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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 21 Jun 2018

Vol. 258 No. 13

Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

A Uachtaráin Juncker, mir wenschen Iech haerzlech wilkomen zu Dublin. Is mór an pléisiúr dom fáilte a chur romhat anseo inniu, thar ceann an Chathaoirligh agus thar mo cheann féin, agus thar ceann Chomhaltaí uile Dháil Éireann agus Sheanad Éireann. Tá áthas orainn gur ghlac tú lenár gcuireadh páirt a ghlacadh sa mhalartú tuairimí seo, an tráth dúshlánach seo i saol an Aontais Eorpaigh. Ba mhaith liom freisin fáilte chroíúil a chur roimh Coimisinéir Phil Ó hÓgáin, an Uasal Michel Barnier, príomh-chaibidleoir an Choimisiúin maidir le Brexit, agus roimh chomhaltaí eile do thoscaireachta, in Áiléar na gCuairteoirí Oirirce.

Monsieur le Président Juncker, je suis très heureux de vous accueillir aujourd'hui au nom du Cathaoirleach et de moi-même, ainsi qu'au nom de tous les Membres de Dáil Éireann et de Seanad Éireann. Nous sommes ravis que vous ayez accepté notre invitation à participer à cet échange de vues, en cette période difficile que vit l'Union Européenne. I extend also a warm welcome to Commissioner Phil Hogan, Mr. Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief negotiator for Brexit, and, indeed, the other members of your delegation in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.

President Juncker, you have a shown a keen interest in Ireland's role and future in Europe. As I welcome you to our Parliament, I am conscious that you are no stranger to our country or to this fair city. If I am not mistaken, it was here in Dublin at the European People's Party congress in 2014 that you were chosen as the candidate of that party for the Presidency of the European Commission, the role you now hold. As such, I am sure you have fond memories of your time here. As you said in your most recent State of the Union address, "Now is the time to build a more united, a stronger, a more democratic Europe for 2025." Today, as our Parliament contributes to the debate on matters of concern to the European Union, we fulfil one of the principal objectives of Article 12 of the treaty and contribute to a more democratic Europe.

There are many critical issues facing the Union today, including the need to maintain competitiveness and economic growth and the need to address the challenges of unemployment, migration and climate and technological change. We are also seeing increased geopolitical instability and threats to security from terrorist attacks. There is also, of course, the ever present challenge of keeping the Union close to its people. The democratic principles which informed the creation of the EU will be key to addressing these issues, as will solidarity among member states. As we chart a direction for the future as a Union of 27, we should have regard to those democratic principles wherever possible. In this context, we are mindful of the fact that, in less than one year's time, Europe's voters will exercise their mandate in elections to the European Parliament.

From an Irish point of view, the decision by the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union has profound implications given its impact on Northern Ireland and the peace process, as well as on trade and the common travel area between our two islands. I know, President Juncker, that you share these concerns and have expressed a desire that the Good Friday Agreement be preserved in all its dimensions and that life for citizens on both sides of the Border should continue as it is today. We welcome these sentiments. As we enter the decisive stage of the Brexit negotiations, I am reminded of the fact that, as Prime Minister of Luxembourg, you visited Dublin in 1996 and mediated successfully a dispute over your own EU economic and monetary union policy between French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Indeed, the press dubbed you at the time the "Hero of Dublin" for achieving an unlikely consensus between the two. Those mediation skills and an ability to reach consensus will be much needed in the days, weeks and months ahead as we seek a solution which will benefit all.

Since the negotiations are now entering a particularly crucial phase, today's proceedings are timely and we appreciate the opportunity to hear your views at this important juncture. President Juncker, I now invite you join us in the Chamber to make your statement to this historic joint sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, then delivered his address.

Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker

Mr. Speaker, Taoiseach, other Members, I have some difficulties in walking. I am not drunk; I have sciatica. I would prefer to be drunk. It is a real honour to be with you here today for this special joint sitting of the Houses. It is a particular honour for me that you have joined in order to listen, hopefully carefully, to what I intend to say.

