Post-European Council Meetings: Statements

In recent days, I attended a special meeting of the European Council in Brussels. The meeting, which was the first physical meeting of European Union leaders since February, began on Friday, 17 July. The meeting continued through the weekend and concluded in the early hours of Tuesday, 21 July. Even leaving aside the duration, it was by no means a normal meeting. We met against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic which has affected the economic, political and social well-being of the Continent and further afield in recent months. That was evident in the special health and sanitary precautions that were put in place for the European Council. It was to the forefront of the mind of every leader as we worked over the course of four days to agree to an unprecedented budgetary package to address this unprecedented collective challenge.

Despite the unusual circumstances and the gravity of the agenda, I was glad to have an opportunity to meet my European Union counterparts for the first time since becoming Taoiseach. As I informed the House last week, I travelled to the European Council ready to approach discussions in a constructive manner. I was clear that I would only agree to an ambitious deal for Europe which also protected Irish interests. I am pleased to report that in spite of sometimes very difficult negotiations, we succeeded in reaching agreement on a fair, balanced and ambitious €1.8 trillion package to support Europe's economic recovery and drive the climate and digital transformation on which our future well-being and prosperity rely.

Much of the commentary during and since the summit has dwelt on how long it took or on seemingly acrimonious exchanges between some leaders. However, such commentary ignores or dilutes the complexity and significance of what was at stake and what was achieved. Every seven years, when the European Union negotiates its next seven-year budget, the discussions are long and difficult. This year, those negotiations took place against a backdrop of Brexit, which removed the United Kingdom, a former sizeable net contributor, from the equation. Additionally and more significantly, we were attempting to craft an unprecedented and ambitious instrument to respond to a health and economic crisis on foot of a pandemic of which we did not even know a few short months ago.

Although the focus of the meeting was predominantly on the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, and the next generation European Union budgetary package, on Friday we also endorsed the European semester 2020 country-specific recommendations and recommendations for the euro area. Relations between the European Union and Turkey and Russia were also raised in the course of the meeting. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will provide more details on those matters in his wrap-up remarks this afternoon.

The European Council meeting began on Friday morning with an exchange of views with Mr. David-Maria Sassoli, President of the European Parliament,. Although most of our discussions on Friday took place in plenary meetings, from Saturday onwards the pattern of meetings varied between plenary meetings and meetings between Mr. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and various groupings of member states. Ms Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, also played an important role in the discussions. I presented Ireland's position to President Michel, including at a joint meeting that I and the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Luxembourg had with him and the President of the Commission on Sunday. I also participated in one-to-one meetings.

More generally, intensive discussions largely focused on five key issues: the overall amounts in the budget and recovery proposal and the distribution of funds across programmes, the balance of grants and loans, the allocation of the new recovery and resilience fund and its governance, a rule-of-law mechanism to protect the European Union budget and rebates for the highest net contributors.

As the House will be aware, there were significant differences in particular between a small number of net contributor countries that took a firm position in respect of the overall size of the recovery fund and the proposed balance of grants and loans. Those same member states were also calling for a governance framework for disbursing funds that would give the member states more oversight on whether the funds deliver the objective set out in member states' recovery and resilience plans. A number of net beneficiaries, particularly those most affected by the Covid crisis, sought to protect the overall size of the recovery fund as proposed in the negotiating box on the table, and grant elements in particular. There were also strongly held views around the table on the link between rule of law in member states and the operation of the Union's budget, an issue that has been pulled into sharper focus by developments in some member states in recent years.

In my interventions, in addition to insisting that Ireland's concerns had to be addressed, I sought to take a constructive and positive role, working with others in support of an outcome of sufficient scale to enable member states, especially those most affected, to respond to Covid-19 and to help their economies recover. In this I made clear my view that the package had to include a large volume of grants as well as loans. Where member states are facing into a crisis of this dimension already burdened with significant debt, it was not appropriate in my view to offer a solution based only on making further debt available. I was also clear that a significantly smaller budget, which some were arguing for, would not have enabled us to deliver our priorities as a Union. The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and Cohesion are successful programmes that work and that are deserving of continuing support. Similarly, in coming years the Union will need resources to enable it to undertake climate and digital transformations in a fair, balanced and just manner. We will also need to be in a position to support those most affected by Brexit.

I am pleased to report that a compromise proposal tabled by the President of the Council was ultimately accepted unanimously by the European Council. I hope it will be helpful to Deputies if I briefly outline the key elements of the package and the significant benefits of this deal for Ireland. In summary, the size of the recovery fund was preserved at €750 billion with a balance of €390 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans. A new allocation methodology was agreed, with 70% of the recovery and resilience fund committed over the next two years, and the remaining 30% allocated in 2023 based on the measured economic impact of the crisis over this year and next. A new seven year budget of €1.074 trillion was agreed with substantial funding for Cohesion, CAP, Erasmus, Horizon, migration and asylum, and the EU's neighbourhood and development instrument. To support climate action, an ambitious target has been agreed, with 30% of spending in the budget and recovery fund to contribute to climate action, including meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement and EU climate neutrality by 2050. A just transition fund will be established with more than double the funding originally proposed before the Covid crisis.

I am pleased to report to the House that the outcome is one that fully protects Ireland's interests and that delivers on our priorities. As I have said many times, an EU recovery is of vital importance to our own economic interests and this agreement sends a strong signal that the European Union is determined to chart the pathway to recovery together and in solidarity. It demonstrates that Europe works for its citizens. Ireland benefits greatly from membership of the Single Market and access to a market of more than 450 million people. This substantial €1.8 trillion package will not only help to drive recovery but it will also support the transformation of our economies in line with the climate transition, research and development, and digital agendas. This is not only fully aligned with priorities in our programme for Government, it will open a wealth of opportunities for Irish enterprises.

Like its predecessor, the Government made clear that for Ireland, maintaining a strong Common Agricultural Policy that supports our farmers, farming families and rural development was a priority. I am pleased to inform the House that the outcome is a very good one in that regard. The initial proposals made by the Commission just over two years ago would have reduced the proportion of the budget for CAP to just 28%. The final agreement now sees this increased to 31%. From an Irish perspective, I can confirm to the House that current levels of funding for Ireland have been maintained. This includes a special allocation of €300 million for Ireland in recognition of structural challenges facing our agricultural sector. Given the very significant pressures to reduce the funding available for CAP, this is a very significant achievement.

I also very much welcome the inclusion of a Brexit adjustment reserve of €5 billion to address the impacts on sectors and regions most impacted by Brexit. It is clear that for some member states the economic damage of Covid-19 will be compounded by the impact of Brexit, the real effects of which will be strongly felt from the start of next year. Now that the special allocation has been agreed, the Government will work hard to ensure that a significant portion will be available to support Ireland and Irish enterprises. We have already had to make significant investment in infrastructure, including customs infrastructure, as a result of Brexit. The increase to 25% in the amount of collection costs for customs duties that a member state can retain is therefore especially welcome and appropriate. We will also receive funding under the recovery fund over the next two years, with further funding to be made available in 2023 for those most impacted economically by the crisis. Again, we will be working to maximise Ireland's drawdown.

We will also receive Structural Funds worth more than €1 billion for our regions. The €120 million provision for a new PEACE PLUS programme will help to build a significant fund to further reconciliation and North-South co-operation, and continue the work of the current PEACE and INTERREG programmes in a post-Brexit context. This is not only of real and practical benefit to those who will benefit, it is a strong and symbolic signal that the European Union will continue to stand beside the people of Northern Ireland as it has done throughout the peace process and throughout Brexit.

I am also pleased to note the increased provision for Horizon under this MFF when compared with its predecessor. The Government wants Ireland to be at the cutting edge in research and development and we will work to ensure that Departments and agencies proactively support Irish researchers, institutions and enterprises in accessing this important funding.

I am sharing time with Deputy Brady. The multi-annual financial framework negotiated every seven years provides member states with the opportunity to point the European Union in a new direction towards a fairer, greener and more equal Europe. The negotiations on this budget have taken place during unprecedented times and they were lengthy. The people of the European Union, and indeed the world, are reeling from the social and economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic. The real and immediate threat of the climate emergency is reshaping our lives and challenging us to adapt and change for the sake of our planet. In the midst of this turbulence and crisis, the negotiation of the budget was one of those rare opportunities to kick-start real change.

Sadly, that opportunity has again been missed. What we agreed was not a stimulus plan. It was a package designed to impose reforms, as they are called, across the EU. I refer to the sort of reforms that we know all too well from the time that the last Government that Deputy Micheál Martin was in brought the troika to town. Linking the recovery funding to the European semester is a sure guarantee that ordinary people will again pay for the crisis just as they did the last time the Taoiseach and his party were in government. Meanwhile, the countries that least need it secure themselves rebates, which looks like a sort of inducement to get them to agree to the final package. In short, a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach has again signed us up to a continuation of austerity.

