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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 5 Apr 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 5

Ceisteanna - Questions

Commissions of Investigation

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

1. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the number of commissions of investigation under the remit of his Department that are currently ongoing; the cost of each commission to date; and the projected costs of each in tabular form. [14279/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

2. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the number of commissions of investigation under the remit of his Department currently ongoing; the cost of each commission to date; and the projected costs of each in tabular form. [14282/22]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

3. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach the number of commissions of investigation under the remit of his Department currently ongoing in the State; the cost of each commission to date; and the projected costs of each in tabular form. [17580/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

4. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach the number of commissions of investigation under the remit of his Department currently ongoing in the State; the cost of each commission to date; and the projected costs of each in tabular form. [17876/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The only commissions of investigation for which I am the specified Minister under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 are the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Commission of Investigation and the National Asset Management Agency Commission of Investigation, both of which are fully independent.

The IBRC Commission of Investigation was established in June 2015 following consultation with Oireachtas parties. It is investigating certain transactions, activities and management decisions at the IBRC and in its first module, it is investigating the Siteserv transaction. Its original deadline was 31 December 2015 but following multiple requests from the commission, and after consultation with Oireachtas parties, its timeframe for reporting has been extended. Most recently, I granted a further extension, this time until the end of August 2022, following a further request from the commission in its 11th interim report dated 11 March 2022.

From the time of its establishment to the end of February 2022, the commission has cost approximately €11.15 million, excluding third party legal costs that have been incurred but not yet paid which will be a matter for the commission to determine at the end of its investigation. In its seventh interim report in February 2020, the commission estimated that the final cost of the Siteserv investigation will be between €12 million and €14.5 million. This estimate assumed the investigation would be completed by the end of 2020, not the end August 2022 as is now the case, and excluded costs or delays associated with possible judicial review hearings. The commission also acknowledged that it involved a substantial degree of uncertainty regarding the amount of costs actually recoverable by the parties before it and assumed its legal costs guidelines are not successfully challenged. The commission's most recent interim report does not provide any update on the €12 million to €14.5 million estimate but my Department has given its view on many occasions that the final cost is likely to significantly exceed the commission's estimate and could exceed €30 million. That is what my officials advise and the further extension of its timeline, as well as the commission's acknowledgement of the possibility of court challenges, further supports that view.

The NAMA commission was established in June 2017 following consultations with Oireachtas parties to investigate the sale by NAMA of its Northern Ireland portfolio, known as Project Eagle. Its original deadline for reporting was 31 June 2018 but following several requests from the commission and consultation with Oireachtas parties, its timeframe for reporting has also been extended. Most recently, earlier this month, I granted a further request for an extension, this time until the end of June 2022.

From the time of its establishment to the end of February 2022, the commission has cost approximately €4 million, excluding any third party legal costs incurred but not yet paid which will be considered by the commission at the end of its investigation. The estimated cost for the commission when it was established was approximately €10 million, excluding the cost of any litigation that may arise. The commission has not provided an updated estimate for the cost of its investigation but the expenditure incurred to date suggests it is unlikely to exceed the original estimate.

When one thinks about all of the tribunals and commissions of investigation we have had, how long they went on for and how much they cost, they are quite telling about the history of this country. A commission of investigation into NAMA related to the housing crisis and what developers did to this country; a commission of investigation into the IBRC, a dodgy bank that lent money to developers who helped to wreck the economy; planning tribunals to do with dodgy planning decisions; and investigations into mother and baby homes and the scandal of the mistreatment of women and children for decades. I could go on.

There is one lesson that we should take from all of these. I do not know exactly what the model for investigating past scandals is but one thing we could learn is that it would be best for these scandals not to happen in the first place. I want to warn the Taoiseach today about a scandal that we are going to be investigating very soon, namely, the scandal of children who are homeless being put through the trauma of being made homeless and living in emergency accommodation or direct provision for years. Indeed, we may well be investigating the state of some of the accommodation that Ukrainian refugees are being put into now, judging from early reports. There is a serious problem with putting vulnerable people, particularly children, into totally inadequate housing, into emergency accommodation, direct provision centres, hostels and elsewhere. I promise the Taoiseach that we will be investigating the damage and the trauma caused in years to come. As I did earlier today, I ask the Government to prevent having to set up a commission of investigation in a few years and to take emergency measures in this area now. Families and children, wherever they may be from, should not be in these absolutely dire and inappropriate situations.

