Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Micheál Martin

Question:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F (National Security) last met. [50478/18]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F (National Security) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [51727/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F (National Security) last met; and when it next plans to meet. [52100/18]

Joan Burton

Question:

4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F (National Security) last met. [53141/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The committee last met on 8 February this year. The meeting was attended by Ministers and senior officials from the Departments of Finance; Public Expenditure and Reform; Foreign Affairs and Trade; Justice and Equality; Health; Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Transport, Tourism and Sport; Housing, Planning and Local Government; and Defence. Arrangements are being made for the next meeting of Cabinet committee F but a date is not yet finalised.

The role of Cabinet committee F is to keep the State’s systems for the analysis of, preparation for, and response to threats to national security under review and to provide high-level co-ordination between relevant Departments and agencies on related matters. At its meeting yesterday the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. We have accepted all 157 key recommendations of the report, 136 in full and 21 in principle but requiring further work. The report provides a clear vision for a modern, highly professional, human-rights-based police service. The core focus is on a Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people. This is the right vision for Ireland to maintain and enhance public trust in policing, to meet current challenges and enable An Garda Síochána to tackle future challenges.

Our focus must now turn to implementation. I have established within my Department a policing reform implementation programme office which will track implementation. Together with the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, published a high-level implementation plan yesterday. The plan was prepared with the input of the implementation group on policing reform chaired by Ms Helen Ryan, who was herself a member of the commission, and has been endorsed by every Minister and Department. It sets out an ambitious but realistic four-year plan for the implementation of the recommendations. This timescale is in line with the commission’s own recommendation for the work to be complete in time for the centenary of the establishment of an Garda Síochána.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. During the last seven years we have heard intermittent statements from Government claiming to have reformed the workings of An Garda Síochána. Of course, that did not turn out to be the case. The O'Toole report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which we asked for and proposed, is comprehensive. All Members of the House and leaders of different parties co-operated with the commission's work. We need a detailed timescale and funding proposal before we can be sure that this will actually mark a significant departure in policing in Ireland and that it will have the same impact as the Patten commission had on policing in Northern Ireland.

One ongoing problem has been the need to hire people with specialist skills, especially concerning language, technology and difficult legal areas linked to white collar crime. In particular, the education and training dimension is extremely important. A radical change from the Templemore model is required to meet the future needs of An Garda Síochána. The structure and organisation of the interaction between civilian and uniformed elements is lamentable. This all needs to be accelerated. Can the Taoiseach explain what efforts are now to be taken to speed up efforts to tackle these issues, in particular the shortages of specialist skills?

Finally, I wish to raise the overall co-ordination of security matters across the Government. There is to be a new official report to the Secretary General of the Department of An Taoiseach. Can the Taoiseach outline the specific role of the new co-ordinator and the staffing which will be put in place to support him? Moreover, can he elaborate on what he has said about a task force within his own Department overseeing the implementation process within the Department of Justice?

Yesterday the Minister for Justice published his implementation plan for the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which the Taoiseach discussed earlier. I believe it was also discussed at Cabinet yesterday. While many of the report's proposals are very positive and must be implemented, which we support, we are concerned about the retrograde step proposed in respect of Garda oversight. We are especially concerned about the proposal to merge the Policing Authority with the Garda Inspectorate to form a new policing and community safety oversight commission, and the plan to remove some of the Policing Authority's powers. The Policing Authority has begun to show some strength and an ability to hold An Garda Síochána to account.

Its meetings are held in public and it has some real powers. It has responsibility for the recruitment of senior gardaí and its approval was required for policing plans. However, under the Minister's implementation plan, the appointment of senior gardaí would be returned to an internal Garda board and the Garda Commissioner. Ultimately, we see that as a shift in power and an element of oversight away from external bodies back to Garda headquarters.

The Taoiseach will be aware that there was agreement right across this House that we would move away from that, that we would try to have some independence in terms of oversight, and that we would challenge what was bad culture and bad practice within An Garda Síochána. While we see positive elements in the report that we would support being implemented, we have some concerns, especially about the merger of the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate into this new body. I would welcome the Taoiseach's thoughts and opinions on this issue.