The Taoiseach has gone to great lengths to sell this as a great deal for Ireland. Nothing could be further from the truth. Try telling Irish workers and families that this is a good deal. Under this plan, Ireland will be eligible for just 0.4% of economic recovery grants in 2021 and 2022. That is less than half of one percent. This is not a win for people who shouldered the pain of the last recession and who are now dealing with the economic fallout from Covid-19. Try telling our family farmers that this is a great deal. Contrary to what the Taoiseach has asserted, the CAP is to be cut by 9% at a time when it is never more important that it be protected. The Taoiseach can hide behind complexity on this matter but the fact is that this is a very disappointing result for Irish agriculture. It poses a real threat to family farms that are already under pressure.

The Taoiseach should try telling our rural communities that this is a great deal. The proposed rural development recovery fund has been slashed by €15 billion. This is a huge blow to the prospects of Ireland's rural economy, to rural enterprise and to the sustainability of our towns and villages. He should try telling those who are committed to climate action built on climate justice that this is a great deal.

The just transition fund, designed to create jobs in sustainable industries and support those workers affected by changes to our economy, has been cut by €20 billion. How can the Government say it is committed to a green deal for Europe when it agrees to a budget that rows back on job creation in sustainable industries?

I acknowledge and welcome the inclusion of the €5 billion Brexit reserve fund for countries and sectors most affected by Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. Much more will need to be done urgently to secure better Brexit mitigation funding. Realistically, it a modest sum of money and it is important that the Irish Government secures a fair share of this funding in order to respond effectively to the significant economic difficulties posed by Brexit.

When one digs behind the headlines one can see clearly that this is not a great deal. Ireland is now a net contributor to the EU budget. However, this deal completely fails to deliver in key areas for Ireland and, as such, it is a failure on behalf of the Taoiseach. He should have been more ambitious for Ireland. He should have stood stronger to protect Irish interests. Unfortunately, he has settled for a deal that once again falls short for Ireland.

The European Council summit represents a major achievement for the European Union. For a time, it seemed no agreement would be reached. The negotiations exposed challenges faced by the EU, ones that threatened the very fabric of the Union. Sinn Féin has consistently held a policy of critical engagement with the European project, deeply mindful of the benefits that Ireland accrued from its membership but critical of the bureaucratic approach that has too often brushed aside the interests and concerns of smaller states, such as Ireland.

The European Union's primary achievement has been to prevent a major outbreak of conflict in the union since the end of the Second World War. Many observers have linked the Next Generation EU with the Marshall Plan which helped rebuild post-war Europe. However, as was the case with the Marshall Plan, it seems Ireland will be left on the outside yet again, its face pressed against the glass looking longingly while the funds are divided out. As the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Byrne, stated clearly, Ireland, as one of Europe's smallest countries, which was devastated by the financial crisis caused by the Taoiseach's party the last time it was in government, and now faces the major challenges thrown at us by Brexit, will pay more into the new recovery fund than we will receive. That is almost unbelievable.

When I listened to the Taoiseach's remarks on the progress of the talks over the weekend I was amazed at his approach. I found it difficult to understand the Government's willingness to acquiesce to the continuing relegation of Ireland's interests in Europe. This country has witnessed a long line of Fianna Fáil Governments which have attempted to sell the benefits of trickle-down economics. The current Fianna Fáil Taoiseach is trying to sell us the idea that we should pay to watch the rest of Europe progress and we will reap the rewards through a form of synergistic association with Europe's wealth. Then I read that the Council's President, Charles Michel, said the agreement is about a lot more than money, it is about workers and families, their jobs, their health and their well-being. Then it made sense. Why should a Government that had repeatedly and unashamedly worked against the interests of workers and their families suddenly start giving a damn now?

It has been agreed that approximately one third of the €1.8 trillion combined EU Next Generation fund and the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, will be directed towards climate action projects, this €550 billion is significantly short of the €2.4 trillion required to meet EU climate targets.

I fear the plight of Irish farmers and their families. The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, has been cut by 9%. My fear is compounded by reports that allies of the Green Party are already calling for the CAP to be aligned with the EU green deal. It is terrifying for Irish farmers that the Green Party might be let lose on CAP. The Government's inability to grasp the potential impact on the agricultural sector is only comparable with its disregard for the plight of ordinary workers and their families across the country.

The Department of Finance reports that Ireland's EU contribution will rise to €2.7 billion this year from €2.4 billion last year. This could rise again depending on the amount of non-recycled plastic waste in the country. Would the Taoiseach consider a nationwide emergency community employment scheme to pick up empty plastic bottles? We seem to be powerless to effect any influence on the funds that Ireland will give to the EU for Ireland to pay for Europe's recovery.

The general joy expressed by the principal participants at the conclusion of the European Council was not an expression of jubilation at a wonderful outcome, rather an expression of profound relief that an agreement had finally and actually been achieved. What was at stake, as was clearly expressed within the Council, and if we believe the various news reports, by both Chancellor Merkel and President Macron was a fundamental test for the Union. A fundamental question being asked was whether the current Union of 27 nations is still committed to the principles of mutual solidarity and mutual support or has the Brexit contagion diminished that principle to the extent that now each nation coming to any European Council must prove to a home audience that it won. The principles that underpinned the very foundation of a European union in the aftermath of war seem to have been diminished.

The longest summit in 20 years finally reached an agreement that was not as ambitious as we hoped for but, I must acknowledge, for the first time it was decided to mutualise borrowing and share debt within the Union. This is a very important principle, one which Ireland would have welcomed and benefitted from during the last economic crisis the people of Ireland endured, however it was resisted. There is still that pocket of resistance among the frugal four, or with Finland, the frugal five. The €500 billion that was in the negotiating box to be direct grants to those regions and countries most adversely impacted was substantially reduced to €390 billion.

Instead, in order to placate at least some of the frugal four, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy of the rebate has now been extended. In order to get them to agree, the richer nations have had to have something back for themselves. Ireland’s share was never going to be massive or substantial in scale. We understood that. I have said many times in the debates leading up to this Council meeting that loans are of very little value to us. We can borrow money very cheaply and we did last month at less than 0.25%. It is direct grants that are of benefit to us. We are now to get something like €1.3 billion in 2021 and 2022. That is obviously to be welcomed. It will help support our own domestic economy but it will not be decisive in order to maintain a real and substantial recovery in what we need to invest in our economy in the various sectors that have been crushed under Covid-19.

I wish to make one very clear point. I heard Opposition voices make this point in the last few days which is that if we use a Tory Brexiteer formula, a zero-sum calculation, where we add up what we contribute and look to see what in cash terms we get back, and if we do not receive more cash back than we actually pay in then the Union is not working for us. That is a disastrous calculation and is sterile and dangerous. It ignores the importance of the Single Market for the health and well-being of our economy. We need our trading partners to be strong and we need a healthy market to exist. We export more per capita than virtually any other country on the globe. We have left behind us the isolationism which characterised the early decades of our State and we look now to trade our goods and services to add value. Access to sustainable markets is a critical component of that. If our trading partners are not in a healthy state, that impacts greatly on us.

I will make some comments now on the MFF discussions. Seven years ago I was involved in those discussions and I know how torturous and convoluted they can be. There are added complications this time which I acknowledge. One tries to negotiate, where a great amount of deals are done by eyeballing people, taking people aside, and having words in people’s ears. That has been made extremely difficult over the last number of months. I also acknowledge the fact that the UK, a substantial net contributor, is no longer part of the calculation. We really need to have an open discussion on whether we want to be ambitious for the future of Europe. It seems now that the prevailing argument has won, where the populism of diminishing the capacity of the Union to act with mutual support is the dominant view within the European Union, which I regret. We were not ambitious in what we can do on both the green agenda of transforming our economies and in using the resources that we collectively have to make an extraordinary and substantial advance. Some things are good but it is not as ambitious as it could have been.

We will have opportunities in the future to talk about the impact on agriculture, on pillar 1 and pillar 2 funding. I want to acknowledge the continuation of the PEACE PLUS programme funding that was hard fought for the last time, which I thought might be the last iteration of that. It is very welcome. What is not welcome is a reduction of health preparedness within Europe for the next pandemic or crisis that will arise, or for the amount of resources available for climate transition. As I said earlier we will have other opportunities to get back to discuss that.

In my remaining time I will mention two further points. One is the Brexit reserve fund which is something we can look to. I am not so sure of some of the language but it has been talked about consistently as being in the region of €5 billion. The Taoiseach in one of his interviews said up to €5 billion. Can I ask how much will be in this fund? When will it be accessible and what are the criteria for drawing it down? That is to be used as the victory for Ireland, if there is to be one, that that support is there for us.

