Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Migrant Integration

Seán Haughey

Question:

40. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of efforts to address the global migration crisis; his position on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46438/19]

Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade update me on efforts to address the global migration crisis, outline the Government's position on same and make a statement on the matter? Migration is one of the biggest challenges facing the world. As it has huge implications for global politics, I would welcome the Tánaiste's response.

I thank the Deputy whom I congratulate on being given this spokesmanship. I look forward to working with him for however long we have left in this Dáil which I imagime will be a few months.

The number of international migrants has risen to 272 million in 2019. That is an extraordinary number and it represents an increase from 221 million in 2010. Clearly, migration is a significant and growing phenomenon. It is important to remember that the vast majority of people move legally and in an orderly fashion. All of the evidence demonstrates that safe, orderly, regular and freely chosen migration benefits countries of both origin and destination, as well as improving the lives of migrants. Migration can also take place in an unsafe and irregular way, often because of hardship and persecution, as illustrated by recent tragedies and the continuing loss of life in the Mediterranean. Conflict and persecution, as well as poverty, lack of opportunity and environmental degradation, continue to propel people to seek out opportunities for sanctuary and livelihoods elsewhere. There are almost 71 million forcibly displaced persons globally.

We support the European Council position that a comprehensive approach is essential. Progress has been made, with the number of irregular border crossings into the European Union at its lowest in five years. Challenges remain, however, and Ireland is working with its EU partners to resolve them and put in place sustainable solutions. In 2015 Ireland committed to accepting up to 4,000 people through the EU relocation programme and the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme. Some 2,600 people have so far arrived in Ireland under these programmes. Ireland has been active in search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, with the Irish Naval Service having rescued more than 17,500 people there. This year Ireland has agreed to receive up to 100 people disembarked following search and rescue operations as part of the refugee protection programme. Ireland played a key role in the agreement at the United Nations last year of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees, both of which are important frameworks for international co-operation on migration and refugees.

My Department, through Ireland's international development programme, is also supporting efforts to address migration challenges. We are providing €15 million for the EU Trust Fund for Africa which is financing over 200 projects in 26 countries. Our funding for the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey supports almost 1.7 million refugees with basic services. We are contributing over €15 million this year for the vital work of the UNHCR.

While the global migration crisis may have lessened somewhat since its height in 2015, the recent appalling discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in Essex has put the issue back in focus. The shocking discovery was followed by MEPs voting against a non-legally binding resolution that called on European countries to step up search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. As the Tánaiste knows, Fine Gael's four MEPs voted against the resolution. According to the latest UNHCR statistics, as of 4 November, 96,649 refugees and migrants have entered Europe, while it is estimated that just over 1,000 people are missing or dead. Certain states have been affected by the migration crisis. While the European Union has put in place mechanisms to deal with the increase in the number seeking asylum in the Union, not all member states have committed to sharing responsibility for addressing the matter. While I realise it is a very sensitive issue, it is clear that the European Union can and must do better. I accept that Ireland has opted in to many of the measures proposed at EU level. I support the measures taken to address the root causes of migration, including the EU Trust Fund for Africa which aims to address the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa, but my party and I are critical of some of the third country arrangements put in place by the European Union.

They are fair questions, but, first, let me clear up a couple of points. The recent vote in the European Parliament which some Fianna Fáil MEPs did not even attend was on a non-binding resolution, but it also had legitimate problems in the context of the sharing of information in the Mediterranean. Let me be very clear: Ireland would be willing to send a ship back to the Mediterranean to assist in search and rescue efforts, as we have done in the past. The Taoiseach has confirmed this, as have I. This week I met representatives of a number of the NGOs that have been working to provide search and rescue support in the Mediterranean, saving people's lives. The European Union needs to do more than it is doing. Its inability to achieve a collective agreement on migration and the humanitarian response needed for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean is not its finest hour. There are many countries, including Ireland, that are trying to find a much more co-ordinated and cohesive way forward on the issue and we will continue to do so. Countries such as Germany, in particular, are trying to build consensus on how to put together a collective effort that will not only save lives but also deal with the root causes of migration from the continent of Africa.

