from Exchequer and non-Exchequer resources, will be provided to address the transition to the low-carbon and climate-resilient society. That means one in five euro of public funding will be spent specifically looking at climate change and to mitigate its challenges. The report refocuses all of our minds to the challenge that lies ahead. The Government is aware of these challenges and is trying to address them. The increase to the overall budget for climate change this year is a factor.

I am not quite sure of the exact figure for the climate change target fines. I will revert to Deputy Connolly with the exact figures.

Regarding the spread of disinformation, our external borders and internal security were key issues addressed at the Council. Ireland in particular focused on the spread of disinformation. We have started to look at how cybersecurity could impact on elections in Ireland with reference to other countries. Questions are still being raised about the most recent US presidential election. The Irish view is that we need to strengthen wider co-operation across all levels of society, not just political but civil society. This was reaffirmed by all 27 member states at last week's Council meeting.

No consensus was reached by the 27 member states concerning increasing Frontex staff by 10,000. There are still questions as to who they would report to and what competences they would have. This is why no consensus was reached and why discussions are still ongoing. As Ireland is not part of the Schengen area, this does not impact directly on us. Our position is to support those member states most impacted. It is to be as proactive and supportive in the negotiations because there are differing views depending on the member state and its location in the EU in terms of closeness to borders. We need to show solidarity to those member states which are most impacted. We know, particularly in terms of the Brexit negotiations, the member states that are least impacted have shown solidarity towards Ireland.

The negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, have been under way for well over a year. In the past two discussions, Ireland and Belgium have raised concerns around the requirements of member states which are more impacted than others when a crisis emerges or some form of economic impact is felt. Without specifically mentioning Brexit, the budget is seven years ahead and we do not know what other challenges may lay ahead. However, we need to ensure flexibility within the budget, whether it is Brexit or some other form of economic challenge. It should allow the flexibility for impacted member states to receive financial support.

Every Department and Minister is identifying the challenges and possible threats from Brexit, ranging from the worst-case to the best-case scenario. There also competences in the European Parliament and European Commission which are working to address those issues, particularly the transit, land bridge and aviation issues to ensure free movement. The Commission published a report recently looking at ports in Europe and highlighting the challenges they may face, particularly given the fact that if there is any kind of a border between the UK and the rest of the European Union, there will be delays and checks.

Of course, from an Irish point of view, we cannot be held up as part of these delays and checks. We are engaging with our European colleagues, particularly Belgium and France, to try to address the concerns that have been raised.

Deputy O'Sullivan raised a number of human rights issues and the particular situation in Myanmar, which is of great concern. The report of the independent fact-finding mission showed evidence of human rights violations, which absolutely amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, by members of the Burmese military but also by other security forces. In close co-operation with the UN Human Rights Council and our European colleagues, we strongly support ensuring those who are perpetrators of crime are held to account and we are monitoring the situation. We are trying to work with our international partners to pursue a resolution to this crisis. In the meantime, we can continue to support the organisations providing humanitarian assistance.

With regard to Yemen and the significant challenges that arise, the Tánaiste has outlined that he met the Saudi ambassador on 18 October. He raised very serious concerns not just with regard to the Khashoggi case but also the ongoing conflict in Yemen. I was also horrified by the recent reports of the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator that between 12 million and 13 million people may possibly be at risk of famine in the coming months. More than 22 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance and this must be of concern to each and every one of us. We are providing support and humanitarian assistance. We have committed to €16.5 million in bilateral humanitarian assistance. Of this, €4 million was contributed in March to the UN Yemen humanitarian fund. As I stated, when the Tánaiste met the Saudi ambassador he stressed Ireland's concerns about this issue. At the same time, we need to stress that even if military victory is achievable it will not address the root causes of the conflicts so negotiations in this regard need to be reinvigorated. Ireland and the EU fully support the work of the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and his team in the negotiations. We support that they are reinvigorated so we can try to address again the root causes of this conflict. We will continue to provide financial support and to raise these issues. The Deputy is right to continue to raise it on the floor of the Dáil.

Conflicts and the arms embargo have been mentioned. This is an issue we have raised but at present there is no consensus at EU level and there are various views on this. It is something we need to continue to discuss, engage on and raise at EU level. There was no consensus on imposing an arms embargo but we need to continue to raise the issue and to work with the UN to promote the vital work of Martin Griffiths, which is essential for reinstating peace talks and providing a permanent solution to the overall crisis.