My final point is on the paying for the mutualised debt. I am very strongly in favour of using the common strength of the Union and to deploy it where it is most needed. The principles of cohesion - I negotiated the last cohesion round of funding in the last MFF - is of great importance and gives hope to people to draw everybody up to the highest level of income within the European Union and we need to be much more ambitious in that. From anything I have read from the summit conclusions or the aftermath, we are not clear as to how this is to be paid for. There were discussions on different types of taxation across the Union and a substantial willingness for a plastic tax of some sort that was not exactly specified, and a less clear attitude towards a digital tax. This is worthy of discussion and I would not be so dismissive of it. This needs to be on a worldwide, or OECD basis, at least. We should have an upfront discussion on these matters. If we have an ongoing capacity to borrow significantly within the European Union we can tackle some of the gross inequalities that have alienated more and more of the European peoples from the European concept and allowed those who want to exploit that alienation and that genuine concern for inequality in order to break up the Union. That is something that all of us should seek to resist.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Howlin. Moving on to the Social Democrats, I call an Teachta Cian O’Callaghan.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach.

This debate and discussion on the negotiations over the weekend are fundamentally about what vision we want for Europe and the European Union.

On the one hand we hear people articulating narrow self-interest in asking what we can get out of this deal where they are playing to domestic electorates. It is that type of politics that really fed into what happened in the UK with Brexit. If we bring that type of politics to its ultimate conclusion it will lead to the break-up of the European Union. That type of politics has been articulated quite strongly by some of the voices here in the Chamber today. On the other hand there is a vision of the European Union as a project for the common good. It is all to play for as to which direction we go for. Much of the negotiations at the weekend were inconclusive. Both positives and negatives have come out of it which I will go through shortly.

Fundamental to this is an understanding of us, our economy and how it works. If one understands Ireland as a small open economy that is reliant on exports and on the economic well-being and health of other European countries, then there is no question but that the European Union project built on the common good is very much in our narrow economic interests as well as in the interests of everyone else in Europe.

We have had in the last number of years - we also see this going back to the last crisis - a kind of punitive approach taken by many northern European countries with stronger economies and public services where they blame some of the weaker economies in the European Union. One can see this sort of blame game within these negotiations, where the fault is attributed to countries who have had a greater Covid-19 crisis, have weaker public services, or whose economies are not as strong, rather than taking the view of that these countries need more support to create a level playing field in the European Union which would benefit everyone. This is fundamentally what is in question here. There is no doubt at all that while there are some shortcomings, and I have misgivings about the deal and how much it has delivered, there is also no doubt that having the mutualised debt is a significant victory for everyone who believes in the European Union as a common project. If mutualised and shared debt had been in place ten years ago the economic recovery across Europe would have been much faster.

It would have given us a much stronger basis for resisting austerity policies that affected a number of countries. That is significant and should be noted. The adoption of an EU-wide tax on non-recyclable plastic is to be welcomed, as is the agreement that the Commission will look at other proposals such as a digital levy, carbon border adjustments, emissions trading schemes and proposals on a financial transactions tax.

This deal was initially going to be €500 billion in grants, as put forward by Germany and France. It rowed back to €400 billion with an element of loans, then down to just €390 billion in grants. That initial €500 billion proposed by Germany and France was a proposal brought forward in the context of what had happened in response to the Covid crisis in Europe. I remind the House that what happened on 28 February is that Italy sent a request for face masks to the EU's emergency response co-ordination centre and did not get any response to that request. After that, both Germany and France actively blocked the export of protective medical equipment that was needed in Italy. The free movement of goods in the Single Market was effectively suspended at that point and, in addition, France seized 6 million masks, including masks destined for Italy and Spain. When Italy ordered additional masks that were brought by ship to the port in Marseilles, France subsequently started to seize those masks which meant that the ship had to flee the port in Marseilles and turn to Brussels to deliver its cargo safely. In that context, France and Germany correctly realised that they were putting the future of the European Union in jeopardy and correctly came up with the proposals for grants.

Damage has been done to the proposals by the so-called frugal five, or as a professor of politics in UCD called them, the stingy five. That initial proposal has been watered down. We see in the proposals agreed that there were cuts from the initial text to health, research and the just transition fund. Just transition should be at the core of everything we do. More than that, we should ensure that any funding and projects coming from the European Union are climate-proofed, not just the funding dedicated to climate. We should not be funding some projects on one hand and then effectively counteracting them in other areas. Research by Greenpeace has shown that much funding at European Union and European Government level continues to go into toxic and polluting industries. We need to make sure our approach is consistent.

With respect to Ireland being a net contributor and what it is putting in and getting out of this, we have to accept and realise that, with regard to GDP calculations, we are in a situation that is not favourable to us. Ireland will receive one of the lowest shares of funds, partially because of our inflated GDP and how that is measured. The European Commission's formula relies on that GDP, which does not properly reflect our national economic activity. That is a downside of the policies that Ireland has for corporation tax and attracting foreign direct investment, since it distorts our GDP, so we should be aware of that when discussing these things.

With regard to rule of law, I note the Taoiseach made some comments but did not go into detail about Ireland's position on this. It is welcome that the courts in Poland have struck out the idea of so-called LGBT-free zones that were in place in a third of municipalities. That is welcome. I raised it with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade before. We have to recognise that there is an ongoing attack against the media, judiciary, the trans community in Hungary and against civil society organisations. This cannot and should not be tolerated in the European Union. We must stand up for democracy and human rights across the globe, but first and foremost at home in the European Union. As net contributors to the European Union, we have to realise that our money will now go into countries with questionable records and practices. The fudge that has arisen from the Council negotiations, where proposals are to be brought forward on how to deal with this on a qualified majority voting basis, really kicks this down the line. I call on the Taoiseach to push this as much as he can at further meetings and make sure that Ireland stands strong on this. It is great that the Government can be strong on issues related to minority rights in Ireland but we need that same vocal stance to be taken at a European Union level. I call on the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to take that stand.

The issue of tax avoidance is not going to go away at a European Union level, notwithstanding the recent decision on Apple tax. It is essential that all corporations and businesses, whether large or small, pay a fair share of taxation. If we are serious about our international representation, Ireland should stop blocking proposals for country-by-country reporting on tax arrangements at a European Union level. If that measure is brought in, it will allow for much greater transparency and ensure that no member state is effectively able to cheat other states out of their fair share of tax. We cannot have it both ways. The Taoiseach has rightly said that we need to have a level playing field in Europe and that what is good for the European economy is good for Ireland as a net exporter. The same goes for tax fairness and tax justice. We must have tax justice and tax fairness across the European Union if we are going to have a level playing field and a strong future for the European Union project.

I endorse the view that we should not be taking a view of national self-interest on this. We should take a European Union-wide view. That is in our interests as well as the interests of all other peoples and member states in the European Union.

I am sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy. I think the references to the frugal four or five, or even the stingy four or five, are too kind. These people are the hawks of austerity and neoliberalism. The fact that these hawks of neoliberalism and austerity have won a significant battle is indicated by the EU4Health budget, which was initially projected as being more than €9 billion, while after the negotiations concluded, it had been reduced to just over €1 billion. This EU4Health project was supposed to be the big response to Covid-19. The people who pushed for that and allowed that budget for health and the need for a dramatic response across Europe to a global health pandemic to be axed to almost nothing makes it clear that the people who run Europe have learned nothing from the pandemic that continues to grip Europe and threaten Europe and the world. They have learned less than nothing in deciding to axe that budget. That budget was for stockpiles of things such as ventilators, investing in and resourcing public health services across Europe and for early warning systems for pandemics. There was a brief moment in which they realised that we should change in response to Covid and then it was axed in favour of loans.

What is the difference between loans and grants? Loans are about us financing the recovery of Europe by borrowing from rich people and allowing rich people to profit from those loans. That is what borrowing is. Sometimes we imagine that borrowing is some sort of abstract activity. It is really borrowing from already rich people and paying them interest. The alternative is direct funding, funded by progressive taxation where the rich people pay some additional tax, perhaps a digital tax or a financial transaction tax, and we use that money to invest in things like health, housing, infrastructure, educational capacity and childcare.

That is the difference between loans and grants.

It is clear that the neoliberal hawks who favour austerity and who want to disarm us in the face of a global pandemic - they did it before with ten years of austerity - have won out. Our Government's claims to object to that agenda are completely undermined by the fact that we are the worst foot draggers when it comes to actually imposing taxes on these very wealthy interests that constantly avoid tax. We are the ones blocking and opposing digital taxes, we are the ones who do not want a financial transaction tax and we are the ones who act as a tax haven for some of the biggest tax avoiders and the most wealthy corporations in the world. Ireland's concern about the frugal five of austerity hawks is hollow in the extreme.

This is terribly important because all of it reflects on our July stimulus and what is coming up. All the discussion is about the stimulation of business. Do not get me wrong. A total of 1 million people depend on small and medium businesses for employment and we must absolutely protect and sustain those jobs. Why, however, do we not understand that investing in health, education, childcare and infrastructure is not just urgently required to deal with the post-Covid-19 world, it is a stimulus in itself? It is the basis of a sustainable and transformed economy in the post-Covid-19 world. It was needed for Covid-19 but now it is absolutely a matter of urgency to invest in a healthcare system, which means recruiting people so we can deal with Covid-19, to resource our education system, which is desperately overcrowded, to have a childcare system that works and to have a nursing home sector that works. This is a good thing for society and also an economic stimulus that is far more sustainable and which would move us to a more sustainable economic and social model.