I welcome the Tánaiste's response. The approach adopted by Ireland in the Mediterranean is a humanitarian one which is in keeping with our tradition generally as a nation state.

Fianna Fáil has been consistent in its criticism of returning migrants and refugees to Libya because of circumstances there. It cannot be considered to be a safe country. Conflict, economic collapse and a breakdown in law and order, coupled with smuggling networks and criminal gangs, make Libya a dangerous place for migrants. As a party, Fianna Fáil has consistently voiced its concern about the horrendous conditions in detention centres in Libya and the inhumane treatment of those detained in them. There are reports of human rights abuses, violence and rape. I would welcome the Minister's response on the matter.

In this House we share genuine concern about the humanitarian catastrophe in Libya in terms of the number of refugees who are staying in totally unsuitable conditions and very vulnerable circumstances. I speak to UN agencies and NGOs that have dealt with many of the people concerned. Many of their stories were shared with Irish Naval Service personnel on the decks of Irish naval vessels. I believe four Irish naval vessels went to the Mediterranean. Only yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council, the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, briefed us on a recent visit to Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, where a new Berlin process is trying to make progress on a ceasefire that it is hoped can form the basis of political stability that can be the start of the response needed politically in Libya.

On a humanitarian level, my views are known. I am very frustrated that the European Union has not been able to agree collectively on an approach. I hope that with the new Italian Government and new efforts by a number of EU member states, we will soon be able to have a collective approach that will be more effective than the current one.

Good Friday Agreement

Seán Crowe

Question:

41. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has met his UK counterpart since the ruling in the case of a person (details supplied); his views on whether the ruling shows that the UK Government is failing to honour the Good Friday Agreement; and the steps he will take to ensure the UK Government abides by and implements each of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements. [46440/19]

We have all been following the Emma DeSouza case very closely. It goes to the heart of the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. On Monday, 14 October judges in the Upper Tribunal in London ruled that people born in the North of Ireland were UK citizens according to UK law. Has the Minister met his British counterpart to discuss this latest ruling?

I thank the Deputy for raising this case, in which I am aware he has shown consistent interest for a while.

Citizenship and identity provisions are central to the Good Friday Agreement and it is vital that they be upheld. The Irish Government has consistently engaged with the British Government in support of this and will continue to do so. It is important to state Ms Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and that this is provided for and protected under the Good Friday Agreement. My Department is keeping in regular contact with Emma and Jake DeSouza.

In December 2018 I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to raise the case of Ms DeSouza and the concerns about the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and ask for a review of the issues involved. In February the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, acknowledged the serious concerns in this area and pledged to review the issues surounding citizenship to deliver a long-term solution consistent with the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

To her credit, she agreed to do that. In this context, the decision of the tribunal in the DeSouza case on 14 October does not define the extent of the British Government's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. I hope people are familiar with the Good Friday Agreement in which the Governments "recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both" and "confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments". It is imperative that people in Northern Ireland have confidence in these provisions of the Agreement, in letter and in spirit. To provide for that, a positive outcome to the review mandated by the British Government is now needed. The Government is actively engaged to seek that outcome.

I again raised the case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at our meeting on 15 October and I have since written to the Secretary of State to underline the pressing need for a positive outcome to the review by the British Government. The Government will continue to pursue strongly these issues with the British Government, as a co-guarantor of the Agreement itself.

This ruling represents a clear and deeply worrying development. The identity and citizenship provisions are critical to the integrity of the Agreement and must be protected and defended to the hilt. The Good Friday Agreement is crystal clear on the terms of citizenship. Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and it is disgraceful that she should have to go to court to prove it. Emma herself has said that the core of this issue is the fact that she is not a British citizen. She has not held a British passport, she has not accepted British citizenship and she understands that the Good Friday Agreement gave an explicit right to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both. She said she is Irish, that it was not a choice or a decision; it is simply who she is.

I welcome that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade raised this case with his British counterpart and the Taoiseach raised it with the British Prime Minister. The Good Friday Agreement is an internationally binding treaty, overwhelmingly endorsed by the Irish people. Did the British Government clarify to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, say it will end this undermining of the citizenship and identity provisions and will it introduce new legislation to ensure it fully complies with the Good Friday Agreement and stop the discrimination of citizens like Emma DeSouza?

