Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the European Council. [33560/20]

Mick Barry

Question:

2. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the European Council. [35072/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the European Council. [35167/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

I met with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in Dublin on 8 October 2020. We discussed the programme of work for the European Council for the period ahead, with a particular focus on the agenda for the meeting of the European Council which took place on 15 and 16 October. This included Brexit, Covid-19, climate action and European Union relations with Africa.

President Michel and I took stock of progress in the Brexit negotiations. We agreed further progress was required on outstanding issues in the negotiations, including level playing field, governance and fish, if agreement is to be reached. We also agreed that our preferred outcome continued to be as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom, following the end of the transition period.

We are also in complete agreement on the importance of full and timely implementation of the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland. On climate action I expressed Ireland's support for the Commission's proposal for increased ambition at European Union level, including setting a target of at least a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030. We held a good discussion on this at the European Council the following week and will return to this matter at our meeting in December.

I outlined to President Michel Ireland's goal, as set out in the Government's Africa strategy, for a more ambitious and effective European Union-Africa partnership. At the European Council the following week, leaders confirmed the high priority the European Union places on strengthening its strategic relations with Africa and on its partnership with the African Union.

President Michel and I also discussed how we can best improve co-ordination at EU leveI on Covid-l9 and on Europe's recovery. I also briefed President Michel on the situation in Ireland. In light of the serious epidemiological situation across the Continent, as Deputies will be aware, we agreed at the October European Council to revert to this matter regularly.

On 29 October, I met with other EU leaders by video conference. We discussed how to share information and expertise, the need to assess and validate tests, how to make best use of track and trace including the interoperability of tracker apps on which Ireland is an early leader, the importance of having the right arrangements in place for distribution should a vaccine become available as well as travel and quarantine policies.

Our collective focus continues to be on Brexit, and rightly so. There are other outstanding EU trade negotiations that are of great concern to member state citizens. We know that the European Commissioner for Trade is particularly enthusiastic about breathing new life into the Mercosur dispute despite widespread opposition to this trade deal. Is the Commissioner’s enthusiasm shared by the Government? I note that Fianna Fáil MEPs took contradictory and opposing positions during a recent vote in the European Parliament on a resolution that stated that the EU Mercosur agreement cannot be ratified as it stands, which is the correct position. UPLIFT-TASC has published a very detailed assessment of the social and environmental risks posed by Mercosur. Its study highlights the significant impact of the agreement on the environment as well as on social, human and worker rights. The report concludes with this very stark warning:

The EU’s track record with FTA’s, coupled with the initial conditions into which this agreement would be launched, marked by poor governance, weak institutions and shrinking civil society space in Mercosur countries does not bode well for the fair and sustainable implementation of the proposed agreement.

The authors also warn that the EU values put forward in the Green Deal and the farm to fork strategy are inconsistent with the values exhibited by Mercosur on climate and agricultural policy. Does the Taoiseach accept that Mercosur cannot and should not be breathed back to life?

In the Taoiseach’s discussions with the President of the European Council, has the issue of the denial of women’s rights in some EU countries been part of these? As the Taoiseach will be aware there has been a magnificent mass movement of women and young people on the streets of Poland for abortion rights in recent weeks. These protests were provoked when Poland’s constitutional court, stacked with conservative judges, backed by the far-right Law and Justice Party, Pis, Government and the Roman Catholic Church, proposed to tighten Poland’s anti-abortion laws which were already amongst the strictest in all of Europe. The court proposed to rule out foetal anomalies as grounds for abortion, even in cases where the baby would, without question, be born dead. There were 200,000 Polish abortions last year which were either illegal or carried out abroad. Under the court’s proposal all but 30 of the 1,100 abortions legally carried out in Poland last year would be illegal next year. The protest movement was spontaneous and enormous. People took to the streets every day and there were more than 1 million people on the streets on some days. This was the largest demonstration since the end of Stalinist rule more than 30 years ago.

