Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe last met; and when it will next meet. [32050/21]

Seán Haughey

Question:

2. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [33006/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [33089/21]

Mick Barry

Question:

4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe last met; and when it will next meet. [33549/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [34682/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [34685/21]

Gary Gannon

Question:

7. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe last met; and when it will next meet. [34999/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on Europe oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments regarding the European Union and related issues. It generally meets in advance of a meeting of the European Council. It last met on 22 March 2021, in advance of the meeting by video conference of the members of the European Council on 25 March. Previous meetings of the Cabinet committee on Europe took place on 16 July 2020, 8 October 2020 and 8 December 2020. It will continue to meet as appropriate, including to discuss issues on the agenda of the European Council. There is currently no date set for the next meeting of the Cabinet committee on Europe.

I wish to raise the digital green certificate which is due to go live tomorrow, as planned, with 20 EU member states already issuing certificates and talks with the UK progressing. What is the status of the talks with the UK? That would be good information for the House. We are due to go live on 19 July. Can the Taoiseach confirm if this is still the case? Yesterday, NPHET recommended that unvaccinated people should not travel, even with a clear test. Obviously, we are not taking action on that because it would be contrary to European law. I find it totally bizarre that NPHET does not work within the parameter of the law of the land given that we are part of Europe. There is nothing wrong with saying that. I am very supportive of public health, but surely it must be done within the guidance of the law. There are many comparisons with what other EU countries are doing, particularly as regards indoor dining.

Another matter on which we diverge from other countries is antigen testing. I have raised this previously. I do not understand why we are not doing antigen testing. I did it myself for months. Antigen tests have a major role to play, and they have a major role in getting members of the Government out of the situation in which they find themselves at present. Both Denmark and Britain send out thousands of these tests every day and week. That is hundreds of thousands or millions of tests. They certainly have a role. I believe the Taoiseach believes they have a role, and the Tánaiste has said so as well. They must have a role now. Certainly, that would make more sense as part of a mixture of measures, along with vaccinations, to be able to reopen society and particularly to deal with the indoor dining conundrum. Denmark, a country with a similar population to ours, has a daily testing capacity of 500,000 antigen tests and 200,000 PCR tests. That is how it reopened. It is similar in size to this country.

I do not believe we can continue with a plan that discriminates against young people. I vehemently oppose that. As regards the options for the future, there are the Janssen vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which there will be a lesser amount, and antigen testing as part of it. I will strongly insist that this is the route we must take rather than anything else, which is more complicated. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the digital certificate will be going live here on 19 July?

I wish to raise the Conference on the Future of Europe. This was launched on 9 May last. We must have real engagement with citizens here on this matter. In particular, we have to engage with citizens living in Northern Ireland, other EU citizens living in Ireland and especially with young people. I have a question for the Taoiseach about the issue of treaty change. In practical terms, treaty change means giving more power to the EU institutions, including the European Parliament, and diminishing unanimity voting. Arising from the pandemic, there has been talk of giving new competencies to the EU, for example, in the area of public health. According to a report by RTÉ News on 22 April last, an internal Government memorandum indicated that the Irish Government will resist any move to change EU treaties in the context of the conference and it has joined 11 other similar countries to oppose treaty change. Is that the position? As we know, treaty change involves a referendum in Ireland. Ireland previously initially rejected both the Nice and Lisbon treaties. Can the Taoiseach clarify the position of the Government on this issue?

I also wish to raise briefly rule of law concerns. Mr. Victor Orbán in Hungary has introduced a discriminatory law against the LGBT community. The Dutch Prime Minister has gone as far as saying that Hungary should leave the European Union. When is the EU going to ensure that there are real consequences for EU states that fail to adhere to the fundamental liberal democratic values of the Union?

I also wish to raise the EU digital Covid certificate. In particular, I ask the Taoiseach to provide some much-needed clarity with regard to Irish citizens who were vaccinated in the North and to provide an assurance, if he can, that those people will be able to avail of the EU digital Covid certificate. Before this morning, I understood that there was clarity on this matter.