I raised yesterday with the Taoiseach my strong welcome for the vast bulk of the report on the reform of policing. I have discussed it with members of the review team who explained their views, both the minority and the majority views, on the role of the internal board. I placed on record yesterday my views on that. The implementation of the report will be transformative but it would be a major mistake to hand back the appointment of senior personnel to an internal board and the Garda Commissioner. The single most important move we made was to take that away from An Garda Síochána and to have an external appointments procedure. I hope that has been reflected upon. I took heart from the Taoiseach stating yesterday that there will be a long time and much debate before these measures are put into force.

There is a national security co-ordinator to be appointed. Is that a civilian position? Is it to be somebody from within the Defence Forces or An Garda Síochána or has the Taoiseach an open mind? Will the co-ordinator be sited in the Department of the Taoiseach or in the Department of Defence, or where will he or she be sited? Will the co-ordinator have his or her own staff?

On a separate issue, did the Cabinet committee have any views on the announcement as part of the Brexit preparations in the UK that it would deploy 3,500 troops to support the British Government on Brexit? Have we any idea where they will be stationed? Will they be stationed in Ireland? They hardly will be deployed to Liverpool. Why would they want 3,500 troops to be on standby as part of Brexit? Has the Taoiseach any explanation of that?

To get people to vote for the withdrawal treaty.

The issue the Government faces is that confidence in the Garda is at a very low ebb following all that has happened, particularly in respect of former Sergeant McCabe. People are glad to see the end of that but their confidence is badly shaken. It has been clear that what people want to see is a force, the organisational structure of which ordinary people can understand and the members of which they can see and have contact with in their communities.

While much of the material in the report is quite positive, I get the feeling from the Taoiseach's statement that he will undo all the work that we did in government on the Policing Authority modelled on what happens in neighbouring jurisdictions and learning from the Patten report and the changes in the PSNI. At one fell swoop, for some unexplained reason, the Taoiseach has decided to hand back the business of promotion, which is a very deep issue in the force. Understandably, in a force of 15,000 members where there are regular and routine promotional opportunities, members need to have confidence that those promotional opportunities are based on merit and not on some kind of old boys' act. Will the Taoiseach reflect seriously on what I presume is a tentative decision at this point to hand back to the Commissioner the job of promotion of members? That is potentially a very poor decision which will wreck much of what is good in the report. In terms of how the Garda members themselves, especially at lower ranks, and the public perceive it, the decision is something that should be reflected on and thought about.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as a gcuid ceisteanna. On the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, there is an implementation plan with a timescale, as it should have, in terms of funding and resourcing. That is something that has to be dealt with during the annual Estimates round but there certainly is funding in place for 2019 to do that.

I note that the Garda Commissioner has taken a decision to recruit differently next year, actually slowing recruitment a little. Instead of recruiting 800 next year as planned, we will recruit 600 new gardaí instead but many more civilians as part of the civilianisation process. It is an innovation in the public service the acknowledgement that simply recruiting does not necessarily solve problems and that recruiting correctly is what can help to solve them. It is an interesting example, perhaps, for other parts of the public service to follow, not to cut numbers but to slow recruitment and do it correctly.

In terms of my Department, I have set up a number of small units within the Department of the Taoiseach to oversee the implementation of a small number of key Government strategies: policing reform, Sláintecare and, of course, Brexit planning. It will follow the model of the Action Plan for Jobs, which does not involve my Department doing the work of other Departments for them but makes sure that they do not correct their own homework. The role of the units within my Department will be to ensure that these strategies and plans are implemented over the next couple of years.

I disagree with Deputy Burton. I do not believe that confidence in the Garda is at a low ebb. Notwithstanding the recent scandals, the public continues to have strong confidence in and high regard for the Garda. Members of the public respect the Garda. They admire gardaí for their work. The public has enormous confidence in the men and women who serve in An Garda Síochána.