Young women carried placards saying: ”Women’s Hell”, “This is War”, “I wish I could abort my government”. When the protests were taken into the churches to challenge priests who were preaching against women’s rights, the leader of the Law and Justice Party addressed the nation accusing the protesters of wanting to destroy Poland and calling for the churches to be defended at any cost. The address was made against a backdrop of Polish flags and was widely compared to General Jaruzelski’s address to the nation in 1981 when martial law was introduced to clamp down on the Solidarity trade union. Given that the leader of the Law and Justice Party is also in charge of police and security, the speech was rightly and widely criticised for promoting the idea of a violent crackdown, with backup from football hooligans and far-right thugs. Notwithstanding all of this just 15% of the population polled gave their support to the proposed new laws. The protest continued to grow in size and to broaden its demands. It was organised by the All-Poland Women's Strike group. From below protesters start calling for the legalisation of abortion, separation of church and state, increased state spending on health and education and an end to the rule of the far-right government. Groups like Rosa Polska, the sister organisation of ROSA in Ireland, began to raise the idea of a general strike.

These protests have taken place after the Taoiseach’s last formal discussion, I believe, with the President of the European Council but the denial of women’s rights in Poland and in other countries make it inevitable that these types of mass movements can and will occur. This is a live issue in Poland at the moment. Has there been any follow-up at EU Council level in discussing these very important matters?

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett. We are running short on time.

The conditions for Palestinians under Israeli occupation are horrendous at any time but the fact that last Tuesday week Israel carried out, in the midst of a pandemic, the biggest demolition of homes of Palestinian families, 11 in number, making 80 people homeless including 41 children, is truly shocking. The pictures show the demolitions destroying water containers, farm equipment, solar panels and so forth. Much of this equipment was funded by Irish Aid and European Union money. This is happening, incidentally, in a year when the number of Palestinian home demolitions is the highest since 2016, which was the highest record year of demolitions by Israel of Palestinian homes. I remind the Taoiseach that the forcible transfer of populations in this manner is a war crime under international law.

I note that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, condemned this but beyond words, is anybody going to do anything about this? This is EU-funded equipment in many cases being destroyed by Israel. I note that on 15 October Deputy Coveney said that Ireland and the EU states were looking to get back from Israel €625,000 which has been lost as a result of the destruction that Israel is wreaking on projects, equipment and so forth that was Irish and EU fund-aided. Have we got the money back from Israel and what are we going to do to stop the shocking ethnic cleansing and destruction of homes by Israel which is beyond words?

We have about four minutes for a response.

Deputy McDonald spoke initially on the Brexit issue and the EU trade negotiations more generally and, in particular, on the Mercosur trade proposition. In my view, and I raised this at a recent EU Council meeting where we discussed climate change, there is an incompatibility in the climate change agenda of the European Council and European Commission proposals on climate change.

We will return to this in December when there will be a more detailed and comprehensive discussion on climate change in terms of the European Union's own targets and objectives and the more ambitious targets we want to set. The behaviour of certain countries, particularly Brazil and the government of President Bolsonaro in particular, has been negligent in respect of the climate change agenda and, in particular, in terms of the destruction of forests to make way for grazing on an unprecedented scale, which is causing enormous damage to biodiversity but also, critically, is impairing the world's capacity to deal with climate change. There are issues in that regard. From our perspective as a Government, we are very mindful of that and the implications of Mercosur being adopted in respect of climate change. Those are issues we will continue to pursue at EU Council level. Europe has always endeavoured to pursue free trade agreements. As a general rule, Governments are pro-free trade. The Deputies opposite may be against it. For example, we supported the Canada deal. I support the European trade deal with Japan because those open up opportunities for Irish companies, particularly the small to medium sized companies, and create opportunities for jobs to be created in this country. In terms of Mercosur, however, there is a climate change context that cannot be ignored.

With regard to Deputy Barry's points on the overall situation in Poland and Hungary, governments are elected by their people and they can pursue policies that we may not agree with in this country. It is important that every EU state upholds the right to protest and the right for opposition to mobilise legitimate and non-violent protest on the streets and to ensure that free speech and freedom of action and association are provided for. It is no secret that there have been issues around the rule of law in some states in the European Union. It has been a very contentious issue in at recent meetings, for example, on the multiannual financial framework. I am talking more generally in terms of the separation of powers within certain countries in Europe that has caused concern for others. Those issues have been raised at Council meetings in terms of the absolute necessity for civil liberties and the rule of law to be respected and for the separation of powers to be a core value of member states. That is something that we, as a country, continue to articulate and argue for and we will continue to do that along with other countries that have similar views to ourselves on those issues.

