Post-European Council Meeting: Statements

I participated in a meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 24 and 25 June. The agenda included Covid-19, economic recovery, migration, relations with Russia and Turkey, and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. We also discussed Belarus and adopted conclusions on Libya, the Sahel, Ethiopia and cybersecurity. In addition, we had a discussion on LGBTQI equality. Our meeting began with an exchange with the UN Secretary General. We concluded on Friday with a meeting of the Euro Summit. I will report on our discussions with the UN Secretary General and on Covid-19, economic recovery, Russia, Belarus, LGBTQI equality and the Euro Summit. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will address the remaining issues in his concluding remarks.

In advance of the first session of the European Council, I met my counterparts from the Nordic and Baltic member states to discuss the agenda for the meeting. I updated them on the current situation in Northern Ireland.

We also agreed that we should take a clear stance on LGBTQI equality at the meeting.

The European Council began with an exchange of views with the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres. I emphasised the need for global multilateral co-operation to tackle the complex challenges we currently face. The United Nations system cannot succeed without the constant support and engagement of its member states. Ireland engages openly with all members of the Security Council but of course, we work particularly closely with our European Union partners.

I also highlighted Ireland's work on some of the most pressing issues on the Security Council agenda. These include supporting efforts to support the Iran nuclear agreement, working to ensure life-saving humanitarian assistance in Syria and drawing attention to the very serious situation in Ethiopia. In response, the United Nations Secretary General paid warm tribute to the role that Ireland is playing, especially on Syria. I very much welcome the European Council's engagement with the Secretary General, reflecting the strong co-operation between the European Union and the United Nations. We share a strong commitment to fundamental values and attach the same urgency to addressing global challenges. It is important that we work closely together.

On Covid-19, our exchanges took stock of the good progress on vaccination across the member states and the overall improvement in the epidemiological situation. Approximately 400 million doses have already been delivered across the European Union and close to 60% of the EU adult population has received at least one dose. While continuing to advance our successful vaccination programmes, leaders agreed that continued vigilance and co-ordination is needed on the emergence and spread of variants of concern.

We noted the agreements reached on the European Union digital Covid certificate, and on the revision of the two Council recommendations on travel within the European Union and on non-essential travel into the European Union. These will be applied by member states in a manner that will help achieve the full return to free movement when the public health situation allows.

The European Council also reaffirmed its commitment to continue to support global solidarity to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines around the world. This includes further clear actions to help boost global production in tandem with addressing supply and distribution bottlenecks. We welcome the decision adopted by the Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly to set up a special session in November 2021 to discuss a framework convention on pandemic preparedness and response. The European Union will continue working towards an international treaty on pandemics.

Leaders also held an initial exchange on the lessons that can be learned from the pandemic on the basis of a report prepared by the Commission on 15 June 2021. We invited the incoming Slovenian Presidency to take work forward in the Council to enhance collective preparedness, response capability and resilience to future crises, and to protect the functioning of the Internal Market.

As I indicated to the House last week, while the European Union and its member states have accomplished much during the pandemic, there is room for stronger collective efforts in the sphere of public health, while acknowledging areas of national competencies. There is scope to reduce unnecessary duplication of effort across member states, improve co-ordination and harness our collective strengths as we address common challenges. The success of the vaccination programme shows us what can be achieved when we work together as a Union.

On Thursday evening, European Council President, Charles Michel, facilitated an important discussion on LGBTQI equality and the importance of European Union values. This was a passionate and serious discussion. The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These are enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. There simply must be adherence to these values right across the European Union. I was pleased to sign a joint letter with other leaders ahead of the meeting to mark Pride Day and in light of threats against fundamental rights, in particular, the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Last week, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, also co-signed a declaration to this end, led by the Benelux countries, at the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg. We expressed our grave concern at Hungary's use of child protection as a pretext for introducing measures that violate freedom of expression and target a minority community. It is simply not acceptable. We urged the European Commission to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure full respect for European Union law. The Commission has made clear that it will take any necessary action under the treaties.

For my own part, I made very clear in my intervention that discrimination has real-world effects on our young people. Discrimination starts on paper but ends up on our streets and in our schools. I made clear Ireland's unambiguous national commitment to maintaining the values upon which the European Union is founded. I took the opportunity to share with European Union leaders a discussion I had last November with Ruairí Holohan from Drogheda in the context of a UNICEF project on the rights of children. Ruairí raised the issue of homophobic behaviour in schools, the difficulties for young people, teenagers in particular, as they come out, as well as the challenges and sometimes the hostility, our young people have to face. I raised that in the context of the amendments to the Hungarian legislation that have been brought in by the Hungarian Parliament and Government.

At the European Council on 24 and 25 May, we discussed the European Union's strategic relationship with Russia, and invited the Commission and the European External Action Service to present a report putting forward some policy options within the framework of the European Union's long-term agreed five principles for engagement with Russia. These five principles are full implementation of the Minsk agreements, strengthened relations with Eastern partner countries and other countries of Central Asia, strengthening European Union resilience to Russian threats, selective engagement with Russia on certain issues, such as counterterrorism, and support for people-to-people contacts. The analysis of the Commission and the European External Action Service is that relations between the European Union and Russia are unlikely to improve in the short term. I share that analysis. It is also important, however, that when the time is right, we are open to exploring paths that could change the current negative dynamics gradually into a more predictable and stable relationship.

The limitations on fundamental freedoms in Russia and the shrinking space for civil society are of grave concern. It is important that the European Union continues to support civil society, human rights organisations and independent media. Leaders invited the Commission and the High Representative to put forward proposals on how to progress this objective.

At last week's European Council meeting, European Union leaders agreed on the introduction of new restrictive measures against the Belarusian regime in response to the escalation of serious human rights violations, the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 and the related detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich and of Sofia Sapega.

The new targeted economic sanctions include the prohibition to directly or indirectly sell, supply, transfer or export to anyone in Belarus equipment, technology or software intended primarily for use in the monitoring or interception of the Internet and of telephone communications, and dual-use goods and technologies for military use to specified persons, entities or bodies in Belarus. Trade in petroleum products, potassium chloride and goods used for the production or manufacturing of tobacco products is restricted.

Furthermore, access to European Union capital markets is restricted and providing insurance and reinsurance to the Belarusian Government and Belarusian public bodies and agencies is prohibited. The European Investment Bank will stop any disbursement or payment under any existing agreements with regard to projects in the public sector and any existing technical assistance service contracts. Member states will also be required to take actions to limit the involvement in Belarus of multilateral development banks of which they are members.

The European Union has now fully operationalised the concrete steps and strong response we agreed in May. We have imposed clear costs on the Lukashenko regime for its flagrant disregard for international law. In doing so, the European Union has acted in unity and in co-ordination with like-minded international partners. We will continue to focus on supporting the Belarusian people in their defence of democratic principles and ensuring respect for their human rights.

Central to that is making those responsible for the ongoing repression accountable for their unacceptable actions and pressing the authorities to adhere to their international commitments. That is what Ireland and the European Union will continue to do, including during the ongoing 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We need to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis through a meaningful and inclusive national dialogue that leads to elections that are free and fair. To achieve this goal, it is important to keep Belarus high on the international agenda and press the authorities there to adhere to their international commitments and obligations.

On Friday morning, we turned our attention to economic recovery. The June European Council was an important opportunity for leaders to take stock on economic developments as we look ahead to the next phase of post-pandemic recovery. As I indicated to the House last week, the key focus of this year's European semester process of economic governance is on the full and effective implementation of the €750 billion Next Generation EU package. Ireland submitted its draft national recovery and resilience plan to the Commission on 28 May. Most member states have likewise submitted their plans, with a view to accessing funding under the recovery and resilience facility, which forms the centrepiece of the Next Generation EU package.

Last week, leaders reaffirmed in this context our shared commitment to the headline targets of the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan, consistent with the Porto declaration. The essence of the Porto declaration, which we agreed at last month's social summit, is that the European ideal is first and foremost about improving the lives of our citizens. The concrete employment, skills and poverty-reduction targets to be achieved by 2030 are an exemplar of the practical focus I believe is necessary in setting strategic direction for the period ahead. It is very welcome that the social pillar continues to provide a clear political compass for our collective actions in responding effectively to 21st century challenges and opportunities, and equipping our citizens with the skills and capabilities for full economic and social participation.

At our euro summit meeting, leaders were joined by the president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, and the president of the Eurogroup, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. The focus of our discussions was on the economic challenges for the euro area in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. We acknowledged the strong, swift and co-ordinated economic policy response of the European Union and its member states in preparing the ground for a robust, inclusive and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. We reiterated our commitment to completing banking union and strengthening the integration of our capital markets. The Eurogroup has a strong mandate for advancing further work in this area over the coming months. A further euro summit in December will review progress.

European Union-United Kingdom relations were not on the agenda of last week's European Council. However, I took the opportunity en marge of the meeting to discuss recent developments with EU colleagues. I emphasised the need to address issues in an environment of calm, without heightened rhetoric or drama. As I said, the EU remains committed to finding every flexibility possible within the protocol to make it work as well as possible for businesses and citizens.

This was a long meeting with a number of sensitive internal and external issues on the agenda. Not every meeting can lead to the immediate resolution of even the most pressing of issues. Sometimes, however, the meetings of greatest substance and longest lasting impact are the ones such as this meeting, where the discussion was open, at times difficult, but at all times respectful. It led us back to first principles; the core values of our Union that should guide all our decisions. As I already indicated, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will report on our discussions on other external relations issues, including Turkey, Libya, the Sahel and Ethiopia, as well as migration and cybersecurity. I look forward to hearing Members' contributions to the debate.

