Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements

I will attend a meeting of the European Council this Thursday and Friday, 12 and 13 December. It will be the first meeting chaired by Charles Michel, who took over as President of the Council on 1 December. It will also be the first meeting attended by Ursula von der Leyen in her role as President of the Commission, and by Christine Lagarde since she took up office as President of the European Central Bank. We have a busy agenda and, at the top of it, are climate change and the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, the EU's seven-year budget. We will also discuss external relations, as well as the proper functioning of the World Trade Organization. On Friday, there will be a euro summit where we will take stock of progress achieved by Finance Ministers on EMU reform since the last summit in June, and we will provide direction on how we take the work forward. We will also meet in Article 50 format to consider the state of play on Brexit and the next steps.

In his wrap-up remarks today, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will speak on the WTO issue and other external relations issues. I will focus my remarks on the other items on the agenda. The European Council will begin on Thursday with an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. I understand he will raise the idea of a conference on the future of Europe, something both the Parliament and the European Commission have been doing some thinking about. This will be the first discussion on this issue at the European Council and I look forward to hearing President Sassoli's thoughts and the views of colleagues.

The European Union has a significant programme of work to undertake in the coming period, including implementing the strategic agenda which we adopted in June. This built on successful citizens' dialogues in Ireland and elsewhere. The European Council will continue on Thursday with a formal working session where we will discuss climate change. Last October, we welcomed the outcome of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and confirmed that we would return to this issue in December. This week, we must finalise the guidance we give to the European Commission on the EU's long-term strategy on climate. This will enable the adoption and submission of the EU's long-term strategy to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change next year.

For me, the priority is to build a consensus for our objective of achieving climate neutrality at EU level by 2050. As it is the best way to encourage other countries in other parts of the world to scale up their short-term and long-term ambitions under the Paris Agreement, global leadership by the EU is required. We aspire to become the first carbon-neutral continent. We know this is good environmental, social and economic policy but we also need to bring citizens with us and ensure that the transition is both just and socially balanced. I believe this means supporting the most affected regions and sectors, where necessary.

The Union's future budget will be the main topic for discussion at our dinner on Thursday evening. We will also discuss foreign policy and the World Trade Organization. At the last European Council in October, we asked the Presidency to submit a "negotiating box" ahead of our meeting this week, in other words, a paper with detailed figures which would be used to structure MFF negotiations and to facilitate discussion on individual issues. The Finnish Presidency has now brought forward a proposal based on an overall budget of 1.07% of GNI and has set out suggested allocations across each of the main expenditure headings. We welcome the efforts of the Finnish Presidency to progress the negotiations and I look forward to discussing the proposal with colleagues this week.

As our prosperity has increased and our economy has grown, so have our contributions to the EU, and they are projected to increase considerably further in the next MFF. We benefit so much from our membership of the EU, including through our membership of the Single Market, and it is in our interests that the Union has a budget that is fit for purpose and adequate. Above all, we want to see long-established, well-funded and successful programmes, such CAP and cohesion funding, continue, as well as investment in new challenges, such as migration, security, climate change and digitalisation. Programmes such as Horizon, INTERREG and Erasmus+ are successful and must be properly funded. I welcome the Finnish Presidency's proposal to increase funding for the PEACE programme to €100 million. With contributions from Ireland and the UK, this potentially allows us to have a PEACE PLUS programme of almost €1 billion in the next MFF period, which will be of huge benefit to Northern Ireland and the Border counties, and is a priority for me in the negotiations. I will continue to advocate for CAP because it is a successful policy that ensures food security, promotes regional and rural development in Europe and enables us to encourage greener and more environmentally friendly agriculture. The importance of stopping climate change is reflected more broadly in the proposed budget, with an overall target of at least 25% of expenditure delivering on climate objectives. This is not going to be a meeting where we make decisions but it will set the course for the future discussions on the MFF. I expect the European Council to take a more central role on this from now on.

On Friday morning, our day will begin with the euro summit, at which we will take stock of progress achieved by Finance Ministers on EMU reform since the last summit in June. This will be an opportunity to provide direction on how to advance this work further. The main elements for discussion are reform of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, the proposed new budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness for the euro area to be provided for in the new MFF, and banking union. On Friday, we will also meet in Article 50 format to discuss Brexit. It is likely that, by then, we will know the outcome of the UK election and its potential implications for ratification of the withdrawal agreement. I will urge the European Council to call on the Commission to propose a comprehensive mandate for the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship. We need to demonstrate our ambition to have as close and broad as possible a relationship with the UK in the future. The joint political declaration agreed between the EU and the UK provides a negotiating mandate for this next phase. We need to be ready to begin negotiating the future relationship with the UK as soon as it is ready. It is good to see that Michel Barnier will continue to act as the EU's chief negotiator during this phase. It is also essential that the task force maintains close engagement and co-operation with the other EU institutional actors, as it has done to date.

Commissioner Hogan, as Trade Commissioner, will also have a leading role.

The European Council in particular will continue to follow the negotiations closely and provide political direction as necessary.

Ireland has always said we want the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, trade, security and political. It is also vital to our economic interests that the Single Market is protected and the level playing field provisions that underpin that close relationship continue. In the coming weeks our focus will be on ensuring the timely ratification of the withdrawal agreement because so much depends on an orderly withdrawal. We will continue to expect the UK to ensure the agreement's faithful implementation. In his statement later, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will comment on external relations issues expected to arise at the European Council. For my part, I look forward to engaging with my EU colleagues collectively and bilaterally and welcoming and congratulating the new Finnish Prime Minister on her election. I will of course report back to the House next week.

This week's Council meeting is not due to involve any major action on the range of short- and long-term issues of concern to the European Union as a whole. This is disappointing given that this is the moment when the leadership of the Union has been transferred to new hands for the next five years. Fianna Fáil wishes the new Presidents of the Council and the Commission well in their work. We understand that the transition to a new Commission has been delayed but we hope the new year will see a clearer picture of what they are proposing in terms of reform and action on urgent priorities.

Over quite a few years my party has sought a much deeper engagement with European Union reform in the Dáil and in public debate. We have been very specific in setting out an approach which would lead Ireland to become a leader in reform and a country which understands that either critical weaknesses need to be addressed or Europe will continue in a cycle of division and crises. Unfortunately, the Government's approach has been very different, and it appears now to be Fine Gael's policy to try to import ridiculous rhetoric and political attacks from elsewhere into our politics.