We have got to move on to Question 4.

Briefly, I share Deputy Boyd Barrett's condemnation of the attack by Israel and the demolition of the 80 Palestinian homes. I am not aware as of now whether that money has been recovered. The EU provides very significant funding to support housing, education and social services in Palestine and to support the Palestinian people, as does Ireland, and we will continue to do that.

We need to get the money back.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will next meet. [33561/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will next meet. [33231/20]

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the consultation his Department undertook in preparing the list of essential retail outlets it published on 14 October 2020 and updated on 23 October 2020. [33424/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

7. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 last met. [35003/20]

Mick Barry

Question:

8. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will next meet. [35073/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 8, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on Covid-19 was re-established by Government on 29 June to assess the social and economic impacts of the potential spread of Covid-19 and oversee the cross-Government response. The committee, which I chair, meets regularly as required.

The committee last met on 19 October. The date of the next meeting has not yet been set.

A senior officials group supports the special Cabinet committee and ensures a dedicated, high-level, cross-government focus on the Covid-19 response.

On Monday, 19 October, I announced that the Government had decided to move the entire country to level 5 of the framework of restrictive measures in the living with Covid-19 plan from midnight Wednesday, 21 October, for a period of six weeks until 1 December.

Priorities as outlined in the living with Covid-19 plan and at the core of the Government’s decision are the need to suppress this highly infectious and dangerous virus, to protect people’s lives, to keep our schools and non-Covid health services open and to sustain as many jobs as possible in the economy.

Many of the level 5 public health measures are premised on the need to reduce congregation and interactions between people to reduce transmission. Everyone is being asked to stay at home, therefore, with certain exceptions. These exceptions include travelling to and from work to provide an essential service, to attend medical appointments, attending disability day services, doing the daily food shop, for vital family reasons and to exercise within 5 km of one's home.

No organised indoor or outdoor gatherings should take place. Cafés and restaurants can provide takeaway or delivery only. Essential retail and services will remain open but all other retail and personal services are closed.

The list of essential retail outlets published on 14 October was for level 4. The list was updated in relation to level 5. The list was informed by the list that was in place during restrictions last March and April, taking into account that experience and the learnings from it.

In preparing the regulations underpinning the lists, the Minister for Health consulted the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Ministers for Transport, Justice and Equality, Finance and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

We have six people raising questions. They might keep their time to a minute each, if that is possible, if they want to get an answer.

I will do my best. In response to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, the Minister for Health confirmed that he disbanded the behavioural change and vulnerable people subgroups of NPHET in July and that he has not reconvened either since the introduction of level 5 restrictions. His rationale for these decisions is perplexing. He said that the Government recognises that vulnerable groups have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 yet those tasked with ensuring the measures and actions required to protect them are fed into NPHET's work have been, in effect, stood down by the Government. The Minister provided no explanation as to why those subgroups were disbanded bar that they had met their terms of reference regarding preparedness plans being in place across government for vulnerable people. That is clearly not the case. We know, for example, that women and children are living with domestic violence or abuse and people with disabilities continue to suffer from a lack of preparedness at departmental level. We also understand from the Minister's reply that the Taoiseach has established a new cross-government mechanism for higher-risk groups, including those with a disability. It is suggested in the reply that this mechanism is in place of the subgroup yet we got no further information. Can the Taoiseach tell us how this mechanism operates, its members, how often it meets and who it reports to?

On 20 October, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of student nurses and the fact that they are working during a pandemic where they cannot do other jobs for the most part, certainly in other healthcare settings, and are working long hours on the front line of the Covid-19 effort and not being paid. That is scandalous. In that engagement the Taoiseach, who obviously was not scripted on it, said that it was wrong that they were not being paid in the same way as they were in March and April and that he would follow up on it. Since then it is clear that the follow-up is that he is not going to pay them. I want to tell him that there is fury about that. A total of 250,000 people watched the video of that exchange between the Taoiseach and myself, while 120,000 have watched the exchange on the same issue between myself and the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I want to apologise to the student nurses. I got so many messages from them I cannot reply individually but I will give the Taoiseach a flavour of the sort of messages I am getting. One second year nurse worked six weeks on placement. She worked four days a week in the Rotunda Hospital from 7.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. She also had a job in retail at the weekend where she was being paid absolutely nothing. She worked two weeks in a gynaecology ward from 7.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. and was not paid a penny.