This is an issue that has concerned a lot of people who are watching to see how the British Government responds to it. Having spoken to the Secretary of State about this case on more than one occasion, my understanding is that there will be a comprehensive review of citizenship provisions and how they are provided for to ensure consistency with the Good Friday Agreement. We will have to wait for that review to conclude. I assure Deputy Crowe that we have raised and will continue to raise this case. The citizenship provisions are essentially at the core of the Good Friday Agreement, which is all about identity and people being Irish or British or both if they choose to be in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. We will continue to pursue this case. I believe the British Government wants to address this issue in a fair and proper manner and in a way that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, but until that is done we need to continue to call for that review to be completed and hopefully published.

I am conscious that an election is taking place, but does the Tánaiste not agree that this seems to be part of a pattern? The British Government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement yet it constantly undermines elements of it. Just this week the British Prime Minister announced new plans to give British soldiers immunity from prosecution. The proposals would create a de facto amnesty from prosecution for British soldiers who committed offences in Ireland, including the murder of Irish citizens. That is completely unacceptable. Any attempt to create a scenario where current or former British soldiers are given immunity from prosecution, in addition to the immunity they have enjoyed for decades, is totally unacceptable.

Mechanisms have been agreed by the two Governments and political parties as part of the Stormont House Agreement to deal with legacy issues of the conflict and they must be implemented. Has the Tánaiste raised the concerning proposals with his British counterpart? I accept that an election is taking place, but has the Tánaiste told the British Government that the proposals are unacceptable to the Irish people, the Irish Government and to all people that are fair minded on this island?

We need to be careful about the language we use during an election campaign. Politics is already very polarised in Northern Ireland and we need to work towards political reconciliation between parties as well as reconciliation between communities. That is why yesterday I tried to respond in an appropriate way to suggestions that there may be commitments to non-prosecution of certain state actors in the context of the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. I do not think that would be helpful; in fact I think it would be very unhelpful in terms of efforts to move a legacy process and a reconciliation process forward in Northern Ireland.

We have an agreed approach. It is called the Stormont House Agreement. It is quite detailed and it took a lot of time to put together. There is a commitment to a historical investigations unit, which would investigate without fear or favour atrocities and crimes in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of them will concern non-state actors in acts of terrorism. We cannot have a situation where there is essentially an amnesty for any one element of Northern Ireland's past. That it not going to be the basis for lasting reconciliation. The Irish Government's position on that is very clear.

Brexit Issues

Lisa Chambers

Question:

42. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether there is sufficient time to negotiate an agreement on a future trading relationship by the end of 2020 if the withdrawal agreement agreed in October 2019 is ratified in the European Parliament and the UK House of Commons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46439/19]

My question relates to the withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated and agreed by the UK Government with the European Union. If it is to be ratified in the European Parliament and then in the House of Commons, does the Tánaiste believe there is sufficient time after that to negotiate a future trading relationship by the end of 2020, which is when the transition period expires?

The first thing on which we need to concentrate is to try to get a withdrawal agreement concluded.

I refer to after that fact.

I take that point. After a general election in the UK, if the Parliament ratifies the latest withdrawal agreement that has been agreed between the British Government and the EU then, in all likelihood, the UK will leave the European Union at the end of January. As part of that withdrawal agreement the political declaration sets a course for what the future relationship might look like, but the timescale for the negotiation of that says the transition period would end at the end of 2020 unless both sides agree on the back of the UK applying for an extension to that period by either one or two years. That request would have to be made by 1 July next year, which essentially only leaves five months in advance of that request. The British Prime Minister has said he will not seek an extension of time.

Personally, I think it will be very difficult to negotiate a future relationship in all of its complexity before the end of 2020, but it is possible. That is a matter for the two negotiating teams. For some time now the EU side has been preparing for that negotiation. Michel Barnier will effectively lead a task force on the future relationship negotiation, even though individual Commissioners and the Commission will also be involved in the negotiations across various sectors.