I made several representations to the Department of Health on behalf of people who live in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan but who work in the North. Those I was dealing with happen to work in the health services there and they have been vaccinated through the North's programme. They have every entitlement and right, as I am sure the Taoiseach will agree, to avail of the EU's digital Covid-19 certificate, as we would expect would be the case for all the people in the North who have been vaccinated. A little confusion has arisen in this regard, however, because of a statement issued by the Government press office to RTÉ which cast some doubt on the position. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, indicated on RTÉ this morning that there will be no issue. I ask the Taoiseach to provide clarification and assurance regarding Irish citizens vaccinated via the programme being run by the NHS in the North being able to avail of the EU's digital Covid-19 certificate.

Budapest Pride began on Friday night. I offer solidarity to the LGBTQ activists and their supporters organising the event in the teeth of the Viktor Orbán hate campaign. It is interesting to note that the organisers report that there is no big corporate sponsor and that there has not been for ten years. The rainbow capitalists are fair-weather friends it seems. I understand that Budapest Pride runs for a month and is due to culminate in a major demonstration through the streets on 24 July. Socialists, human rights campaigns and LGBTQ activists throughout Europe and the world should monitor the month to check whether the Pride participants are met with physical attacks or repression on the part of the Hungarian Government and to take solidarity action if they are. What plans does the Government here have to monitor these events over the coming weeks?

I understand that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, met with representatives of the Saudi Arabian regime recently. Can the Taoiseach tell us if the Cabinet subcommittee on Europe has discussed the issue of the absolutely terrible war in Yemen, which has lasted for almost seven years? Approximately 16 million people, half the population, are suffering from hunger, 3 million have been displaced and an estimated 220,000 have lost their lives, either directly or indirectly as a result of the war. The Saudi Arabian regime is deeply implicated in the horrific military campaign which has caused this humanitarian disaster, and, of course, the United States has also provided military and logistical assistance to the Saudi Arabian regime.

That regime in Saudi Arabia is involved in crushing any dissent. It is not possible to oppose the war, although many Saudis Arabians do. I was at a protest with Saudi Arabians and Yemenis outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the past two weeks. Has the Government anything to say about this situation? Will it call publicly on the Saudi Arabian regime to end its horrific siege and the military attacks on the people of Yemen? Many of our European counterparts are selling weapons to the Saudi Arabian regime, and those arms then go on to be used against the people of Yemen. Is the Government going to speak out in Europe about this humanitarian disaster that the people of Yemen are facing?

We have all heard about the undocumented Irish living in the United States. Less commented upon are the approximately 20,000 undocumented people from outside the EU who are living in Ireland, including 2,000 to 3,000 children. It has been reported that almost a quarter of those people are earning below the minimum wage, with nearly half of them working more than 40 hours a week. They are facing extra exploitation due to their immigration status. They also face issues like lack of proper healthcare for themselves and their children, while others are the victims of crime but feel unable to seek help from the authorities for fear of being forced to leave Ireland. I welcome the draft scheme to regularise undocumented migrants, but it does not go far enough in the context of including all undocumented workers. The Minister's proposed scheme does not, for example, include people with pending applications under section 3 or deportation orders, people with fewer than four years residence and people who have been living in Ireland for a long time but who have been undocumented for fewer than four years. Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure that the proposal is amended to include those people in the scheme?

Regarding the points raised by Deputy Kelly, I welcome the agreement and there was a broad welcome at the European Council meeting at the end of last week for the EU digital Covid-19 certificate framework. From a European Union perspective, that is a significant achievement, given that it was only mooted in December last year. It was initially an idea proposed by the Greek Prime Minister and the Commission then took it on board. Ireland will operate the new digital certificate from 19 July for travel originating within the European Union and the EEA. It will be subject to the prevailing public health situation, but we intend to go ahead as we decided this week. We broadly align ourselves with the approach of the European Union regarding non-essential travel into the Union from third countries, including from the United Kingdom and United States. I think this will facilitate safe international travel in accordance with clear safety protocols and public health advice.