The year 2020 is likely to be defining in the future of the European Union. There will be decisions about the future of the budget, relations with the United Kingdom, enforcement of fundamental democratic values within the Union, the ability to fight economic downturns, the capacity of critical elements of monetary union and Europe's place in a world of increasing attacks on free democracy. We believe it is long since time for Ireland to contribute in a meaningful way to these debates and to put aside the complacent and at times damaging strategy of the Government. While the anti-Europeans of the left and the right like to blame the European Union for as much as possible, what they never admit is that the Union has repeatedly been denied the capacity to help regions and countries when they are most in need. A budget which is limited to at or below 1% of combined national incomes is simply not credible as a force for shared growth and prosperity. In fact, this incredibly low figure forces the Union into zero-sum fights which are destructive and which alienate many communities.

In the discussions about the multi-annual financial framework we are basically discussing whether or not the European Union will be allowed to do the work for which it has been given responsibility. However, because of the position of some states, including, unfortunately, our Government, we see different camps arguing about programmes which are each fundamental. In particular, support for rural communities and farm families should not be under this scale of pressure, and it is surprising that the Government does not appear to see the link between the fights on the Common Agricultural Policy and cohesion funding and its own position of opposing an increased budget. Similarly, there is simply no way that the vital objectives set for the Union in the areas of innovation and climate can be met by the budget as proposed.

Related to this is the issue of creating a new fiscal capacity in the eurozone to assist countries and regions at times of serious pressure. President Macron's proposal in this regard was proportionate and reflected one of the core lessons as to why the financial crisis became a deep economic crisis in much of the eurozone. Ireland's position as part of the core group which frustrated and finally effectively neutered the new eurozone fund was a disgrace. The House will remember that when this was revealed, the Taoiseach first claimed not to have read the article which exposed Ireland's position, using his now typical line of denying media reports even when they turn out to be true. Ireland's position is self-defeating. Yes, we will have to pay more to the Union if its budget increases, but we will benefit many times over from the extra stability and new growth opportunities which more soundly based financing of the European Union and the eurozone would bring.

Regarding Brexit, while we cannot predict the outcome of tomorrow's election, the indications are that the ratification of the withdrawal agreement Bill will proceed to a conclusion in the next six weeks. At that point Brexit will not, irrespective of the industrially promoted slogan to the contrary, be done; it will be very far from done. The most fundamental issue of all, the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, will begin to be negotiated in substance. The political declaration about the future relationships currently proposes what is for Ireland roughly the worst possible outcome. It is a hard Brexit whereby the United Kingdom seeks both to conclude a free trade agreement with the European Union and to be free then to lower standards and have different relations with the rest of the world. In other words, both trading and broader social and economic relations between the United Kingdom and Europe will under every conceivable outcome be less free and subject to more barriers. The United Kingdom is seeking to maximise access but minimise the ability of the European Union to use established procedures to guarantee free and fair competition. This contradiction has not even begun to be reconciled. Given the nature of the Conservative Party's campaign and the details of its position, something close to a crash-out remains a possibility at the end of next year. Ireland dodged an enormous bullet earlier this year when a crash-out Brexit was avoided at a time when we were manifestly not ready for it. For example, we had extra customs bays in Dublin Port but did not have the staff to man them. Clearly, we must keep showing urgency in preparations. We must finally reach the stage at which we should have been many months ago, with all businesses having the requisite registrations and a move from general information to specific and practical action to support them as they seek to protect or replace business in the United Kingdom.

Regarding Northern Ireland, the leaked Treasury report published by the British Labour Party last week and confirmed by other reporting suggests that the withdrawal agreement threatens major economic damage unless serious mitigation is provided. The fact that Northern Ireland has been denied a voice in the Brexit debate because its democratic institutions were collapsed by Sinn Féin based on a controversy about a heating scheme has already caused immense damage. The new 13 January deadline appears to be concentrating minds, and it is hoped democracy will be restored - not before time and to the credit of no one involved. If it is, there is no time to waste in getting to work on both limiting the damage of Brexit and taking advantage of the special economic status which Northern Ireland is likely to have following 2020.

The European Union also faces a serious challenge to its core principles of the rule of law and fair democracies. This comes from within and outside the Union. When governments take over their judiciaries, exercise extreme partisan control of the media, attack civil society and deny basic accountability, they explicitly step away from the core principles on which they were admitted to the Union and which are in its treaties. These are values and laws which they agreed to and which were ratified by their populations in free referendums. There cannot be a backing off from this. The European values which are under threat are threatened by governments which embrace the idea of tight control of their peoples and a growing illiberalism. Any attempt to step away from the priority given to this issue by the previous leadership of the Council and the Commission should be opposed by Ireland.

Equally, Ireland needs to stand with Ukraine as it continues to endure the invasion and partition imposed on it by an authoritarian neighbour. What would it say to countries such as the European Union's Baltic members if Europe allowed Ukraine to be dismembered and undermined like this?

We also need the European Union to understand that business as usual with Israel is becoming increasingly unacceptable. Prime Minister Netanyahu has, despite what the Tánaiste told us, become more extreme and is proposing annexations which would permanently deny Palestinians statehood. The Taoiseach has yet again said he will continue blocking the Bill on trade with illegal settlements because it is an EU competency.

I remind the Taoiseach that there is no evidence of him or the Tánaiste proposing at EU level that this legislation should be allowed or adopted by the European Union as a whole. How far does Prime Minister Netanyahu have to go before we in this House will take substantive action? This week's summit will be overshadowed by the British election. Irrespective of what happens in that election, the fundamental structure of United Kingdom-European Union relations must be addressed and the need to reform and support the working of the European Union will remain as urgent as ever. Given the scale and importance of the issues involved, it is long since time for Ireland to start playing a constructive and proactive role in these debates.

I was not sure if Brexit would be formally discussed at the European Council meeting until I heard the Taoiseach's speech. We would all accept that Brexit casts a long shadow. Polls in the Westminster election will close at 10 p.m. tomorrow and we should get the first exit polls shortly after that. This will occur during the European Council meeting. I am sure that the Taoiseach and all the other Heads of State and Government will be eagerly following these developments closely. I want, first and foremost, to wish all the Sinn Féin candidates well. We won a historic seven seats in the 2017 elections and we hope that we can retain these seats and even gain one more.