The answer to Deputy Lisa Chambers's question is that I think the timeline will be very tight. The end of 2020 was originally envisaged as a timeline that would have been a lot longer, before the extensions were granted in an effort to get a withdrawal agreement ratified and agreed. We are going to have to respond to these issues as they develop and, as ever, Brexit will not be easy and the European Union will have to make difficult choices, depending on the approach of the UK side. The future relationship negotiations will be difficult because the target is tariff-free, barrier-free and quota-free trade.

If that is to be the case, then level playing field issues will have to be negotiated across multiple sectors, which will take time.

The transition period was initially due to be 21 months. It appears to have been an oversight that, during the renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, it was not dealt with. I agree with the Minister that we hope and expect that the UK Government will apply for an extension of the transition period by 1 July 2020. Boris Johnson has pledged that if he is re-elected, which is looking quite possible, that he will not seek an extension to the transition period beyond 2020. In a recently posted video, he stated:

We can get a fantastic new free trade agreement with the EU by the end of 2020 and we will not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

I disagree. I do not think it is possible to get a trade agreement concluded within five months or 12 months. In fact, even 21 months was ambitious. The Minister mentioned level playing field provisions with regard to where both sides are starting from. The new agreement that has been negotiated allows the UK to further diverge. It will not be in the customs union by the end of 2020. It wants to strike new trade deals. That means that the very close arrangement that we want is looking quite unlikely. Given that both sides are starting from wildly different and separate positions, I think we have a mammoth task ahead, with many years of negotiation. The Government appears to be relying on this extension just happening at the end of 2020. I do not think we can rely on that.

The Deputy has made a number of statements as if they are absolute facts. The truth is that there are still many unknowns with regard to how the future relationship negotiations will go. I share the Deputy's concern that the timelines are tight. Given the recent history of negotiating trade deals with other parts of the world, it generally takes years, not months, to negotiate trade deals. Even the ratification process often takes longer than a year. It is very ambitious for a British Prime Minister to expect that all of this can be done in ten or 11 months. Once we get into a transition process, the challenges and the timelines to resolve them will become clear. We will have some time in the build-up to the summer of 2020 before there is a need to decide whether an extra one or two years are required. Regardless of what is being said now, I think the current focus should be on trying to get a withdrawal agreement across the line, which has not yet been done. Once that creates a legal framework related to a transition period, we can move through that process and deal with the issues as they arise.

It is a fact that an extension must be applied for by 1 July. The UK Government says it does not want to do that. Most people tend to agree that it will take a considerable amount of time to negotiate this agreement. I am speaking about those because they are reasonable points to make. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, appeared before the business and enterprise committee and spoke about the transition period being extended by two years as if that was a fait accompli and was guaranteed. I challenged her on this and she amended what she had told the committee. My point is that the Government is relying on this just happening because the alternative is so bad. We have to have learned at this point that the worst could happen. Professor Imelda Maher from the UCD school of law was before the Joint Committee on Health. She is professor of European law. Addressing the end of the transition period and negotiating a free trade agreement in that time, her written submission stated "The unravelling and redefining of 45 years of union membership is going to take more time than that and unless further extensions are sought, there will be a fall back to WTO rules which will greatly impede trade between UK and the EU (but for Northern Ireland)." Has the Government conducted an economic impact assessment of what the country is facing at the end of 2020 if there is a hard exit by Great Britain?

I do not disagree with the Deputy about the concern about attempting to get a future relationship on a whole range of things, not just a trade deal, including fishing, data, aviation-----

Policing, security.

-----defence and security co-operation. I accept that it is very ambitious to expect that that can be done in 11 months. We should not, however, be making statements that we will be relying on two more years being applied for. First, we have to get into a transition period. We are already preparing, as a Government, for the negotiations that will take place to make sure that the Irish perspective is fully understood within the EU approach during that transition period to a future relationship. The focus over the next six weeks should be on a withdrawal agreement, getting it ratified and, if it is ratified by the end of January, then ensuring that we are well prepared for a withdrawal agreement. As with everything related to Brexit, the job of Government is to be ready for multiple potential outcomes. Depending on the result of the British general election, those outcomes could still be very different. To make decisions for the end of 2020 is probably premature.