I thank the Taoiseach for his statement. Ongoing fears and concerns around the rampant progression of the Delta variant are impacting throughout the world and serve to highlight our global interdependence. Until we achieve universal vaccination, new variants will continue to emerge. The Taoiseach has stated that there is a race between variants and vaccines. This is a race we will lose unless the EU, along with other key international actors, takes immediate steps to facilitate the implantation of a universal vaccination programme. We need to see real and unfettered support for the WTO vaccine waiver.

I welcome the ongoing determination of the EU and the US Administration in their efforts to protect the Good Friday Agreement and their commitment to the protocol and its implementation. The pragmatic efforts of the EU to avoid confrontation over the protocol during the upcoming marching season are welcome. The business, retail and farming communities in the North need the stability and protections the protocol offers. Neither the DUP nor loyalist paramilitary representatives speak for the people of the North on the protocol. There is no credible alternative available. The full and smooth implementation of the protocol will offer the North a strategic platform from which to have ongoing access to the Single Market. It will give businesses the certainty and stability they require. The granting of observer status to representatives from the North at the European Parliament is critically important to addressing the democratic deficit. I am interested to hear what measures the Government is taking to address this serious issue.

I welcome the comments of Josep Borrell Fontelles, who has described the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia as appalling. I also welcome the condemnation by the European Council of the ongoing atrocities, ethnic and sexual violence and other human rights violations that are occurring there daily. Commitments of support are not enough, however. Tigray is on the cusp of a major famine, with the potential for devastating loss of life. Action must be taken now. Since the Council meeting, the Ethiopian Government has announced a unilateral ceasefire on humanitarian grounds. While this is welcome, it does not take cognisance of the fact that, despite the retreat of the Ethiopian army following a number of heavy defeats in Tigray, Eritrean and Amhara forces are still fighting in the region.

For the ceasefire to take effect, Eritrean and Amhara forces must withdraw from the region with immediate effect. The EU needs to use its influence to ensure safe humanitarian corridors are opened to allow the resumption of aid to famine-threatened areas of the region. Tigray forces have already stated they will facilitate and safeguard any humanitarian operations. Every diplomatic effort needs to be made to ensure the Ethiopian authorities are not permitted to block essential humanitarian assistance in Tigray. The EU and other international actors must also make every effort to initiate the withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces in order to develop meaningful dialogue between the Ethiopian and Tigrayan Governments.

The very justifiable anger visited upon the Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán at the Council meeting was a welcome exhibition of European unity on an important human rights issue. This discriminatory attack against the LGBTQI+ community in Hungary is a blatant act of politicking. Hungary is an EU member state, with the duties and responsibilities this entails. It is also a state that, under Mr. Orbán, has been declassified as a democracy and deemed a hybrid regime by the NGO, Freedom House. Mr. Orbán has criticised NGOs, curtailed the media and academic freedoms, demonised migrants and asserted control over the Hungarian judiciary. However, he is permitted to veto key EU initiatives. This is absolutely unacceptable.

There is no place within the European project for this form of behaviour. The EU must act, and be seen to act, not just by Hungary but by other eastern European states that are entertaining right-wing, anti-democratic agendas. Mr. Orbán has driven a domestic political agenda through the othering of minority groups, including the LGBTQI+ community and migrants, to name just two. It is important to note that Mr. Orbán is currently under pressure as Hungary prepares to go to the polls next year. Left to his own devices, he will push the country further to the right in order to polarise Hungarian society further. The EU must act now on this matter.

The decision by EU leaders to address the pressing issue of migration by throwing cash at it, in the hope of keeping the problem at bay, is a matter of grave concern.

Equally concerning however is the apparent ease with which the EU is prepared to overlook the aggressive intent of the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the Eastern Mediterranean where there are ongoing unresolved disputes with Greece and Cyprus. The EU logic on that matter is that despite the fact that Erdoğan has done little to resolve differences, the fact that the situation has not escalated since December, when the EU was advocating sanctions, is something we should applaud him for. There are also serious concerns over human rights abuses in Turkey itself, particularly against the Kurdish community, including the repression of political parties. Turkey’s ambitions for an expansionist role as a regional power are also an instrumental factor in exacerbating the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The reality is that Europe is desperate to maintain Turkish co-operation in the creation of a cordon sanitaire on Europe’s borders in order to keep out migrants. When I use the term migrants, I am of course referring to those refugees who have fled in fear for their lives, from conflict zones, from death and sexual violence, from extreme poverty and from the growing impact of global warming. The EU has already given Turkey €4 billion, with another €2 billion pending in payment under the same arrangement, to house some 3.7 million Syrian refugees in camps in Turkey. Following last week’s European Council meeting, EU leaders, including the Taoiseach, came to an agreement to pay Turkey an additional €3.5 billion, over a period from 2021 to 2024, to continue to provide a bulwark between the EU and the millions of Syrian refugees who have fled their homeland. The €3.5 billion which is to be given to Turkey is part of a larger €5.7 billion package that will fund other countries surrounding Syria. This will result in a ridiculous situation where the EU will be paying Lebanon, amongst others, to house Syrian refugees, alongside funding the EU Frontex programme, which will be used to keep Lebanese refugees out of Europe. The migrant policing package for Turkey is only part of a range of enticements the EU is looking at in order to keep Erdoğan onside, with the possibility of a modernisation of the customs union, alongside moves to kick-start high-level discussions with Erdoğan on a range of issues, from health to security. We need to see a level of even-handedness in the approach of the EU towards states that engage in actions that are counter to the values and ethos the EU purports to stand for.

I conclude my remarks by bringing attention back to the fact that this House recently passed an historic motion on the issue of the illegal annexation of Palestinian lands by Israel, namely, that Ireland’s stance is that illegal annexation has and continues to take place. As we stand here this afternoon, Palestinian families are being forcibly evicted from their homes in Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem by armed Israeli crowbar brigades and are being forced to watch as their homes and businesses are torn down around them. Thus, we have a responsibility to take this to Europe and argue and campaign for the triggering of appropriate sanctions against Israel. I will listen with interest to see whether the issue was even discussed at the recent European Council meeting. The Government must also move to implement fully the occupied territories Bill and give long overdue recognition to the state of Palestine.

I am happy to speak very briefly on an important series of issues that were dealt with at the Council. I am very heartened by the degree of strength presented at the Council in relation to the actions of Hungary. The absolute fundamental raison d'être of the EU is human rights, and that value system must be defended. If any member state decides those shared fundamental values are not for them it is an issue. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, asked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary the very sensible question of whether the latter state should remain a member of the EU. We cannot simply talk around these issues. We are either a community of values or we have no values at all. We must protect the LGBTI+ community in Hungary as strongly and with the same resolution as we defend all groups in our own society on the principles of equality.

The main agenda item of the Council continues to be Covid. The EU digital green certificate for travel was progressed. I understand that despite yesterday's announcements it is the Government's intention to participate fully in that certification system and to proceed on 19 July as already announced. I would welcome a clear acknowledgement of that from the Minister of State. The other major issue on this was the enhanced resolve towards preparedness for future pandemics in the form of enhancing the EU's response capability. Its response, surveillance and all these aspects are immensely important but they need to be fleshed out and we must have details of that. It is something that the Minister of State might present to a future meeting of the EU affairs committee.

On economic recovery, there are fundamental issues we need to talk about. I can speak with some experience of the difficulties presented by the fiscal rules. They are currently set to one side because of the pandemic but my concern is they will be re-enacted in the post-pandemic period when we will really need the wherewithal to ensure the very large sums of money which must be deployed can be deployed and that we are not going to have very pressurised fiscal rules disabling proper investment. We must deal with issues in terms of our regeneration so we can invest in social and affordable housing, for example, and that we do not have either state aid rules or any other fiscal rules impacting on that.

I want to make mention of Belarus. I said on the last occasion that we cannot lose sight of the fact that Mr. Roman Protasevich and Ms Sofia Sapega were taken off a flight travelling between two EU capitals. We really need to ensure we constantly ratchet up the pressure on Belarus, incrementally, month-on-month, to ensure they and the thousands of other political prisoners are freed.

I want to mention another person as I have been asked to adopt an individual in prison in Belarus. I want to put on the record of the House the case of Mr. Siarhei Verashchahin who is serving five years in a Belarussian penal colony for allegedly shouting at police officers from the window of his apartment. He was brutally beaten on his arrest and then charged and imprisoned, as I said, for five years. The case of Mr. Verashchahin and of the cases of thousands of others who are unjustly oppressed and locked up, as well as the suppression of any opposition within Belarus to what is an illegitimate regime, must be confronted. It must be confronted now so those brave people who have taken to the streets over the last 18 months in particular do not feel abandoned by a European Union they look to as a beacon of light, leadership and liberty. We as parliamentarians in our respective rights must not only stand shoulder to shoulder with their fundamental rights but be willing to act decisively to support them.

I thank the Taoiseach for a detailed synopsis of the important European Council meeting last week. There are a number of points I would like to raise and indeed I have a couple of questions the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, might be able to address when he comes back in. It is simply impossible to deal with all the issues that were covered at this really important Council meeting so I am going to focus on just four, two of which are related to each other.

The first relates to the European Union's response to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and where there is scope for a collective response. I echo calls by other speakers on the rapid roll-out of the digital Covid certificate. I know the Acting Chairman has been very vocal about that. I ask the Minister of State to provide an update, if possible and as I requested in pre-Council meeting statements, on any engagement held or comparisons discussed between ministers and Heads of Government on approaches in dealing with the pandemic. I refer in particular to approaches to dealing with the Delta variant of the virus, which is causing understandable concern in this jurisdiction, and how we can marry the approach in Ireland to what at this stage is a very different approach by our continental colleagues. What can we learn? It is never too late to learn more. Are we following the exact correct path at this stage? There is no doubt yesterday's announcement was disappointing for everyone - let us not pretend it was not - but we should not lose sight of the time and ability to defeat this pandemic through rapid vaccination. There are other EU member states, including Belgium, that are ahead of us in the vaccination league table so we should see how we can learn from them now that the national immunisation advisory committee has given permission to open age cohorts that can be vaccinated.