She points out that for the privilege of working on the Covid front line for nothing, she must pay €3,000 per semester. Therefore, not only does she not get paid for being at the front line in a pandemic, but she must also pay for the privilege, as must all the other student nurses.

What is happening is an absolute scandal. Is the Taoiseach going to pay these student nurses, who are holding the front line when, according to Mr. Paul Reid, 2,000 healthcare workers, mostly nurses and midwives, are out sick because of Covid? We are relying on them more than ever in the battle against this pandemic.

I am sure the Taoiseach is aware of the reports from Denmark about a mutant form of coronavirus that has been discovered on mink farms and that has spread to humans. Globally, health authorities are worrying about the consequences of this for future vaccines. Six countries around the world have experienced outbreaks on mink farms. It seems that minks are particularly susceptible to the coronavirus. The horrific conditions in which they are held in captivity mean that the virus spreads rapidly and has the potential to mutate. Veterinary Ireland has called on the Government to take pre-emptive action now to shut down the fur farms in Ireland in order o ensure that they do not become hotspots. Last year, after Solidarity–People Before Profit introduced a Bill to ban fur farming, the Government finally promised to do so. However, for months we have been told in response to parliamentary questions that the Government is drafting a Bill in this regard. It is clear that we cannot wait any longer. Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure that this is dealt with as a matter of urgency? We should shut the fur farms once and for all.

I note that the Chief Medical Officer's comments on the use of face masks, as opposed to visors, endorse mine. I would appreciate it if a communication strategy could be circulated in that regard.

I do not expect the Taoiseach to be able to tell us today what is going to happen in December but I would appreciate it if he could give us an indicative date as to when he will be able to announce what is planned for the period from 1 December onwards. Will it be a week beforehand or three days? I am seeking a date; I do not expect the Taoiseach to tell me what he is going to do. Is the plan to move to a phase covering all social and economic areas or is it to have two separate phases over the Christmas and new-year period whereby retail, social life and worship could be placed in one category and hospitality, food, restaurants and pubs in another? Is that being considered? That is all I am asking.

On the issue of a Covid-19 vaccine, will the Taoiseach give us a guarantee that it will be supplied free of charge through the public health service? What steps does he plan to take to ensure that there will be no queue-jumping, with people using the power of the wallet to jump the queue? In this regard, I am referring to the private health sector. Can the Taoiseach give more information than he provided last week on the major staffing arrangements that will need to be put in place for the distribution of a vaccine?

Last but not least, I note that Pfizer shares were up 15% on the US stock market and that BioNTech's shares were up 24%. BioNTech received assistance from taxpayers in developing the vaccine. It received €375 million from taxpayers in Germany. What is the Taoiseach's position on the idea of imposing a Covid-19 wealth tax on companies that have made big profits during the Covid period and using the money to fund the health services needed in this country and other member states?

I have raised this before. Covid is obviously a serious illness and we obviously need to do the best we can to reduce its incidence. Ireland is the sixth most restrictive country on the planet, yet it has the third lowest incidence of Covid in European terms. That would be fine but there is a massive cost to the restrictions in terms of patients missing cancer appointments, the large number of people waiting for cancer screening, the mental illness pandemic and the complete flooring of the retail trade, whereby 51% of business is now being transacted online. My question is very simple. Why is the Covid committee choosing a strategy that is a radical outlier in international terms?

On the issue of student nurses, as Deputy Boyd Barrett knows, discussions have been under way for quite some time. The Government's priority is to protect and support the education of all students, including student nurses and midwives. We recognise the impact of Covid-19 on student nurse and midwife placements. The Minister for Health is currently considering proposals to revise the existing student nurse and midwife allowances for clinical placements in the short term to support their ongoing clinical training. In addition, there have been discussions between the INMO and HSE on this. What happened on the previous occasion was that approximately €41 million was provided in payments. The arrangement was in terms of temporary healthcare assistants to support in the response to Covid-19. The decision was taken to suspend-----

We should do it again.