I note that the Taoiseach is following his predecessor in leaving the Chamber before Solidarity-People Before Profit speaks on this issue.

To clarify, the Taoiseach had to leave. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, is at the back of the Chamber.

Perfect, I thank the Minister of State. We await the next European Council statements because this happened on every occasion with the previous Taoiseach.

There exist two dominant narratives about the outcome of this European Council. The first is that of the establishment of the European Union, and echoed very much by the Taoiseach here today, where this is a victory for European solidarity. On the other hand, we have the more blunt and, in reality, more honest narrative from, among others, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, who stated: "We're here because everyone is taking care of their own country." So, no hint of a spirit of European solidarity from him or, if the reports are to be believed, from many others at the negotiating table. Fundamentally, at the negotiating table they are representing the interests of big business in their own countries.

If one looks beyond the rhetoric and behind the top-line figures, what does one find? There are €360 billion worth of grants and €390 billion worth of loans. The point has been made that for many people in many countries the loans are not worth very much. Let us examine the grants. There is, obviously, a real concession in the fact that European-wide borrowing is taking place and there is disbursement of grants. At the same time as making that concession in respect of the crisis, the establishment across the European Union, the Commission and the Governments that make up the European Council, have taken advantage of the crisis to go further in establishing what is referred to as conditionality. In order to get this grant money, a business will need to meet the country-specific recommendations. Again, the EU is using the shock of the crisis as a kind of shock doctrine to reinforce the power of the European Commission to demand structural reforms. The latter will not be reforms that benefit ordinary people or improve public services in the coming years, they will be reforms of a neoliberal and austerity-driven character.

The agreement states that member states shall prepare national recovery and resilience plans that will be reviewed and adapted. It also states: "The recovery and resilience plans shall be assessed by the Commission within two months of the submission. The criteria of consistency with the country-specific recommendations ... shall need the highest score of the assessment." It further states that they will have to be approved by the Council, etc. The agreement is being used to reinforce the power of country-specific recommendations that have up to now been used to demand labour market reform in a negative way for workers, to demand privatisation and to demand liberalisation.

The other telling point about the nature of the agreement is the way in which the countries with far-right and dictatorial Governments, such as Poland and Hungary, were treated. Their Governments subvert any form of democracy at home. Hungary has effectively suspended democracy and replaced it with semi-fascistic and dictatorial one-man rule by decree. The European Union has, effectively, attached no conditions to the funds they will receive. Instead, those at the negotiating table, including the Irish Government, gave them huge concessions. Poland, which is a major polluter, has essentially received an exemption from emissions targets as part of this deal, no longer needing to reach the already unambitious and inadequate target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Look at what else was lost in the process of negotiation. The point has already been made by Deputy Boyd Barrett about health spending being taken away altogether. The original Commission proposal contained €30 billion for a just transition fund. This has been cut by two thirds, or €20 billion, to €10 billion. This gives a real vision of what the priorities are for those who rule across the European Union.

We need a socialist green new deal on a European level. We cannot go from the Covid-19 crisis into the impending climate catastrophe we are facing. This is not just about using the language of a green new deal, as the Government and the European Union leaders do. Instead it is about a radical transformation of our society to put people's needs and our planet, instead of profit, at the centre.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the European Council's conclusions. In the seven pages of the conclusions that focus on the CAP, there are nine references to climate and climate change and one to food. This shows the change in focus at European level with regard to food. In fact, there was no reference whatsoever to the issue of food security. Surely, in the context of what we have seen in recent months with Covid-19, and because the primary focus of the Council meeting was Covid-19, the issue of food security would have come up. Right across Europe we have seen panic buying and supermarket shelves left empty. In Ireland, we have seen how protecting food supplies has impacted on levels of Covid-19 in our meat plants, and yet the issue of food security is not referenced in any of the Council documents.

The Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries recently told a meeting of the European Parliament's agriculture committee that food security is no longer a major concern for the European Union. The Commissioner went on to say that other challenges are dominating the European food system, such as food waste, over-consumption, obesity and the food system's overall environmental footprint. We need to reassess the issue of food security in the context of Covid-19.

The concept of food security is no longer an abstract consideration but a real issue. Both food security and resilience need to be embedded in our key objectives with regard to the CAP as well as securing and enhancing farming in its wider context of the economy, along with the social, cultural and environmental well-being of communities throughout the country.

Earlier the Taoiseach spoke about the overall reduction in the CAP budget as not being as severe as initially projected. However, we are looking, even at constant values, at a €39,000 million cut over the seven years of the budget. This does not take into consideration inflation over the past seven years. I accept it was a significant challenge to the Government, particularly in the context of not being able to have bilateral meetings because of Covid-19. However, the impact of these cuts will be a challenge for communities throughout the country and the agricultural sector in particular.

I acknowledge the special allocation of €300 million in recognition of the structural challenges we face in Ireland. I spoke about that when the new agriculture Minister was appointed last week. I hope we will see investment in a farm retirement scheme to encourage farmers to hand over the land to younger farmers, especially in the livestock and suckler sector where such a scheme is urgently needed.

In the context of climate, we are asleep at the wheel in terms of putting our best foot forward. Our own climate action plan sets out a target for reducing agricultural emissions by 10% between 2017 and 2030. Based on our current suckler cow numbers, emission reductions of close to 10% have already been achieved between 2018 and 2019 alone. While we have achieved that 13-year target in just 24 months, albeit for the wrong reasons, and while it may help to meet our national climate targets, in a perverse way it will do more damage to the planet in terms of global warming. That is because we count climate emissions based on the country where the food is produced, not on where that food is actually consumed. Even though 90% of our beef is exported, Ireland is penalised for being the most carbon-efficient beef exporter in the European Union because the rules state that responsibility is on the producer rather than the consumer of that food product. Relatively carbon-efficient beef production in Ireland can therefore be replaced throughout the European Union with beef from the Amazon basin that is 35 times worse from an environmental perspective. That is okay according to the climate mathematicians. It is not okay, however, for our atmosphere.

We have a CAP which regulates food production in member states except when it comes to climate emissions when there is a national cap, not an EU-wide one. This completely undermines carbon-efficient food production in favour of cheap food, regardless of its climate impact and from where it comes. We need an EU-wide methane cap for agriculture which supports carbon-efficient beef production in Ireland and which is good at reducing global climate emissions. It needs to support grass-fed beef on low intensity agriculture such as that produced in Ireland which has a lower negative impact on soil erosion, biodiversity and nutrient leaching than other beef production models. This is another fact conveniently ignored by those who focus on farming being purely a climate problem. Grass-based systems on disadvantaged land types in much of Ireland, removing carbon from the atmosphere, and converting it, by producing beef, into a human protein on land that is not suitable for tillage crops is again being ignored in terms of the type of agricultural model we have here. That does not mean that agriculture and farming should get a free pass. The fact is that managing our land use better can take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere while reducing harmful effects on climate and oceans far quicker than just shutting down agriculture itself.

I find it disappointing that we have all these references to climate in the communiqué from the European Commission. We have a new Government in place which is talking about the need for more climate-orientated agriculture. We have a CAP focused on that. However, in last year's budget, the Minister for Finance allocated €3 million to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to pilot new agri-environmental schemes to fulfil our climate action objectives in 2020. Yet the Department told me last week that it is only developing those plans. It will soon be August 2020 but the Department is only considering what it is doing. Clearly, it is planning to launch this initiative at the ploughing championships. Somebody forgot to tell the Department there will be no ploughing championships this year. It looks like we will have to have to wait until September 2021 until we get this initiative. We need to see movement on environmental schemes that are farmer-orientated and implemented in a practical manner by farmers now, not next year or the year after that.

I welcome the proposal to introduce an EU-wide tax on non-recyclable plastic. As an environment Minister at European Council level, I advocated on behalf of this. However, the officials in Merrion Street were opposed to it. They felt that if we advocated such a tax across Europe on non-recyclable plastic, which we need to eradicate quickly, then it would undermine our opposition to a digital tax. I do not think it undermines that argument. Ireland should be to the fore in Europe in reducing non-recyclable plastic, particularly in light of the fact that Ireland is one of the largest generators of non-recyclable plastic at domestic level. We need to drive that particular agenda forward quickly.

I am sharing time with Deputies Nolan and O'Donoghue.

Cá bhfuil an Taoiseach? Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? On Questions on Promised Legislation, the Taoiseach wanted to know what planet I was on. He is not even here to listen to the debate. Another Deputy is correct that they always leave before we speak. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, is here.

The EU 27 member states signed off on a €1.8 trillion package to fund spending over the next seven years. It is obvious, however, that we did not come out well from it. The Taoiseach stated the package will stand Europe in good stead in the future. Good man. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, said it is true that we will pay more than we will receive and it is difficult to estimate how much we will contribute. However, it will be substantial. If I came home from the mart and told the wife that I sold the cattle but did not know for how much, I would not only be laughed at but told I was not going again.