Over the years, I have spent some emotional and memorable moments here in Ireland. I think of the crucial Dublin summit in December 1996 where we paved the way for the single currency with the Stability and Growth Pact. Since then, my second name is "Hero of Dublin" - I am doing something for the reputation of the city. I think of the "Day of Welcomes" in May 2004, when we gathered in Phoenix Park to welcome ten new countries into our Union celebrating the moment where European history and European geography came together. On a more personal note, I think back to 2014 when, in Dublin, I was elected as the lead candidate for my party ahead of the European elections. On that day, I stood side by side with a certain Michel Barnier. We were running together, not he against me, not me against him, but I won. I am delighted that, four years on, we are back, Michel and myself, here in Ireland still standing together. He is a loyal friend to me, to our Union and to your nation.

Ever since it took its rightful place in our Union some 45 years ago, Ireland has acted like a founding member state and often more than some founding member states themselves. You have always sought the European approach, understanding that what is good for all in our Union is good for us all individually.

Ireland, itself, has come a long way in that time. It went from a small, mainly agricultural economy to a thriving Celtic tiger in the 1990s and in the 2000s and thanks to difficult, tough decisions following the crisis, the economy is now more than back on its feet. The crisis took its toll on citizens and businesses alike but together, you have managed to turn the country around. Growth is projected at 5.8% this year, the second fastest anywhere in Europe, and unemployment is set to drop to less than 5% next year. Ireland has become a pioneer of the digital world and is now a hub for some of the world's best innovators and entrepreneurs. This reflects just how much this country has embraced the modern world.

It is now the most youthful country in our Union with a median age almost ten years younger than Germany and Italy. It is the most optimistic country in our Union with the highest proportion of people with a positive image of the European Union anywhere in Europe. I have to tell the one who wrote this speech that the approval of the European Union is even higher in Luxembourg than in Ireland but they are always treating Luxembourg with benign neglect - that is the reason I had to complete what he or she has so well done.

Ireland is the most globalised country in our Union thanks to its open nature and high level of economic and social integration with the rest of the world and it is a country that is undergoing a more profound transformation with more than half Ireland's population not born at the time of the decision to join the European Union. The recent referendums on marriage equality and abortion reflect a deeper shift in societal views, a shift that would not have been contemplated even a generation ago. Both of these issues were approved decisively and clearly by the people. To quote George Bernard Shaw, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." This sums up the transformation this country has undergone.

Perhaps the biggest change of all is that today's children can grow up in a peaceful land. That is, first and foremost, down to the people who live on this island but it is also true that this long and winding path to peace was greatly supported by European Union membership. From 1973 onwards, both Ireland and the UK worked together on European issues, dialogue returned, relations slowly started to thaw and over time, co-operation, compromise and mutual respect replaced suspicion, scepticism and mutual distrust. This is the European Union at its best, building bridges and working for peace and it shows what it means to be a member of our Union. It means agreeing to settle conflicts around a table rather than with arms. It means designing and abiding by rules to build trust and confidence between us. It means voluntarily pooling our sovereignty to make ourselves stronger. It means speaking with one voice in an increasingly volatile and unstable world and it means having the weight of 26 other partners united behind you when you need it the most. This is what Ireland can rely on, both today and in the future.

Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom. Two years ago this week, the British people made a sovereign decision to leave our Union. I wish they had made a different one but it is their decision and I respect it fully. However, other member states and Ireland in particular, should not pay the price for that choice. This is why, when it comes to Brexit, I have always said that it is a case of Ireland first. We have made much progress in negotiations, notably on issues linked to the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom, but we are not yet there. The hardest parts are still to do and there is not much time left to find a concrete agreement.

On Ireland, both sides agree on the main principles. There should be no return of a hard border. We need common rules to preserve North-South co-operation. Most importantly, this means the Good Friday Agreement should be preserved in its entirety - every line, every letter.

Twenty years ago, 94% of the people in Ireland and 71% in Northern Ireland endorsed this agreement. They voted overwhelmingly for peace and peace is what it has delivered, built on trust, fairness, equality, the rule of law and democracy. Whether one lives in Derry or in Donegal, the Border has been out of sight and out of mind for 20 years and that is how it must stay.

That is why we have put forward clear proposals, including a backstop option to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and ensure there will be no hard border. The backstop is bespoke and a workable solution. It has been designed for Northern Ireland and to uphold its constitutional status, but this tailored solution for Northern Ireland cannot fit the whole of the United Kingdom. It covers all necessary customs and regulatory controls to avoid a hard border and does not jeopardise future relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The United Kingdom's proposals for a temporary customs arrangement show a certain willingness to make progress, but they do not, for instance, show how a regulatory alignment would work. In practice, they authorise a number of new questions such as how the backstop can have an expiration date if the commitment to having no hard border does not. We have less than ten months to Brexit and need more answers and fewer new questions.