Turning to the matter of testing, the European Commission has provided supports regarding antigen testing. Different countries have different models. Deputy Kelly mentioned Denmark, which from the outset has been one of the countries with the highest capacity for testing. We are also best in class, with 120,000 tests conducted per week. We are now flexible in the context of our walk-in centres and self-referrals. All of those were open in the last week and that indicates that people themselves are cautious and taking precautions on their own initiative. I thought that was interesting and I got interesting figures in that respect this morning from the CEO of the HSE.

Moving on to the vaccination advice from the national immunisation advisory council, NIAC, we have approximately 100,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine in stock and we have some more additional vaccines as well. However, we want more visibility towards the end of July and in August. Regarding AstraZeneca, the current trend is that 300,000 doses came in yesterday, but those will be used for the those in the 60-to-69 age group and people who need a second dose. I understand that 25,000 doses are due in from AstraZeneca on 5 July. That is what we have visibility of. In addition, there will be more than 37,000 on 12 July. Following that, there will be approximately 500,000 doses, but we do not have visibility yet from AstraZeneca on the actual delivery schedule for the last two weeks of July. We must have visibility in that regard before we can make commitments concerning that delivery. If that was to transpire, however, it would have a significant impact on the vaccination programme. There would be a similar situation in the context of greater availability of Janssen vaccines. Equally, the model which has been developed with pharmacies has worked well with the Janssen vaccine. Therefore, it lends itself to rapid deployment in respect of the arrival of additional Janssen vaccines in the context of the advice we have received.

Deputy Haughey raised a pertinent point regarding treaty change and engaging with young people in respect of the Conference for Europe. I agree wholeheartedly with that and we need a debate in Ireland on our participation in Europe. We must energise younger generations regarding the European ideal, how it is the greatest peace project since the Second World War and its major achievements. In the context of international relations, Europe is the most progressive and advanced bloc in the world in respect of the humanitarian assistance it provides to many people. That was most recently manifested in the form of the vaccination programme, with more than 350 million vaccines exported from Europe across the world. We have not brought in protectionism or sought to stop such exports.

On the point concerning competencies, the memo which was referred to is not Government policy. Our policy is to be open to treaty change. I believe we must be open to it. Not all treaty change means a constitutional referendum either, by the way. In the area of public health, particularly, and given our experience during the pandemic, I am an advocate for greater competencies in that regard at European Union level, in respect of epidemiology, for example. I believe we need a European Union chief epidemiologist-----

I apologise to the Taoiseach, but we need to move on now, please, because we are running out of time.

-----and the European Medicines Authority, EMA, should be given greater authority regarding the authorisation of vaccines.

I am sorry, but we have run out of time and we must go to the next question. My apologies.

We did not get any answers.

I am sorry, I did not realise that I was going over time. I would gladly answer, but I thought I had more time.

No. I am afraid that each set of questions has 15 minutes allocated to it. I am tied by that, so we must move on to the next question.

If the questions took less time, there might be more time for answers.

We are allocated a certain amount of time.

Anglo-Irish Relations

Seán Haughey

Question:

8. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [33005/21]

Neale Richmond

Question:

9. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the British-Irish Council meeting of 11 June 2021. [33040/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

10. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [34644/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [34683/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

12. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [34686/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

13. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [34688/21]

Gary Gannon

Question:

14. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council. [35000/21]

I propose to take questions Nos. 8 to 14, inclusive, together. I participated in the 35th British-Irish Council summit hosted by the Northern Ireland Executive in Fermanagh on 11 June. The Tánaiste and the Minister for Foreign Affairs also attended. I very much welcomed the opportunity to meet in person with other council members for the first time since November 2019.

The council had a good discussion on the impact of Covid-19 across member administrations and we discussed sustainable approaches to recovery from Covid-19. We also discussed the latest political developments, including the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Heads of administration also reflected on the future of the British-Irish Council and how to further develop the role of the council in strengthening links and relationships between these islands. I recalled that the institutions established under the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement are interdependent and interlocking and that, since its establishment in 1999, the council has contributed, through consensus-based working, to the promotion of the totality of relationships across these islands. I noted the importance of the British-Irish Council as a structured forum for co-operation and engagement, particularly following the UK's departure from the European Union, and reiterated the Government's commitment to the council as an important forum for strengthening east-west links.