Hold on a second and listen. The decision was taken to suspend clinical placements for all students and to offer all undergraduate nurses and midwives temporary healthcare assistant contracts. At the same time, the salary level for fourth-year internship students was raised to the healthcare assistant rate. The cost of that was about €41 million. That worked on that occasion.

The situation is much different now in terms of the impact on Covid itself. In April, there were approximately 900 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals. As of 8 November, the number was 285. Therefore, there is a different level of intensity in the hospitals regarding Covid.

The Taoiseach should read the accounts of student nurses.

I have hopes for the current discussions. It seems from what I am hearing about the negotiations that people are looking for different rates now than were agreed in April. I want those negotiations to be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible and to protect the clinical placements for students.

Deputy MacDonald referred to behavioural change and the vulnerable. At all levels, that remains a priority for the Government in its response to Covid-19, particularly in terms of funding and resourcing disability day services, mental health supports and other supports. Right across the board, priority is accorded to the most vulnerable, not least in terms of nursing homes and the serial testing programme that is being implemented in them regularly. The HSE provides additional supports to nursing homes to ensure that we can reduce their vulnerability to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deputy Kelly raised the issue of exiting level 5. We are doing a lot of analysis of the data, sector by sector, to facilitate and inform the approach to exiting level 5. We want to give indications so there will be some degree of preparation on the part of those who want and need to be prepared if we are in a good position at the end of this month. I have been very clear that my focus up to now has been on keeping the pressure on the virus and keeping everybody focused on adhering to the level 5 restrictions so that there will be maximum flexibility and manoeuvrability at the end of this month and the beginning of December. The approach is working. The various measures we have taken since moving first to level 3 have resulted in a downward trajectory. Level 5 is accelerating that. We should acknowledge this. On Deputy Tóibín's point, the approach is working in terms of public health and protecting lives by comparison with other countries in Europe. The precise nature of a phased reopening is still to be decided upon.

I did say on the record of the House that I wanted to get back to level 3 - that was a target - for 1 December.

I am sorry, Taoiseach, but we are out of time.

The data on that will inform whether we might look at certain sectors as well and might moderate that. I did not get to everyone. My apologies.

Taoiseach's Communications

Paul Murphy

Question:

9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he has had recent communications with the US ambassador to Ireland; and if so, if he will report on those communications. [33426/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has had recent communications with the US ambassador to Ireland; and if so, if he will report on those communications. [35168/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

I met the US ambassador, Mr. Ed Crawford, at Government Buildings on 21 September. The meeting was a courtesy call requested by the US embassy to mark my appointment as Taoiseach and to discuss matters of mutual interest to Ireland and to the United States. We discussed the Irish and American responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and its ongoing impact in each country. The ambassador and I discussed the Brexit negotiations and the importance of full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. The ambassador affirmed the solid support for the provisions of the agreement across the US political landscape. As part of our conversation on Northern Ireland, I also detailed my aims for the new shared island unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, a key commitment in the programme for Government and that is now up and running and opening up dialogues across these islands.

Deputies will be aware that the ambassador is a proud Irish-American whose parents emigrated from Cork in the 1920s. He is also a life-long businessman and we exchanged views on trade and entrepreneurship as part of a broader discussion on the Irish-American relationship, of which bilateral trade is a vital part.

On 28 September, I met with President Trump's special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, who was accompanied on that occasion by Mr. Crawford. We had a very productive discussion on the Good Friday Agreement, Covid-19 and Brexit. I outlined the importance of full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol and the need for mutual trust between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Of course, since then, elections took place in the US last Tuesday. Yesterday, I spoke to President-elect Joe Biden and offered my congratulations to him and to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Joe Biden has been a true friend of Ireland throughout his life, and especially during his 50 years of public service. Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman and woman of colour to take the office of US Vice President. I look forward to working with them both in the years ahead to deepen Irish-American relations, safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, strengthen EU-US relations and support the many Irish people who have made a home in the United States.