While the figures are hard to find, German media have reported the figures on the EU budget for the next seven years. It lists Ireland as the fifth highest contributor to the EU with a net contribution of €15.7 billion over the next seven years. That is pretty stark. Only four countries, Germany, France, Holland and Sweden, are to contribute more than us. Our contribution as a percentage of GDP makes us the second highest contributor for every man woman and child in this State, only ahead of Luxembourg.

Over the weekend, there were many criticisms of the frugal four countries. They were right and stood up to fight for themselves. We are the good boys in Europe, however. We are the lackeys who accept everything and nod.

They got major write-downs in respect of what they were supposed to pay and we got nothing. For being the good boy in class, we probably got sweets. My goodness. Of the top five contributors, three - Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden - received significant write-downs on their contributions because they are frugal countries. They kicked up and rattled the cage. When we go to Europe, our duty is to rattle the cage and to fight for Ireland, not to adore the prima donnas of the European project and be told how good we are and how strong our economy is. It is bluff and bluster. Ask those who are on the dole or homeless. Ask the farmers who are struggling. CAP will be decimated too.

I will not be all negative. There have been good things. Earlier, the Taoiseach told me about all the money we got from Europe over the past 40 years. We did, but that is like talking about the choc ice we had at lunch yesterday or the dinner we had an hour ago. It is gone and done. It is the future that I am worried about. We were crippled by the so-called bailout. It was not a bailout, it was a total clean-out. We knew there was no solidarity then. They kicked us in the teeth and we lay down. We are still lying down and accepting what we get.

The European project is in choppy waters. Anyone watching can see that. The big countries fight for their rights if they do not want to do something. They got write-downs. Every man, woman and child in Ireland will repay contributions of €3,201, which is almost twice as much as people in Germany will pay and three times what the French, who will only contribute €780 each, will pay. There is something really bad in that.

The Acting Chairman was over in that corner last week when-----

Is it with the Deputy's two colleagues?

Yes. I will take four minutes and they will take two and a half minutes each. Last week, the Acting Chairman heard the officials, in the absence of the Minister for Finance, tell us that we had not yet applied to the EU for any funding despite being in the middle of a deep pandemic or whatever one wants to call it. That beggars belief when Germany is spending its money and other countries have already applied for and got theirs.

While the marathon meeting of the European Council ended in a resolution of sorts, it served to expose the significant variation in perspectives that exists within the Union about how we will tackle the crisis. There is a view, especially among the so-called frugal four, that the rest of Europe is somehow irresponsible or that we need to be minded like financial children while the financial adults in those states make the grown-up decisions. That is deeply insulting and does not bode well for the sense of solidarity being maintained.

The Taoiseach has welcomed the retention of the significant funding to protect CAP, but we need to see the detail of that. The Council's February proposal introduced a number of increased flexibility measures in the areas of cohesion and agriculture. In view of the effects of Covid-19, a second flexibility package is being added. This relates to the implementation rules under the cohesion policy and CAP, as well as the concentration of European rural development supports. This must happen as a matter of urgency.

We must see an end to what the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association recently called the constant erosion and devaluation of payments. He has correctly noted that there has also been a relentless downward pressure on direct payments to farmers, which has disadvantaged Ireland disproportionately. If EU solidarity is to mean anything, it must show itself in the protection of the most vulnerable and hardest hit sectors, for example, those relating to agriculture and rural development.

I call Deputy Michael Collins.

I suppose the worst thing-----

Gabh mo leithscéal. I meant an Teachta O'Donoghue.

As noted at the European Council meeting, in addition to the €1.824 trillion approved by the EU, there is €5 billion in the Brexit reserve. It is earmarked for unforeseen consequences in the most affected member states and sectors. Surely this will be passed on to Ireland. I hope that this matter is being examined by our MEPs in addition to what is required to meet the Covid pandemic.

As I highlighted previously, it is essential that our pharmaceutical companies be consulted. They are fundamental in our fight against the coronavirus. The EU is prepared to fund the projects. It is essential that we in Ireland get our fair share of funding, but it is most essential that our MEPs fight for us in Europe. The farming sector, hoteliers, etc., want to get their businesses back up and running, but we cannot do that unless we have cheap funding. The ideal would be an interest rate of 0%, but even if Ireland got that rate, the money would still have to be paid back. We need to get funding into Ireland and all businesses.

Look at what the likes of Debenhams have done to this country. Debenhams left our workers on the streets for 100 days. We will now open the gates to other UK businesses to do the same to employees in Ireland. We cannot stand for this. We need to protect all people who are employed in this country. An example should be made of the likes of Debenhams. As a Government and as a country, we should stand up, send Debenhams a clear message and boycott anything it brings into this country - for delivery by An Post and others - as a result of Internet orders made to it. Everything of Debenhams should be stopped until the company looks after our workers. Our workers and our people have looked after Debenhams for generations. It is about time the company looked after us.

Generally, I do not stand up to say-----

I am sorry, but the Deputy is further down on the second round on the list.

There is nobody-----

I am just going by the list. Deputies Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Collins are further down on the second round.

There are five people on the second round.

I have a list that shows me as being down to speak now.

I will just follow the list for the moment. The Deputy's turn is coming up. I beg pardon for interrupting. We will move to the Independent Group. I call Deputies Harkin and Pringle.

Like many, I am relieved that a deal has been done. I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister of State on whatever part they played in it.

There are many different views in the House about the budget, and there is a kernel of truth in each of them. The budget is not enough, but it is never enough. I would prefer to have seen more grants and fewer loans, but we must remember that we, as citizens of Ireland, are underwriting those loans. Some programmes have been cut and others have received extra resources, including the very welcome €5 billion Brexit fund. At the end of the day, though, what matters is the overall balance and the not insignificant point that 27 member states, represented by 27 different Heads of State and Government with one eye on Europe and another on their own countries, actually managed to agree a €1.82 trillion fund. Crucially, for the first time ever, the member states of the EU have demonstrated solidarity by borrowing together and spending mutualised debt. When people speak of an historic outcome, they are, in fact, correct.

One of the benefits of the €750 billion fund is that the European Commission can borrow money ultra cheaply in light of its triple A+ rating. Some member states have ratings as low as triple B-, but because the European Commission can borrow so cheaply, we can all access the money at that rate. This is an important point. It is often seen as a side benefit, but it matters.

I also want to highlight that the EU budget, big and all that it is, is somewhere between 1% and 2% of what all 27 member states spend nationally each year. It is important but its rationale is that it adds value. What we contribute and what we get back is important but if that is all there is then we should keep our own money and spend it. The budget is not a pass the parcel of money around Europe. We invest in the European budget so that we have a Single Market, the free movement of people, goods and services and so that we work together be it on health research, a digital single market or on supporting farmers to produce safe, quality, traceable food.

In the final analysis what most people really care about is how the money is spent. We will discuss and debate that over the coming months and year in this House but I would like to flag a few important issues now. The Taoiseach said that the CAP budget had increased from 28% to 31%, which is true but it still represents a 9% cut which is significant. There is an additional €300 million and that is welcome but it is crucial that the co-funding risks for pillar 2 are increased so that our rural development funds can help to support family farms. That is a decision that we take in this country. I agree with the proposals on convergence. As I said previously to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I want to see that convergence continuing during the transition period.

The Taoiseach spoke about €1 billion for the regions, which is good but the regional assemblies must be the decision makers. They cannot be a mere conduit for funds. The final point I want to make has been made by other speakers. There is conditionality attached to this money with its link to the European semester. I had a quick look at the country specific recommendations for Ireland for 2019 and 2020 because they represent our obligations under the semester. One of the four recommendations last year and this year is that we broaden our tax base. While recommendations are not written in stone they clearly point the direction of travel.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Much has been made of the reduction in funding and Ireland will not get as much out of it as people believe it should get. There is a sense of solidarity and a need for countries to benefit more. If we are doing well we should contribute more and take less of the benefits across the board. However, the question is whether we are doing better. Are we doing well in that context?

In terms of our recent history in Europe and how it has treated us, at the time of the bank bailout here Europe insisted that we repay the debts of its banks. There is much talk about the frugal countries that are controlling Europe insisting that they get a payback from Europe. It was their banks that gave the money to us that funded the crisis here. When everything went wallop we had to pay them back. The benefit for everybody does not appear to exist. It appears that Europe decides what happens and we go along with it. The biggest problem that we face in Ireland is that we are not willing to force our own view on the discussion or we are just willing to sit back and take whatever we get. From what I can see, everything that has developed in regard to Europe is based on what France and Germany think or on what the frugal states such as Holland and so on think. It does not appear that what Ireland thinks or its views in relation to the European discussion are important. That is a problem.

