I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I have been here for 12 years now representing the people of County Limerick. In response to Deputy O'Donoghue, I do not need to be reminded of my job. I am well capable of being reminded of that by the people of County Limerick. Having been returned by them three times now, I must be doing something right. A number of questions were asked. I will try to do my best. Most of the Deputies who asked them are not in the Chamber now. Many of the questions pertain to different Departments. We have made records of them and we will reply to them in writing because they do not actually relate to the European Council at all.
I will take the last questions first, which relate specifically to the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Transport. I will refer Deputy O'Donoghue's questions to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan and get a reply to him.
In general, with regard to rural infrastructure, I note that in the Limerick Leader, Weekly Observer and Vale Mallow Star and Observer, the Deputy is very quick to welcome much of the Government's investment in rural roads. As someone who works in construction, I note the Deputy is very praiseworthy of the Government's increased investment in roads all over County Limerick. We are doing a very good job in investing in roads in County Limerick. The Deputy is also very praiseworthy of the Government's rural transport infrastructure improvements, which have been done all over County Limerick. We are, therefore, doing an awful lot of very positive things as well. The Deputy gets a lot of speaking time in this Chamber. He is no stranger to taking a lot of credit for some of the stuff the Government is doing in County Limerick. During some of the times he uses that speaking time here, he might put in the odd plug for the positive stuff we are doing as well, because it is not all negative.
I will start at the beginning of the questions. Deputy McDonald raised the issue, as did many Deputies, including previous speakers, of the area of VAT. In his opening remarks the Taoiseach said this issue relates not only to Ireland. All member states have asked that this be dealt with. In fairness, Deputy McDonald did say, and I wrote it down, that "the Government cannot do everything" and that she recognises this is a very complicated issue. Every speaker who came in here said the Government cannot do everything and then went on to say the Government should do everything. It is a case of the oxymorons; the Government cannot do everything. I recognise that the cost of living in every household in the country has gone through the roof. A person would want to be living on a different planet not to recognise that. The Government simply cannot do everything but it is trying to respond, as every member state of the European Union is doing.
The Taoiseach was one of the first out of the blocks with regard to being one of the first Prime Ministers to raise the issue of VAT. Further work with the European Commission is required to do this because previous speakers, who I think were from Sinn Féin, said that once this war passes - and it will pass - there will be a requirement for the VAT rate to go back up. When that does happen, I am sure many people will be clamouring to tell the Government not to do that. The Taoiseach is very conscious of that issue.
Many speakers raised the issue of where we are specifically around EU-China affairs and about EU-India affairs. Credit must again go to the Taoiseach. He was the first Prime Minister to raise the issue of India's position on the atrocities that are happening in Ukraine at the moment. I also wish to make a personal comment, a Cheann Comhairle. Being a Minister of State, one does not get speaking time like many Deputies do on different matters. I wish to mention some specific issues that have been raised. Ireland's relations with China are closely linked to the EU perspective. The EU strategy of managing complex relations is a good one. We understand and accept the differing elements that need to be addressed in a strategic and united matter when it comes to China. The same issue runs through with regard to India. The Taoiseach has been very clear in relation to that.
Deputy Cian O’Callaghan said that condemnation is not enough and we need action, and that practical assistance will be required. However, then other speakers and questioners said that practical assistance cannot involve Ireland getting involved militarily. This is, therefore, the dilemma in which the country is involved. How far do we move towards getting involved that does not see this country being practically militarily involved? That is a dilemma the country has confronted from the outset of this war. We have confronted it in a very practical sense by making sure we provide humanitarian aid but also by providing very practical assistance.
I wish to pay tribute to the Ceann Comhairle's initiative of inviting the President of Ukraine to address us this morning. In many ways, it was historic. We can use every kind of cliché we want. It was also a source of terrible embarrassment, however, to be in a Chamber where colleagues refused to clap. I come from a part of the world where we use an expression that goes when you are in a hole, you should stop digging. They came in then and tried to give an explanation as to why they did not clap. One can see in his face and from his facial expressions, by his demeanour and from photographs that have been taken of him, how this war has run President Zelenskyy down and how it has destroyed his country and his people. They used these mar dhea excuses, together with their colleagues in the European Parliament in some sort of warped ideology, not to support him. They say they will support his country but they will not support him. I feel sorry for them that as parliamentarians, they would do that today. They brought shame on themselves but they also brought a degree of shame on us because as colleagues of theirs, we have to share a room with them. I ask them to reflect on it and to come back and apologise for it. One of them happens to be an officeholder of this Parliament. To me, that is a source of embarrassment.