I note that the Taoiseach has endorsed a candidate that Deputy Micheál Martin was canvassing for at the weekend in Derry. The Taoiseach indicated his support for more Irish MPs in Westminster rather than here in the Dáil, which I find bizarre coming from an Irish Taoiseach. The electorate in the North will have their own say tomorrow. I want to put on record my concern regarding the hate campaign that was waged against John Finucane. This was organised loyalist intimidation. It is wrong, dangerous and needs to be condemned. This election is about the toxic Tory-DUP Brexit agenda and their disastrous cuts to public services. Since the referendum, Sinn Féin has worked with the other pro-remain parties to send a clear message to the British Government, the EU, the Irish Government and the US, that the DUP does not speak for everyone in the North. Sinn Féin has stood up for the majority who voted to reject Brexit. Westminster is undoubtedly a house of dysfunction and farce. It is increasingly clear that Irish interests will never really be taken seriously there. Those who argue for any self-respecting Irish democrat to insert themselves into that mayhem are stretching the boundaries of political sense and reality.

Since the referendum and the ideological crusade on which the Tories and the DUP have embarked, we have consistently said there is no such thing as a good Brexit. All parties here have worked to secure unique arrangements for the North to offer some protection for the economy, to avoid any hardening of the Border and to protect the Good Friday Agreement. We have never said these arrangements are perfect. It imposes an EU exit for the North against the express wishes of the people there, but I am confident that the agreement will ensure that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland. We believe that partition has failed and the only complete solution is Irish unity.

Whatever transpires after the election in Britain, significant and ongoing challenges will face us. I note that the Tánaiste felt the need to tell journalists this week after the EU Foreign Affairs Council that there is little chance that a future relationship deal between the EU and Britain could be hammered out before the end of December 2020. The Tánaiste is correct. This will be a difficult negotiation. The rhetoric from Boris Johnson that everything can be wrapped up by December 2020 is a dangerous attempt to fool the British public. Ireland's interests in any future trading relationship will have to be promoted and protected. We must strategise for east-west trade to ensure we get the best economic and political outcomes for our island. We must ensure that there is never any barrier to trade and movement on this island. Ultimately, we need to start planning for Irish unity. The Taoiseach should start this process without delay. The Irish people and civil society are far ahead of the Government on this issue. We need to make up for lost time. If a Sinn Féin Government is returned after the quickly approaching general election in this State, we will do just that. It should be a core priority of any future Government. It is now clear the British Government is involved in an increased and sustained move to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. The example of the DeSouza judgment demonstrates that. This cannot be tolerated. The Government must be proactive and staunch in defending our peace agreements and the hard won rights of Irish citizens.

This European Council meeting will also focus on climate change. Ireland's record to date regarding climate change has been awful. The Environmental Protection Agency published a report in October that revealed this State exceeded its carbon emissions budget by 5 million tonnes in 2018, and is moving further from its climate commitments. It was the second year in a row that we missed our targets. This shows a systemic political failure to take climate change seriously. We need a paradigm shift in State investment in public transport. We should be leaders in the fight to reduce carbon emissions and to mitigate climate change. We should be heading to this meeting with clear and positive results on our climate targets after undertaking significant change. Instead, the Taoiseach will go there as the head of a Government that continually fails to meet its own and international targets. The Government continues to sell off our public transport network and to neglect investment in new rail lines, particularly outside Dublin where they are most needed. The Government's agricultural policy shift in 2015 to encourage more dairy and milk production has added to emissions. Under the Government's watch, afforestation is also missing its targets and has been falling since 2016. The sole response by the Government is to introduce a regressive carbon tax, even though the alternatives are simply not there. It is time for the Taoiseach to wake up and get serious. Targets for 2050 and beyond are no good. We need to ensure that transformative and ambitious targets for 2025 and 2030 are put in place and met in Ireland and across the EU.

I encourage the Taoiseach to raise issues facing the Palestinian people at this European Council meeting. Israel continues to completely ignore international law, build illegal colonial settlements in Palestine, and to implement an apartheid regime in Palestine. Words of condemnation are not enough and action is needed. On this week five years ago the, Dáil unanimously passed a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine. Successive Fine Gael-led Governments have ignored this democratic demand from the Dáil and from the Seanad. Other EU countries, such as Sweden, have taken this step in recent years, yet again this Government continues to sit on its hands.

This European Council also needs to discuss the current situation in Malta. There have been huge protests in Malta in recent weeks against the Government of Joseph Muscat. This is because of mounting concerns surrounding the alleged involvement of his former chief of staff and other employees of the office of the Prime Minister in the murder and its subsequent cover-up of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was investigating corruption that went to the heart of the Government before she was assassinated. Her family said the Prime Minister had been left deeply compromised and should resign because he had failed to take action to clean up politics in Malta. They argued that as long as he remained in place, a full investigation into her death was not possible. A European Parliament delegation visited Malta last week and offered scathing criticism of the Maltese Government's handling of the situation. It declared that trust had been severely damaged. This issue must be discussed at the European Council meeting. I urge the Taoiseach and his officials to address the issue formally and also informally outside meetings. It continues to be a blight on Europe and needs to be addressed in a formal way.

We have these debates because all parties looked at how we dealt with European issues after the rejection of a number of European treaties. To make the work of the European Council more relevant, we wanted to have a debate in this House in advance of Council meetings and for the Taoiseach to come back to report after Council meetings.

The level of attendance at this debate and the fact that a single Minister of State is here is not in keeping with the seriousness of European issues and how they impact us. I do not mean any disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, but it is an indication of the Government's perspective. The Government should be listening to each of the contributions made in advance of the European Council meeting. The views of Parliament should be reflected at the Council, or at least be heard by the Government in advance of its meeting.

The purpose of the meeting being held tomorrow and Friday is to discuss climate change, the multi-annual financial framework, external relations, economic and monetary union and Brexit. The issue of Brexit has wisely been left until Friday, as the results of tomorrow's UK election will represent a decisive moment of choice in what happens next. If Boris Johnson wins a majority tomorrow, the latest withdrawal agreement will be ratified before the end of January and the UK will effectively leave the European Union. If Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister tomorrow, he will seek to renegotiate the deal and put it to a new people's vote before June of next year. Boris Johnson has made it clear that he intends to take the UK far from European norms and to trade with the European Union on a similar basis to Canada. The Conservative Party has become the de facto Brexit party under Boris Johnson. It is pursuing a fantasy of global trade despite evidence to the contrary, such as the Trump administration's recent treatment of its ally, Brazil.