As we know the British-Irish Council, established under the Good Friday Agreement, deals with the totality of relationships on these islands. It is welcome that the council met recently and important that it, along with the North South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, would meet regularly.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the state of Anglo-Irish relations. There is no doubt that those relations have been strained due to Brexit and that opportunities for the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to meet have been reduced because the UK no longer attends European Council meetings. Last year, the Taoiseach stated that he had agreed with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, to begin work on a strategic review of the British-Irish relationship. This could involve new structures and a framework for building on east-west engagement and co-operation. He also said that new structures needed to be developed for formal engagement between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, as well as at ministerial and official level, to formulate co-operation across a suite of policy areas. I ask the Taoiseach to provide an update on progress in this regard.

I welcome the allocation of €3 million to progress work on the Narrow Water bridge project, as well as the progress made this week on dealing with legacy issues in Northern Ireland. Hopefully, all parties and victims will engage in that process.

I thank the Taoiseach for his timely and detailed update on the vitally important British-Irish Council meeting. I stress my belief that the meetings of the council need to be regularised, formalised and nailed into the diary years in advance. Going forward, it would be appropriate for the Government to expect the British Prime Minister to attend these meetings rather than sending the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his stead. While saying that, I am not trying to take away from the position the latter holds.

I welcome the decision taken by a court in Belfast today to throw out the challenge to the Northern Ireland protocol by certain people who claim that it is illegal and unconstitutional. Going forward, all strand three institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, which the Taoiseach referenced in terms of their importance and continuation, should be used to work on a North-South and east-west basis to make the protocol work for everybody on this island. Ultimately, the protocol is not the problem. Brexit is the problem and the protocol provides solutions and opportunities. Indeed, the opportunities that the protocol presents must be realised. As we have seen from trade figures for certain sectors in the last week, there are huge opportunities for businesses North, South, east and west if we approach this in a realistic and generous manner.

As there was not enough time for the Taoiseach to answer my previous question, perhaps he will do so now because Britain is one of several European countries that regularly sells large amounts of arms to Saudi Arabia, which that country then uses to devastating and murderous effect in Yemen. We have a responsibility to say to all of our neighbours in Europe, whether inside or outside the EU, that their continued turning of a blind eye or, even worse, their active military facilitation, with arms and other supports, of the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia that crushes internal dissent and movements for democracy and inflicts humanitarian disasters on places like Yemen is absolutely unacceptable. I ask the Taoiseach to respond.

Has the Taoiseach talked to his colleagues in Britain about the huge problems they faced in getting trained healthcare staff, including in nursing and other areas like psychology? There is an imperative to increase the capacity of our health systems at every level post Covid. In that context, the British learned that they had to make it easier for people to study nursing and midwifery, as well as other allied healthcare professions, by lifting the financial burden off them. In that way, they could increase the numbers in training and boost the capacity of the British healthcare system. Although there are many problems in Britain, should we not learn some lessons from them and do the same here?

As I listened to the Taoiseach's press statement yesterday when he spoke about us being in a race between the vaccine and the variant, I was reminded of something I said in the Dáil on 27 May last:

We are, therefore, in a race against time to complete two doses of vaccines before the Indian variant becomes dominant here. It is a race we are likely to lose unless we take action, and it is very simple. We need to follow the advice that is being given to implement mandatory hotel quarantine at airports and ports for travellers coming from Britain.

It seems that the Government has only woken up and realised that we are in a race when the opponent is already halfway to the finishing line. Two weeks ago, I asked the Taoiseach if he regretted taking the risk of not going for mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers from England, Scotland and Wales and he rejected the idea that there was any risk involved at all. Now, with the Delta variant becoming dominant, we are left with no safe choice other than to say that indoor hospitality and dining cannot reopen on 5 July. Does the Taoiseach regret that decision? Does he regret the decision made by his Government not to act on the clear warnings that were issued, not to try to slow the spread of the Delta variant, the consequence of which is the situation we are in now?

Perhaps the Taoiseach will have time to address the issue I raised earlier regarding the Covid passport.