On the role of the Policing Authority, I am conscious of some concern that the proposal risks diluting the current level of external scrutiny. Following detailed considerations of the concerns, I am satisfied that the proposals are a coherent response to a system of external oversight that is complex and confused and acts to the detriment of accountability on the part of individuals and the Garda organisation itself. Taken as a whole, the suite of proposals will ensure that the complimentary objectives of strong internal governance in line with best practice and effective external oversight of policing are achieved.

The Government is also satisfied that it is appropriate that the Garda Commissioner and the Garda Síochána board be given responsibility for senior appointments, subject to normal public service recruitment and promotion standards being applied. The Government accepts the commission's view that the Commissioner must be empowered to act as the CEO of An Garda Síochána, and making appointments is clearly within the remit of the board and CEO of any large organisation.

I am conscious of the experience and expertise of those who serve on the existing oversight bodies and the Department of Justice and Equality. We will consult them as we develop the new legislation and we will listen to the views of others in the Oireachtas and what people have to say.

It is not anticipated that the new framework would be in place until 1 January 2021 and we will use the intervening period to tease this out. The existing oversight bodies will continue their important work during that period - for at least two years - in accordance with their statutory remit.

I was asked about the strategic threat analysis centre, STAC, which will be headed by the national security co-ordinator. There are ten principles underpinning the recommendations contained in the O'Toole commission report. The second principle is that: "Policing and national security are not the responsibility of the police alone." The commission recommends changes to take account of the changing nature of threats to the country, including the increased threat from international terrorism and cyber attacks on Government institutions, infrastructure and companies, the increased importance of international co-operation and intelligence sharing, and the important role that other Government agencies have in protecting the security of the State. It makes several recommendations in this area, including the establishment of a permanent structure in the form of a centre for intelligence collation and analysis known as the strategic threat analysis centre, STAC, which would be headed by a national security co-ordinator, and an independent examiner of terrorist and serious crime legislation. It is our intention to have the first national security co-ordinator appointed in the first quarter of 2019 and to establish the STAC with a small staff.

The national security co-ordinator will report to me through the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach and have a co-ordinating role. Several bodies collect intelligence, namely, the Garda and Army intelligence sections and the cybersecurity centre in University College Dublin. The strategic threat analysis centre is not designed to take over that work but, rather, to co-ordinate it better nationally and internationally.

The next 13 questions are being taken together. I am conscious that they relate to the European Council meeting, on which we will hear statements for two and a half hours when Question Time concludes. I expect these questions to be dealt with within 15 minutes.

European Council Meetings

Micheál Martin

Question:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the December 2018 EU Council meeting. [50860/18]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the December 2018 EU Council meeting. [51835/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the December 2018 EU summit. [51851/18]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the December 2018 EU Council meeting. [52194/18]

Joan Burton

Question:

9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the EU Council meeting held on 13 December 2018. [52849/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

10. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent telephone conversation with the President of the European Council , Mr. Donald Tusk. [53005/18]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

11. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the December 2018 European Council meeting. [53029/18]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

12. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the contact he has had with other European leaders since the vote on the draft withdrawal treaty was deferred. [53148/18]

Micheál Martin

Question:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he and EU leaders had at the December 2018 EU Council meeting; and if the backstop was discussed at length. [53186/18]

Micheál Martin

Question:

14. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, on 12 December 2018; and the issues they discussed regarding the reassurances sought by the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, on the draft withdrawal treaty. [53428/18]

Micheál Martin

Question:

15. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the December 2018 EU Council meeting; and the bilateral meetings he attended. [53429/18]

Micheál Martin

Question:

16. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he spoke to or met President Macron of France before or during the EU Council meeting on 13 and 14 December 2018. [53431/18]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

17. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions at the December 2018 EU Council meeting regarding the multi-annual budgetary framework. [53435/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 17, inclusive, together.