We will continue - my friend Michel Barnier, me and others - to take a pragmatic approach to finding solutions, but I also want to be clear - Ireland will come first. There are those who think the other 26 countries will abandon Ireland at the last minute for a separate deal that suits them. Those people have not understood what being part of our Union means. Ireland's border is Europe's border and our Union's priority.

Of course, it is in everyone's interests for the United Kingdom and the European Union to stay as close as possible and be friends, partners and allies. The reality is that there is no arrangement outside the European Union which is as good as membership. It simply does not exist. Instead, our goal is to secure the next best option for both sides. With pragmatism comes realism. As the clock ticks down to Brexit, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal. This is neither a desired nor a likely outcome, but it is not an impossible one and we are getting ready just in case. We will use all tools at our disposal which could have a cushioning impact. The new long-term budget for our Union from 2021 onwards has an in-built flexibility that could allow us to redirect funds if the situation arose. We will also earmark €120 million for a new PEACE programme, a programme which has done so much in breaking down barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the Border counties. I see no better use of the European budget than finalising peace and community values. In all cases I reaffirm our commitment that a united Europe will support Ireland every step of the way and that this unity is more important and relevant than ever, given the increasingly fragile and fractured world around us.

Ten days ago I was in Canada for the G7 summit. It was a moment of reality for the international rules based order Europe and the United States did so much to build. The United States is a special partner for Ireland. Your shared history goes deeper than most. The very house in which we are standing today was the model for the White House and the United States will continue to be a special partner for Europe too. We make each other safer, more secure and prosperous, but at the same time we must stand firm for the rules and values in which we believe. We must take on the mantle of leadership. That is what we are doing on climate change and nuclear weapons in Iran. We have made a commitment because it is good for us and good for the world and we will stick to those commitments.

That is what we must also do when it comes to free and fair trade. The trade in which we believe is built on rules, trust and a reliable partnership. The United States' decision to impose tariffs on Europe goes against this. In fact, it goes against all logic and history and our response must be clear but measured. We will do what we have to do to rebalance and safeguard, but at the same time, we will move forward in new partnerships with like-minded companies. It makes sense for us and our economy. Our trade agreement with Canada, for instance, removes duties on 98% of the products we buy from and sell to one another. The agreement with Japan which will be signed in July will be a real opportunity for Irish farmers, in particular. Ireland exports over 40,000 tonnes of beef to Japan every year, at a tariff of 38.5%. The new agreement will reduce this figure drastically, further opening up a market of 125 million people. We have just concluded an agreement with Mexico and now have the green light to start negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. In each case we have a clear mandate from all member states and the European Parliament and will insist on a balanced outcome for all, including agriculture and all other important sectors. These agreements are not only good for our economy but they also help us to export our standards and values. They make food with care for all.

Our values also extend to the digital world. Rules that apply offline should also apply online, especially when it comes to paying a fair share of tax on profits made. The truth is that our tax laws have not kept up with the pace of change. They were designed in a world where digital companies did not yet really figure. Today nine of the top 20 largest companies in the world are digital. This shows the economic potential of digital companies, but with profits comes the duty to pay taxes. The amounts that are going untaxed are both unsustainable and unacceptable. I know that this is a difficult issue in this country. Sometimes when I am listening to debates here, I fall back to the Luxembourg Parliament because in Luxembourg we have exactly the same debates, but from time to time people have to change their minds if they want to change reality. As with any digital issue, the taxation problem is a global challenge. We are working with our partners across the world to find a solution on which we all agree. In the meantime we must equip member states to tax profits when they are made in their countries, even if a company does not have a physical presence there. As with trade, the digital world is an opportunity for Europe to lead and set an example.