It is quite rare to see prosecutions around corrupt practices arising from lengthy tribunals of inquiry or commissions of investigation, even where there are negative findings. The Moriarty tribunal is a case in point. It has gone back and forth between the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and the Garda Síochána since it reported in 2011.

There are alternatives to tribunals of inquiry. We need to get to that point where we have a satisfactory means of dealing with issues that require inquiry. Commissions of investigation are supposed to be a more cost efficient way of dealing with issues than tribunals of inquiry but that is not always the case. In December, we got a new suite of measures arising out of the Hamilton review group. It made 22 recommendations, some of which are due in quarter 3 of this year, but are the milestones in that regard being met?

The Social Democrats put forward a proposal for an anti-corruption agency with requisite powers as a means of dealing with issues in real time. It is not always the case that prosecutions would follow, but where there is the possibility of prosecutions, we need such an agency rather than a litany of tribunals and commissions of investigation that do not have the prospect of resulting in sanctions. For example, there has been backwards and forwards between the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, and An Garda Síochána with regard to the provision of garda. The new Corporate Enforcement Authority is supposed to have a relationship with An Garda Síochána on the issue of a guaranteed Garda strength. When I raised the issue with the Garda Commissioner at last week's meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts he told me the memorandum of understanding has not been signed yet. That is unsatisfactory. Very high profile cases are stalled because of that.

It is salutary to look at the length of time for which these commissions have been under way and the projected costs. I am conscious that they have not yet concluded. The Siteserv inquiry will be over seven years in existence when it reaches its latest deadline at the end of August. The Taoiseach outlined that there has been another five month extension and that the cost according to his Department's estimate is likely to be about €30 million, which is more than double what the commission originally estimated the final cost would be. Could the Taoiseach indicate if it is envisaged that the work of the Siteserv inquiry is likely to be extended again beyond this August and confirm whether that will then increase the level of projected cost?

On the NAMA commission of investigation, which has now been in existence for five years, is it expected that it will report by the end of June 2022 and, again, will the cost exceed the projected €10 million? When commissions of investigation were introduced in 2004, the intention was that they would replace in a much more cost effective and time limited way the pre-existing tribunals of inquiry. They have mushroomed and morphed into effectively the same entities as the tribunals of inquiry. Does the Government have any immediate plans to ensure this will not happen in any future commissions of investigation such that we can see them return to the more trimmed down and nimble entitles they were supposed to be?

The scoping exercise into the death of Shane O'Farrell was established by the previous Government more than three years ago. By their nature, scoping exercises are expected to take weeks, possibly months but not years, and yet three years on from the initiation of that exercise we have no idea as to when that work will be finished. Members will recall that nobody bar the previous Cabinet wanted this scoping exercise. Both Houses of the Oireachtas unanimously passed motions calling for the establishment of an inquiry. In 2018, the Taoiseach, when on this side of the House, stated: "In all honesty and sincerity, it is time the Oireachtas responded in the only way possible to Shane's death, which is the establishment of an inquiry." The Taoiseach was right then and his case is even more valid now.

The failures of the policing and justice system that led up to Shane's death and the actions thereafter and to this day are significant not only to his family, but are in the wider public interest. We acknowledge the independence of Judge Haughton who is carrying out the scoping exercise and we know that Government cannot interfere, but will the Taoiseach accept that the scoping exercise as a process has not worked and that it has become yet another protracted delay to advancing the inquiry that we have all agreed is necessary?

The Taoiseach took a very firm stance on this matter when in opposition, and rightly so. I ask that he follow it through.

I thank the Deputies for the issues raised. With respect to Deputy Boyd Barrett, we need a better model of inquiry. More important, existing agencies should be the principal mechanism for holding Government agencies and bodies and, generally, society to account and contemporaneously. One of the difficulties in looking back is that we use the prism of today to judge actions 30 or 40 years ago.