I attended meetings of the European Council in three formats in Brussels on Thursday, 13 December and Friday, 14 December. In advance of the European Council, I spoke by telephone to the President of the Council, Mr. Tusk, on Monday, 10 December and the President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker, on Wednesday, 12 December. In each call we discussed the situation regarding the Brexit negotiations and they reiterated their strong support for Ireland’s position and their view that the EU-UK withdrawal agreement could not be reopened.

We discussed Brexit in Article 50 format on Thursday evening having heard a presentation by the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in which she updated us on recent political developments in the United Kingdom and the state of play regarding the withdrawal agreement. I also had a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister earlier that morning. There was very strong consensus at the Article 50 meeting that the withdrawal agreement agreed to on 25 November and endorsed by the UK Government could not be renegotiated in substance. We all agreed that the backstop, which is an integral part of the protocol in Ireland and the withdrawal agreement, is necessary to give us a cast iron assurance that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland, a state of affairs which underpins the Good Friday Agreement and the totality of relationships between Britain and Ireland. It is also crucial to protect the integrity of the Single Market and the customs union by ensuring the open border on the island of Ireland does not become a back door to the Single Market. The backstop is intended as an insurance policy to apply unless and until it is replaced by alternative arrangements that make it no longer necessary. We have consistently said we will work to provide clarifications and reassurances for the United Kingdom. In that context, the European Council agreed some important reassurances in its conclusions.

We reiterated that we would like a very close, comprehensive and ambitious future relationship with the United Kingdom, reaffirming the position outlined in the political declaration. We confirmed our determination to start negotiations on the future relationship as soon as possible after the UK withdrawal, with a view to concluding and implementing the new arrangements by the end of 2020, thus ensuring neither an extension of the transition period nor the invocation of the backstop would be required. We also agreed that preparations for all possible outcomes should be stepped up, including for a no-deal scenario.

Of course, we discussed many other important issues at the European Council. The agenda included the EU Multi-annual Financial Framework for the period 2021 to 2027, the Single Market, migration, external relations, the fight against racism and xenophobia, security and defence, dealing with disinformation, climate change and citizens’ consultations on the future of Europe. We also welcomed the positive vote in the European Parliament on the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement, which should come into force very soon. On the new Multi-annual Financial Framework, I outlined Ireland’s approach, which is to ensure it brings added European value and that core Irish priorities, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy, are protected. On the Single Market, an issue on which Ireland has been very active, we called for a forward-looking approach and decided to have an in-depth discussion on achieving a fully functioning Single Market, particularly in services, at our next meeting in March. At the Euro summit we endorsed the outcome of discussions by Finance Ministers in recent months, including on Economic and Monetary Union. This is important in strengthening the architecture of the euro area for all circumstances.

In addition to my bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, I had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Costa of Portugal on Friday morning. I did not have a formal bilateral meeting with President Macron of France last week, but I did informally speak to him and other EU counterparts on the margins of the European Council.

I will report on the European Council in greater detail in my statement to the House this afternoon.

I will reserve most of my comments on the Brexit discussions for the upcoming statements on the European Council meeting.

On no-deal planning, the European Commission has regularly published details of presentations on no-deal plans which have been made to governments. The evidence suggests the Government has been briefed in great depth over a long period on everything contained in the guidelines issued today. Is that the case? Is the Commission correct to state it has kept governments fully informed well in advance of today's launch?

The Commission's press release was published on its website during Leaders' Questions this morning. The Taoiseach was somewhat disingenuous about the Government decision not to keep the House properly informed on this matter. I genuinely think the House has been treated shabbily by the Taoiseach and the Government on Brexit preparedness and particularly a no-deal scenario. I cannot comprehend why arrangements were not made for a debate and full presentation on this issue before the House rose for the Christmas recess. That is incomprehensible on any reasonable objective assessment. We need a proper explanation, rather than what has been said so far because I have read the guidance and press release of the Commission in that regard. It is an important issue that merits debate in the House. The Government's response to this scenario and whatever document will be put before the Cabinet this evening should also be made available to all Members of the House because they are of direct relevance to us as parliamentarians and legislators.