I wish to pay tribute to the Ceann Comhairle's initiative of inviting the President of Ukraine to address us this morning. It was in many ways historic and we can use every kind of cliché we want. It was also a source of terrible embarrassment to be in a Chamber where colleagues refused to clap. I come from a part of the world where we use an expression that when you are in a hole, you should stop digging. They came in then and tried to give an explanation as to why they did not clap. One can see in his face and from his facial expressions, by his demeanor and from photographs that have been taken of him, how this war has run President Zelenskyy down and how it has destroyed his country and his people. These colleagues used these mar dhea excuses, together with their colleagues in the European Parliament, to in some way excuse, through some sort of warped ideology, in some not support him. We will support his country but they will support him. I feel sorry for them that as parliamentarians they would do that today. They brought shame on themselves but they also brought a degree of shame on us because as colleagues, we have to share a room with them. I would really ask them to reflect on it. I ask them to come back and apologise for it. One of them happens to be an officeholder of this Parliament and to me, that is a source of embarrassment.
Outside being a Member of this Parliament, I am a husband and father to three young children. One image has really stuck in my mind in the last couple of weeks. It is an image of what people say is potentially a three-year-old child who is gagged, blindfolded, with hands tied and possibly raped. I have a seven-year-old, a three-year-old and a two-year-old. That three-year-old could potentially be mine in any other circumstance. There can be no equivocation in this. There can be no hiding places and no excuses. There can be no press statement saying they did not clap because of X, Y or Z. To me, this is very black and white. A person is either in or our out with regard to these atrocities.
I did not get a chance to speak to the whole Ukrainian situation during the statements that were given the previous week. To me, the Ceann Comhairle's position this morning really summed up the question of whether we are neutral. We are not neutral. How can we be neutral in this? How could we not have a position with regard to right or wrong? Before I came into the Dáil, I was a primary teacher. Deputy O'Donoghue took issue one morning on Live 95 with the fact that I was a primary teacher. He said there were too many primary teachers in the Dáil. I was also an engineer, by the way. I was an industrial chemist, to satisfy the Deputy's curiosity in that respect as well.
I always told children that if they ever had a doubt about something being right or wrong, it was probably wrong. Some Deputies had an issue earlier relating to whether they should clap in response to President Zelenskyy’s address. Some of them began clapping, looked to their colleagues and then stopped clapping. To me, they are a source of embarrassment to this Parliament and to us as colleagues. They should reflect on what they have done, come back to the Chamber and set the record straight. They should make a personal statement to the House and apologise for their actions. Given what has been said on Twitter, they have invited unnecessary commentary on what was an otherwise very positive initiative on the part of the Ceann Comhairle.
Turning to some of the issues Deputy Mairéad Farrell raised in respect of the IFSC, which Deputy Sherlock also raised in the context of legislation proposed by his Labour Party colleague, they will be referred to the Minister for Finance.
I have dealt with the issue raised by People Before Profit regarding solidarity.
I agree entirely with Deputy Leddin regarding the issue of green energy but, unfortunately, like Robert Frost's line about two roads diverging in a yellow wood, I am going to take a different road. He is going to take the road of green energy in the medium term, but our definitions of "medium term" might differ. That we have gas storage, which we need, in a different jurisdiction proves we need a policy on gas storage in this country in the short term. We cannot rely on a third country, outside of the European Union, to store our gas, which is happening at the moment. An LNG facility in a country outside of the European Union is storing our gas and that policy is not sustainable into the short and medium terms, by which I mean ten years. We need a policy on green energy that will allow electricity to be brought into Moneypoint to be converted into hydrogen, stored, transferred across the grid and sold to France - I am all for that - but what will we do between now and then?
We need to be able to import gas from different sources such as the Gulf of Mexico and the United States, with conditions applied to that, rather than simply finding an Irish solution for an Irish problem, which has been done for other, social elements in the past to deal with problems we wanted to sweep under the carpet in this country. We have dealt with issues by exporting them to the United Kingdom. We did that very unsuccessfully, historically in this country, to our shame in respect of other issues, and we are now doing it with gas importation. We are already importing fracked gas through a gas interconnector, and it suits the narrative of some people whereby just because it is done from the UK, we need not talk about it.
We do need to talk about it and have a discussion in this country about our energy security. The discussion needs to be honest and open and it needs to be held here and now. We need to start talking about gas storage. Deputy Leddin is correct in respect of the coal-fired station, but we are damn lucky we have it now. If we had not built it in the 1980s, what would we have now? I would probably be talking to the House under candlelight because the lights would have gone out if not for Moneypoint. Moneypoint is going gangbusters at the moment and God help us if we did not have it. While we are lucky to have onshore wind, it is not reliable.
Deputy Naughten referred to offshore wind electricity. Again, we will refer those issues to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, but I nonetheless fully concur.
Deputy Pringle, who is no longer in the Chamber, referred to an issue that concerns my constituency and Aughinish Alumina. It is a pity when people get their information from online sources, which tend to be based on rumour and innuendo. If he had asked somebody like me, or perhaps Deputy O'Donoghue, who might know something about Aughinish Alumina, he would know that what he said about the operation of the plant was an utter fallacy. The plant employs well over 1,000 people in my constituency and it is not in any way connected to a war machine. In fact, it provides Europe with up to 30% of the alumina required for the Continent’s construction and aircraft and car manufacturing and is an integral part of Europe's alumina industry. It is not connected, as some people might want to suggest, to any sort of Russian empire.
If there are any points I have not responded to, I will come to them in my closing remarks.