In respect of the financial issues, I agree very serious issues were raised, particularly in terms of the IBRC. It is seven years since that inquiry commenced. In regard to Deputy Bacik's point, the draft report has been completed. In July 2021, the commission issued a draft of its report, which runs to 1,280 pages, to all relevant parties and gave them until 22 October to provide submissions on it. Since then, the commission has received detailed submissions on the draft report, running to more than 1,600 pages, from 12 different parties. These submissions raise a number of complex matters which the commission is currently in the process of carefully considering along with some additional evidence, which it is also considering. The commission stated that once it has completed this review process, it will prepare a revised draft report for circulation to all relevant parties on or about 30 April 2022. It proposes to provide relevant parties with an eight week period, which will expire on 13 June 2022, to review the draft report and make observations. It will then take it from there.

In terms of the emergency accommodation issue and direct provision, Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned Ukraine as well, which I think is a bit unfair.

I heard a report today-----

Of course, but-----

-----from a journalist-----

Deputy, please let the Taoiseach respond. We have less than a minute and a half remaining.

Approximately 18,000 Ukrainians have come into this country in the space of six weeks. In parallel with that, in terms of normal migration outside of Ukraine, more migrants and asylum seekers have arrived here in the first two to three months of this year than arrived here in the entirety of last year. Within Europe, we have internal migration into Ireland, which we have to deal with and respond to in terms of emergency accommodation. It is not all simple and the Deputy should not pretend that it is.

I am not saying it is simple.

The Deputy is saying that because he is already building up the case for an inquiry against people who are working flat out within our system to do everything they possibly can to accommodate people with respect and with dignity. We are doing that.

In terms of ending direct provision, the Government has a policy in that respect. There are hundreds of families in direct provision who could leave it, but the housing situation does not facilitate them doing so. We are building. There were 31,000 commencements last year, up to 33,000 in the 12 months up to February this year, which is the highest since 2008. However, that will not be enough. The inflationary pressures on construction are very significant, which is being seen in all of the tenders that are coming in. There is a lot of strain out there because of the impact of the war and the huge inflationary cycle that has occurred because of energy and input costs. We cannot go on blindly making commentary as if we are somehow oblivious to those realities.

Thank you, Taoiseach. The time is up. We must move on to Question No. 5.

If I could just-----

No, I am sorry we have to move on to Question No. 5. We are way over time.

Can I get a brief response?

No, I am sorry.

I just want to very quickly-----

No, I am sorry. It is not the Taoiseach's fault. People will have to be a little more succinct in the questions they are asking otherwise we will not get any answers.

Deputies can talk as much as they like but if they want answers, they must curtail their contributions.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the most recent European Council meeting on 10 and 11 March 2022. [13968/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

6. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [14203/22]

Brendan Smith

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [14206/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

8. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [15476/22]

Neale Richmond

Question:

9. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach what measures have been agreed at European Council level in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. [14475/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [14278/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

11. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [14281/22]

Bríd Smith

Question:

12. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [14285/22]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

13. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent European Council summit on the invasion of Ukraine. [14356/22]

Alan Dillon

Question:

14. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent meeting with the EU leaders in Versailles. [15098/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

15. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [16205/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

16. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent European Council meeting. [16692/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent informal meeting of heads of state or government in Versailles on 10 and 11 March 2022. [16693/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

18. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent European Council meeting. [16695/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

19. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent informal meeting of heads of state or government in Versailles on 10 and 11 March 2022. [16696/22]

Gary Gannon

Question:

20. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [17677/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 20, inclusive, together.

I attended a number of meetings of the European Council in recent weeks. A special meeting on 24 February was called in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I also attended an informal meeting on 10 and 11 March that took place in Versailles and the regular March meeting of the European Council on 24 and 25 March. All those meetings were dominated by events in Ukraine. We have condemned the war since the start as immoral and unjustifiable, and rightly so, but the evidence emerging at the weekend of horrific crimes against civilians in regions north of Kyiv is especially and profoundly shocking. Such unspeakable deeds cannot go unanswered and those responsible must be held to account.