The Taoiseach referenced a proposal concerning exemptions to state aid rules to help businesses badly hit by Brexit. Fianna Fáil first proposed that measure and raised it with the Government and the Commission over two years ago; therefore, we welcome the fact that it is being progressed. When does the Taoiseach intend to discuss the details of the proposal with Members of the House? As public funding will be required, will a special Supplementary Estimate be introduced to cover the cost?

Agreement to continue current policy on the common travel area was reached between the Taoiseach's predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the British Government early in the process. In recent months the Taoiseach stated the common travel area should be protected in the withdrawal agreement. I ask him to explain the status of the common travel area in the event that there is no withdrawal agreement. Given that the formal legal basis for many reciprocal rights will disappear when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, when will the Government publish detailed plans to protect the common travel area in a no-deal scenario?

I agree with the remarks of Deputy Micheál Martin about the shabby treatment of the House in failing to provide a proper briefing on what is parliamentary business. Although the Brexit forum has been a valuable instrument in the past 12 or 18 months, it is not a parliament. We need to have the scope and time to reflect properly on the business we must undertake.

From his interactions with the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, what is the Taoiseach's understanding of what the United Kingdom wants? For what did Mrs. May ask? A report in the UK press claimed that if Ireland and the Taoiseach budged by 5%, a deal could be done. What does that mean? On what matter does the British Government want the Taoiseach to budge? What changes, if any, were tabled to the withdrawal agreement by the United Kingdom in order to allow Mrs. May to meet the wishes of those, in her own party in particular, who were obstructing its passage?

Did the Taoiseach formally veto language in the agreed statement issued after the EU summit? Has he had discussions with the DUP, Ms Arlene Foster in particular, in the aftermath?

I suspect the British Government wanted to water down the backstop.

I want to know the specifics of what was sought.

There should be no question of us giving an inch on the question of the Border and the assurances given.

We often focus on the very immediate and important question of the debacle in Britain and what the implications might be in terms of a crash-out Brexit in the event that there is a deal or no deal. However, over the Christmas period it would be worthwhile reflecting on the wider picture of what is happening in Europe, given events in Hungary and recent events in France and what underpins the bigger crisis within the European Union which was, to some extent, the reason people in the United Kingdom voted for Brexit.

The Orbán Government, a pretty obnoxious, racist, right-wing Government, is now facing unprecedented protests against a shocking attempt to impose what is called a slave law, whereby workers are being asked to work 400 hours' compulsory overtime and get paid three years later for it. I could not believe it when I heard it. Orbán sent in private security, which echoes something that happened in Ireland this week, and police to attack Members of Parliament who were protesting in the state broadcaster. This is on top of attempts to dismantle the free press and interfere with freedom of education and so on. This is very dangerous authoritarian stuff. The background involves considerable resistance regarding issues such as pay, poverty and inequality. This is what we see in France with the yellow vest movement. People are angry over how the vulnerable and working poor are being attacked by a system that does not seem to care very much about them. This is something the European leaders should reflect on. The British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, should certainly reflect on it but I do not believe she is capable of much reflection on that front. European leaders and the Taoiseach should be reflecting on it, however. The social and economic inequalities I mention are generating a lot of anger across Europe.

At the Taoiseach's meeting, was the future EU budget discussed, particularly with the departure of the United Kingdom now seeming inevitable, unless Article 50 can be utilised in some way or another? Could the Taoiseach give us his view on that? I refer to the multi-annual framework that the Taoiseach referred to.

Owing to the immense amount of intellectual property being counted in Ireland, our GNP and versions of it have grown substantially. Does the Government have a calculation of the likely additional amounts we will have to pay in contributions to the European budget? Has this formed part of the Taoiseach's discussions with his European Union counterparts? The departure of the British could impose a very significant extra burden. We know already the Government is in big trouble over capital projects, such as the children's hospital.

In the context of Rosslare, we have been told and assured by the Taoiseach and others that planes will continue to land at and depart from Dublin Airport in the context of a no-deal Brexit. At that point, unless a further agreement is entered into, the United Kingdom will be outside the single aviation space. Is the promise of no disturbance to our airports, whether in Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Kerry or Mayo, one that should give rise to concerns? Is this one of the areas that the Taoiseach has specifically examined with his Government?