On the CAP, the Taoiseach said that the CAP funding has been maintained but maintaining it is not good enough. It is actually a reduction because maintaining it means it has not been index linked. This will become evident over the coming years. It will have a huge impact across the board. The reason the CAP is under pressure is not because of Brexit and the British leaving the European Union, as has been put out by the Government for a long time, rather it is because of the European Union's interests in development in terms of a military structure and European defence. This is evident in terms of the delivery of budgets here over the last while as well. The EU is seeking to have more effective control over the EU borders and increasing external action. We wonder what does this actually mean in terms of Europe. What this means for us should be elaborated on and discussed more in this House. The Government's response will be that we are opting out and not involving our armed forces but it is being done in our names. As far as I know we are still members of the European Union regardless of whether we actually send troops to fight on behalf of it. We are still members of the EU and we benefit from it.

Reference is made in the statement to the TEN-T networks. We hear a lot of TEN-T in the western parts of Ireland. In terms of Donegal, we see TEN-T networks from Donegal town up through the county as far as Derry. I note that €1.5 billion of the TEN-T networks will go towards military mobility needs. Basically, the road network is being strengthened and upgraded to ensure it can carry tanks to the border to further European needs. I am not suggesting that is happening in Ireland but it is happening across the rest of Europe. This is the type of area we are putting money into. We should be very wary of this and we should be having our views heard in that regard at European level.

It appears to me that the Taoiseach went to Brussels and his intention was to agree whatever transpired regardless of the cost. The big losers in the deal announced are farmers and rural communities not just in Ireland but across the European Union. I found the Taoiseach's defence of what is a 9% cut in the Common Agricultural Policy budget pathetic. To suggest that the overall CAP budget increased from 29% in the Commission's proposal to 31% in the final deal and to try to sell that as some form of victory is bizarre considering that in the last MFF CAP funding, as a proportion of the overall budget, was 37%. Even on the Taoiseach's new parameters it has never been used because if it had been then every MFF negotiation that an Irish Government has been involved in since the 1980s would have been considered an abysmal failure considering at that point the CAP made up about 75% of the overall budget.

Our farmers are terrified as not only are they facing this cut, they are facing the prospect of 40% of all funding being reliant on some unknown climate criteria. We do not know if this will be beneficial or if it will result in additional bureaucracy and costs. Rural communities are faced with a possible €7.5 billion reduction in rural development funding. All the while, they are being told to wait for a potential Brexit relief fund. It should be remembered that if we need to draw down Brexit relief funding it means we are in deep trouble. Arguably, even if we were to get the full €5 billion that is being allocated across the European Union for that emergency fund, it would not make up the damage that would be done to our economy or our farm network.

The big question that needs to be asked, particularly of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Deputies who are trying to laud this deal, is whether they will stand for what has been a sell-out of our rural communities and for what has been a decimation of our family farm network. The Taoiseach may have rubbished this when I put it to him yesterday, but family farmers are operating in Ireland today which will not be operating in five years' time as a result of this budget. That is nothing to celebrate and it is no victory that the Government should be claiming.

Over and over again, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives talk the talk when it comes to standing up for rural Ireland in their constituencies, especially at election time, yet every opportunity they get, they back down. The outcome of these EU negotiations is a perfect example of that. In the midst of a global pandemic, when so many people are suffering here, the Government has gone to Europe and seemingly agreed that Ireland will pay more into the EU budget and get less in return. It is those who rely so much on funding from Europe who will suffer most, namely, farmers and rural communities.

Just two months ago, Commissioner Phil Hogan made great fanfare of how valuable the recovery fund will be for Ireland, with an additional €354 million in Ireland's rural development envelope. That fund has now been halved, which means that Ireland will be robbed of about €177 million in funding. Many rural communities did not recover after the previous economic collapse, not to mention the blow caused to them by Covid-19. Now, when they need more support, the Government has gone to Europe and come home with less. That is simply not acceptable to rural Ireland.

I listened to the Taoiseach earlier during Questions on Promised Legislation when he spoke about the benefits of Ireland's membership of the EU, such as the job creation and the services that it has brought us. In counties such as Roscommon and Galway, however, and throughout the wider western region, we do not see that job creation or those services. It is not Europe that I blame for that; it is the Government here. It is Governments here that have continuously discriminated against the western and north-western region. That was the conclusion of the EU Commission in 2019 when it classed the west and the north west of Ireland as a region in decline, a region not progressing but regressing at a rapid rate. I lay that firmly at the feet of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Giving us a Minister in the west eventually will not cut it. We need urgent and major investment in the west and north-western region and throughout rural towns and villages. That is the only strategy that will sustain families in those rural communities.

This is an absolutely disastrous deal for Ireland. Ireland is one of the most heavily indebted nations on the planet. We currently have a higher debt per capita than Greece. Our debt is well north of €200 billion, and after the next five years of the Covid-19 crisis, it is likely that will be added to significantly. It shocks me that these types of major decisions made in the EU are continuously made on the basis of our GDP figures. These are leprechaun figures, which grossly overestimate the level of wealth that exists in the State. In real terms we should be looking at debt per capita or the debt-to-GNI ratio. On both metrics, Ireland is, in international and historical terms, massively indebted.

This is the context of the negotiations that have happened within the EU. The EU, historically, has been no friend to Ireland. During the bank crisis, it did enormous damage to Ireland. It forced a debt onto this country under terms that no other country was forced to endure. As a result, there is a massive legacy debt in this country and this debt is no small matter. It has an opportunity cost every day. The interest we are paying on that debt comes out of housing, healthcare, transport and infrastructure.

It is, on one level, incredible that the Taoiseach is not here, while the relevant Minister of State who is here is texting away. On the radio yesterday when that Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, was asked how much this deal would cost Ireland, he shrugged and said he did not know, as if his new role included the responsibility of signing a blank cheque. The cost of this deal, which Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party signed up to, will have a larger effect on Ireland than on any other European country. Irish citizens, per capita, will pay more than citizens in every other European country except Luxembourg. In the context of the debt mountain we are sitting on and the fact that we are on the precipice of a serious economic shock over the next number of years, for a Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Green Party Government to go to Europe and to cost each citizen in the State roughly €3,500 is incredible.

I was listening to some of the Opposition voices in the House, such as the Social Democrats and the Labour Party, and the naivety with which they talk about this magical European solidarity that is said to exist within Europe. I imagine that in the capitals of the EU, if they are bothered listening to the debates happening in the Oireachtas, chuckles and smiles are rippling throughout Europe over the naivety that exists, even on the Opposition benches, in this country. The realpolitik that exists in the EU is national self-interest. Until this country cops itself on with regard to the national self-interest, we will always be tipping the cap and in the ha'penny place relative to the rest of the EU when it comes to these types of negotiations. The decision the Taoiseach made in recent days has cost this country dearly, but that is not out of character for him. The previous time that he was a member of the Cabinet, his decisions cost this country dearly and we are still paying for them. Sometimes it seems that in such discussions, if a person criticises the EU, he or she is some kind of quasi-Brexiteer, but that is rubbish too. One can criticise the bad, poor and weak decisions that the Government makes when it comes to the EU and still support a partnership of democratic countries throughout the EU working together for mutual self-interest and for stronger economies. It is not the case that if one opposes the EU as it exists, one is a Brexiteer. Another type of Europe exists.

Unfortunately, we do not now have time to discuss what is happening to farmers and rural Ireland. It seems that discussions about farmers and rural Ireland happen just around election time. They are fitted in to a slot to make parties feel they are ticking the boxes for some of their constituents. Farmers in rural Ireland are the poor relations in Government thinking about the development of this country. As a result of the decisions that the Taoiseach has made, Ireland is poorer.

I am sharing time with Deputy Michael Collins. Among the people I represent in County Kerry, there is much concern about the deal, which is being hailed as a super and great deal for Ireland. I too have to put on record my deep worries and concerns on behalf of my constituents in Kerry and throughout the rest of the country, whether they are farmers, fishermen, small business people or people who are relying on payments at present.

Many of the people relying on or solely dependent on Covid-19 payments have seen those payments cut. We know the payment cannot last forever but at the same time I certainly have great reservations about what is happening in the Department. I know there are sincere but extreme cases of hardship in homes and these people are being pushed off the edge of a cliff. What happens if a person is relying 100% on €350 per week and all of sudden it is reduced to €203 but there is no work?

I was glad to attend a large meeting of publicans from County Kerry on Monday night who came together to voice their concerns over their doors being kept closed. While the Taoiseach was away agreeing to deals in Europe, I remind him he did a deal here that hurt those self-employed people as at the last minute the rug was pulled from under them by making them keep their doors closed. It was wrong and disgraceful.

The Acting Chairman, Deputy Mattie McGrath, mentioned earlier the comparison between what we will pay in versus what we will get out. It is very hard to see or understand the difference. We are really buying a pig in a poke. I certainly would not agree to or sign my name to something unless I understood it and thought it good for me or the people I represent. This is what it boils down to at the end of the day. This was not a good deal for the people. I do not want to eat into my colleague's time.

Today we are discussing what effectively seems like a cut to the CAP budget. How is this seen as a good deal? Rural Ireland and farmers in particular have in the past number of years suffered severely because of very bad deals being done and we are now looking at a further cut in forthcoming budgets that will mainly affect Irish agriculture. I need to know how this can be seen as a good deal. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, might explain it.