At our meeting on 24 February, in addition to condemning Russia's unprovoked and unjustifiable action, we adopted a range of sanctions in the financial, energy and transport sectors, as well as export controls and visa policy. We also listed a number of Russian individuals associated with or supporting the Putin regime.

When we met in Versailles on 10 and 11 March, we adopted the Versailles declaration, committing to protect our citizens, values, democracies and the European model in the face of Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

In light of Ukraine's application to join the EU, we invited the Commission to submit its opinion on the application and, pending this, we agreed to further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership, without delay, to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. As the House will be aware, I have publicly expressed my support for Ukraine's accession in due course. As we agreed in Versailles, Ukraine belongs to our European family.

At Versailles, we also set out how the EU can reduce our energy dependencies, reinforce our economic base and reduce dependencies on third country markets in critical sectors.

Our meeting in Brussels on 24 and 25 March coincided with summit meetings of NATO and the G7. Our meeting was joined for a period by President Biden and, via video link, by President Zelenskyy. We discussed the situation from a range of concerning perspectives. We discussed humanitarian concerns, migration, energy, nuclear security and safety and reconstruction. We agreed on the establishment of a solidarity fund for Ukraine, both to support the Government's current expenditure and to help rebuild the country after the war. We invited third countries to join us in this endeavour.

On security and defence, we endorsed the strategic compass. This strategy document will provide enhanced political direction for the EU's approach to security and defence policy for the next five to ten years. Ireland has engaged constructively in the development of the EU's common security and defence policy, guided by our traditional policy of military neutrality and our contribution to crisis management and peacekeeping. This will continue to be the case. As I said, we are militarily neutral but that does not mean we are politically or morally neutral. We have already seen how new forms of warfare, including cyberattacks, can have real and profound consequences. It is appropriate that we co-operate with our partners in combatting those threats.

We also discussed energy issues and the significant impact of current high prices. We need to move away from dependence in Europe on Russian gas and oil. This can be achieved by diversifying supplies and routes, accelerating the development of renewables, improving energy efficiency and further developing the interconnection of European electricity and gas networks.

At our meeting on 24 and 25 March, we also discussed the latest situation on Covid-19, including vaccine production and sharing; economic prospects; the EU-China summit meeting, which since took place on 1 April; and increased political tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also re-elected Charles Michel as President of the European Council for a second term due to end in November 2024. I congratulate him on his re-election and look forward to working with him into the future.

We must be practical about the 25 minutes we have remaining. There are 15 questions and ten questioners. Are Members agreeable that we would give that 25 minutes to this block of questions? There is no chance of getting through any other questions.

Will the following questions be taken tomorrow?

Either that or they will be taken next week.

The next batch of questions relate to the phone call I had with President Zelenskyy. They become irrelevant afterwards.

Do Deputies want to hear the response to those questions?

Can we take all of those questions together?

Yes. Shall we do that?

Taoiseach's Communications

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

21. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [13969/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

22. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [14204/22]

Brendan Smith

Question:

23. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [14207/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

24. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [15477/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

25. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversation with the President of Ukraine. [16207/22]

Gary Gannon

Question:

26. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [17678/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

27. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [17985/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

28. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [17988/22]

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

29. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine. [18039/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 to 29, inclusive, together.

We have condemned the war since the start as immoral and unjustifiable, and rightly so, but the evidence emerging at the weekend of horrific crimes against civilians in regions north of Kyiv is especially and profoundly shocking. Such unspeakable deeds cannot go unanswered and those responsible must be held to account.

I spoke to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, by phone on 16 March during my visit to the United States. I found him to be calm, focused and determined. He expressed his gratitude to the Government and people of Ireland for their support for Ukraine, including in welcoming those fleeing the war; for our support for Ukraine's application for EU membership; and for our support for the most robust and severe sanctions against Russia. He also expressed his condolences on the death of Pierre Zakrzewski, the Irish photojournalist killed in Ukraine alongside his colleague, Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova, on 14 March.

President Zelenskyy briefed me on the very difficult situation on the ground in Ukraine, which has included indiscriminate attacks on civilians. He also made the case for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. I assured him of Ireland's ongoing solidarity with his Government and people in the face of the brutal and illegal war they are suffering.