The truth is that recent events are a sharp reminder of the need for European unity if our voices are to be heard on the world stage. Mr. Speaker and honorary Members, it was Oscar Wilde's Algernon who said it best when he said, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." The truth of today's world is neither pure nor simple. On the one hand, the case for real co-operation is stronger than ever and, on the other, we see a temptation on the part of some to go it alone. In the face of that truth, we all face a choice - unite around our common values and work for our common good or each of us spin off and get what we can. Europe has already made its choice - we will stay united, whether it be on Brexit, trade, Iran or climate change. I am delighted that last year's global Ireland strategy presented by the Taoiseach made exactly this commitment. It is the image of modern Ireland. I count on you to ensure Europe will stay at the heart of Ireland and you can count on me that Ireland will stay at the heart of Europe.

I greet respectfully all of the former Ministers I have met during my long life, veterans and others. Thank you for listening. I am happy to be here.

Members applauded.

The Taoiseach

A Cheann Chomhairle, a Chathaoirligh, President Juncker, distinguished members, it is an honour to lead the responses at this joint sitting for President Juncker's speech. Let me begin by thanking the Commission President for his fine contribution. Four years ago, President Juncker was chosen by the European Peoples' Party, EPP, a party of which Fine Gael is a member, as candidate for the Commission Presidency here in Dublin. Since taking office in November 2014, President Juncker has repaid in full the trust placed in him by that year's EPP Congress.

The three values he highlighted at the start of his tenure were experienced and efficient leadership, solidarity among people and nations and a strong vision for the future. Those values have come to epitomise the Juncker Commission. Having served as President of the Eurogroup from 2005 to 2013, he played a central role in leading Europe safely out of the financial crisis and intact. His careful stewardship of the post-crisis period is reflected in the favourable economic climate across Europe today: rates of economic growth are at a ten-year high, unemployment is at a ten-year low and interest rates and inflation are low. The European economy has so far created over 8 million new jobs during the President's mandate. We have the highest levels of employment ever recorded, not just here in Ireland but also in the European Union. Today, there are 238 million men and women in employment in the EU 28, including over 157 million in the euro area. Investment has returned, debt burdens are easing, public finances are back close to balance and 2018 looks set to be the first year since the beginning of economic and monetary union in which all member states will manage budget deficits of less than 3% of gross domestic product, GDP.

When Luxembourg held the Presidency of the European Council in 2005, President Juncker designed the Stability and Growth Pact. Although it has taken a little longer than any of us anticipated, the arrival of balanced budgets is an important milestone. If the European ideal is to be meaningful, it must always be about improving the living standards of our citizens. As a Prime Minister, re-elected many times, President Juncker understood this from the beginning. That is why last October's agreement on the European Pillar of Social Rights is so important and will surely rank among his finest achievements, although as was the case with the Stability and Growth Pact it may take time before we see the real value of that in people's lives.

President Juncker has created a political compass that will help guide our collective actions in the years ahead. At both national and EU levels, the social Pillar will help us chart the best course in dealing with the challenges that come with globalisation in the 21st century. Best of all, it will enable all our citizens to participate effectively in a world of such rapid change. We share a vision of how to support vibrant rural communities, the beating heart of so many countries. EU agricultural and rural development policies keep that lifeblood flowing. So it is with particular pleasure that I acknowledge the distinguished role played by our own Commissioner, Phil Hogan, in keeping this portfolio firmly at the top of the EU's political agenda. That includes preparing for the post-2020 European budget.

Not that long ago, some people, including some in this House, claimed that European policies were damaging our economy and delaying our recovery. Events since then have provided the strongest rebuttal. It has become clear that the European Union is the strongest bulwark we have for an open, rules-based multilateral order. Given events in the United States it has never been more important that we as Europeans stand strongly together. Seventy years ago, the European ideal was created out of the fires of a Continent that had been ravaged and destroyed by hatred and conflict after two world wars, in fact centuries of war. It was built on a dream for a future that few believed was possible. A vision of a better Europe, it succeeded in bringing peace and prosperity to a Continent. By creating the circumstances for economic growth and opportunities, it also secured personal and political freedoms thus providing the framework for Ireland to develop economically, socially, culturally and politically.