The British Labour Party will seek to preserve jobs, workers' rights and environmental protections to a much greater extent and it will seek to remain in a customs union with the European Union to facilitate trade in goods. Many in the British Labour Party will campaign to remain in any referendum to confirm a new deal. I will not speculate on the opinion polls and potential results of tomorrow's UK election, but a UK Government led by the British Labour Party would be far better for Ireland because only the British Labour Party is committed to retaining that level of close alignment with the European Union. My colleagues have met with representatives of British manufacturing who predict that the UK could lose its entire motor industry because of Brexit, even if it secures a trade deal. That is because modern manufacturing in Europe is international. Materials and components are sourced from across Europe and it is only possible to have a seamless supply line if one remains within the ambit of the European Union. The manufacturing industry has regular meetings with the British Labour Party, but not with the Conservative Party, as only the British Labour Party is willing to discuss seriously the impact of such matters on industrial policy.

If Boris Johnson secures a majority and passes the withdrawal agreement, we face the risk of a no-deal exit by the UK at the end of next year. It is highly unlikely that the UK will conclude a trade deal in that timeframe and it remains to be seen whether Boris Johnson is prepared to back down on his often-stated claim that he will seek no further extension beyond December 2020. If the political situation in Britain is still volatile, he may prefer to take the plunge rather than prolong the inevitable tension with Brexiteer supporters. The end of 2020 will be a cliff edge for Ireland, as the economic and political effects of Brexit will be much worse in the event of a no-deal scenario. Even if the balance of power in the UK Parliament does not change much after this election, it is important to remember that the Conservative Party has purged many pro-EU moderates from its ranks and thus the Conservative MPs elected tomorrow are more likely to take a hardline pro-Brexit stance, regardless of the consequences to their country. I urge the Government to continue to plan for a no-deal Brexit as it is now a real possibility that the next UK Parliament will not have the numbers or capacity to prevent it.

Heads of government are also set to discuss the EU's climate strategy and a target of climate neutrality by 2050 at the European Council meeting. The Taoiseach should push for greater ambition at European level than the Government has demonstrated to date in our domestic planning. Given the votes of Fine Gael and its European People's Party, EPP, allies in the European Parliament, it is very much up to the Government to prove its climate action credentials, regardless of what the Taoiseach said today. I hope the multi-annual financial framework will include a significant allocation of funding for climate action.

It was suggested before the last European election that the EU would provide funding to support member states to build more housing. I hope the Government is still pursuing that proposal.

Regarding international relations, a range of external issues require greater attention and focus from Europe. The Taoiseach should join others in pushing for the beginning of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. With the UK leaving the EU, it is vitally important that we continue to show the vitality and attractiveness of the European project and its values. We also have to fill a void where both Russia and China have been heavily investing in the Balkans to undermine European influence in the region. We would be foolish not to have regard to that. The Government should also push hard for greater resources to assist migrants and asylum seekers making the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

In relation to the EU's economic and monetary policies, there is evidence that some governments and central banks around the world are prepared to allow further deregulation of the banking and financial sector, partially in response to the current tensions in US trading relations, including with Europe. An enormous quantity of money, which is growing exponentially beyond many people's comprehension, passes through banks and financial institutions in Ireland. Does our Central Bank have sufficient capacity to ensure that money is properly overseen and is legitimate? There have been enormous investments in Cyprus and Malta and many questions have been raised about the sources of that money. While the proportion of foreign money in Ireland is smaller as part of the overall financial sector, the quantity is a similar scale to that in Cyprus or Malta. We have to be able to give reassurances that all the money coming through our banking system is legitimate. Any deregulation of banking and finance at European level should be avoided and the Taoiseach should resist any attempts to do so. Christine Lagarde has signalled that she wants the European Central Bank to play a greater role in climate action, which the Taoiseach should strongly support. Much could be said about European economic policy and perhaps the Government could facilitate statements on that as part of a separate debate in this House. Major decisions are being taken about the direction of travel over the next five years, which we need to debate in more detail.

The greatest threat to our economy remains Boris Johnson and the cavalier way in which he is prepared to treat Ireland's concerns about Brexit. Given that the British Labour Party is committed to a much closer relationship between the UK and the European Union into the future, I sincerely hope it is successful in tomorrow's election, as that would be in Ireland's interests.

I will focus on the matter of climate change in the context of COP25, which is taking place in Madrid currently, as well as the plan launched by the European Commission today which will be discussed by the European Council over the coming days.

COP25 and the European Council and European Commission discussions take place in the shadow of a quite incredible article that appeared in Nature a few weeks ago. As the Minister of State will be aware, Nature is one of the two most prestigious science journals we have. It is not in its style to have scary headlines that exaggerate things. It is a scientific journal. In that context, a comment piece written by a number of scientists with the headline, "Climate tipping points - too risky to bet against", is something that everybody with an interest in the environment should read and act on. The fundamental point made by the authors is that:

If current national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are implemented - and that's a big 'if'- they are likely to result in at least 3oC of global warming. This is despite the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit warming to well below 2oC. Some economists assuming that climate tipping points are of very low probability (even if they would be catastrophic), have suggested that 3oC warming is optimal from a cost-benefit perspective. However, if tipping points are looking more likely, then the 'optimal policy' recommendation of simple cost-benefit climate-economy models aligns with those of the recent IPCC report. In other words, warming must be limited to 1.5oC. This requires an emergency response.

The authors go on to list a series of tipping points they argue we are very close to. The report states that rate of melting of ice indicates that at 2oC, the Arctic region has a 10% to 35% chance of becoming largely ice-free in summer. It goes on to talk about the tipping points that we have reached, including mass coral bleaching. It states:

A staggering 99% of tropical corals are projected to be lost if global average temperature rises by 2oC, owing to interactions between warming, ocean acidification and pollution. This would represent a profound loss of marine biodiversity and human livelihoods.

The article then refers to deforestation, stating:

Deforestation and climate change are destabilizing the Amazon - the world's largest rainforest ... Estimates of where an Amazon tipping point could lie range from 40% deforestation to just 20% forest-cover loss. About 17% has been lost since 1970. ... The world's remaining emissions budget for a 50:50 chance of staying within 1.5oC of warming is only about 500 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2. Permafrost emissions could take an estimated 20% (100 Gt CO2) off this budget ... If forests are close to tipping points, Amazon dieback could release another 90 Gt CO2 and the loss of boreal forests a further 110 Gt CO2.

We can, therefore, see that all of the budget could be used up very quickly in these tipping points we hit and the kind of feedback loops that respond. The authors conclude that:

In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute (see 'Emergency: do the maths'). We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping - and hence the risk posed could still be under our control to some extent.

The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action - not just words - must reflect this.

This reflects a growing scientific consensus on the science and a sense that scientists have a duty to speak and demand action because they cannot simply sit there and analyse the world as we head for catastrophic climate change.