President Zelenskyy also engaged remotely with the meeting of the European Council that I attended in Brussels on 24 March. He set out the desperate circumstances facing civilians in Ukraine and called for the EU to exercise the maximum pressure on Russia to end its appalling war.

I welcome that President Zelenskyy has accepted the Ceann Comhairle's invitation to address the joint Houses of the Oireachtas this week.

I also spoke with the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal, on 1 March, when he briefed me on the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation on the ground at that time. I conveyed the Government's and the Irish public's strong solidarity with Ukraine and its people, and outlined the steps we are taking as a country and as an EU member state to support Ukraine.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the work of the ambassador of Ukraine to Ireland, H.E. Larysa Gerasko, and her team, in the face of very difficult circumstances. I know that all of us in this House appreciate her ongoing efforts on behalf of the Ukrainian Government and people.

We have seen absolutely horrific pictures from Bucha which, I hope, will leave nobody in any doubt that the illegal Russian invasion and bombardment has crossed the line into war crime. I note Lithuania has expelled the Russian ambassador in response to events in Bucha. I again make the case that we should follow suit and rather than inviting the Russian ambassador to the Dáil, we should be instructing him to pack his bags and leave. We are a neutral country. We should be proud of our military neutrality. Our response to these types of actions need to be diplomatic and robust. Expelling the Russian ambassador is one strong measure we could take.

The Taoiseach, in his response to questions about the European Council meetings, did not reference the issues of food security and agriculture supports, unless I missed it. A number of questions about the pig sector were put to the Taoiseach earlier. Some 5% of pig farmers have now left the sector. They are in desperate need of further supports. They acknowledge the supports that are in place but farmers from across all sectors have for several months been suffering as a result of increased input costs and, in many cases, depressed prices. Will the Taoiseach inform us as to whether or not he will be utilising and leveraging the European crisis reserve and co-financing to the maximum permitted level of 200%? Will he ensure that some of the Brexit adjustment reserve package of €1 billion that was secured by Ireland, primarily as a result of the stories of Irish farmers, will go to Irish farmers? Those farmers have not yet received a penny while €100 million has been ring-fenced for the meat factories. These are important times that require important interventions.

The atrocities being committed by Russian forces are becoming more visible as each day of the war passes. What has been revealed in Bucha and around Kyiv, following the retreat of Russian troops, is totally shocking. It is clear that innocent civilians were targeted. Their bodies strewn across the streets are there for all to see. Rape, sexual violence, torture and summary executions are commonplace.

President Zelenskyy has described the situation as genocide. These are war crimes. Human Rights Watch has said as much. All necessary investigations must be carried out to bring this case before the International Criminal Court. In light of the most recent revelations of Russian atrocities, a fifth package of sanctions from the EU has just been announced. I understand there will be a complete ban on the import of coal from Russia but that additional sanctions are still under consideration, according to the President of the European Commission, with particular reference to Russian oil. Is the Taoiseach satisfied with the fifth round of sanctions just announced? Does he think we can go further? What other sanctions would Ireland contemplate in the context of the EU in the coming days and weeks?

Sadly, we continue to see the horrors inflicted on the people of Ukraine by a brutal Russian invasion. War crimes are being committed daily. The united European Union response, in its strongest possible format, needs to be continued, with additional measures as well. This military aggression has to be anathema to every right-thinking person. I welcome the withdrawal of more Irish companies from Russia. Those decisions should be commended and strongly encouraged in respect of any Irish businesses that remain in Russia. We all know that at the present time, the priority must be providing for the safety of the Ukrainian people and getting humanitarian aid to those most in need. I am glad to hear from the Taoiseach that there was a discussion at the European Council about deepening partnerships with the neighbours of the European Union to the east. I welcome the fact that there is a greater political awareness and acceptance of the need for the European Union to enlarge and have better relationships with those countries to its east. For far too long we have had too many apologists for Russian-style politics in this country. We must not lose sight of the longer-term project of having Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as EU members. Even though at the present time the priority must be the terrible conflict and getting humanitarian aid to people, the project of bringing those countries in as full EU members has to be progressed as much as possible within the present constraints.