Over that period within the EU member states, every generation faced its own challenges and each generation overcame them. This generation faces many challenges, not least the challenge of Brexit, which is starting to resemble a riddle wrapped in an enigma. History will record the important role President Juncker has played at this very difficult time. In recent years we have had many upheavals such as the rise of populism and euroscepticism, nationalism and anti-democratic forces. Nonetheless our Union has retained its solidarity, supported by a renewed sense of purpose. The European Union is a union of laws and treaties, which can occasionally be difficult to navigate and sometimes cumbersome but it is at its purest and simplest when upholding our shared values: respect for human dignity, personal and economic freedom, democracy, equality before the law, the rule of law and human rights, commitment to peace and multilateralism and free trade and free markets. In Ireland we believe that these values are fundamental and irreducible and must always be defended. They cannot be taken for granted. The vision that delivered peace in Europe opened the door to peace in Ireland, removing borders, bringing people together and integrating economies. For us, Europe enabled our transformation from being a country on the periphery of the Continent, to an island at the centre of the world, at the heart of the common European home that we helped to build. As President Juncker said, we are perhaps not officially a founder member but a country that feels itself to be a founder member.

The great challenge we face on this island is to unwrap the enigma and solve the riddle of Brexit. It is as tricky as it sounds, so we are grateful for the diligence and understanding shown by the Commission's lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, in his conduct of these very difficult negotiations on behalf of the EU. Mr. Barnier, from all of us: you are very welcome back to this House and once again on behalf of the Irish people we thank you.

We all in this House recognise that Brexit poses unique and particular challenges for this country. We want to ensure that the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom is as close, comprehensive and ambitious as possible. That is in our interests and the interests of the EU as a whole. I believe it is in the interests of the United Kingdom as well. We want to move into the detailed negotiations about that relationship as soon as possible. However, the backstop for the Irish Border, agreed in December, must be legally operative in the withdrawal agreement, to apply "unless and until" an alternative solution is agreed. The Good Friday Agreement was made possible by shared membership of the European Union and the Single Market. It removed borders and differences between us. The removal of that foundation leaves us no less determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and in all that flows from it, peace in Britain and Ireland, power-sharing in Northern Ireland and ever closer cooperation between North and South. We are deeply grateful for the remarkable solidarity and support we have received from the EU institutions and fellow member states, none more so than from President Juncker and his team. There has been consistent recognition of the unique position of Northern Ireland and the unique situation in which it has been put by the decision of the UK to leave the European Union. There is no stronger evidence of how small countries benefit so much from EU membership and how membership matters.

In the 19th century, the great Luxembourg poet, Michel Rodange, used the character of Renert the Fox to satirise those who thought only of themselves and exploited those around them. It is a useful way of thinking about these challenges. In the 21st century we must reject the cynicism of self-interest and approach the most pressing issues of our time in a spirit of mutual interest, trust and affection. In this, the European Union can lead by example. The moral and political compass of President Juncker has helped to provide direction for Europe, creating more opportunities for our citizens and a better future for all. I extend my special thanks again today to Commission President Juncker, a longstanding friend of Ireland.

Tá áthas orm a bheith in ann mórbhuíochas a ghabháil le hUachtarán an Choimisiúin, an tUasal Juncker, buanchara d'Éire le fada. Chuir treoir mhóralta agus pholaitiúil Uachtarán Juncker go mór le maoirseacht láidir na hEorpa, rud a chruthaigh níos mó deiseanna d'ár saoránaigh agus todhchaí níos gile do chách.

Your proven commitment to the European ideal will always find a home here and our friendship will be steadfast as we work together for a better Europe.

President Juncker, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and on my own behalf, I am very pleased to join with the Ceann Comhairle and the Taoiseach in welcoming you to the Oireachtas and to thank you for your openness to holding this dialogue with us. We remember many years of co-operation with President Juncker both in the European Council and in ECOFIN.  While we were not always on the same side of specific issues we never doubted his commitment to the fundamental European ideal of shared progress. His background as a leader of a small nation, which has also struggled over many centuries to secure its sovereignty and identity, always demonstrated itself in what we saw as a sincere interest in Ireland and its concerns. His visit to the Oireachtas comes at a critical moment for the world in general and for the European Union in particular.  Dealing with the fallout of the Brexit vote is quite rightly the focus of his visit and our principal concern. However, it would be wrong for Brexit to exclude discussion of other issues fundamental to the future of the European Union and Ireland’s position within it.