The contrast between the science and the words and demands of the protesters and people such as Greta Thunberg to do what the science demands and the reality of the action, or inaction, of politicians is striking. COP25 is taking place at the moment in Madrid. It takes place in the context of the US preparing to withdraw, although it is still present. What is being discussed is, again, completely inadequate relative to the scale of the emergency and the scale of the task before us. The focal point of the discussions is on carbon markets accepting that there are problems in carbon markets, for example, allowing a power plant in Germany to buy credits for emissions savings from a wind farm in India. Their answer to fixing the problems that exist in carbon markets and a focus on carbon markets is simply to regulate those markets as opposed to recognising the reality that having a price on carbon and having a carbon market will not resolve the problem and get us the very rapid just transition towards the net zero carbon economy we need. It simply will not do this. Instead we will just have a situation where Ireland is paying in excess of €100 million - it has paid €121 million to date - purchasing carbon credits to comply with its targets. This basically means that Ireland is polluting and creating greenhouse gas emissions and paying money to others to justify that.

The European Commission is now using the language of a green new deal, which is quite scandalous. It is greenwashing its own policy - attempting to make it look far more radical than it is. In reality, the Commission is talking about a 2050 target for net zero emissions, which is completely inadequate. In the developed world, we need to go for net zero emissions by 2030. The range of prescriptions the Commission has all remain in the framework of the capitalist market, allowing these corporations to make the decisions about what they do with their production to maximise profit. That is a recipe for continuing to toboggan towards climate disaster. The only way to transition rapidly is an unprecedented change in the nature of an economy that must happen at a global level in an unprecedentedly short time. The comparison would be to the US economy being retooled to war production in the run up to World War II. That was not done on the basis of incentivising the private market. It was done based on the State intervening. On a global basis, this is what must be at the centre of a real and radical green new deal - a green new deal with socialist policies. It is the idea that fundamentally we need economic planning that has the environment and ecology at its core and that requires public ownership and democratic planning on as wide a basis as possible.

There are positives in this situation - 500,000 people out on the streets in Madrid with Greta Thunberg leading them. She made interesting comments the other day when she said that the school students' strikes on climate change have achieved nothing because of the fact that greenhouse gas emissions have increased by approximately 4% since 2015. However, they have achieved something. They have raised awareness internationally, shifted consciousness on the question of the environment and put politicians under substantial pressure but it does point to the need to do more. In particular, one of the positive developments of the school strikes is the popularisation of the idea of strikes - the idea of people withdrawing from school, college or work. It places on the agenda for the trade union movement the need to build for serious action on climate change, ultimately, including strike action on climate change to demand action, a just transition and the protection of the interests of workers. It is positive that Extinction Rebellion in Ireland has taken the initiative to try to bring together a broad coalition for a substantial march, probably scheduled in March 2020, calling for climate action now. It has brought together different sections of the trade union movement, civil society, etc., which is an important step forward in terms of broadening the environmental movement to ensure we can build for the kind of action we need to demand the change we need, which will not come just from asking the establishment politicians we have or those at COP25 nicely.

I will also speak about climate change. On one hand, it appears that we are finally realising the urgency of the effects of climate change but on the other hand, the actions we are taking are not matching that realisation. The European Council will focus on a particular target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. That is vital because the past 20 years have included 18 of the warmest years on record. There are also heatwaves, forest fires, floods, a rise in global temperatures and the devastating effects those things are having on nature. There was a story in the newspapers last week about a village in Russia that was trying to feed polar bears that are underweight. A global response is needed and the EU has a major role to play in that.

Another aspect that must be looked at in the context of this discussion is the principle of climate justice to which the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, committed in the Dáil. I refer to the work of Dr. Lorna Gold from Trócaire who speaks of the need to go to war against pernicious enemies. She has said, about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts, that the war on emissions means a war on everything that we have come to associate with a modern, successful life. Rising wealth equals a rising ecological footprint and rising emissions because we live in a high-carbon economy in which 10% of emitters contribute 50% of global emissions. The point is that the richer one is, the more one emits. Some 90% of those producing less than half of all global emissions are living in varying degrees of poverty. There is a double injustice of climate change and poverty, and climate change drives both poverty and displacement.

Even though it is four years since the signing of the Paris Agreement, we are not winning the war on tackling climate change. Scientists remind us that we have 11 years to cut our emissions in half. We also have 11 years to realise the UN's sustainable development goals and not making real inroads on climate change will undermine those goals. Those goals are voluntary and not legally binding, but they are morally binding.

I will look at sustainable development goal No. 14 on the UN's list, which relates to life below water. The targets within that goal relate to reducing marine pollution, the ecosystem, coastal and marine areas and sustainable fishing. It was positive to hear at the Parliamentarians for Global Action, PGA, forum recently the number of treaties that Ireland has signed in this area, including the Cape Town Agreement, the Agreement on Port State Measures and the International Labour Organization's work on fishing. The UN plans for a treaty to protect the high seas because they are home to a vast array of species that help to support life on earth. Tiny marine plants of the high seas produce half the earth's oxygen and yet less than 1% of the high seas are protected according to a recent report on the extent of pollution in seas and oceans. I hope that issue will be a part of the EU debate.

Overall, climate justice needs a legal basis. That leads me to a statement that was made by the EU ambassador to the African Union following a study suggesting that a core group of the world's poorest nations have received less than 10% of EU aid in spite of the fact that the EU is the world's largest donor, contributing €72 billion in 2018. We know that private investment is being actively pursued but it must be accompanied by mandatory human rights due diligence in order that workers are protected from exploitation. Ireland could lead by example, as we have with untied aid, and our national plan on business and human rights needs more weight. Corporate HR abuses include evictions, displacement, dangerous work conditions and poor wages, which affect women and indigenous communities the most. We know about the assassination and torture of human rights defenders, not to mention tax avoidance and evasion. Stronger regulation is needed and that means a legal framework. I see that human rights abusers will face asset freezes and a travel ban under the EU, as agreed by the foreign ministers on Monday, and that is a positive step. All these things are connected. Climate change, business, investment and human rights due diligence are related.

Certain countries in Europe owe a vast debt to the people of Libya because of the destruction and devastation that was caused in the rush to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. Oil was a factor then and a gas line is a factor now. The Libyan warlord, Khalifa Haftar, backed by mercenaries, is ready to do battle for Tripoli. The EU and UN backed the Government of National Accord, which is now looking for help. Will that come up at the Council meeting?