Why did the European Council not come out strongly in favour of the cancellation of the Ukrainian national debt? Its external debt stood at $129 billion just before the invasion. God knows what it will be when the war ends and the country has to be reconstructed. Repayments of $14 billion are due in 2022 alone. What does repayment of such a debt actually mean? Last year, when the IMF loaned $5 billion to Ukraine, it said it would be repaid "mainly through a reduction in the real value of wages and social benefits". There you have it. That is it in a nutshell. Debt repayment means the impoverishment by bankers and governments of a people who have already lost so much at the hands of Putin and his murderous crew. Why did the Council not come out in favour of debt cancellation? Will the Taoiseach come out with a clear call for cancellation here today, in this Dáil?

Since the beginning of Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion of Ukraine this calendar year, European Union member states have expelled over 310 Russian diplomats from their embassies across the Union. That includes Lithuania, which very bravely and foresightedly expelled the Russian ambassador just this weekend. So far, the Irish Government has expelled four diplomats. While that is welcome, it is quite paltry considering the level and number of expulsions happening across the EU. My question is quite simple. Has the European Council discussed the co-ordination of diplomatic expulsions? This point was put to me by the Tánaiste when I first raised this issue a number of weeks ago. At the next opportunity, will the Taoiseach and his Ministers take the opportunity to finally expel the Russian ambassador and all the diplomats and, indeed, spies, who are resident in the embassy on Orwell Road?

It is totally beyond doubt that Putin's forces have been committing war crimes. We have seen the latest horrific scenes in Bucha but the targeting of civilians by Russia in a number of Ukrainian cities is very obvious and it should be prosecuted for those war crimes. Does the Taoiseach have any trust in the ability of the international community to pursue war crimes? The United Nations dropped the investigation of war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia after an intense lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Interestingly, that campaign was supported not only by the Americans who are arming Saudi Arabia but also by Russia. The United States and Russia found common cause in shutting down an investigation into war crimes in Yemen. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been appealing for the war crimes investigation in Yemen to be resumed but there has been no support from the western powers, Russia or Saudi Arabia. Similarly, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International allege that war crimes have been committed by Israel because of its use of white phosphorous in Gaza, imposing a collective punishment on Gaza through an illegal siege and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the occupied territories. Does the Taoiseach think there is any likelihood of these war crimes actually being pursued? We should have consistency and not double standards in the prosecution of war crimes.

Will the Taoiseach respond to the calls from Ukrainian trade unions and socialist organisations to cancel Ukraine's debt? This is odious debt. It is a result of the total oligarchisation of Ukrainian society, the refusal to go after the wealthy and horrendous conditions imposed by the IMF. The IMF repayments this year alone are the equivalent of 16.5 million average pension payments in Ukraine. That is 12% of the total state expenditure. The debt needs to be cancelled. That is a concrete measure that can be taken now.

Second, did the Taoiseach raise with President Zelenskyy the recent decision to suspend 11 political parties, which between them got almost 20% of the vote at the most recent election? These are not parties we would agree with. They include the main opposition party, the right-wing Platform for Life, which won 44 seats in the Ukrainian Parliament. However, it is a worrying restriction on democratic rights and it will undermine the struggle against the Russian invasion if the Ukrainian Government is telling people the parties they voted for are beyond the pale.

On a related matter, but moving slightly sideways, has the European Union discussed the importation of liquefied natural gas, LNG, from the USA as a reaction to the Ukrainian crisis and in order to move away from the consumption of Russian gas and oil? Poor old António Guterres is getting quoted a lot in this House today. He warned European countries against this consumption of fossil fuels when he said, "Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use." He said we are putting the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises, and that "this is madness: addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction." When we built the anti-war movement in the early 2000s, we had a slogan: "No blood for oil". I hope we are not now seeing blood for gas. This geopolitical struggle and the attempt to flood US gas into Europe is something we will regret in the long run. As the Centre for International Law has said, there is no silver bullet for solving the climate crisis but there is a smoking gun, and that is fossil fuels. We have to focus. Did the European Union discussion focus on cutting our fossil fuel use, rather than shifting it?