The recovery and resilience programme has already been submitted by the Government. Will the Minister of State give an indication of when we can expect ratification of this from the European Union? I know other member states are a bit more advanced on this.

I will spend the final few minutes of my contribution on two matters that have been mentioned by all speakers. The first is the engagement on the rights of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters across the Continent and the importance within the European Union of not just maintaining those rights but protecting them. It would be churlish of me as a representative of the Fine Gael Party, which is part of the European People's Party, not to acknowledge that until very recently, Mr. Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party was a member of our European political family. It was suspended and then took the decision to leave that group.

This is something we carry as a badge of shame, to be frank, for those of us who believe in a progressive centre-right and truly open vision of the social market economy espoused by the likes of Schuman, Merkel and many others. However, it is never too late to right those wrongs and I commend the efforts of people like my colleague, Ms Maria Walsh, MEP, on bringing to the fore of the European conscience not just the need but the responsibility in every member state to maintain the rule of law and freedoms of which the European Union is so proud. That is something that should continue.

I share the thoughts of Deputy Howlin that perhaps the reflections of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte may need to be taken on board a little more seriously in Budapest. I hope that in due course we look to expand the European Union, whether into the western Balkans or elsewhere, but this is not an optional buy-in. Countries either agree to the terms of membership of the European Union or they should not apply. Being a member of the European Union is a privilege for each and every one of the 27 member states but the opportunities and rights come with very clear responsibilities to every one of the citizens of the European Union, regardless of jurisdiction.

In speaking about the rights of citizens I will conclude by referring again to the incident in Belarus and the ongoing fallout of the forced landing of an Irish-owned airliner travelling between two EU member state capital cities filled with EU citizens. I very much welcome the continued work on sanctions but as I have said before in this Chamber, I hope the Minister of State will bring back the message that this is not a brief interlude. It involves an EU carrier and EU citizens and we cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on in Belarus. I implore the Government to take a critical stance at the European Council to ensure sanctions continue and work is ongoing to ensure rogue states like Belarus cannot carry on. We saw a cyberattack in this jurisdiction in recent weeks. These attacks come from rogue states like Belarus and the attackers have patrons in places like Russia, which simply turn a blind eye to criminal gangs wreaking absolute devastation, as we have seen in our health system.

The balance of the time slot is available to the Deputy if he wants to use it.

No, I am happy to pass to the next speaker.

I thought the Acting Chairman was going to give me four minutes of Fine Gael time as well.

I welcome the strong remarks by the Taoiseach, the Minister of State and other Government representatives on the actions of the Hungarian Government. As the previous speaker said, it is never too late to do right. It is, however, disappointing it took so long for the Irish Government to take a stand against the Fidesz party, especially when we consider that one of the Government parties was in the same grouping in the European Parliament, happily accepting Fidesz votes when running for positions. The truth is that when a former MEP, Senator Lynn Boylan, and others indicated as far back as 2015 the actions and natural outworking of such actions of the Fidesz party in Hungary, they were met by deafening silence from Fine Gael MEPs and the Irish Government. I welcome the remarks and strong assertions by Government representatives over the past week but I hope we learn that we do not always have to wait until others publicly pronounce on these matters before an Irish Government can take a stand.

A perfect place for us to take a stand is against another European government in breach of all basic tenets of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I am referring to the Spanish Government in respect of the people of Catalonia. I welcome that last week the Spanish Government pardoned with conditions elected representatives who had been imprisoned. We should remember their crime, which was allowing people to vote and express their views. When those people went to vote, they were met with a violent and oppressive reaction from the Spanish state. The elected representatives who organised a vote in line with their pre-election commitments were imprisoned for that. Many of those representatives are still in exile. The Irish Government has not yet stood up for the democratic rights of those elected representatives.

In the past 24 hours, we have learned that the Spanish Court of Auditors, forced through public pressure to release those political prisoners, is finding an alternative avenue of penalisation with financial penalties. Again, this is for those people doing as they promised they would if elected. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past but instead take a stand as a small nation that has itself fought for the right to self-determination over several centuries. We are uniquely and ideally placed to be an advocate for democratic values and self-determination for the Catalan people and all others.

I ask the Minister of State, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste not to wait until others get in ahead of us so we can cling to their apron straps. Let us take a stand as the proud nation we are in solidarity with another proud nation and the people of Catalonia. Let us face up to the Spanish Government and tell it the values we have espoused so articulately over the past week apply to big member states as well as small member states. They apply to political parties regardless of political group alignments in the European Parliament. Let us tell the Spanish Government that the Irish people stand firmly and squarely on the side of self-determination. It would be an honourable and brave action for us to take.

The agreement on the new Common Agricultural Policy has been met with mixed responses. The sooner the Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine can provide clarity on key questions, especially for small and family farms, the better. The Minister has pushed for national flexibility and now that he has it, we need to know what he will do with it. We need to see the best outcome for a more sustainable and viable farming sector. Family farming needs to be at the heart of the policy, as for too long factory-style farming has been promoted, which sees small farms being swallowed and practices that harm the land.

Convergence has been set at 85% of the national average payment and although this is somewhat welcome, the Government should use its discretion to increase that figure. We need the Minister to outline his plans for the transitional period and to know what rate of convergence will be applied for 2022. What assurances do we have that the 25% of the direct payments budget set aside to fund new eco-schemes will be tailored to meet both the needs of small farms and address our climate and biodiversity crisis?

The Agriculture and Fisheries Council also discussed fishing. The Minister of State indicated that he raised the unilateral mackerel quota increases by Norway and the Faroe Islands, as well as Ireland’s quota loss under the Brexit deal. What are the concrete outcomes on these issues? Fishing communities and their families from across the State travelled here to the convention centre last week. What assurances can we give them as a result of this Council meeting?

The European Council committed to help boost global production of and universal access to Covid-19 vaccines. Without a waiver of the vaccine patents, however, this cannot be effectively achieved and those words ring very hollow. Along with others, I have consistently called for Ireland to champion a waiving of the intellectual property rights on the vaccine, the so called trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, TRIPS, waiver, to allow countries in the global south to produce their own supply. The profits of corporations are being put ahead of the health of millions of people. The pharmaceutical company monopolies could leave countries in the global south waiting until 2023 for widespread vaccination. Not only is this morally reprehensible, it also leaves us open to new variants, such as the Delta variant, which is already having a massive impact here.

If the Government is not motivated by human rights, can it at least act in self-interest? To date, the Government’s actions on this have been disgracefully inadequate. The latest response is that we are working with the European Commission and other EU member states on the EU position on the TRIPS waiver. In the middle of a pandemic, with a solution staring us in the face, we are working on a position when lives are being lost. We must use our voice in the EU to support the TRIPS waiver by temporarily suspending intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.

The people's vaccine alliance, representing a range of different groups from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Trócaire, highlights the Irish people's desire for vaccine justice. Scientifically and morally, the argument is incredibly clear, namely, that most effective way to end this pandemic is to ensure that everybody everywhere has access to vaccines. The temporary waiving of patents will enable a sustainable increase in the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines. This is the solution. What is the Government doing to make it happen?

I welcome the European Council’s discussion of LGBTQI non-discrimination as a fundamental value of the EU. This rhetoric must, however, be supported with action. Hungary’s law prohibits sharing content on homosexuality to people under the age of 18 in sex education, media, or ads. Disgracefully, these restrictions were brought in under legislation relating to child abuse. Poland’s education minister has already said that Poland should copy the Hungarian law. While our celebration of Pride is wonderful, we must not forget that solidarity is central to Pride. It is about the discrimination, oppression, and violence inflicted on LGBTQ+ communities across the globe. The Government has rightly called on the European Commission to take Hungary to court for violating EU norms. What assurances can the Minister of State give us that these issues will continue to be pursued?

The social contract is a basic underpinning of our society, along with the hope and expectation that things will get better, that the lives we leave to our children will be better than the ones we have, and that the freedoms and qualities of life that we enjoy are going to be expanded and improved upon. How terrifying it must be to live in a time and in a country where that contract is broken, where there is an erosion of those liberties, and where one observes things going from bad to worse. It might be somewhat grandiose, but one thinks of the fall of Rome or 1930s Germany.

I worry when I look at the extraordinary temperatures we are seeing in Canada and across Siberia. I worry about my children's future when it comes to climate breakdown.

In the context of these post-European Council meeting statements, I look at the erosion of civil liberties in some of our EU counterpart countries. I echo many of the previous contributions, and Deputy Howlin's comments in particular, when reflecting on the unfolding situation in Hungary and the need to call out Prime Minister Orbán and his unabated erosion of human rights and freedoms in his country. This is not a recent thing. This is the latest move by an Orbán-led Government, but it builds on years of regressive policy and positioning. While it is not hugely surprising, it is still deeply shocking to see this happen within a European context where we have come to take these liberties for granted. The direction of travel was quite clear and quite worrying from the outset. In 2010, the party introduced a new legal framework that effectively weakened legal checks on its authority, interfered with media freedoms and undermined human rights protections in that country. In 2013, the Hungarian Government introduced provisions into its constitution that enabled the criminalising of homelessness and restricted the definition of the family. In 2017, it adopted legislation that forced NGOs to identify themselves as foreign-funded if they receive finances equivalent to €21,650 per year. This move was a direct attack on democratic process in respect of which the NGOs play an invaluable role. In early 2020, when Europe first faced the Covid-19 pandemic, Orbán's Government gave him and his executive branch extraordinary powers to suspend certain laws and implement others by decree for as long as the emergency continues, completely sidestepping a parliamentary process. These examples are just a snapshot of a steady but hugely damaging impact on the part of the Orbán Government and the wider effect this is having on Hungary.