Just over 47 years ago in May 1974, 33 innocent people, including a pregnant woman, were killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Those bombings were carried out by the Glenanne gang which included members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF, MI5, the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR. The bombings were the crystallisation of collusion policy but nobody has ever been brought to justice and successive British Governments have refused to release the files they have on the atrocities. Dáil Éireann has, on three occasions, passed unanimous motions calling on the British Government to release all pertinent files and calling on the Irish Government to press the British to comply with this most reasonable request. As recently as a month ago, Ministers reaffirmed the Government's commitment to seeking the truth behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Did the Taoiseach raise the Dublin and Monaghan bombings at the recent British-Irish Council meeting? When did the Taoiseach last make a request to the British Prime Minister for the release of documents held by the British Government? It is my firm belief that no conversation should ever take place between any Taoiseach and British Prime Minister where this issue is not raised until such time as the British Government releases its files so that we can provide the truth and justice that the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings deserve.

Deputy Haughey asked about the state of Anglo-Irish relations and the review of the strategic relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, post Brexit.

Progress is under way in that regard. During our most recent meeting, the British Prime Minister and I agreed to increase the momentum of the engagement between our officials in respect of the bilateral relationship between Britain and Ireland post-pandemic. We are hoping to bring that to a conclusion in the coming weeks. It is an important issue because, as the Deputy said, since Britain left the European Union, the opportunities and forums that were there to nurture the relationship between the UK and Ireland in an EU context are no longer available. Brexit has clearly created challenges in respect of the relationship.

In the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and trade and co-operation agreement, we have sought that the UK would work with the European Union through the mechanisms that are provided for in the withdrawal agreement to resolve any issues emerging on the Northern side in respect of the protocol. That work has been under way but it has been of a stop-start nature. It is important that political will would attach to it. I have met all the principal leaders of the Commission and they are committed to resolving the issues. There is goodwill there. The UK Government needs to engage as well, and I have made this point to the British Prime Minister.

Narrow Water bridge is a significant development and reflects the importance of the shared island fund, which, for the first time in 30 years, gives us ring-fenced capacity to put flesh on the bones of important projects North and South. I met Nichola Mallon MLA, the Minister of Infrastructure of the Northern Ireland Executive earlier this week to discuss the announcement because she has campaigned for a long time on the Narrow Water bridge project. We have allocated an initial €3 million to bring the project to tender stage and we intend to allocate further funding to enable it to happen. Louth County Council will be the lead agency in delivering this and on the Northern side greater active transport initiatives will be put in place in parallel with the project. For both communities North and South, this is a clear manifestation of the capacities we have secured through the shared island fund to make things happen on a North-South basis.

We also need progress on the legacy issues by all parties involved and we must do it on a collective basis. Deputy Richmond made a number of significant points about making the protocol work and that is what we are endeavouring to do in respect of North-South and east-west engagement. The British Irish Council provides a forum for off the record engagements and for the capacity for participants to sound each other out in informal settings. That is valuable and it is important, as Deputy Richmond said, that we would make sure that these meetings will be scheduled in the diary, although Covid has had an impact on that in the recent past. I know it has been a historic issue that the British Prime Minister does not attend but it would be great if he could attend. It was a constructive meeting with all the heads of administration and we shared a lot of good practice around Covid. I also had an opportunity to speak to all the parties from the North on the protocol and the Executive and I found it useful. Again this illustrates that meeting in person is far more effective than meeting online in terms of those informal engagements.

I will talk with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, about his discussions with the Saudi Government. With Ireland as a member of the UN Security Council, the Minister has been extremely busy in endeavouring to deal with a range of international issues, not least the Yemen war, which, as the Deputy said, has had an appalling impact on so many innocent people. I met the UN Secretary General last week and he has been warm in his appreciation of Ireland's role on the UN Security Council on many of these issues, not least the Middle East. We will continue to do that on an international level and the Minister will represent the country in that respect.

On healthcare, the big issue the UK is learning is that since it has restricted European citizens in particular from going into the UK, it has had an impact on its workforce and its capacity to recruit people. We need be conscious of that lesson.