A case has been taken by The Gambia in the International Court of Justice for the UN to recognise the genocide against the Rohingya which began in 2017. The debate on the nationality of the Rohingya, whether they are Burmese or Bengali, does not take from the fact of how they have been treated in Myanmar. There has been sexual violence, rape, the burning of homes, destruction of land and the Rohingya have been forced to flee their homes. Even if there were attacks by so-called Rohingya militants, it does not excuse or condone what is being done to the Rohingya people, in spite of what Aung San Suu Kyi is now saying at the International Court of Justice. Those 700,000 people would not have fled their homes unless there was a reason to do so.

While climate change and budgets are on the agenda, I hope the human rights issues I have raised will also be considered at the Council meeting.

A central item on the agenda for tomorrow and Friday is the next multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for 2021 to 2027, which was published in May. This next budget for the European Union comes at a period of great change and massive challenges posed by major migration into the Union, climate change, to which my colleagues have alluded, and coping with Brexit in Ireland's case. We are all hoping that tomorrow's election in the UK will yield a result that will not keep us in the intolerable Brexit struggle and that, towards the end of 2020, we will not be facing another cliff edge.

As the Minister of State knows, Ireland's net contributions to the European budget have been steadily increasing and we have been a net contributor for the past six years. We must be careful that our budget contributions do not replace national debt interest as a considerable burden on our national budget, year in and year out. The UK will contribute to the EU budget until at least the end of 2020, depending on tomorrow's result.

A few weeks ago, the Minister of State forecast that our budget contributions would rise to just under €3 billion in 2020, €3.2 billion until 2022 and up to approximately €3.5 billion by 2023. Of course, these projections are based on a number of contingencies, including the performance of our own gross national income, GNI, and whatever budget is agreed at meetings such as the one happening today.

More important than keeping a close eye on the overall budget for the Taoiseach and our Ministers is the necessity to make changes and amendments to the fiscal rules in the Stability and Growth Pact. This framework of budgetary discipline has evolved significantly over the past 20 years but we know from meetings of the finance and budgetary oversight committees and so on that there are elements to the fiscal rules that are almost like a straitjacket for our country and which need to be amended and changed. The five-year review of the six pack and two pack rules that are part of the fiscal rules was due to be published by the end of the year and I wonder whether we have got our hands on that yet to be able to see what is being proposed. Have the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance made submissions to the review on behalf of Ireland? There are many elements of the Stability and Growth Pact which do not suit our economy and budgetary strategy. We need those amended and to wriggle out of the straitjacket. The Germans have been apologising to us for the suffering we underwent in the austerity years but in actual fact, the overall system that they have implemented on budgetary rules is not appropriate for our country.

We also have the European Fiscal Board's assessment of the fiscal rules, which were discussed at the September meeting of ECOFIN. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance should be clearly articulating Ireland's dissatisfaction with the way the fiscal rules have operated and making proposals for reform.

We earlier learned that members of the eurozone were being asked to devise a budget for the eurozone, which will also have a major impact. That was to be a part of the overall MFF and there is talk about a budgetary instrument for competitiveness and convergence, contributions on which are open to all members, and candidate members, of the eurozone. Will this be something that will come up at the Council meeting today and tomorrow in the context of negotiations for the MFF? It was reported that the general principles underpinning this budgetary instrument had been agreed but it will have a major impact on our budgetary strategy. It is something else about which the Taoiseach needs to report to us.

The other element on the financial side of the Council agenda is technical work on strengthening the banking union. It must be said, as Ms Christine Lagarde takes over as President of the European Central Bank, ECB, that it has failed to achieve appropriate goals, particularly in respect of employment, growth and inflation, and giving the necessary stimulus to the European economy in 2019 and from 2020 onwards.

The ECB is not accountable directly to the Council but it is accountable to the European Parliament and to this House. It is an area the Taoiseach should be raising. He should be asking for a more dynamic European Central Bank to help our economy and those of the other 27 member states, or 26, as may be shortly the case.

I am happy to speak on this issue this afternoon. As I understand it, and in line with its June conclusions, the European Council will return to the issue of climate change with the aim of finalising its guidance for the adoption and submission of the EU's long-term strategy and focusing in particular on the target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. I ask the Minister of State for more detail on what exactly this proposed climate neutrality would look like, especially the implications it will have for the Irish agriculture sector and the beef and dairy sectors. These are important questions. Many farm families are aghast at what may be coming down the tracks and are very uncertain about their future. As the Minister of State is aware, farm families are a vital part of our rural economy.

When Mick Wallace, who has gone to greener pastures in Europe, was a Member of this House he spoke about climate neutrality on one occasion and our meat and dairy herds. He stated: "The meat and dairy herds are to Ireland what the coal industry is to Poland and the fracking gas industry is to the United States, namely, a short-sighted cash generator, the expansion of which is undermining the chances of survival of the planet and the people of the global south and in less than a generation the people of the global north." How can anyone take this stuff seriously? I am worried, as are many people, about the role the Minister is taking in respect of such statements and issues at EU level. Apparently, the EU agrees with Mick Wallace. By insisting that we all move to carbon neutrality the EU is giving the appearance that Irish farmers are not doing their bit in this area. I believe they are grappling to do a great deal in the teeth of huge numbers of imports of beef, pork and other commodities not only from across Europe but from Mercosur countries also. They are scared stiff. We saw them on the streets of Dublin this day two weeks ago. They had to come to Dublin to protest because they were not being listened to by the Minister of State's Government. Meat Industry Ireland, MII, is trying to crush them into the ground and the Minister, Deputy Creed, simply rubs his hands and sets up a task force that is toothless, useless and fruitless. It is headed up by a retired Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who was in place when all the regulations that are now crippling the farmers were introduced. I refer to the 30-month rule. All the advantages for the factories and the meat producers were put in place by that man. I have nothing against him personally but he could not be envisaged in any way as being an independent chairperson. We needed someone who knew nothing about farming or the meat industry to chair this openly and honestly with a view to levelling the playing field, but that did not happen.

As I said, the EU seems to agree with what Mick Wallace said. That is despite the fact that the European Commission Joint Research Centre report found that Ireland was the most carbon efficient beef producer in the European Union per unit of dairy silage production and the fifth most carbon efficient producer of beef per kilogram. We are not saying that. The European Commission Joint Research Centre found these figures, which I will repeat. Per unit of dairy production, Ireland was the best and we are the fifth most carbon efficient producer of beef per kilogram, so what is all this talk about? Why are we scaremongering and accepting this carte blanche attitude? Why are we not defending our right? A great deal of effort has gone into the agricultural industry to keep it green and to ensure traceability from the farm to the fork. It is welcome to have that recognition at EU level.