It was very welcome indeed to see the strong reaction of EU member states at the weekend, and especially the intervention of the Dutch Prime Minister. After ten years of democratic erosion by an EU member state, however, it is time to go beyond a status quo response. Recommendations are important but actions are what will lead to the necessary reversal and prevention of these discriminatory moves by an EU member state Government. At last December's Council meeting, EU leaders struck an agreement on the rule of law. The latter is an important step towards the protection of the rule of law and towards ensuring EU funds are not wrongly spent by those who attack the rule of law and fundamental rights. In applying this new mechanism, the EU and its institutions also have a duty to protect the rights of final recipients and beneficiaries who are not responsible for rule-of-law violations.

We can fall into the trap of saying that sometimes governments take actions that are in no way representative of their people. I would prefer to believe this to be the case, but a 2019 Eurobarometer poll found that 53% of Hungarians disagreed with the statement that there is nothing wrong in a sexual relationship between two persons of the same sex. I do not believe that we in Ireland are immune to the same trend, and the trend towards populism. We must be alive to it and aware of it. All across the European context and in our own patch we must defend against it. We must defend an independent media. We have to very much encourage people to engage with that independent media to make themselves well informed and to resource themselves adequately to be able to participate fully in the democracy we are so lucky to live in.

If this is indeed part of a bigger picture within the EU, then the EU needs to face up to and address the disquiet among people of its member states, including what it is that causes the views to shift in a direction that undermines human rights and, to revert back to my opening, to have a look at that social contract. We have seen this play out in western democracies, and not just in the EU. It is happening across the Atlantic too, where people's feelings of disenfranchisement have led to a situation where they have voted in particular directions that may not be the best for our democratic institutions.

As country, Ireland has made significant progressive change over the past 30 or 40 years. We absolutely should not take that for granted but with this in mind Ireland should very much work with its EU counterparts in helping to understand the origins of regressive policies.

As I have a few unexpected minutes remaining, I will pick up on the situation in Syria, which was in the initial speech laid out by the Minister of State. The humanitarian situation we see unfolding in Lebanon and Turkey is very worrying. We must make sure that we in Ireland live up to our obligations and our commitments. We have a long history, which is often referenced, and we know what it is like for large numbers of people to have to leave their home place, and how important it is that they get a reception and opportunities in the countries to which they depart.

To pick up on the issue of international vaccination, I also support the calls for a TRIPS waiver. I do not think it is a silver bullet and I am on the record of the Dáil as saying this. It is one part of the puzzle. Donations of excess vaccines from the EU will play an increasingly important part, as well as donations. I do not think there is another way around scaling up the type of production we need to see in the vaccination process. It needs to be massive. As Deputy Cairns said, I would very much like to approach it from a moral standpoint but there absolutely is a case to be made in terms of self-interest. In this case, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. The best way to end the Covid pandemic as it exists throughout the world is to end it everywhere in a timely fashion, and to prevent vaccine escape, which is what we are all very worried about, and we see elements of it in the Delta variant as we know it somewhat bypasses the first dose of AstraZeneca. We need to massively ramp up the vaccination programme not just in the developed world but in the developing world also. There is a strong case to be made in this regard for the TRIPS waiver. With regard to building this into WHO rules, if not now, when? This is a question I will leave with the Minister of State.

I hope the Taoiseach discussed the prospects of Irish unity at the recent European Council meeting. Even Fine Gael has finally recognised that Irish unity needs to be on the agenda. At its recent Ard-Fheis, the Tánaiste announced his support for a united Ireland. We are keen to help kick-start the conversation on Irish unity. Recently in Cork, the rebel county, a clear message was sent when the R&H Hall building was lit up to let everyone know Cork was ready to have such a conversation. This must be a conversation that includes everyone. As Bobby Sands once said, all republicans or otherwise have their own part to play. The unprecedented opportunity to unite people on this island from all backgrounds cannot be overlooked. Alongside this are various economic benefits of a united Ireland, such as co-ordinated economic development resulting in more employment and EU membership for the whole island. Nelson Mandela once stood in the Dáil Chamber and said "Together we will win." Never has this been more true. It is time to start the conversation and to speak and listen to people across the island from young to old. We are ready to listen and talk about Irish unity. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

I want to take this opportunity to raise a particular issue. In the Taoiseach's report, he discussed the Covid-19 crisis. In the scale of things, the following might not be a big issue but I have been contacted by many people last night and today who are very upset. They are the parents of children, and they are very angry and frustrated about how the cancellation of confirmations and communions was communicated. An off-the-cuff remark by the Tánaiste at the end of a press conference is not good enough. People have spent the year calling for clarity and clear communication. When announcements such as that made yesterday are being made it is important these communications are made clearly and correctly in order that we do not have people not knowing what is happening. Events have been organised for schools in Cork on Monday and Tuesday and parents have contacted me, as have parish priests. They are going ahead and no one has given them clarity. It is unfair and disrespectful to people who are following all the public health guidelines and the Government's timeline. There needs to be clarity on this.

With regard to LGBTQI and equality, what Hungary has done over the years, and what it has been allowed to get away with it, completely goes against everything the European Union and we stand for. I am glad to see people are finally standing up but this type of behaviour cannot be acceptable in a European Union, which should be equal to all.

The continued refusal of the EU to back the TRIPS waiver of intellectual property on Covid vaccines is an absolute scandal. It is a clear example of profit before people. It is about protecting the intellectual property and rights of the big pharmaceutical companies. It is about doing that now so they can profit from the Covid vaccines in the future. More fundamentally, it is about protecting their intellectual property and their rights to intellectual property in future because they fear conceding at this point on the morality of ensuring the world is vaccinated, as the health of the entire world population needs the rapid roll-out of vaccines, which means generic production and distribution throughout the world. They fear if they were to accept this, then, rightly, at the next point, in terms of AIDS medicine, hepatitis medicine or whatever, people would ask why the big pharmaceutical companies get to withhold and restrict the production of these, putting their own profits first.

I also have to say the Government, the EU and the US like to hide behind COVAX. COVAX is a completely inadequate response to the crisis. It is about them being able to say they are giving the vaccines to those who need them, while defending the essentials of the intellectual property. What they do not speak about are the non-transparent agreements between these countries and the pharmaceutical companies. What they also do not speak about is the fact COVAX is only designed at its best to provide one in five of those who need it with vaccines in the fewer than 100 countries selected. It is completely inadequate and the poorest countries in the world have to buy more vaccines on the international market.

I also want to make a point on the horrific homophobic actions of the far-right Hungarian Government. We should remember the leading party, Fidesz, led by Viktor Orbán, was a sister party of Fine Gael until earlier this year, when it chose to leave the European People's Party. In government it has attacked workers' rights. It has attacked the rights of the Roma people. It has engaged in quite disgusting racism against them and against migrants and in spreading anti-Semitism.

LGBTQ+ people have consistently been in the sights of the Hungarian Government as targets of discrimination and oppression. The latest attack is a law that bans the portrayal of homosexuality among those aged under 18. It means no gay people in advertisements. It means no sex education relating to LGBTQ people. It means sex education will be carried out only by agencies approved by this ultraconservative Government. We can obviously guess what kind of agencies those will be. One of the most disgusting parts of this is how the Hungarian Government, in a classic right-wing trope which we have also seen in this country, links the question of homosexuality with paedophilia in a disgusting attempt to slur and slander LGBTQ+ people. Its aim very clearly is to push gay people out of public life and make them feel ashamed and to legitimise widespread homophobia in society.

In the context of this law, the repression that exists and the violence against LGBTQ+ people, which is positively encouraged by the right-wing Hungarian Government, I salute, pay tribute to and express solidarity with LGBTQ+ activists within Hungary who have continued to fight for their rights, to stand out and to organise Pride events in the course of this week, and who say they are willing to do so even if it means civil disobedience. The question is what will the EU do about this. We have heard strong words of condemnation but what will the EU do about it? It is well able to talk about democracy and human rights but in terms of action, the only action the EU ever takes in terms of anything that happens within its borders is when governments, countries or states go against the EU neoliberal fiscal orthodoxy or threaten to do so.

We had the example of Ireland being told a bomb would go off, not in Frankfurt but in Dublin, if an attempt was made to burn the bondholders. We saw the power of the European Central Bank used to strangle the Greek banking system because Greece had the temerity to elect a government which had a mandate to reject austerity, though it did not follow through on that mandate. However, again and again, we see no action on human rights, democratic rights or opposition to oppression within the EU.

Deputy Crowe is sharing with Deputy Flaherty.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, and the Taoiseach for the comprehensive report on the European Council meeting. I will hone in on three aspects. The first is Belarus. In the past 48 hours I have signed paperwork and been in contact with an NGO called Libereco. I am one of a group of European parliamentarians who have adopted, if one likes, Belarusian prisoners. There are 503 of them who have been detained for speaking out and protesting against the Lukashenko regime. I have adopted Siarhei Hatskevich. He is a 17-year-old high school student who faces three years' imprisonment for his actions protesting against the despotic regime that has run his country for many years. That adoption entails speaking when I can in this Chamber about his plight and writing many letters across Europe and beyond to try to secure his freedom.