Was cybersecurity discussed at the meeting as a matter of urgency in the context of the forthcoming European elections, which are due to be held next May? The campaigns are happening against the background of the rise of ultra-populists in Europe.

It is quite incredible for most people outside the United Kingdom that we are 100 days away from it leaving the European Union, if it does leave. We have a withdrawal agreement on the table that took a year and a half of painstaking negotiations, yet a hard-crash, no-deal scenario, however unlikely, is a live prospect because of the failure of politics in Britain and a division in the Tory Party. Obviously in that context we have to consider what it will mean for Ireland. We want the withdrawal agreement. We want the deal in place and all the hard-fought gains and protections that have been achieved and which we supported to ensure we do not have a hardening of the Border. It is paramount to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

In the event of a hard crash, however unlikely it is in the eyes of the Taoiseach or others, the prospect of a Border poll has to be put to the people in the North. I have said this before and it has been said by my party leader. It is not just Sinn Féin that is saying this. If the Taoiseach is watching what is happening north of the Border — I hope he is — he will note all the opinion polls over recent months show that a majority, including some unionists and a majority of nationalists, would vote for a united Ireland in the context of a hard Brexit because it would mean the North staying in the European Union. I believe that should also be the position of the Government. I seek a response from the Taoiseach on this today.

We do not believe the Government is Brexit ready. We will see proposals published by the Tánaiste tomorrow. There is a meeting of the Brexit stakeholder forum, at which I will be present. We have said we need to build up our defences and infrastructure. Part of this involves the consideration of ports, yet we hear that one of the main gateways to France for goods and people from the south east will cease. I refer to the Irish Ferries route. We are seeing this happen in the mouth of Brexit. The Taoiseach needs to understand the impact it will have on businesses and the tourism sector, on which the south east has built part of its economy. I appeal to the Taoiseach to have a conversation with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he can, and he in turn should talk to Irish Ferries. This is a serious issue. It speaks to the lack of preparedness of the Government when it comes to these types of issues, especially in the regions.

We have already eaten into the time for the third group of questions. If we allow a comprehensive response from the Taoiseach, we will see what time remains thereafter, if that is acceptable to Members.

I have not yet had a chance to see the European Commission's guidance and documents on a no-deal Brexit. They were published only in the past couple of hours. Once I get out of the Chamber I will have a chance to study them.

They are referred to in this morning's newspapers.

I did not have prior sight of them-----

It is just unbelievable.

-----but I have had some verbal briefings. I would like to see the documents for myself. Other Ministers and officials might have seen them where it was relevant to their line Department.

The common travel area is protected in the EU treaties and also in the withdrawal agreement. In the absence of those, it is a mix of national law, European law and conventions. There has been some substantial work done bilaterally between the United Kingdom and Ireland on the common travel area and how that can continue to operate after Brexit. Both Governments are determined to ensure it does. The European Union has no objection to that.

I understand there is a European Commission notice on aviation but I have not had a chance to see it yet.

On a temporary basis.

Deputy Howlin asked me on a number of occasions to explain what other people mean. I am afraid I cannot do that. I can explain to him only what I mean.

I asked what the British Prime Minister asked the Taoiseach for.

Many people are telling me what I mean but I have never had the ability to tell other people what others mean.

I asked the Taoiseach what Mrs. May asked for.

Among the UK requests was one that the joint political declaration on the future relationship be attached to the withdrawal agreement. The advice from the EU legal services is that this would not be possible and that the withdrawal agreement and protocols attached to it are legal documents in our treaties whereas the joint political declaration is a political declaration. To be called a treaty, it would have to be substantially rewritten.