We are concerned about the policy position or guidance the Minister will be giving to the EU when it comes to outlining the ways in which we can approach carbon neutrality by 2050. There are many questions to be asked, and many concerns. We have the campaign to elect a new IFA president. I hope the Tipperary candidate, Tim Cullinan, is successful. The other farm organisations are concerned about the measures the Minister will bring to the table. Is he quoting these figures to them? I hope he is because we are top of the class as regards carbon efficiency and the fifth most carbon efficient producer of beef per kilogram. Those are significant facts from the European Commission that I hope are independent. We must maintain that and protect our important agriculture industry. I have lived through three recessions and it was the agriculture industry that brought a recovery to our economy. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, should know that as he comes from a rural constituency.

I want to know the policy position and what the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will be saying to our farmers. I am disappointed they are not in the Chamber, although the Taoiseach was here earlier. What clear message will they be giving to our farmers? Will the Minister and the Government be agreeing with the assessment of the former Deputy Wallace - I certainly hope not - that the national herd is a threat to the survival of the planet when we have those independent assessments? Apart from the EU, we might need more independent people to come from abroad to prove those figures are correct. We will take our medicine when we have to but when we have those standards recognised through the European Commission, which represents the 27 member states, why should we not defend them with gusto and pride, albeit having interest in and concern about climate change? Of course, we have to deal with that issue but we must stand our ground as regards our valuable national herd, of which dairy is the most important part, with beef exports second and pigmeat exports third.

The Acting Chairman might allow me to digress briefly. I have raised very serious concerns about shipments of pork coming here from areas close to where African swine fever is raging. I have serious questions about checks at ports and airports. They are non-existent. I understand they are closed from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. We are sleepwalking into something that could be as catastrophic as foot and mouth disease. The pig industry was on its knees for 30 years. Thankfully, due to issues in Poland and other countries, it is doing well now but MII and the meat industry bringing in shipments from these areas adjacent to an outbreak of swine flu, which wiped out herds of pigs, is reckless. Are we sleepwalking in that regard? What is the Department doing? Farmers are persecuted every day with the burden of regulation. Many pig farmers living in rural areas have contacted me about this issue. They have been engaged in the pigmeat industry for a long time and have given great employment but they cannot get assurances about this and they are extremely concerned.

We cannot even get an answer from the Taoiseach. He said he would pass the question to the Minister, Deputy Creed. It is a matter of great concern that such shipments would come into this country, and that the country could face that risk through one meat product overnight. Will the Government be agreeing with the former Deputy Wallace’s position or will it robustly defend our rights? We have been good Europeans for long enough. We have been the good boys of Europe and we found out when we had the banking crisis what they thought of us. It is now time to assert our authority and state that our industry is green and clean. There is more to be done, as the saying goes, a lot done and more to do. Nonetheless, we are starting from a very good point and we will not wipe out the planet with emissions from our agriculture industry. The Taoiseach stood up in this House and said we should eat less beef. There has been an undermining of and an attack on beef and other products in terms of many of the issues raised. It is not merited or proven in science. If the Minister does not defend the industry, what exactly will he say to the European Commission in terms of protecting the interests of Irish farmers and the agrifood sector when it comes to the EU implementing measures aimed at reducing the carbon footprint in the sector? I hope I get answers from the Minister. The facts speak for themselves. Out industry is well recognised. We need a clear answer from the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on this issue.

When the Minister, Deputy Creed, spoke recently, specifically on carbon neutrality, which is on the Council agenda, he said that the higher ambition on environmental and climate action is part of the new Common Agricultural Policy post 2020 and that it is proposed that 40% of the overall CAP budget would contribute to climate action. Where will that leave us? That is what the Minister said. Why are people not concerned about that?

The Government is the elected Government of the day, albeit a lame duck Government on its last legs. Nonetheless, it is expected to defend our prime industry. Yet, the Minister also said - this was what is alarming - this would require farming to achieve a higher level of environmental ambition through mandatory and incentive-based measures. I do not like the word "mandatory" because we are doing it already. Why should any more be mandated? We have enough regulation. There is over-regulation. What mandatory measures does the Government support at EU Council level? I want answers because we do not want to take any more of them.

We have to put our shoulder to the wheel and play our part with climate change but we have a good standard and good quality beef, dairy and pork products. They are clean and recognised as such by independent people from Europe. There is assessment from world experts but the Government should not be kow-towing and threatening mandatory regulations on those in our farming industry. They need support. Ní neart go cur le chéile. They should not be attacked, undermined and threatened with more mandatory regulations.

It is disappointing that neither the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, nor the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, are here to respond to the debate. I imagine they have good reason for not being here but it is important that those of us on this side of the House have an opportunity to get answers to our legitimate questions on the Brexit agreement. My view is that on the occasion of these statements on the European Council, where clearly Brexit will be a significant issue, we should have had the opportunity to get responses from the relevant Ministers. Unfortunately, it does not seem as if that will be the case. I will ask my questions nonetheless.

These are essentially the same questions that I raised in October, when we had statements on the Brexit agreement. I made the point at that stage that in the months leading up to the agreement, those of us who are party leaders on this side of the House were facilitated very well by the Tánaiste and his officials. They kept us briefed on all the developments in respect of a Brexit agreement. However, on the occasion an agreement was reached no briefing at all was provided of any consequence to Opposition leaders. Since then, there has been no contact at all from the Tánaiste's office. That is really problematic because there are many big questions that are still hanging unanswered relating to the implications of the Brexit agreement for Ireland.

In the two-year lead up to the Brexit agreement, from Ireland's point of view the whole emphasis was on the importance of the backstop. As many people said on many occasions, there was that circle to be squared. How could we have a situation where Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were not aligned? This would arise because the North would no longer be a member of the EU under Brexit. Obviously, the whole question of the integrity of the Single Market was critical. We were briefed on this on an ongoing basis. It was unthinkable that we would have any checks on the Border between the North and the Republic because of all the implications for trade and especially the Good Friday Agreement and peace. The backstop was the insurance policy.

We were also briefed on a regular basis by the Tánaiste. He told us about the critical importance of retaining or ensuring the integrity of the Single Market. That was the justification for the backstop. Yet, when it came to the 11th hour of the negotiations the backstop was dropped fairly quickly by the Government without an explanation of how Ireland's interests could be protected in its absence. We still do not know how that will be achieved. We are still left with a situation where there is a circle to be squared. How do we ensure that the kinds of standards and safeguards that exist in the Single Market will be upheld in Ireland if there is an open border between North and South? This key question was glossed over when the agreement was announced. Suddenly, after two years of saying the backstop was critical, the backstop was dropped and has not been replaced with anything that gives any kind of assurance whatsoever or any confidence that our trade will not be affected by this Brexit deal.