Second, I will speak on Covid. That was well covered at last week's European Council meeting. I have been looking at our statistics in Ireland. Two thirds of adults have received their first dose and under half of the adult population has been fully vaccinated. Some 330,000 vaccines are being administered per week. It is going well. On 19 July, international travel will be possible with the digital green certificate. The public health advice from 19 July onward is that the fully vaccinated can leave our shores, go around Europe and the world and enjoy a holiday overseas or travel for any reason. That is the guidance. In the case of those who are not vaccinated, they can still travel, while taking their own precautions. There are risk levels and certain boxes one has to tick.

Would that guidance for international travel not dovetail and fit well, over the coming weeks, with domestic hospitality? What if we took the available medical advice and told the fully vaccinated they can go wherever they want in this country. That should be a given. For those not fully vaccinated, there is a certain risk level. I would argue it is low at the moment, given that so much of our population is vaccinated, given that the key metric all along was deaths and they have gone way down and given that the older cohorts have been vaccinated. Covid has become more manageable. The criteria we will apply from 19 July in allowing people to travel internationally also would work quite well on the domestic front. Those who are vaccinated can go ahead. Those who are not vaccinated could also enjoy those freedoms but they would carry a certain risk on their shoulders. That would be a sensible way forward.

Finally, I will make a point on fishermen. They docked up here this day last week. There is only a small number of trawlers operating out of County Clare and I do not claim to be an expert on the fishing industry but I took time out to board a vessel and speak with the skipper and crew. The time has come to push back in Europe on off-coast fishing. There is an equivalent of Flightradar24 called Shipfinder. It shows, at any given time, a flotilla of ships of the west coast of Ireland, all registered to Spain and fishing in our waters. There needs to be a big pushback at European level to secure the future for our fishermen.

Many of the country's leading value-added food producers are increasingly concerned about likely threats and implications of the high-level border operating model for products of animal origin. We are fortunate to have a number of these significant employers based in County Longford. A number of those enterprises have sister facilities in the UK so are already well aware of the shortcomings with this system and have flagged some of their concerns in recent months.

At the core of the stipulations to come into effect from 1 October is a requirement for a veterinary surgeon to be present at the plant and confirm and sign off as each load is despatched from the plant. Many of theses enterprises work six or seven days a week, running 24-hour operations in real time with trucks leaving the plant with a short window, in most instances, to make their ferry connection. Based on their experiences in England, some businesses have seen an impact on their business model in the region of six figures in quarter 1 this year. A number of businesses are engaging with the office of the chief veterinary officer and this has been a very positive engagement. In order for the process to work as currently envisaged, it would require the employment of scores of additional veterinary surgeons across the country to ensure compliance. There have been suggestions that technical officers could be brought in to supervise the loading and, at a later stage in the day, the vet would come in and sign these off; however, a number of the companies I am speaking to have highlighted that this will not work and some of the port authorities they intend to travel through are enforcing the regulations to the letter of the law. France is operating a light touch but in Rotterdam, it is enforced to the letter of the law. There is a concern that when our trucks arrive in Rotterdam they will be turned back unless complying with regulations to the letter.

I understand there has been engagement between officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment but I am in no doubt it will require input from the Minister of State. We urgently need to see movement on a solution for this issue. I know the Minister of State and his officials will work assiduously with both Departments to ensure some of our blue-chip food producers and most significant employers are not adversely affected.

I had an opportunity to raise the matter with An Tánaiste at the enterprise committee this morning. He is well aware of the issues and I was pleased to see that. I am hopeful he will work towards a resolution. I have also been in contact with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. One of the significant employers I referenced has extended an invitation to that Minister to come to the plant in Longford and see in real time how this may, and most likely will, impact on them unless we find a resolution.

I reiterate some of what has been said in relation to the need for global solidarity. We all see the Delta variant involves an element of chickens coming home to roost in relation to the failure to have a global solution to the vaccination problem. We need to put that in place as soon as possible.

I add my voice in support of the need for a TRIPS waiver. We are told by others at a European level that there is no need for this and it is a misnomer. If that is the case, can they offer us a solution for the developing world? Deputy Paul Murphy and many others said that if we talk about COVAX being a solution only for 20% of the population in the developing world, we can guess what sort of prices will be charged to the remainder and to developing countries that do not have those sort of resources. That might make sense for a pharmaceutical company looking to make money. Unfortunately, for world health it is a disaster. We will leave breeding grounds for more variants. We have seen with every variant it becomes much worse. They are the rules of virology and epidemiology. The virus adapts to make itself more transmissible and, in this case, it looks like it is also far more dangerous. We are dealing with the outworkings of that.

I raise another matter on which we need to have conversations across Europe. I spoke with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, earlier. He had indicated a possible softening of the Government position on antigen testing.

A considerable number of people in the wider world, in the scientific world and even in this illustrious Chamber believe that antigen testing is a tool that we are missing but one that could help with a solution for the hospitality sector. We are well beyond the time of holding pilots. Pilot programmes have been carried out throughout Europe. We need to examine the information from those and see what is applicable as soon as possible.

We welcome the solidarity that Ireland has been shown, particularly on the Irish protocol, but we need this issue dealt with from the point of view of it being the only show in town. It is destabilising the North at this point in time, where some people see the British Government using certain language that probably sits well with its own base and leads people to believe that the Irish protocol will be done away with. We see it in the same way as we see the Good Friday Agreement, in that they are international agreements and are here to stay. We need to find solutions to people's problems. We support the Irish Government in that regard.

I welcome the Narrow Water bridge project. Has the shared island unit discussed seeking European moneys for its delivery? There have been many false dawns. We need this essential connectivity between north Louth and south Down.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. I note from the press releases that a number of conclusions were agreed between member states and I would like to highlight a number of these.

It is noted that the European Council welcomes the good progress being made on the vaccination roll-out and the gradual improvement in the overall situation. It also stresses the need to continue the vaccination efforts and to be vigilant of the emergence and spread of new variants. I welcome these statements, but I wish to ask the Minister of State a number of questions on them. Will he confirm that he raised the issue of the supply of vaccines and did he receive a commitment that all promised supplies would be delivered as promised and on time? Will he also confirm whether he discussed the approach that Ireland was taking to lockdown and how this compared with other member states? The fact that we are the only member state that currently does not allow indoor hospitality makes me wonder why other countries are not taking this approach and why we are not taking the approach of other member states. Will the Minister of State please address this point? Surely we must fight this pandemic as a united front and not take a different approach to our European members. The simple fact is that the hospitality sector is facing another summer of ruin, not through any fault of its own, but because of recent decisions taken by the Government. What evidence have we to make our approach different from the rest of Europe's?

Another upsetting aspect is the fact that first holy communions and confirmations are not permitted to go ahead. This beggars belief. I have been inundated with calls from angry clergy, school principals and parents all week as a result of this ridiculous situation. I know families that have cancelled holidays and got everything ready so that their loved ones could make their first holy communion or confirmation. It is a ridiculous situation when there are large churches around the country that could take 1,000 or 1,500 people. I heard the Tánaiste this morning mention that he loved going to the cinema and that there would be four or five seats between people, yet he will not let children have their first holy communions and confirmations. It is a disgrace.

Did the Minister of State discuss our approach to Covid with his European counterparts and get an explanation as to why they were able to open up society fully and we could not? Many of the Deputies present have been watching UEFA Euro 2020 over the past number of weeks. What is really annoying is that those countries were able to host matches when we could not. Did the Minister of State inquire of his European counterparts why this was the case?

I wish to put on record my annoyance with the approach the Government has taken to hospitality this week. What evidence does the Government have to justify this approach and why are our European neighbours taking a different approach? It makes no sense. In order to beat this pandemic, we must have the full backing of the public, but I fear we are losing it.

I do not support the approach discussed yesterday that fully vaccinated people could return to indoor hospitality after 19 July. This does not make any sense. The majority of people working in restaurants and pubs are of the younger generation and are less likely to be vaccinated. To put that in perspective, they will be allowed to work in pubs and restaurants but will not be able to visit those pubs or restaurants with friends. Where is the logic in that? Words fail me.

To conclude on Covid-19, the European Council stated that it had reached agreement on the EU digital Covid certificate and on the revision of the two Council recommendations on travel within the EU and non-essential travel into the EU. It also stated that each member state would apply the recommendations in a manner that ensured the full return to free movement as soon as the public health situation allowed. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could elaborate on this and outline exactly what approach we will be taking and if we will be in line with the rest of Europe. I welcome the Council's statement that it will continue to work towards an international treaty on pandemics.

The European Council issued a statement on economic recovery. The Commission welcomed the entry into force of the "own resources" decision, which will enable it to start borrowing resources for Next Generation EU to support a full and inclusive recovery and help the Union transition to green and digital economies. I note that the Council is encouraging member states to move forward on their national recovery and resilience plans so that they can get the full benefits of the fund. Will the Minister of State update the House on this and where we are with our plan? The funding, which is available under the recovery and resilience facility, will be vital in helping to get our economy back up and running. We do not want a situation where our application is buried in red tape, slowing down the availability of these much-needed funds. An update would be welcome.

I note that the European Council issued a statement condemning the recent malicious cyberattack against member states, including Ireland and Poland. It also stated that it invited the Council of Ministers to explore appropriate measures within the framework of the cyberdiplomacy toolbox. With the greatest of respect, we need more than an invitation to take action against this attack. We need real action and a real commitment from the EU that we will be supported against these terrible cyberattacks. Will the Minister of State update the House on this matter and elaborate on any action the European Council discussed to protect us from these types of attacks?