As a starting point, we believe that it is important for President Juncker to understand that Ireland’s commitment to Europe is not a selfish or opportunistic one; it is fundamental to who we are. In fact, the European context has been central to the very development of the democratic republicanism which is the strongest political tradition on this island. At different points in our history our link to Europe was the lifeline by which many distinct aspects of our culture were preserved. At every stage, the development of our struggle for independence was influenced by contemporary European ideas and events.

Last weekend the people of Wexford in the south east commemorated a major battle which took place on this day 220 years ago. The Irish rebels of 1798 took to the field in what was the only major popular uprising in Europe in favour of the ideals of the French Revolution.  It was the Tree of Liberty which inspired them, not a narrow vision of a defensive nation. This European context to our political and cultural revival continued to be a vibrant factor long after that.

The generation which fought for our independence a century ago was also deeply international in its beliefs and this State is one of the few in the world whose revolutionary founders insisted on the role of international law. Our Constitution, adopted by popular referendum in 1937, states this is a country which believes in co-operation with others and respects the fact that international agreements can limit national action. The father of our involvement in European integration, the former Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, first talked about the need for a formal economic and political co-operation in Europe as a young man as he sat in prison for his revolutionary activities. Therefore, Ireland’s commitment to the founding principles of what is now the European Union goes back much further than 45 years and I can assure President Juncker that it as strong today as it has ever been. That is why my party believes that the reform and development of the European Union should be a defining priority.

The Union is threatened by many forces.  All of these are determined to try to damage an organisation they see as standing in the way of their profoundly anti-democratic, extreme and populist agendas.  In the face of this, the Union has critical weaknesses which must be addressed. We strongly support proposals to complete the banking union, an essential protection against a recurrence of the financial crisis. We also believe that the Union must have a substantial financial backstop to help regions and countries in difficulty.  There is no other way of preventing new sovereign debt crises from emerging.

In regard to the Union’s budget, the current budget is simply too small to fulfil more than a few of the responsibilities placed on the Union. We welcome the proposals for an expanded budget more focused on sustainable economic development; however, we would caution President Juncker that attempts to fund this by undermining existing successful programmes is not acceptable. It must also be said that the Union cannot expect countries to lose all of their remaining fiscal and economic levers in the name of harmonisation. I know that he has personally set out an ambitious programme of reform and development and we wish him well with this.

Brexit is, at its heart, a challenge to the fundamental principle of solidarity within the Union. Britain has rejected the idea that it should submit to binding rules or recognise the benefits of compromise. In the negotiations, the Union must continue to protect the interests of members who will be worst hit by the British decision and it must maintain the principle that there has to be sustainable prosperity for all members. The negotiating guidelines agreed last year and those matters which have been agreed so far represent a robust and reasonable approach by the Union.

We would like to acknowledge the lengths to which Michel Barnier’s team has gone to protect Ireland’s interests from the earliest discussions onwards. This includes an accessibility and transparency which has meant that for Opposition parties here, a key source of information on the negotiations has been the Commission. We also thank Commissioner Hogan for his co-operation and assistance in that regard.

It is important for President Juncker to understand that there is a considerable and growing unease about the failure to move from generalities to concrete and final agreements in the negotiations. There comes a point where we will have to stop shaking our heads at the undoubted incompetence and incoherence of London’s position. The exotic edges of the Tory party have long since stopped being amusing, no matter how absurd their cast of characters is. The simple fact today is that London may actually never come up with a credible proposal. The core contradictions in December's text remain unaddressed.  Prime Minister May’s letter on this matter at the last summit simply restated that her Government is in favour of both a soft border and not introducing any trade or other barriers within the UK. This position is indistinguishable from her Government’s stated position for the last 18 months. We are extremely concerned with how negotiations on the Irish text have now been linked with the overall withdrawal treaty text and its provisions for final status negotiations. An outcome where there is ongoing regulatory alignment North and South and where Northern Ireland has effective access to both the customs union and the Single Market is one which we fully support.

The current proposal for a deep free trade agreement actually represents the second-worst scenario in the economic review commissioned by our Government, with certain agrifood sectors and the services sector as a whole being particularly badly hit. This review suggests a permanent loss of €2,500 per person, a level on par with the hit to the British economy. Therefore, the need to help our businesses to diversify in terms of both products and markets is more urgent than ever. We have no doubt that the Commission will need to come forward with proposals for support programmes for the worst-hit regions and industries and that a temporary and targeted exemption from state aid rules will be required.