The Taoiseach discussed the wider implications for Europe following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the areas of defence and energy and the significant impact of high energy prices being felt across the European Union. While I welcome the Government's measures to tackle the energy costs to date, the Taoiseach also said that if Ireland was to reduce its VAT rate, we would lose the EU derogation governing VAT and excise duty. However, he said the Government would seek flexibility around this.

Does the Taoiseach have an update on whether this has been agreed and when does he expect a decision to be made on any downward adjustment on the VAT rate for fuel?

I thank the Taoiseach for the updates on the Council of Europe and the conversation with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. We all look forward to President Zelenskyy's address to these Houses tomorrow. I also want to pay tribute to Larysa Gerasko, the Ukrainian ambassador, who has been to the fore in highlighting how we can do more to support the people of Ukraine. We have seen huge welcome and support for Ukrainian refugees coming here and notable efforts by volunteers and State employees to ensure refugees feel supported here. We have to escalate our response and our condemnation of Russia, particularly as we see evidence growing of atrocities being committed against civilians in Bucha and with the siege of Mariupol. Can we now move to expel the Russian ambassador? I am conscious that many others have asked for this and we have seen Lithuania move independently to do this. Although it was welcome to see our Government expelling four senior diplomats from the embassy last week there are still 27 diplomats on Orwell Road in Dublin in the Russian Embassy. We see Ciara Phelan reporting in today's Irish Mirror that many Irish people here are choosing to give those diplomats the cold shoulder but it is time for the Government to show its utter condemnation of these appalling atrocities being committed by Russia by expelling our ambassador. We should go further than that by also placing an embargo on Russian oil and gas.

We are all affected and appalled by the images we are seeing in Ukraine. On the sanctions that are already in place, almost half of the 33 Irish special purpose vehicles, SPVs, used by Russian banks and companies are subject to the current sanctions and about €35 billion is involved, a lot of which washes through. The professional firms that manage the SPVs are obliged to freeze the sanctioned assets but the Central Bank does not regulate them. What initiatives are being put in place to identify the true owners in order that the sanctions that have been put in place are applying and in order that people cannot circumvent them? We called for the Russian ambassador to be expelled and he is not immune to the images we are all seeing. Yet he is putting out statements denying what is patently obvious from independent sources. How can someone like that be relied on to be an intermediary or diplomat when he is denying what is happening? That is an affront to us and he needs to be expelled.

Deputy Carthy began the round of questions and referred to the pig industry. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has been working intensively with the industry and we are conscious of the difficulties and challenges it has been going through on a number of fronts. It is normally a viable industry and we will do everything we can to support it. We will work with European Commission leeway and flexibilities to do so and we will see what can be done to underpin that with the application of the Brexit fund. I understand the Deputy's comments on diplomacy and I welcome what is essentially a handbrake turn on his party's behalf in respect of the expulsion of Russian diplomats because I recall that not so long ago, the Deputy described the expulsion of a diplomat in a serious situation as undermining our military neutrality. Nonetheless, I welcome the Deputy's support of our initiative last week to remove four senior officials from the embassy.

That was at the behest of MI5. The difference with this is the call is from the Dáil.

Deputy Haughey raised the importance of making sure that evidence is gathered and that we bring the evidence of the appalling war crimes to the International Criminal Court, which I wholeheartedly support. Everybody condemns the appalling and indiscriminate murder of civilians in Bucha and in other towns in the environs of Kyiv. One is also conscious that in Mariupol and other cities, more horrendous situations may emerge, which unquestionably represent the worst of humanity.

On sanctions, we support banning oil and coal imports from Russia and along with other EU member states we have been pushing for that although it has to be agreed by all 27 EU member states. I will assess the situation when I leave the Chamber but we want the strongest possible sanctions. We are mindful that we are not as dependent on Russian gas as other countries. Sometimes it can be easier for countries that will not be as impacted as others to start calling for measures. The overriding principle has to be that these measures punish the Russian Federation more than member states. So far, the sanctions have been unprecedented and severe and we will have to continue to do everything we can to keep the pressure on to stop this war. We must raise the prospect of international criminal trials to bring war criminals to justice as part of that.

Deputy Brendan Smith's points followed on from that and I strongly support his points about the EU perspective of many states in the neighbourhood of Russia.