I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's replies to my questions, in particular those on the lockdown approach and why we are taking such a different approach to indoor hospitality as the rest of Europe. I welcome the €3 million that has been provided to take the Narrow Water bridge project to a further stage. The project has been ongoing for a long time. I would like to see the relationship between the North and South continue.

My questions are valid and I would appreciate it if the Minister of State gave me a decent reply.

I understand that Deputies Alan Farrell and O'Connor are sharing time.

I thank Deputy Alan Farrell for allowing me to speak during his time.

I am concerned about some of the actions announced by the Government yesterday, in particular the initiatives being undertaken to prepare for the return of international travel. This is something for which many people working in the aviation industry have been waiting for a long time. However, I am hearing from some of them that they are concerned about the Government's preparations for the return of international travel on 19 July, particularly the implementation of the digital green certificate. Will the Minister of State please tell the House whether the system is ready to be implemented on that date? There is no excuse not to be prepared. The aviation industry, be it our airlines or airports, does not need to be dealing with unnecessary administration in terms of processing people who are engaging in international travel. Speaking as a Deputy, I encourage anyone to get onto an aircraft and go on holiday or engage in non-essential travel come 19 July, just as has been happening for some time in every other European country in the Schengen area with an advanced vaccination rate.

Ireland's approach to Covid-19 has been deeply disappointing. I do not know whether I am being patronised or people just think they know better, but the line I am often given as a young man in the Dáil is that Ireland needs to follow scientific advice.

Countries with much greater resources in terms of government scientific advisers are taking more liberal approaches to the reopening of their economies compared with Ireland. Yesterday, we saw another indication of that. It came as an enormous disappointment to people working in the hospitality industry, specifically restaurateurs, publicans and hoteliers who wanted to resume indoor dining for non-residents. We need to get our act together. As a Government Deputy, from talking to people on the ground in my constituency, I must say that people extremely disappointed with the pace of progress with reopening of our economy. We must do more.

I am always happy to accommodate a colleague. In pre-European Council meeting statements in the House, Deputy O'Connor and I expressed deep concern about our preparedness for the return of international aviation. Many other Deputies share that concern. The Government has said precious little about it in the House. That is problematic in the context of the preparedness we discussed yesterday for the hospitality sector. Aviation is a sector that requires preparations weeks in advance in order to plan. I have my concerns and clarity has been sought on the matter. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, to relay those concerns to his colleagues.

On the outcomes of the European Council meeting, I was proud that the Irish Government and other EU governments sent a strong message to the Hungarian Government about its stance on LGBT rights. Anti-LGBT laws introduced in Hungary go against the core principles of the European Union and all its citizens, regardless of colour, creed or sexual orientation. All people should be equal before the law and respected by their respective governments. The actions of Hungary and Poland in recent months and years have been an affront to EU citizens regardless of geography. We cannot turn a blind eye to the increasingly regressive approach taken by some member states.

I echo the comments made by some previous speakers. This is a moment in European history that we will look back on and we may ask why we did not do more. My colleague, Deputy Richmond, referenced the Fidesz party's presence in the European People's Party, of which Fine Gael is a proud member. The European People's Party acted far too late but the correct course of action came to pass in the end.

The European project, a collection of nations with 450 million citizens, must ensure there are mechanisms in place whereby if the rights of citizens in certain member states are not being honoured, actions and steps can be taken to vindicate those rights. In the future, such moments will be considered as defining for the European Union. At a time when authoritarian governments are on the rise across the globe, we, as committed Europeans who are committed to peace and democracy, should take a firm and unequivocal stance against regressive behaviours within our ranks. In doing so, we will send a message to the wider world that social progress and freedoms will be defended.

I welcome the consideration given during the European Council meeting to hold a special session in November 2021 to discuss the framework convention on pandemic preparedness and response and continue to work towards the development of an international treaty with regard to future pandemics. That is a welcome step taken by the European Union. It is unfortunate that as the global population increases, the more likely it is that we will uncover or release - whatever way one describes it - future pandemics. Unfortunately, scientists have warned us of the occurrence of more regular pandemics in the future. We live in a connected world where even uninhabited islands in the Pacific are regularly visited by humans. The deepest, darkest jungle is not too far away and, on that basis, future pandemics may arise.

To refer briefly to the debate on the TRIPS waiver, I had to bite my tongue when I listened to one Deputy speaking about the responsibilities of the western world. A TRIPS waiver is a great idea. As my colleague, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, stated, it is a component of the response the world should give to the global south. It is like providing ingredients for a recipe, in that there is not much point in providing ingredients to somebody who does not have a kitchen. For us to response appropriately as rich nations, we should provide vaccines to the global south or we should ensure the likes of the TRIPS waiver is applied in countries where such vaccines can be mass-produced and provided to the global south. That is the solution to a global pandemic and the answer to the question as to when we will all be safe.

I, too, will return to the pre-European Council meeting statements made in the House some time ago. Has the Minister of State apologised to our European colleagues for not making a submission seeking Covid support funding on time? We ended up with a paltry €900 million. Some other countries received twice or three times as much as we did. I do not begrudge any of them aon phingin amháin den airgead sin. I do not begrudge them of any of that money; they are entitled to it. Their governments and officials submitted their applications on time. They sought large amounts and got what they got. We asked for €1 billion and we got €900 million. That tells me that if we had asked for €2 billion, we probably would have received €1.8 billion or €1.6 billion. The Government is not serving the people. It is abdicating its responsibilities.

That is not true. We got €2 billion.

Be it in regard to fishing or the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, we are the laggards in Europe and are being treated like little schoolboys in the bold boys' corner who are told to luigh síos anseo agus bí ciúin and we obey them. Yesterday, we had the patent nonsense whereby apartheid is going to be introduced in this country to justify the approach taken by the Taoiseach to require people to be vaccinated if they want to go in to some places. It will be apartheid. We then have the cheek to lecture Poland and Hungary and other countries about what they are doing on other social issues. The Government should look in the mirror to see its own behaviour. It is disgusting in the extreme.

This week, we celebrate the end of the centenary of the War of Independence, which started in Soloheadbeg. I visited the area on Sunday, 100 years later. The Government should be ashamed because it is not representing the people of Ireland or doing its job in any shape or form, be it in fishing, the CAP or the pathetic, lethargic and inept effort it made to look for funding. Germany was spending the money six, eight or ten months ago. We applied for it in the last minute, got a pittance and accepted it. If the Government acts and behaves like that, it will be treated that way. It is the old adage of "Croppies lie down". It is shocking in the extreme.

I want the Government to assert itself at the next European Council meeting and, as a proud country, to look for our fair share, nothing more. We have not received our fair share of that funding in any shape or form. Why would we get it when we did not apply for it? We talk about implementing the green passport, which was being discussed in Europe in 2017 and 2018.

I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this issue in the House today. I am aware the European Council focused on several issues such as vaccination rates throughout the EU, the new variants of the virus, as well as the EU economic recovery in post-pandemic times. We saw this week that the economic recovery here is on a knife edge in terms of the ongoing restrictions and draconian measures put in place, which will force many small businesses to close their doors permanently. When I speak about small businesses I mean business that have been passed down through generations in Irish families.

The fact that NPHET is now governing this country, rather than the Government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, is nothing short of a disgrace.

NPHET has a mandate to give advice. It does not have a mandate to govern this country, and never will. It must be strongly challenged in this House because what the Government has done to businesses is absolutely unjustifiable. Many businesses had put in their orders. This did not happen anywhere else in Europe. That is why I am raising it in the context of statements on the European Council meeting. It did not happen in any other European country. Those countries have not prohibited indoor dining. However, this Government does not seem to be standing up for its own people. In fact, it appears to be betraying every sector of society. We need only look at the fishermen, the farmers and the small businesses the Government has helped to destroy.

In the context of the CAP reforms, what is on the table is totally unacceptable. It is causing much division in different sectors of agriculture. The Minister must step up to the mark and fight for the Irish agriculture sector, which is in grave danger. A transition payment, the results-based environment-agri pilot project transition payment, has been put in place, but that is unacceptable too. There should have been a base payment of €10,000 for farmers while we wait for the CAP reforms to come into effect in 2023.

In the broader recovery, some €500 million of the EU's Covid-related recovery and resilience facility for Ireland will be spent on reducing carbon emissions. The Government seems to have an obsession with that, to the detriment of its own people. This means that more than 50% of the €1 billion loan provided by the EU will be for green initiatives such as a loan scheme for refitting homes. Will the Government just wake up and put the climate action Bill where it deserves to go, namely, into the recycling bin? The Government must wake up. It is going beyond what the EU is asking it to do and it is betraying the people in this country, which is shameful.

I have two and a half minutes so I will only mention one or two issues. The first is the €672 billion next generation EU recovery plan. The EU Commission has already issued positive assessments of recovery and resilience plans for 12 member states. The Taoiseach said our plan was submitted on 28 May. I have two questions. First, why were we not with the first 12 member states? Was there a delay and, if so, what caused it?

There was no delay.

Second, can the Minister of State assure me that balanced regional development is fully taken into consideration in that plan and that those sectors, particularly the agriculture sector, which are hardest hit by Brexit and especially along the Border are fully supported in the plan?

It is also crucial that all our fine words regarding the EU pillar of social rights and the Porto declaration are stitched into our recovery and resilience plans. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I was proud to be able to influence and support the European Parliament's strong position on the European pillar of social rights. Now is the time to see the reality of those words. I was pleased to hear the Taoiseach's strong statements on LGBTQI fundamental rights and, indeed, those of Mr. Charles Michel. The EU must use all its powers under its treaties to ensure that fundamental rights for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters are in place. What is happening in Hungary is inhumane and fundamentally undermines all our human rights.