We were told that an arrangement would be put in place with a special committee to be set up that would oversee the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. No one could explain how those special arrangements would work. We see particular arrangements in all manner of circumstances around the world between two states where there is a border that needs to be policed. In such circumstances, there is a border between two different authorities. However, the border that Brexit refers to is a border in the Irish Sea. The authorities on both sides are UK authorities. Where is the incentive or independent oversight to ensure that proper checks are in place? In the absence of those checks one has to ask: in what way will potentially inferior goods produced to inferior standards coming in to Great Britain and moving to Northern Ireland be managed? How can we be assured that those inferior goods, in terms of quality and safety standards and so on, will not come into the Republic of Ireland?

Throughout the negotiations and over the past couple of years the Tánaiste raised this issue on an ongoing basis. He referred on one occasion to the fact that several other EU states had warned that unless arrangements were put in place to secure the borders of the Single Market, then confidence in Irish products and trade would be impacted, with a resultant loss of demand or interest in other states trading with Ireland. Presumably, those concerns of other member states still stand. In the absence of explanations from the Government on how these arrangements will work I wonder whether Ireland's interests have been sacrificed in the rush to do this deal with the United Kingdom. I do not say this lightly but I am raising questions about how we are going to protect the integrity of the Single Market under the Brexit deal.

I raised the issue with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee. She was unable to answer. She said that those details would be worked out. I asked who would be carrying out the checks. She did not know. I asked where the checks would be done. She did not know.

This is why it is difficult to have confidence that Ireland is doing okay out of the Brexit agreement. All of the focus around the time the agreement was done was that finally, after two or three years, an agreement was reached. Then, the focus was on whether the deal would get through the House of Commons. Then, the question was how the DUP would respond. Despite all of the clatter around all of those big issues, at no point did the Government address the issue of whether the Brexit agreement is actually helpful to Ireland's interests. Does it protect our interests as a member of the EU? That question remains.

We know that in recent days the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, was obviously being economical with the truth yet again in terms of checks.

He denied that there would be any checks required for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and he was quickly pulled up on that by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn MP, when Mr. Corbyn produced documents from the UK Treasury which point out that checks would be needed in some cases. Indeed, when that question was put to the Tánaiste on Monday, he stated, "Goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland will need to have some checks to ensure that the EU knows what is potentially coming into their market through Northern Ireland." This is a critical point. How do we have a system of checks for goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland which can then move freely into the Republic of Ireland? The point is it is very much in Ireland's interests that we are seen to have a tight border in relation to the Single Market. It is in our interests in terms of ensuring confidence is maintained in Irish goods and yet nobody in government can explain how this critical issue will be dealt with. I do not know whether the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, has answers today. I was hoping that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, or the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, would provide clarity in relation to that. We are still left in the extraordinary situation where neither we nor anybody in government has a clue about how the Brexit agreement will operate in terms of safeguarding the integrity of our trade and the goods that we trade. That is a dangerous situation to be in.

The Minister of State has five minutes to conclude. It is scant time to address all of the issues raised but that, as I am sure the Deputies will understand, is a matter for the Business Committee.

I thank the Deputies for their statements.

The Taoiseach has already outlined his expectations for the discussions on climate change, the multi-annual financial framework, Brexit and proposals on the future of Europe at this week's meeting of the European Council. The Taoiseach has also set out the issues of primary focus for leaders at the Euro summit taking place on Friday. I will direct my remarks on a number of important foreign policy issues and on the current situation at the World Trade Organization, which are also on the agenda of this week's European Council.

As is customary, leaders will take the opportunity at the European Council for an exchange on current foreign policy issues. Among the topics for discussion is the EU's relationship with Africa. At its meeting in June, the European Council emphasised the crucial importance of the EU's strategic partnership with Africa and committed to developing that relationship further. This week, discussion on EU-Africa relations will focus on preparations for the EU-African Union, AU, summit in late 2020. The summit, together with the conclusion of post-Cotonou negotiations next year, will make 2020 a key year for EU-Africa relations. I was pleased to launch Ireland's new Strategy for Africa with the Tánaiste on 28 November last. As well as enabling Ireland to build on our already deep bilateral relationships on the African continent, this strategy places a strong emphasis on the need for, and benefits of, Africa and Europe working more closely together.

The prosperity and security of our two continents are closely intertwined. The EU is Africa's largest partner in trade, investment and development and we should work together to strengthen our political partnership. Ireland strongly supports Commission President von der Leyen's priority of delivering a new ambitious Africa strategy. Dr. von der Leyen's visit to Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union, in her first week in office was a clear statement of the importance she attaches to the EU-Africa relationship. It is expected that EU leaders will call this week on the European Commission and on the High Representative to begin to prepare the ground for a strategic discussion of EU-Africa relations at the European Council in June 2020, which in turn will provide political direction in advance of the important three-yearly EU-AU summit scheduled for December 2020.

Relations with Russia and the extension of EU economic sanctions for a further six months to 31 July 2020 will be discussed also at this week's European Council.

In relation to the situation in Ukraine, Germany and France are expected to update leaders on the Normandy format meeting, which took place at Heads of State level in Paris on 9 December. Ireland is a firm supporter of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and recognises that Russia must respect the fundamental principles of international law and restore Ukraine's internationally recognised borders. Ireland supports the efforts of France and Germany to find a resolution through the Normandy format and welcomes the resumption of dialogue between Russia and Ukraine in this regard.

Leaders are expected to discuss the risk of paralysis of the World Trade Organization's mechanism for settling disputes. The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization, WTO, ceased functioning due to the United States' continued veto of new members to its panel. As a small open economy, Ireland values its membership of the WTO and the protections it affords to all its members as part of a rules-based multilateral trading system. However, like others, we acknowledge the need for reform and the need to address areas of unfair trade or advantages within the WTO. We support the interim appeal arbitration mechanism developed by the European Commission as a temporary workaround, while also emphasising the need for perseverance in resolving the wider impasse with the US.

Leaders have a busy agenda ahead of them this week with a broad range of pressing issues to discuss, including climate change, the EU's seven year budget and Brexit, as well discussing economic and monetary union, EMU, reform at the Euro summit. There are also a range of other challenging global issues on the agenda, including Russia, the EU's strategic partnership with Africa and the functioning of the WTO and I welcome the focus which the European Council will give to these this week.

I thank Deputies for their attention. The Taoiseach will report to Deputies on his attendance at the European Council after his return.

Sitting suspended at 3.36 p.m. and resumed at 4.36 p.m.