In his call with President-elect Biden yesterday, did the Taoiseach discuss corporate tax avoidance? Last year, it was reported that, if elected, Mr. Joe Biden was planning to impose sanctions on the State because the Government facilitated "illegal corporate tax avoidance and [engages] in harmful tax competition". In the Biden plans, Ireland was listed alongside the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Does the Taoiseach agree that the State has been operating as a tax haven for big businesses as part of a chain of global tax avoidance and that this must stop? Not only is it deeply immoral, given the robbery of hundreds of billions of euro from some of the poorest countries in the world as well as from workers in this country, it is unsustainable, as illustrated by Mr. Biden's declared plans during the election and the fact that Ireland is not the only country that can engage in a race to the bottom in terms of corporation tax rates. Ireland can be beaten in that race by others. The only victor will be the corporations, which have seen the amount of corporation tax they pay halved over the past 20 years or so.

Is it not time to stand up to the tax dodgers, tax their massive profits and use that wealth to invest in a socialist green new deal that creates decent, sustainable jobs and to rebuild our society and economy in a socialist direction?

The sacking of Mr. Donald Trump by the American people and the rejection of the majority of Americans of his hate-filled, toxic, racist and divisive agenda is a cause for celebration for people across the world. It is a major blow against the forces of the political far right who were emboldened by his toxic agenda, including small but growing forces of the far right in this country.

Although Mr. Trump and the far right are down, they will not be out unless we challenge the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism and the growth of the far right. In Ireland, I am involved in a new group that will be launched in December with support from Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, trade unions, artists and so on. It is called Le Chéile - Diversity Not Division and, as the name suggests, is an attempt to promote a movement of social diversity, pluralism and unity against the hate-filled agenda of the far right. A key point that Le Chéile - Diversity Not Division wants to make, and one that we need to be aware of in terms of what has happened in America, is that, unless we address issues like poverty and inequality in society, the housing crisis and the fact that large numbers of people across the world are disenfranchised by a grossly unfair system, the politics of the far right will have soil to grow in and come back. That must be the lesson.

While what has happened is a cause for celebration, unless governments like the Taoiseach's recognise the gross inequalities in society, the gap between the rich and poor and the failure to provide basic elements such as secure and affordable roofs over our citizens' heads, we will still have the conditions in which the far right can grow. That is the challenge if we are to ensure that Mr. Trump and his like stay on the political margins.

I would just say first of all to Deputy Paul Murphy that I do not accept the definition or description of Ireland as a "tax haven". We work with the OECD and with other countries on good and sound taxation global policy. We have continued to work on that basis, and also within the European Union framework, in terms of taxation strategy and taxation policy.

We have for more than 50 years operated a very successful and effective foreign direct investment strategy, which has created thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs in this country, which have in their own turn created and facilitated the growth of Irish-owned companies, which supply a lot of goods and services into those companies. I think the ideology the Deputy comes from and that he legitimately holds would run counter to that strategy in its entirety. I think Deputy Boyd Barrett is in a similar strand, in my sense. I am not clear about their alternative economic strategy. As a small open economy having to survive within the global world-----

Democratic socialism.

-----the sense I get from them is a set of strategies and policies that would undermine jobs and create thousands and thousands of vacancies or redundancies in our system. I do not think they have this well thought through in terms of how the global environment operates and in terms of competition out there.

That is what the Taoiseach said about-----

The foreign direct investment here has not been just about tax. Ireland invested, from the 1960s onwards, dramatically in education. It will never get acknowledged by the far left. There is a very significant degree of state intervention in Ireland. The free second level education was a huge advance in Irish society that Donogh O'Malley and Fianna Fail brought in. The expansion of third level education and the dramatic investment from the late 1990s that I initiated in higher education research have had a profound impact in terms of our performance as a country. In particular, the numbers in terms of OECD levels of school completion and in terms of progression on to third level education have all been progressive policies pursued by my party while in power at different times over those 50 or 60 years, and by other parties as well I have to acknowledge.

We have also invested on the social front. I do not believe we can compare European states generally or indeed the Irish State to the United States, for example, in terms of the level of state intervention in poverty programmes or social programmes or interventions.

We did not discuss this issue yesterday with US President-elect Biden. We discussed climate change. I was impressed with the degree to which he was clear that he wanted to re-engage with the Paris accord and in terms of re-joining the World Health Organization. In the context of Covid-19 this is good news. It is good news for the world, especially for the poorer regions of the world, to have the heft and support of America available for the World Health Organization as it deals with the pandemic.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.