I fully endorse the sentiments of many of my colleagues regarding Belarus. I am privileged to have adopted Maksim Zinevich and I call for his release and the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. There must be an end to the repression of civil society and the silencing of independent media.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution. There was a broad range of topics at the Council meeting, but it is unfortunate that the Taoiseach failed to include Turkey. He mentioned that the Minister of State will deal with that, but this is of central importance and he should have clarified what is going on with regard to Turkey. The European Council expressed concern about the targeting of political parties, human rights defenders and media, which it said represents a major setback for human rights and runs counter to Turkey's obligation to respect democracy, the rule of law and women's rights. However, it went on to refer to the EU's strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a co-operative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. We see realpolitik on the ground with regard to human rights and Turkey, the EU's sixth largest trading partner.

Despite the EU's concerns about human rights, it is happy to close borders to refugees and outsource the problem to Turkey, where over 1 million Syrian refugees do not have work permits, almost 400,000 refugee children are not in school and 64% of urban Syrian households live close to or below the poverty line. I could pick any number of statistics. In fact, I understand Turkey is doing its best. My difficulty is with its human rights record and with the EU outsourcing to Turkey. We do not have a very good record ourselves. I am not complaining or giving out about Turkey. I am saying that realpolitik pushes human rights aside. We can look at Poland, Hungary and Belarus, and rightly so, but when it comes to Turkey, we close our eyes because it is so important. I make this contribution in the context of the UN Refugee Agency telling us that 82.4 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Of that figure, 26.4 million are refugees, 4.1 million are asylum seekers and there are 48 million internally displaced persons. My point is that we must look at what is happening and how we are developing fortress Europe by outsourcing and paying Turkey to do a job that we should be considering.

Finally, I would love to see intellectual property rights on an agenda for the EU Council, including the cost of the indemnity, the cost of the vaccine and, most importantly, openness in respect of the intellectual property right and producing a vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.

There will now be a 20-minute question-and-answer session, after which the Minister of State will have five minutes to conclude. I ask Deputies intending to ask questions to be as brief as possible and to the point regarding the European Council.

I forgot there were questions but tapóidh mé an deis mar ní fhaighimid deiseanna mar sin go minic. An féidir leis an Aire Stáit soiléiriú a thabhairt ó thaobh cúrsaí vacsaíne de? Uimhir a haon, can the Minister of State clarify what discussions, if any, took place at the Council regarding vaccinations, in terms of intellectual property rights, waiving those and producing vaccines on a non-profit basis? Uimhir a dó relates to Turkey. I understand the Minister of State will give us some clarification of the policy on Turkey, so I will stay quiet until I hear that before asking more questions.

If there are not enough Deputies in the Chamber, I am happy to answer the questions that have already been asked.

I am happy to give you the latitude to do so.

I have a script for the last contribution which deals with the issues laid out by the Taoiseach. Almost none of them, except Turkey, has been raised in the debate but they are very important. I will speak on Turkey at the end of the debate as there is quite a detailed script on it.

With regard to the vaccines, we are very hard on ourselves in this Chamber as regards what the European Union in doing about vaccines. At every European Council, General Affairs Council and health ministers Council there has been extensive discussion on vaccines and Covid-19. Of course, there is sharing of experience and information. The decision was taken to come together as one on vaccination and it is fair to say that it has been very much in our interest. It has also been an extraordinary success. The official figures are not published daily but, according to what Professor MacCraith announced, Ireland is after Malta at the top of the vaccine distribution list. That is a great credit to the system, workers, volunteers and administration here and the Government in terms of rolling it out.

There is also the global vaccine supply, which is very important.

I share the genuine moral and practical health concerns of everybody here regarding getting everyone around the world vaccinated. Let us not forget that the European Union is the largest exporter of vaccines in the world. Europe has shown great moral leadership on global vaccine sharing. We have not closed the door, and that has been to our own disadvantage because many more of us would have been vaccinated if we had an export ban in place. Regarding our manufacturing capacity, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh mentioned the other issues apart from the TRIPS waiver. However, our vaccine manufacturing capacity will be of far greater help to the developing world than a TRIPS waiver which may allow production but would not address the question of where that production is going to take place. It would probably end up taking place within the European Union.

Therefore, efforts are being made to share technical know-how because it is very difficult to manufacture vaccines. Ireland, with Pfizer, is going to start being a part of the manufacturing process. It is not possible, however, to simply repurpose pharmaceutical factories for vaccine production. Such facilities generally have to be specially designed. EU member states have committed to donating at least 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of 2021. The G7 talks referred to donations of 870 million doses. Therefore, the EU’s participation in those recent G7 discussions, which agreed that additional commitment for the provision of vaccines globally, was very important. The EU submitted a proposal on 4 June to the TRIPS council regarding a global trade initiative for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

I reiterate, however, that production capacity is the key issue. Apart from our own manufacturing capacity, the European Commission announced €1 billion in funding for the building of production capacity in Africa to create long-term sustainable production capacity on that continent. Therefore, we are doing a great deal in the European Union. I share people's concerns in this regard but a massive amount is being done and but for the European Union, the rest of the world would be in a much worse place.

Deputy Connolly wishes to come in again. However, if she does not mind, three other Deputies have also indicated.

I asked several questions and none of them has been answered.

I am sorry, gabh mo leithscéal.

I refer to questions regarding the waiving of international property rights, the production of vaccinations on a non-profit basis etc.. I do not mind if they are not answered at this stage. However, I put it on the record that the questions are not being answered.

I think these aspects may reoccur in the contributions from some of the other Deputies. I call Deputy Brady.

I have two issues. First, I want to follow up on TRIPS and the need for a waiver in that regard. I want to challenge the Minister of State, and I think it is the correct thing to do, regarding his statement that the world would be in a much worse position without the EU. The reality is that the Delta variant is now wreaking havoc across the world because of the failure of the global community to address the issue of intellectual property rights. The longer we drag our heels as an international community in addressing the fundamental issue here, the greater the likelihood of more variants arising. To use a well-rehearsed phrase, until everyone is out of this, no one is out of this. Therefore, the international community, the Government and the European Union have an obligation to lead on this issue and to waive intellectual property rights and, if necessary, to provide the facilities to allow countries the means to develop and install the required infrastructure. We are not going to be out of this situation in the next 12 months, so there is going to be a long-term need in this regard.

Second, I turn to the motion regarding Israeli annexation passed by the Oireachtas last month. While there were many statements on Belarus, and rightly so, and much talk about sanctions being imposed on Russia and other measures being taken, there was a distinct lack of a single mention regarding the passing of the motion in this Dáil concerning the illegal actions of Israel in annexing Palestinian land. What measures are going to be taken in that regard are equally important. The failure of the Government to address this point or to raise it at European level is concerning. As we sit here, more than 1,500 Palestinians are being forced out of their homes in the Silwan area of occupied East Jerusalem as their houses are pulled to the ground and not a word has been mentioned at the European Council level. I ask the Minister of State to comment on this issue and address why there is such hypocrisy at European level. We are quick to impose sanctions on other countries and regimes but we allow Israel to continuously breach international and humanitarian law and abuse human rights.

I think we have the Deputy's questions. I call the Minister of State.

Regarding the vaccines, I already mentioned what the EU is doing with the WTO. More importantly, and Deputy Brady asked about this aspect, I refer to supporting manufacturing capacity in Africa and putting significant resources into that endeavour, apart from what our own manufacturing capacity is doing. Turning to the issue of Israel and Palestine, it is fair to say that the motion from this Dáil went out far and wide and was heard across the world. Not every member state of the European Union would agree with this motion. Quite a few would disagree with it. I am being frank about that. I am not saying that they are right or wrong, it is simply a fact. The issue of Palestine and Israel was not part of the conclusions of the European Council on this occasion, but the issue does arise regularly and the Irish view is put forward strongly. It may have been raised at the Foreign Affairs Council but I am not sure because I do not sit on it. The Deputy will have to ask the Minister, Deputy Coveney, about that aspect. It is an issue, however, which is regularly discussed.

On all these foreign policy issues, particularly in the European Council, it is a fact that every member state has a veto on conclusions. It would equally apply to us if we did not like them. Not every member state of the European Union will agree with the motion that all of us here supported 100%. That is just a fact of life. Our moral voice, though, is very strong on this issue. The unified voice of this Dáil spoke out to the world regarding the annexation. The motion mandates the Government in this regard, not only at European Union, but at the United Nations Security Council. We will probably be more effective in that forum because we are members of it, but again global politics are involved there as well. However, we certainly punch very far and high above our weight on this issue.

The Minister of State mentioned that vaccines are discussed at all European Council meetings, including this one. Were vaccine passports discussed at that meeting? Have they been discussed at other European Council meetings? I do not have the minutes of the meeting to which I refer with me but I have the articles in my file regarding the discussion of vaccine passports at EU and European Commission level in 2017 and 2018. That was before Covid-19 was ever dreamed of. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that matter.

I understand that the Minister of State was not in government and is not in the Cabinet, but I would like to know if the share-out of the EU Covid-19 support fund was even mentioned at this meeting. The Minister of State will have heard all the criticisms in this House, and from all sides, except that of the Government, regarding the paltry amount of money we received. There were challenges regarding the lateness of the application and, indeed, not seeking enough funding. Is there any room for redress and to go back? I have the figures, but not to hand, for countries such as Croatia and many other smaller countries that got much more than we did. I do not begrudge any of them for that and fair dues to those governments and public officials for putting the work into their applications. Why were we so late in putting in our application?

I will knock on the head the Deputy's claim that this application somehow was late. It was not late. Deputy Mattie McGrath keeps announcing it in the Dáil but that is not the case. As a point of information, therefore, the application was not late. There was no lateness in this regard

When did it go in?