We should be accelerating their applications to join the European Union, particularly Ukraine but also the western Balkan countries, where quite a number of states are well advanced. The European Union has been somewhat too slow in accepting their applications and some member states have held back in agreeing to allowing those countries to join. From a geopolitical perspective, the strongest protection that many countries in the neighbourhood of Russia and the EU have is membership of the European Union. When the Cold War edifice and the Soviet empire collapsed, the people of countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, for the first time ever, had a chance to get into a democratic framework and be part of a wider family of European Union nations. They grasped that opportunity with open arms and that is why many of them joined NATO as well. They did so because of their acute sense of insecurity, which we do not have to the same extent when it comes to Russia. We have no sense of the experience that Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and Hungarians had at the hands-----

I am dealing with the questions one by one. It is not all about the Deputy. There are other Deputies in the House and I am answering their questions. I wanted to make that point.

Deputy Barry raised the cancellation of debt. Again, the European Union has been and will continue to be the biggest donor to Ukraine. I have no doubt that in the aftermath of this war, it will be Europe and other like-minded states that will have to come to the rescue. Already we decided at the Council of Europe meeting to set up a Ukraine fund for current funding and capital reconstruction of Ukraine in the aftermath of the war. That is the esprit de corps of the Council of Europe and the European Union. I note the intention of the Deputy's questions is to create another negative assertion on the motivations of the European Union. It is quite frustrating to watch the trend and patterns of how the debate goes and how people endeavour to swing it.

Is the Taoiseach going to support the cancellation of debt?

This is the classic stuff that you guys go on with, the whole time.

Just answer the question.

You never acknowledge that, for example, Germany is the biggest donor to Ukraine on a humanitarian level. I have no doubt that the international response will be one of absolute support for Ukraine and there will be various mechanisms to facilitate that. I have no intention of reducing that to a mere slogan.

Deputy Richmond raised the issue of the expulsion of diplomats. Expelling four diplomats was not paltry at all; it was quite substantive and significant from a Russian Federation perspective and relative to the size of other missions in other countries. A number of Deputies have raised the prospect of expelling the Russian ambassador. There were discussion on this at the Council of Europe and a number of member states raised it.

I raised the need for co-ordination regarding the diplomatic channel. Incidentally, that is not perceived to be the channel that would put the most pressure on Russia. The economic side and the deployment of the peace facility of over €1 billion from the European Union are seen as far more effective in protecting the people of Ukraine and providing for humanitarian matters. Nonetheless, messages have to be sent. We will work with other EU member states on this. I genuinely believe that the more collective actions are taken by EU member states, the better.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked questions about war crimes. I trust the international system to bring Russian war criminals to justice. It has happened. People from the Balkans were brought to trial and convicted.

Yemen, Palestine, Iraq. Forget it.

I do not forget it.

They are a different order of crimes.

I do not forget anything. I do not think we need to juxtapose one against the other all the time.

They are all war crimes.

I believe war crimes should be pursued in every context.

They have not been in Yemen.

I said every context.

Deputy Paul Murphy referred to the European Union. At the last European Council meeting, it decided to establish a fund to restore and reconstruct Ukraine in the aftermath of the war and to help with its current budgeting. Issues with debt will have to be worked out in the aftermath of the war. In the meantime, the focus is on trying to defend the people from Ukraine from a humanitarian perspective. Many members of the European Union are sending lethal weapons to help the Ukrainians to defend themselves. We sent non-lethal equipment to help Ukrainians in the war effort.

What about the suspension of the parties?

In response to Deputy Bríd Smith, we raised the issue of fossil fuels and renewables. President von der Leyen and the Commission put forward a strong narrative about energy for the future. The obvious future pathway is renewables. By the end of 2030, we have to eliminate any dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal.

But it is okay to depend on the US gas?

Renewables are the most effective way to do it. In the context of the war, one cannot ignore that countries need gas and fuel now.

We are way over time.

There will be LNG across Europe. We cannot tell them-----

By 2030, we will be dependent on US gas instead.

Deputy Dillon raised the issue of wider implications for diplomatic matters, which I have dealt with. I covered the issues raised by Deputy Paul Murphy too.

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