How will this affect the suckler or beef farmer who has struggled over the past number of years? How will it affect the dairy sector, sheep and pig farmers? All farming sectors have been hit very hard and the people involved have serious worries. We need answers today.

Fishermen in this country have also been hit badly and they are the forgotten people in Irish politics. I spoke at length during Government formation discussions about how there should be a Minister with responsibility for fisheries but that has not happened. People involved with fishing are in the back seat of society and the sector has been feeling the effects badly. These people are forgotten in any compensation packages we have seen to date. This goes for inshore fishermen as well as the men on the trawlers fighting for their livelihoods and having to worry about Brexit around the corner, which may lead to us and every other European trawler being kicked out of British waters. They will come to the céad míle fáilte waters that have been there off Ireland for decades, and there has never been a political fight for them.

I hope our tourism sector was protected with this deal. We still have a VAT rate of 13.5% and I again call for the rate to be reduced, if not to zero, to 5%. Some Fianna Fáil Deputies looked for the zero rate but are now seeking the 5% rate. We need that deal. The rate is 23% in some cases. The publicans are on their knees. The Government closed the doors of many rural pubs last week with the terrible decision to throw such businesses in with the nightclubs. It was a disgraceful decision because common sense indicates the two sectors should have been separated.

It seems to be okay to allow airlines to bring people to the country without any controls. I have maintained all along that we need same-day testing with results at our airports. We could have it but the Government has refused to carry it out, saying it amounts to 75% to 80% proof of a person having the virus. No proof is required today as the doors are open and people can come in. The poor publican with five or ten customers had to keep his doors shut. The Government is kidding the nation and people are copping on to this very quickly. They are angry. Will the Government drop the 23% VAT rate on alcohol to at least 5% in order to give those publicans some chance of survival in the weeks ahead?

I will ask one or two questions of the Minister of State. I have already said what I had to say. I ask him about the 9% cut to the CAP. As I stated earlier, it is a major concern. The Taoiseach spoke about the extra €300 million and that we have the Brexit fund but that is a one-off. We have absolutely no idea how much money we will get from that.

I ask the Minister of State about rural development payments. Farmers are supposed to meet environmental and climate targets but all they see are cuts to rural development funding. They have a biodiversity strategy with which they must comply, along with the green deal. They will incur significant extra costs and bureaucracy. How does the Minister of State see this working? The Government can significantly up the level of co-funding in pillar 2 payments. We have not done that before and instead we have cut them back. I am not asking the Minister of State today what level or rate the co-funding rates will be increased to but I am asking if a commitment will be given to the family farms of Ireland, whose owners are listening today, that the Government will increase the co-funding rate on rural development programmes to the point where they will support farmers in meeting these climate and environmental targets.

I have a question on the just transition fund. From what I read - I may not have read it correctly - I thought I saw a cut in the fund. I heard other speakers refer to it also but I also thought I heard the Taoiseach say the transition fund had been increased. I would like clarity from the Minister of State on that. As he knows, that just transition fund is very important, especially for workers in the midlands who rely on it.

I referred to the following matter at the end of my first intervention. It concerns the conditionality, or link between the funds - whether grants or loans - and the European semester and country-specific recommendations. The Dutch got a sentence or two in the deal for what is called the Dutch brake. This means payments can be held for a short period while checks are made as to whether countries are obeying conditionality rules. It is a very significant move. In my time in the European Parliament I saw how conditionality was applied to other funds, including the European Social Fund and regional funds etc. Will the Minister of State give us some clarity on exactly how that conditionality will work if the Commission decides a member state is not staying within the rules as required, whether it is the Stability and Growth Pact or repayments etc.? I would appreciate any clarification.

The Deputy beat me to the draw by going to the questions and answers session. If the Minister of State does not mind, he might take those. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae also has a question. I cannot see who else wishes to ask a question.

I appreciate the Acting Chairman might need binoculars but I would appreciate the opportunity to ask a question.

Of course. Will the Minister of State answer Deputy Harkin's questions first?

Gabhaim buíochas le gach duine as an seans an buiséad agus na rudaí tábhachtacha seo a phlé inniu.

I want to thank everybody who has come into the Chamber today to discuss the particular issues. Different views have been expressed, and some have been put forward in the best-----

It is time for an tAire to wrap up.

Yes, but I am answering the questions. Some issues have been put forward that are not correct. I want to be very clear about the CAP and I will answer Deputy Marian Harkin's question in this context. The CAP budget for Ireland is protected. Damaging cuts were originally proposed during the negotiations and they have been reversed. The starting point back in 2018 was a 15% cut in rural development expenditure and a 4% cut in direct payments but in terms of the new proposal, Ireland's expected allocation for CAP is approximately €10.7 billion in current prices for the next multi-annual financial framework for the next seven years. That is actually a small increase in current prices on what was there previously. This narrative that the CAP in Ireland has been cut is not a correct interpretation of what has been agreed. I accept that it is complex, and that these documents are difficult for everybody.

The other point is that the negotiating positions were changing on a regular basis, even over the weekend, and it is difficult at times to drill down into the figures. These figures include an allocation which is stated at €300 million but in current prices is €337 million in recognition of the particular structural challenges facing the sector. All of this took place against the backdrop of Brexit, Britain not at the table and a significant net contributor gone. We have consistently opposed cuts to the CAP given the environmental and climate demands being made of farmers.

On the climate issues that Deputy Harkin spoke about, Irish farmers are already doing a huge amount in respect of the environment. Ireland is one of the member states with one of the highest levels of environmental spending under the Common Agricultural Policy in pillar 2, for example. New environmental schemes will be open to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy and these will support farmers who are undertaking positive environmental actions.

On the co-financing rate, very helpfully, the basic co-funding rate, as Deputy Harkin said, has changed as part of the negotiations; it is now at 43%. There are different requirements for co-financing depending on the area the CAP intervention is being spent.

The make-up of the new CAP strategic plan will have a critical effect on the level of national funding required. That is something that has been carefully worked through as we draw up our national plan in consultation with everybody but Members should be assured that rural Ireland is a big beneficiary of this agreement. The issues Deputy Harkin raised relating to co-funding will certainly find support within the Government, within the budgetary constraints.

On the just transition, Deputy Harkin is correct that different figures have been bandied about. The exact position is that the original just transition fund was €7.5 billion. It is now €17 billion, and Ireland will be a beneficiary of that. This is a brand new programme and it is significantly enhanced. It is important to make that clear.

With regard to the rule of law, a very important issue raised by Deputy Harkin and a very important one to us, Ireland firmly supports the rule of law. It is one of the values of the European Union laid out in the treaties. There are also the Article 7 proceedings where the European Council can determine if there is a clear risk or existence of a breach of the rule of law by a member state and may suspend certain treaty rights. It is very important that all member states live up to their legal commitments and their human rights and democratic commitments. Ireland supports what is in the MFF agreement and the Council conclusions that the Commission can propose measures in cases of breaches affecting the budget for adoption by the Council by qualified majority. It is possible that the Commission will be able to take action in appropriate cases where issues arise surrounding the rule of law and any decisions taken will be by the Council by qualified majority. That is strong. There were proposals for stronger measures but, like everything else in this negotiation, there is give and take to try to make sure that we come to an agreement that can work for everybody. In terms of the rule of law, I believe those provisions can work.

When we are talking here today on these issues and other issues like it we have to talk about protecting the taxpayers' money. We were talking earlier about the deal done in recent days in Europe in terms of money and how we will disburse it but €21 million of taxpayers' money is a lot of money. On 8 May 2020, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, wrote to the then Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, recommending "a mandatory regime of self-isolation for 14 days at a designated facility for all persons arriving into Ireland from overseas". That has been reiterated at least four times by NPHET since May. On 25 June, NPHET reiterated that advice with urgency. The Citywest Hotel was rented until 22 October at a cost of almost €21 million and as far as I know not one person is staying in it. What does the Minister of State have to say about that €21 million? Is any person staying in Citywest at the pleasure of the State? Have any people stayed in the hotel? Will anybody stay there between now and 22 October? What exactly is going on there at the moment? It must be remembered that it is costing the taxpayer €25,000 a day to rent this building. How many more days is it intended that we will continue to use it? I know that the Acting Chairman could use €25,000 a day for his constituents, as I could do for mine. We have many situations with regard to homeless people and many other types of people who could do with that money.

We now have a green list of 15 countries. Will there be a red list of countries from where people coming here will have to mandatorily self-isolate on arrival? If there are legal issues around that, could the legal advice on that be put on the record?

We have taken NPHET's advice on face masks and on traveller restrictions in our own country. Pubs remain closed, as I said already, and at the same time the Government is not willing to take NPHET's advice on quarantining, and the cost of quarantining because that is the context I am bringing to this. It is about money and what we are doing with money. The Acting Chairman knows more than I do because he is a very experienced politician that our job as politicians is to be careful and mindful of the taxpayers' money. I believe in my heart and soul that during this crisis a great deal of money is not being spent wisely or treated with the prudence the hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve. The reason we pay taxes in this country is because people work. Each one of the people here today - the ushers and everybody who is working in this system - is paying a considerable amount of money in tax to keep the country rolling but what I want is to see that money being spent properly and wisely, as I know does the Acting Chairman. I would like the Minister of State to address that. I am sorry if I overran my time.