The application went in exactly when the European Commission wanted it and it was submitted in conjunction with the European Commission. It was not late.

On what date did it go in?

I do not have the exact date to hand, but the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, can give that detail. However, I absolutely assure the Deputy and this House that there was no lateness. In fact, no member state was late in submitting an application for the recovery fund. Deputy Mattie McGrath is also implying that only a certain amount of money was applied for. That is not the case. The money is allocated on a proportionate basis according to each country’s national wealth. That is the reality of it. Deputy McGrath has mentioned a figure of €900 million. It is a bit more than that but that fails to consider the Brexit adjustment reserve of more than €1 billion. It was all part of the package at the European Council last meeting last July when this budget was agreed.

The funding that Ireland will receive is effectively double the figure to which Deputy Mattie McGrath refers. What is forgotten in this debate is the fact that money spent in France, Germany or Spain also benefits Ireland. Along with Luxembourg, Ireland benefits the most from the European Single Market. The pharmaceutical, construction and manufacturing companies in places like Clonmel that rely on trade with the European Union are looking forward to Ireland spending its money but also to all other European countries spending their money because they will benefit from that. The Single Market benefits us disproportionately and directly creates jobs in Tipperary South, Meath East and Waterford and all other constituencies. We are doing very well out of this and are glad that it is happening. We did not pull the ladder up. We did not join the so-called frugal four in arguing that we should not give this money because we felt it was right that other European countries should be able to come up to the economic level of the rest of us but also, selfishly, because we benefit when they do well because we are such a strong exporting economy. We benefit so much disproportionately from the Single Market and when the European economy does well, we do well too.

On the spending of that money, I do not think our taxpayers should be providing funding for countries that do not uphold the rule of law, basic human rights and human decency. I very much look forward to the conditionality regulation on the rule of law coming into operation once the European Court of Justice decision goes through, as I hope it will, and to that regulation being enforced. The declaration we signed last week calls for that to happen and calls for a strong action to be taken. We cannot be spending money in places where the rule of law is not upheld. I reiterate that when we spend money in the European Single Market, when we stimulate that economy, Ireland benefits more than almost any other member of the EU.

What about the passports?

Sorry, I will happily answer the question on vaccine passports. I am not aware of any discussions in 2017 on this. I was not at the meeting of the General Affairs Council of the European Council but the passports were certainly discussed at the European Council last week. To be clear, the digital Covid certificate is an instrument for travel but if member states want to use it for domestic purposes, they can do that but there is no mandate from the European Union to so do. What is clear is that the digital Covid certificate must be introduced here. Neither the Irish Government, NPHET nor the Dáil can overrule it at this stage. It is now law and, from tomorrow, we have six weeks to implement it. We have said that we will implement it by 19 July. That is happening and huge work is going on, despite the hacking of the HSE's IT system. I wish to be clear that the digital certificate is a legal obligation on this State that cannot be changed. That is going to happen.

I wish to refer back to the recovery and resilience plan. The Minister of State told Deputy Mattie McGrath that the application went in "when the Commission wanted it". Did the Commission want the applications from the other 12 member states first? Was there some kind of rota in operation? I am happy to accept the fact that there was probably no closing date and perhaps the Minister of State will confirm that. Was there a starting date and if so, what was it? It is not terminal that our application was not submitted or ratified at the same time as that of Germany or France. Nonetheless, the Minister of State said that it went in when the Commission wanted it and I ask him to clarify that.

Have we stitched the issue of balanced regional development into this plan? Have we stitched the EU pillar on social rights in? Have we included things like decent work, fair wages and access to services in the recovery and resilience plan?

I also have a question on Belarus. I mentioned previously that I was lucky enough to be able to adopt Maksim Zinevich, who is a political prisoner. What specific steps have been taken on the release of political prisoners and what progress, if any, has been made?

Finally, a number of colleagues have already raised the issue of the CAP discussions. I accept that it is more for the next European Council than this one but it is crucial for Ireland. A draft agreement was reached and from here on in, we will be tinkering at the edges. It is mainly set in stone but all we are hearing from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is that we need flexibility at national level. Does that mean that the Government does not support parts of the draft agreement? What flexibility is the Government looking for? Is it around convergence, front-loading or the percentages for eco schemes in Pillar I? It seems a bit strange to hear a Minister speaking about consultation on a draft plan that is largely set in stone. What flexibility is the Government looking for?

I want to be absolutely clear on the nonsense that is being peddled by Deputy Mattie McGrath that somehow we were late. Some member states have yet to submit their plans. The indicative timeline was the end of April and our application was submitted, with the agreement of the Commission, in May. There was some media speculation at the time about the discussions that were ongoing with the Commission and about what the Government was working on. I reject the comments from Deputies Mattie McGrath and Nolan, which were outrageous. They used terms like "betrayal" and "traitors", which is terrible language to use in the Dáil. Everyone in this Dáil is working to one end, which is the welfare of the people of Ireland. Talking about betrayal and throwing the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill into the bin is just wrong. It is disturbing and reflects very badly on the Deputies. It does no service to their constituents who will benefit hugely from the just transition fund, for example, and the focus on this at European level. We must work even harder on that to make sure it happens and I am confident that it will.

On the specific questions posed by Deputy Harkin, I will revert to her directly once I have spoken to the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputies Michael McGrath and McConalogue. The former has responsibility for the recovery fund while the latter deals with issues pertaining to agriculture. There are Departments other than the Department of Foreign Affairs involved here.

The Minister of State now has five minutes to wrap up the debate.

I will begin by making a brief comment on the announcement today by Vice-President Šefčovič extending the grace period for the importing of chilled and non-frozen meats to Northern Ireland from Britain. This follows a formal request by the UK Government to the EU. There were some other announcements today, one of which is on the very important issue of green insurance cards for drivers from outside the EU which now, unfortunately, includes those in Northern Ireland and Britain. The requirement for UK drivers to have such cards has now been removed by the European Commission which is very welcome. This will have a hugely positive impact on those travelling from Northern Ireland into the Republic. There were other announcements about guide dogs.

The EU has shown tremendous flexibility today and a willingness to stretch as far as possible within the confines of existing legislation. The member states have also worked very proactively and I have had lots of discussions with them, as has the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. The EU has shown today its commitment to making the protocol work for the people of Northern Ireland and its respect for both traditions there. The Northern Ireland protocol is a two-way street. It is the responsibility of the EU and the UK Government to ensure it is jointly owned and operated. It shows clearly that co-operation and a bilateral approach to the protocol can lead to concrete and long term solutions. Implementation of the protocol should be two-sided from now on.

I would like to commend the business communities in the Republic as well as in the North for their robust response to the challenges posed by Brexit. The Government continues to support businesses to face the challenges that lie ahead through grants and training and information is available on the Government website in that regard at www.gov.ie/Brexit.

I thank Deputies for their statements and questions and will report on some of the issues that the Taoiseach mentioned.

The issue of migration was mentioned. This is a complicated discussion, which is much broader than the discussion of the issue we have here. We have to support our EU colleagues who have to deal with migration in much tougher circumstances than we do.

On cybersecurity, leaders condemned the recent malicious activities against Ireland and Poland and some information was shared on that.

On Turkey, the European Council resumed discussions on EU-Turkey relations. Leaders expressed their readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance co-operation in a number of areas of common interest, subject to the conditionality set out in March and in previous Council conclusions. EU leaders welcomed the de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean and stressed that it should be sustained. They also took note of the initiation of minor technical work on a mandate for the modernisation of the EU-Turkey customs union and for preparatory work on high-level dialogues with Turkey on pressing interests of mutual concern. EU leaders expressed their continuing concern about the rule of law and fundamental rights in Turkey, particularly the targeting of political parties, human rights defenders and the media.

On financial assistance to refugees, which was mentioned by a number of colleagues, the Council called on the Commission to put forward, without delay, formal proposals for the continuation of financing for Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey. The Commission produced an outlined proposal on the eve of the European Council meeting, which is being assessed.

On the Cyprus issue, leaders reiterated their commitment to a settlement on the basis of a bicommunal and bizonal federation with political equality, and expressed regret that the informal meeting in Geneva in April did not pave the way for the resumption of formal negotiations.

Ireland is in favour of developing a more stable and constructive EU-Turkey relationship but this depends on Turkey's actions. We welcome the fact that Turkey has largely maintained the de-escalation in its neighbourhood, although we continue to regret its stance on the issue of Cyprus. We are in favour of continuous support of the 4 million refugees and host communities in Turkey. On wider EU-Turkey relations, particularly the customs union, a positive track is possible but substantial steps forward are required, not only in de-escalation in the neighbourhood but also in improvements in human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.

EU leaders confirmed their commitment to the stabilisation process in Libya under the auspices of the UN. Elections should take place and their results should be accepted.

On the Sahel, President Macron updated leaders on France's recent engagement there. Ireland strongly condemns the recent developments in Mali, which are of grave concern. It is vital that the EU continues to support the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, engagement with the transitional authorities in Mali to monitor compliance. Ireland is strongly engaged in Mali. In addition to the 14 members of the Defence Forces serving in the UN multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali, some 20 Defence Forces personnel are deployed to the EU training mission in Mali. We also support other engagements.

The EU Council also discussed the issue of Ethiopia. We will work to maintain attention on that in the UN Security Council.

I thank Deputies for their questions and I assure them that the Taoiseach will continue to report on the European Council. For any specific issues that were raised, particularly via formal questions, if I have not provided a specific answer, I will arrange for the relevant Department to provide one to the relevant Deputies.