What about the journalist?

This issue has been raised on a number of occasions in the European Council and at the General Affairs Council, specifically after the death of the Maltese journalist. It has been raised in a number of formats with regard to freedom of speech and the right to freedom of dissemination of information and in terms of human rights violations and regulations. In any of these cases we encourage that those who ordered or carried out these killings are held accountable, that each member state where they take place has a transparent investigation into all these killings, and that it is not acceptable that a journalist, no matter what country he or she lives in, could be subject to violence or murdered for their views or the work they do to try to ensure people's rights and their freedom of speech and expression are upheld. This is something about which we have spoken very strongly. I have spoken very strongly on it at meetings of the committee of which I am a member and a number of other members have also spoken very strongly about it. It is something we will continue to raise in light of the recent death of Mr. Khashoggi. We all understand he was subject the most horrendous and gruesome death. I absolutely believe the perpetrators need to be held accountable and those who ordered his death absolutely need to be held accountable. From an Irish point of view and, as a member of the European Union, we will continue to raise these concerns and to stress the significance and importance of the freedom of the press and the right to free speech.

I thank those who have contributed to this debate on what was a very important meeting of the European Council. In addition to reporting in detail on Article 50 and Brexit, the Taoiseach has outlined the discussions on the euro summit. As he indicated, I will focus my remarks on internal security and external relations issues that arose on Thursday. In recent years, there has been good focus at EU level on supporting member states to ensure internal security and to fight terrorism. We now need to further reinforce Europe's long-term response to new and emerging threats.

The European Council discussions on internal security took into account the outcome of the informal summit in Salzburg, where leaders had an open-ended exchange on the proposals outlined in President Juncker's state of the union address. These include measures to complete the security union, to fight money laundering, to remove online terrorist content and to protect elections from malign foreign influence, as well as to reopen the Schengen borders and to use the civil protection mechanism . Their objective is to add value to existing and planned national measures and to further strengthen our collective security in a rapidly changing security environment.

While Ireland's participation in this area is limited due to our position under Protocol 21 and our non-participation in the Schengen border acquis, we are generally supportive of EU measures to protect the internal security of the Union and its citizens. Leaders focused in particular on cybersecurity, which has become increasingly challenging in recent years, with new and innovative forms of cybercrimes, including with regard to the integrity of our electoral systems, continuing to emerge. Here in Ireland last December we established an interdepartmental group to consider the risks to our electoral process, including a thorough examination of recent experiences in other democratic countries with respect to the use of social media by third parties.

The abuse of the online space by people promoting terrorism, whether by encouraging or directing atrocities, is also of great concern to us. The global nature of the Internet means individual countries cannot respond effectively alone. From Ireland's perspective, we support the concept of a collective response mechanism. We need to co-operate in combatting such illegal activities effectively while continuing to promote an open, global, free, peaceful and secure cyberspace where fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular the right to freedom of expression, access to information, data protection and privacy and security, as well as our core EU values and principles, are fully applied and respected in the EU and globally. In light of the attacks in Salisbury and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, leaders are welcoming a new regime of restrictive measures to address these threats.

The external relations discussed included climate change as well as developments in Venezuela and our relations with our partners in Africa and the Arab League. There were exchanges on the recent elections in Bosnia where nationalist and ethnic tensions were once again highlighted and on climate change, acknowledging the latest report mentioned by Deputies that unequivocally confirms the negative impact of climate change. Leaders agreed on the need for ambition in advance of the COP24 in Poland in December.

There was also an exchange on relations with Saudi Arabia on regional developments and the shocking death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In addition to the need to fully respect human rights, Ireland is committed to promoting and protecting freedom of expression and freedom of the media and civil space, and we join our EU partners in stressing the need for continued thorough, credible and transparent investigation into his killing to shed proper clarity on the circumstances surrounding it, which will ensure the full accountability of all of those responsible.

I thank the Deputies for their attention and remarks in the course of the debate. As the Taoiseach has made very clear, Brexit remains our priority. It is important that we continue to play an active and constructive role in the EU agenda and that we contribute to the ongoing debate about the future of Europe with a view to shaping its direction. I was honoured to lead the citizens' dialogue on the future of Europe over the past year. I look forward to continuing my involvement in this key area during the vital period ahead.