The second request was for the European Union to give the United Kingdom a legal guarantee that the future relationship treaty, the trade deal, would be in place and operable by 2021, and that even if it were not ratified by all the member states in parliament, it would still be implemented, at least in part. Unfortunately, it was not a commitment that the European Union was able to give. We will make every endeavour in good faith to negotiate the future relationship treaty and a good trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union. We will start those talks as soon as the withdrawal agreement is ratified by Westminster but we could not give a legal commitment to say it would be done by any particular date because the nature of the negotiation is that one has to negotiate. Of course, because it will be a mixed agreement, a mixed treaty, it will require the ratification of the treaty by 28 member state parliaments, and perhaps provincial parliaments in some cases. What was sought was a legal guarantee that we were not in a position to give. If we were to give it, the European Union could find itself in breach. The responsibility for avoiding a hard border in that scenario would potentially shift to the European Union rather than the United Kingdom, which would be a bit unfair.

It would potentially render the backstop inoperable, which is why there was no traction for that suggestion at the European Council meeting.

I did not veto any language in communiques. I do not know from where that reportage comes, but I can only ever assume it comes from people who do not follow European affairs because it is just not the way the European Council works. We have never had a vote in a year and a half and do not wield vetoes. It is done by consensus. That is good sometimes and not at other times, but it is how the European Union works. There is no need to use a veto and I never have done so. There was a draft point No. 5 that has caused some commentary in the media as there was a reference to future reassurances. The reference to future reassurances was not included in the final conclusions because points Nos. 3 and 4 were added and they are the assurances. They are the assurances the European Union was happy to give; therefore, it was not necessary to refer to future reassurances. On deleting the particular language used, I did not propose or lead the charge on it, as I did not need to do so.

I have not had any direct contact with the DUP in the past two weeks.

We had a lengthy discussion on the MFF. It was an opportunity for the Heads of State and Government to outline their priorities. It was really a first round in which people outlined what their priorities were. As is always the case in an estimates process, everybody wanted to see lots more spent in every area imaginable but not many wanted to come up with the money to pay for it or savings in other programmes. It is an estimates process writ large at European level and it is really only getting started. I will speak a little more about it in my contribution later.

On our GNI, the Department of Finance does have estimates which show how our contribution will increase in the coming years. It is, of course, dependent on how much GNI increases and what our contributions will be. However, they are only estimates. The truth is our contribution to the EU budget will increase a lot, not so much because the United Kingdom is leaving but because of our GNI and the fact that the economy is growing so much. It is linked with the size of the economy. We have become a net contributor to the EU budget and will very much be a net contributor to it in the next MFF period. I really hope we will not become one of those countries that sees it as how much we pay in and how much we get out in funding, including under the CAP. We have to remember what the real value of European membership is - access to a single market of 500 million consumers. It is the freedom of Irish citizens to live, work, study, travel and access education anywhere in the European Union. One of the big mistakes made in the United Kingdom - perhaps one of the reasons it is leaving - is that it saw it in that way, that it pays this much in and gets that much out, that, therefore, it should leave and give the money to the NHS or some other worthy cause. People never really talked about the value of being in the European Union. Some in the United Kingdom are perhaps now starting to understand this. The membership fee is very cheap when we consider the access to a market of 500 million people and the enormous rights and freedoms citizens gain as a consequence of being part of the European Union.

Cybersecurity and disinformation were discussed, as was the issue of election interference. There was some concern there might have been foreign involvement in encouraging the gilets jaunes protest in France. A difficulty when it comes to all of these things is that while we can raise our concerns about disinformation, interference in the electoral process and the use of social media to do it, few people are able to come up with workable solutions as to what we can actually do to stop or prevent it. We always need to bear in mind the concept of free speech because one person's disinformation might be another's opinion. We need to be careful that people do not use any of these things as a pretext to crack down on democracy or freedom of speech.

I responded to questions about Rosslare Europort earlier in response to Deputy Howlin.

Departmental Budgets

Micheál Martin

Question:

18. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the budget allocation for the Vote for his Department in 2019. [50863/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

19. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the budget allocation for the Vote for his Department in 2019. [53006/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 19 together.