Deputy Paul Murphy said that I rejected advice on the challenges raised by the Delta variant. I never did so. Ireland is the only country in the European Union that has introduced mandatory hotel quarantine. It is clear that more than 50% of cases in Northern Ireland are of the Delta variant and that more than 95% of those in the Britain involve the Delta variant. All of Europe, such as Poland and Portugal, have high rates of the Delta variant. Portugal is introducing restrictions again on hospitality and it has had to reverse because of the Delta variant. The CMO is of the view that we will face a European-wide Delta variant wave. We put India on the list for mandatory hotel quarantine but our levels of transport are low. We have a seamless border on the island and it is not possible to seal it. That is a fact and we have learned that.

On Deputy Carthy's point, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has made it clear that there will not be an issue for Irish citizens on the island, North or South, in accessing the Covid digital certificate. I never lose an opportunity to raise the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and I did so again at the most recent meeting I had with the British Prime Minister when we discussed legacy issues. Successive Irish Governments have consistently sought all of the information in British hands on that terrible atrocity that was committed in 1974.

Cabinet Committees

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

15. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture will next meet. [33088/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

16. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture will next meet. [34646/21]

Jackie Cahill

Question:

17. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture is next due to meet. [34654/21]

Brendan Smith

Question:

18. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if there is a Cabinet committee or sub-committee that deals with agriculture. [34655/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 to 18, inclusive, together.

Issues relevant to agriculture are discussed, as required, at a number of Cabinet committees, including the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, which last met on 27 May, and the Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change, which last met on 31 May 2021 and is scheduled to meet again on 1 July 2021.

The agriculture sector is the largest indigenous industry in the country and it has a key role to play in the economic and social vibrancy of our towns, villages and rural communities, as well as in achieving our decarbonisation targets for 2030 and 2050. It plays a critical role in Irish society and the economy and Government works with all stakeholders on key agricultural issues. These include: development of the agrifood strategy - this is a commitment in the programme for Government and it will set out a vision for the Irish agrifood sector up to 2030; Ireland's priorities in the renegotiation of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP; and supporting the fisheries and agricultural sectors to deal with the effects of Brexit. As with all policy areas, agricultural issues are regularly discussed at full Government meetings and that is where all formal decisions are made.

In addition to meetings of the Cabinet and its committees, I regularly meet Ministers, including the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to discuss particular issues. In the context of the extension and expansion of social dialogue, I recently had a useful meeting, along with the Tánaiste, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and various officials, with a range of farming bodies representing the agricultural pillar. We discussed the full range of issues pertaining to Irish agriculture and the range of challenges it faces, from the CAP right across to the climate agenda, energy efficiency measures and a range of other issues that the farming organisations raised with us. The larger Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, were represented, as were other smaller organisations that represent rural farmers and farmers in specialised areas. Macra na Feirme, which has particular perspectives on young farmers and the need for progressive policies to facilitate young farmers to thrive in the sector, was also involved.

I wonder if the Taoiseach would give his opinion on whether he believes there is an inherent unfairness in the way that CAP funds are distributed in Ireland.

Some beef barons, sheikhs and others can draw down hundreds of thousands of euro in CAP funds while most family farmers are expected to meet the same criteria on fractions of that funding. I ask that because it would be helpful for us to get the Fianna Fáil position on the matter. In the previous CAP negotiations, the then Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesperson organised meetings the length and breadth of the country, particularly on the western coast, in opposition to the approach taken by the then Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at EU level to fight against any measures of redistribution, instead arguing for so-called flexibilities at a national level. During this CAP negotiation process, the current Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has adopted exactly the same position. The word "flexibility" is used as a guise for defending the status quo. Flexibility has been referenced by the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, on several occasions to defend what he would describe as national sovereignty. Does the Taoiseach agree that in the interests of national sovereignty of the democratic decision-making process, the Minister should bring his CAP strategic plan, the plan in which he will use the flexibility for which he has fought so hard, before the Dáil for debate, amendment, discussion and, ultimately, approval?