International Agreements

Róisín Shortall

Question:

43. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position of Ireland on the draft legally binding instrument to regulate in international law the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises. [46682/19]

My question relates to the need to progress the draft UN legally binding instrument to regulate international law and the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises in respect of human rights abuses. The figures that have been documented in recent years are concerning. There have been 2,000 attacks on activists since 2015. Last year alone, 321 human rights defenders were murdered. There is an urgent need to progress this instrument.

The question of a legally binding treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises has been under consideration by an open-ended inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises, which was established on foot of a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2014. The working group has had five sessions to date, with the most recent having taken place in Geneva from 14 to 18 October 2019. It considered the revised draft text of a legally binding instrument which had earlier been circulated by Ecuador, the chair of the working group. Ireland was among those EU member states which advocated a greater engagement by the European Union in the process and I am pleased therefore that the EU participated and made statements at the opening and closing debates.

As the proposed treaty covers matters for which the EU is competent, it will be for the European Commission to negotiate on behalf of the EU and its member states. For my part, I am open to looking at options for progress on a legally binding treaty, which I believe should be firmly rooted in the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. I would like to see any new initiative build on, rather than duplicate, existing measures such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, guidelines for multinational enterprises and the International Labour Organization, ILO, tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy. Any new treaty would have to reaffirm the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights and stress the primary responsibility of states under existing human rights obligations to protect against human rights violations. I also believe that it would have to treat all economic operators, whether transnational or purely domestic, in a non-discriminatory manner.

Ultimately, if it is to achieve its objectives, any legally binding instrument should enjoy broad support among UN member states to ensure its effectiveness, as well as international coherence in the framework of business and human rights. On this point, I note that of the 22 countries which to date have adopted national plans on business and human rights, 16, including Ireland, are EU member states.

The Minister has repeated those lines a number of times in recent months. Does the Minister accept that there is a major gap in the regulation of corporate activities by states and in access to remedy for victims of human rights violations? The transnational or global nature of business has not been met with global regulation and binding measures.

A number of the points the Tánaiste has been making in recent times were addressed in that fifth session. He said Ireland wants the scope to cover domestic enterprises as well as transnational corporations, and that is included in the latest draft. He said the treaty must be rooted in the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, and the latest draft does exactly that. He also said that to achieve its objectives, any legally binding instrument should enjoy broad support.

We need the EU to take the lead and Ireland should be leading the EU in that respect. Rather than everybody stepping back and expecting somebody else to give leadership, would the Tánaiste consider Ireland taking that step?

I would like to think we are already. No one is stepping back. As I said at the end of my response to the Deputy's previous question, of the 22 countries that have national plans on business and human rights, 16 of them are in the EU. The EU is trying to give leadership in this area. We have made the case that the EU should do more, although I would not say that was the only contributing factor to the EU making statements at both the start and end of the session. Many of the issues that require regulation in how transnational companies operate within the EU and the functioning of the Single Market have to be done at EU level by the European Commission. We will continue to advocate that the EU can do more. This has to be a global response or, otherwise, we will see certain parts of the world taking this seriously and other parts of the world not doing anything. That is why, ultimately, this needs to be a UN-led process with EU leadership driving the change that is needed. I am certainly happy that Ireland would be one of the leaders within the EU to try to deliver that change.

It is fair to say that Ireland has not led to date. Recently, in September, the Tánaiste said that officials in his Department were in the process of reviewing the draft to assess whether Ireland's wide-ranging concerns in respect of the earlier document had been addressed. When will this review by officials be available? He said Ireland will continue to work with other EU partners to look at how we might actively and constructively engage in the negotiation process. Can he outline how Ireland will take steps to actively and constructively engage in the negotiation process?

Ireland is trying to give leadership by example so that is why we have, at national level, a national action plan with a committee chaired by Breege O'Donoghue, formerly of Primark. That committee has met three times this year, in January, April and October, and the next meeting will take place in January. The key action of the implementation committee will be to develop a practical toolkit on business and human rights for private and public entities to assist them in their human rights due diligence. At international level, we will continue to engage when the meetings take place. We will raise issues when we need to and continue to try to move the process forward. That is how international platforms like this work.

When will the review be available?

I will get that detail and send it to the Deputy.