I will call Deputy Brady if he is here - I cannot see him - and then Deputy Haughey. If he does not mind the Minister of State can then answer the questions from the three Deputies.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I will be brief.

Can I just answer the last question?

With the permission of the House, we will take the questions together, and perhaps Deputy Haughey's also.

The Minister of State wants to take Deputy Healy-Rae's question first.

I thank Deputy Brady for giving way. I fully accept the bona fides of Deputy Healy-Rae raising this issue. Taxpayers' money is a very important issue. He is right to be cautious, as the Government is also, but that does not fall under my area of responsibility in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is an issue for the Department of Health. I will pass on Deputy Healy-Rae's concerns to the Minister for Health and the officials who are in charge of it. The Deputy has raised valid issues that deserve an answer but I cannot give him one here today. I hope that he will appreciate that and take it in the best possible way.

It is bizarre to hear a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and a Fianna Fáil Minister of State stand up here again today to try to defend what is indefensible in terms of the deal that has been brought back from Europe. It is no surprise that the last Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to go to Europe to try to strike a deal came back with the troika. We now have our own troika here of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party going to Europe and coming back with this deal, which is ultimately a bad deal for workers, families, farmers and Ireland overall.

I would like to put several questions to the Minister. The exploratory document the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union issued to the various delegations following the meeting clearly stipulates that the issuance of funds will be dependent on the provision of recovery and resilience plans. The document also states that these plans will be assessed within two months of submission to the EU. The extensive cuts to the fund when compared with its original guise mark the failure to reverse the overall cut to direct payments. We touched on those cuts here. No matter how much spin the Minister of State and the Taoiseach try to put on it, the original proposal for the rural development budget was cut by €7.5 billion. That is a fact. The Common Agricultural Policy budget has been cut by something like €35.2 billion from the original proposal, and the pillar 2 fund has been cut from €15 billion to €7.5 billion. What provisions has the Government put in place and what is the timescale for drawing up the necessary plans and submitting them to the EU? When will the limited funds that will be made available to Ireland be directed to where they are actually needed?

I listened intently to a radio interview the Minister of State gave yesterday on "Morning Ireland". He seemed to have little or no information on the content of the deal. The interview was essentially an exercise in spin. He stated that we would be net contributors to this fund but he was not able to articulate the actual cost to the Irish taxpayer. Does he have the facts now? Has he spoken to the Taoiseach and the Department and informed himself? If so, he might inform us this afternoon.

Does the Minister of State wish to allow Deputy Haughey to speak briefly?

He has been a very diligent member of the Committee on European Union Affairs so I know he is interested.

I congratulate Deputy Byrne on his appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs. I regret that he was not able to go to Brussels but I appreciate the circumstances behind that, which concerned the Covid-19 crisis. I welcome the agreement reached by the European Council on the multi-annual financial framework and the recovery stimulus package, which, as the Taoiseach has said, is unprecedented. I also welcome the Brexit reserve fund. Moreover, I support the general strategic approach adopted by the Taoiseach in these negotiations. Ireland is a small, open economy. We are an exporting nation dependent on free trade. A strong and united Europe benefits Ireland.

Following some initial doubts about the capacity of the EU to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, a plan for moving forward has finally been agreed. That is a good thing. We were all beginning to wonder whether the EU was up to the challenge of Covid-19 and whether there would be solidarity. This plan demonstrates that the EU is up to the challenge and is determined to bring about a Europe-wide economic recovery. What is the position on own resources with respect to contributions to the cost of EU borrowing? I refer in particular to the suggestion of a digital tax, which of course would have consequences for Ireland and the Irish economic model. When will the issue of own resources be dealt with, and is that something about which Ireland should be concerned?

My second and final question concerns European liberal democratic values and the rule of law, which have been discussed in the context of this debate. I refer in particular to Hungary and Poland. I would like to deal with that issue in the context of the recovery stimulus package. I listened to what the Minister of State said in that regard and what was agreed by the European Council. I note that the Dutch Prime Minister in particular was very adamant that the recovery package should be linked to this issue. Will the Minister of State assure me that the Commission will be very vigilant on this? It is an extremely important issue for the future of Europe. If these countries refuse to uphold liberal democratic European values and the rule of law on an ongoing basis, will the Commission take affirmative action in the context of this stimulus package?

I thank both Deputies for the questions. Deputy Brady's question on the national recovery and resilience plans is very helpful. With the greatest respect, I have to say that there has been a lot of confusion about this issue today. To obtain the grants, member states are required to prepare national recovery and resilience plans setting out their reform and investment agendas for the years from 2021 to 2023. Plans can be adapted in 2022 in advance of the final allocation of funds in 2023.

The criteria for these plans, and ultimately for grants, will be the country-specific recommendations made under the European semester process. People have mentioned the European semester process as a sort of bogeyman. It is clear to me that, with the exception of Deputy Harkin and Deputy Haughey, nobody has read the European semester recommendations for Ireland for 2020. If they actually read them, Members would be very pleased to see what the money will be spent on. We will be required to put forward a plan that is consistent with those items, which have been recommended by the European Commission. We need to invest in the resilience of our healthcare; preserve employment and address the social impact of the crisis; focus on research and development; ensure liquidity provisions and the stability of the financial sector; preserve the Single Market and the circulation of goods and services; emphasise social and affordable housing; address the digital divide, particularly in education; pursue public investment priorities like public transport; and as noted by Deputy Harkin, step up action on aggressive tax planning. Who could be against this? This is where positivity around the grants and what they will be spent on can be found. The misrepresentation of what these grants will be spent on is very unfortunate.

I have already gone through the details of the CAP budget and noted the modest increase in current prices. Deputy Brady has made a fair point about the costs Ireland will undertake. He had a fair point about my being on the radio at 8.15 a.m. yesterday when the deal had been concluded within the previous two or three hours. As Deputy Haughey has said, I was not there because of a decision we had taken. Normally the delegation would have 20 members, including the Taoiseach. This time it had three, including the Taoiseach. Our contributions to the EU budget are projected to increase considerably in the coming years as a result of our economic growth. Irish contributions are expected to rise from about €3 billion in 2021 to more than €4 billion in 2027. However, the exact contributions to the repayment of Next Generation EU borrowing are yet to be determined. They will also depend significantly on what own resources arrangements are agreed. It is not possible to give an accurate overall figure until we make a decision on own resources at European level.

One thing that is clear is that recovery funds are needed now. It is really important to remember that Ireland has benefited greatly from EU membership in economic terms. The pharmaceutical jobs in Deputy Brady's constituency and any small or medium-sized enterprises that export to or depend on imports from the Single Market all depend on a strong Europe. Deputy Brady's constituents who work in those firms depend on Europe having its act together, as it did this week. That applies to the pharmaceutical industry in Clonmel and to the industries in Deputy Healy-Rae's constituency in Kerry, including Kerry Group, one of our largest exporters. That industry is absolutely dependent on a good Single Market. The same is true for the tourism industry. It depends on Europe doing well so that its tourists come and spend their money here. The benefits are wide-ranging. We cannot simply think in terms of the figures for what we contribute and what we get back. We have got back a hell of a lot more than we will ever put in. We benefit hugely from this.

Deputy Haughey raised the issue of own resources, and that is an important point. It has been clearly set out that there will be a plastics tax levy as a first step and there is a new own resource based on the weight of non-recyclable plastic packaging waste. That will be introduced next year. The European Council has also asked the European Commission to bring forward proposals on a carbon border adjustment mechanism and a digital levy. Any decisions on own resources would have to be made on the basis of unanimity, which means we would have a veto.

The issue of a digital tax was raised. This is a global issue which we believe needs an international solution. We support the work being done in this regard at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. We are committed to examining these issues but, in general, we are sceptical in regard to own resources.

I answered Deputy Haughey's question on the rule of law in my response to Deputy Harkin, but I will emphasise that we do support the rule of law. It is true to say that we would have preferred a stronger measure in this regard, but the provision that is there is strong enough, allowing the Commission to propose measures in case of breaches of common European values that affect the budget. The Council can adopt those proposals by qualified majority, which means nobody will be able to veto them, and they are absolutely crucial. I make this point at the General Affairs Council when talking to my European colleagues. It is a huge issue and there is widespread annoyance and, it has to be said, revulsion in some quarters at the breaches of the rule of law in parts of the European Union. That has to stop. We must not only send out a clear message that we do we not agree with what is happening but we must also show by example how the rule of law has applied in this State since the Civil War, to everybody's benefit, where there is respect for democracy, human rights, the courts system and the Garda. That has helped us economically and socially. Citizens of other member states can see that and we need to lead by example in this regard. I certainly support what Deputy Haughey said on the matter.

Sitting suspended at 4.05 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.