I welcome the Taoiseach's confirmation that the farming and agrifood sector is at the heart of all Government deliberations at Cabinet and subcommitee levels. That is important because 175,000 people are employed in the sector and it is responsible for 10% of Irish exports. It has faced particular challenges over the past number of years, including CAP reform. In 2014, the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission effectively and unfortunately reduced the budget for CAP. That was a bad decision. At the same time, one third of the EU budget until 2027 will go to CAP, a total of €387 billion.

The farming community wants a clear message that the national co-financing commitments that were made will be honoured over the next number of years and that the €1.5 billion from the carbon tax fund will be allocated to the farming sector. There is often a lazy and ill-informed narrative with regard to farming and climate change. Farmers have adapted and modernised their systems. Our food production systems are sustainable and in the climate debate, while we all know there must be improvements from every sector in that regard, we must ensure that sustainable food production systems in Europe are not displaced by food being imported from areas in South America and elsewhere where forests are being felled to make land arable.

The Common Agricultural Policy was established to ensure a secure supply of safe food for the citizens of Europe. It provides income support to farmers but it also ensures that there is continuity of sustainable production of food, which is very important, and plays a key role in the environment and in ensuring we have people living in rural Ireland. Our commitment must be absolute to ensuring that additional financial support is provided through national co-financing, alongside CAP-supported schemes. We all know that if we are to have a vibrant rural Ireland, our farming and agrifood sectors must be the lead economic drivers in that regard.

In response to Deputy Carthy's points, Fianna Fáil's role in the Common Agricultural Policy and its evolution, going back to the days of Commissioner Ray MacSharry, has been exemplary in terms of fairness, farm families and ensuring the sustainability of the Common Agricultural Policy within the European Union framework throughout this decade. Deputy Brendan Smith, when he was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, did an enormous amount of work, particularly in terms of sustainable food production. It has been an honourable tradition which the current Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is continuing in respect of the current negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy. There has always been a need for flexibilities on the operation of CAP but they have been reducing over the years. On another day, Deputy Carthy would come in here and look for greater subsidiarity in respect of European Union measures, and greater flexibilities.

The current situation is that the discussions have moved fairly well and are coming to a conclusion. The results will not be universally accepted all round because people will prefer different elements of the agreement. We are getting closer. Member states will have the option to cap the basic payment at €100,000. The proposals also introduce a mechanism for member states to reduce direct payments above €60,000 to a maximum of 85%. Internal convergence will continue. All farmers must reach a level of 85% of the national average entitlement by 2026. Member states are expected to allocated 10% of direct payment funding to redistribute funding to small- and medium-sized farmers. Member states will also have the choice to derogate from this option, provided they can demonstrate that the redistribution needs, nationally identified, are met by other instruments.

With 27 member states, trying to put all of this together has been challenging. An amount equal to 3% of the direct payments envelope would be spent on attracting and sustaining young farmers. Direct payment top-ups, insulation aid and 50% of farm investment supports could count towards this 3% and the CAP will also include a social dimension. Farmers and other beneficiaries will receive direct payments in that area to ensure strong employment conditions and so on. Payments would be conditional on that.

Deputy Brendan Smith's point about national co-financing will pertain and the commitments made will be followed through on. Many parties in this House objected to and opposed the €1.5 billion carbon fund but it gives us the resources to help and support farmers in respect of a range of environmental schemes, separate to the environmental schemes that are being provided under the aegis of the Common Agricultural Policy. I accept the Deputy's point that Irish farming has been one of the more progressive food production systems in reducing emissions, when compared to many other food production systems across Europe and the world. Our dairy and beef industries are among the top performers in terms of their capacity to reduce emissions. That said, the challenges of climate change mean we have to do more. We want to work with and support the industry to enable that to happen. The carbon fund gives us room to allocate additional funding in that regard, as do the national co-financing mechanisms. We will continue to engage with the farming pillar through the social dialogue mechanism which we have re-established, and that is welcome. I intend that to be a consistent part of our engagement with the industry and sector to ensure we can progress employment and maintain this vital industry across Ireland and rural Ireland, in particular. It is vital to many towns and communities because of the employment it provides. We want to sustain that employment and support farming in making the advances it continues to make in terms of carbon and production efficiency and in providing employment.

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