My Department's gross budget in 2019 will be €35.266 million, as set out in the Revised Estimates for Public Services published yesterday, which represents a 3% increase on the figure for 2018. The allocation is divided between administration and programme expenditure. The administration allocation covers the running costs of my Department, including staff and office expenses. The remainder of the budget covers programme expenditure which relates to the work of the National Economic and Social Council and a number of independent bodies and inquiries funded by my Department.

The 3% budget increase relates to an additional provision to meet the cost of a new Citizens' Assembly in 2019. The 2019 administration budget for my Department amounts to €22.52 million and is broken down as follows: pay amounts to €16.046 million; travel and subsistence amount to €730,000; training and development and incidental expenses amount to €3.59 million; postal and telecommunications amount to €360,000; office equipment and external IT services amount to €1.41 million; office premises expenses amount to €366,000; and consultancy services and value for money policy reviews amount to €18,000.

The balance of the budget allocation of €12.75 million relates to programme expenditure which funds a number of independent inquiries, including the Moriarty tribunal, the Cregan commission and the Cooke commission, at €8.8 million. Programme expenditure also funds the National Economic and Social Council to a total of €2.1 million and the proposed new Citizens' Assembly to a total of €1.85 million. A detailed breakdown of each of these programme subheads is outlined in the Revised Estimates.

The Department will use its budget allocation in 2019 to assist me in my role as head of Government to develop a sustainable economy and a successful society and to pursue Ireland's interests abroad. In 2019 the Government will continue its work on Brexit and Northern Ireland, advancing the ambitious investment under Project Ireland 2040, reform of the justice and health sectors, climate change, broadband and housing. All of this work will involve the central and co-ordinating role of the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure policies are developed and implemented in an integrated and strategic manner.

As part of the normal scrutiny of Dáil Voted expenditure, in early 2019 I will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach to discuss the details of the Estimate for my Department.

Yesterday the Taoiseach was asked about the proposal concerning a single Government portal, for which funding had been allocated this year, but it has not yet materialised. Directly linked with this is the research that was supposed to be undertaken to ask people if they actually wanted a single Government portal and establish current attitudes to Government online services. The Taoiseach will remember that in the extremely limited survey of practice in this area carried out by his staff the one consistent learning was that all changes should be led by public demand, not by political proposals. I remind him that there is significant evidence that the move to a single site for all Government information can significantly undermine the level and accessibility of information available on public bodies. Will he explain to the House what has happened to the survey of public opinion, for which we voted funding? The contract was awarded well over a year ago and we were told that it would be completed, even when the marketing unit was stood down. We were also given repeated assurances that we would be consulted on the content of the research before it was carried out. I would like answers to these questions.

The Taoiseach has said there are three units in the Department looking after the specific issues of Sláintecare, policing reform and Brexit. How many staff are in the Brexit unit and does the Taoiseach have plans to beef it up in the event that there is a no deal Brexit?

In a previous reply the Taoiseach spoke about the strategic threat assessment centre. I was not clear on the issue of the new security co-ordinator. For the purposes of clarity, will the Taoiseach tell us if it is a new post to be advertised externally or if it is to be an internal appointment from the Defence Forces or An Garda Síochána?

Deputy Micheál Martin asked about the public attitudes survey. I do not believe it was ever carried out. I will have to double check, but I think because of everything else that was going on, it was de-prioritised and never carried out. I had forgotten about it until the Deputy reminded me of it.

It was done away with silently.

Forgotten about, rather than done away with, is the answer to the question.

On the national co-ordinator, we have not decided yet whether it will be an internal appointment or whether the post will be advertised. It is to be determined in the first quarter of next year.

Regarding the new Brexit contingency unit, it is being set up to augment the work of my Department's international, EU and Northern Ireland division on Brexit. This unit was recently established to work on Brexit preparedness and contingency planning. It supports the Secretaries General group which oversees ongoing work on Brexit national preparedness and contingency planning. The unit is focused on cross-Government co-ordination, planning and programme management. It is headed by a principal officer and has a staffing complement of six.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.