In the short time available I have tried to give President Juncker some background to how we are approaching both limiting the damage of Brexit and, more importantly, supporting a European Union which is more dynamic and effective. Let me assure President Juncker that he can safely ignore the reports that there is any question about the stability of the core Irish political consensus and mandate on Brexit.

These reports stem from short-term political manoeuvring and have no substance to them.

At this critical moment in history Ireland stands with Europe in a spirit of determination, co-operation and solidarity. There is an enormous series of hurdles to overcome in the months and years ahead, but if we all show the necessary urgency and ambition I have no doubt that the European Union can be as much a force for peace and progress in this century as it was in the last.

Ar son ár bpáirtí agus ar mo shon féin cuirim fíorfháilte roimh an Uachtarán chuig ár bParlaimint inniu. Táimid fíorbhuíoch dó as ucht teacht chun labhairt linn agus éisteacht linn.

Cuirim céad míle fáilte roimh Uachtarán Juncker. On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin I extend a very warm welcome to President Jean-Claude Juncker on his heroic return to the city of Dublin. Mr. Juncker has asked us to hang and weigh each of his words carefully and I have followed his advice. I am happy to respond, as we meet at this crucial time for Ireland in the course of Brexit negotiations.

As has already been reflected upon, Brexit is perhaps the greatest threat or challenge to our island in a generation. It is a threat to our peace agreements, our peace process, our stability, our prosperity and to the rights of Irish citizens, South and North, North and South. The potential for Brexit to cost jobs, to damage our industry and to damage and endanger the welfare of our people cannot be overstated.

Brexit is best understood as a Tory vanity project. It certainly was not designed to emancipate the masses. The Tories regarded the Working Time Directive as a menace to democratic freedoms, so any suggestion that such a political mindset had any real intention of making a difference for the working class and the common good in Britain or anywhere else is entirely misguided.

We need to acknowledge that mistakes and failures in the European project have bolstered the arguments of those who argued for Brexit, and they succeeded. I put it to President Juncker that the economic dogma of the market above all else has alienated citizens and that this needs to be acknowledged. The increasing militarisation of our European Union, the democratic deficit, the distance between the core and the periphery, the distance between larger member states and smaller member states and the onward march towards federalisation by stealth are all legitimate matters of concern. The case for a very radical reform is now unanswerable. This is not simply a case of more Europe, it is in fact a plea for better Europe, for a Europe that commits itself to social solidarity, democracy, fair play and a sense that the citizens are in charge and have ownership of this thing we call the European project. For this to happen the establishment and the politicians need to give way and make space.

I hope that when we reflect on the experience of Brexit that we will have the collective wisdom, from whatever political perspective we come, to reflect collectively and take Shaw's advice that to mark progress we need to challenge our thinking. Europe, on many central issues, needs to change not just its mind but also change its direction.

Whatever way we come at these things, I believe we can agree that Brexit is a disaster and especially for those of us in Ireland. The Tory Brexiteers held their entire debate without any reference at all to Ireland. This arrogant and detached attitude has persisted in these negotiations. Mrs. May and her Government have yet to put forward any realistic or workable proposals. Instead, the Brexit policy of the British Government remains littered with longstanding contradictions. The Tories claim that they are committed to avoiding a hard border, but they remain intent on dragging the North of Ireland out of the European Union, out of the customs union and the Single Market. They claim there is no threat to the Good Friday Agreement whilst undermining that very agreement and ignoring the fact that there are 142 areas of cross-Border co-operation that will be adversely impacted. The British Government insists that the rights of people living in the North will not be eroded. That is disingenuous, as the Tory Brexiteers are insisting the North leaves the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and perhaps worse, sets out a scenario of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and that court.

Sinn Féin has highlighted these fundamental contradictions many times, not least when our friend Mr. Michel Barnier addressed these Houses. That was more than one year ago and yet these matters remain unresolved to this day. The outworking of these unresolved contradictions in British policy is absolutely clear. As it stands, the British position would impose a hard border on our island. This is a fact. As it stands the British position would erect barriers to east-west trade. This is a fact. As it stands, British policy is to undermine and damage the Good Friday Agreement. That is a fact. These are regrettable and unacceptable facts.

Last December the people of Ireland were told that we had a cast-iron guarantee that all of what I have described would not happen, and that in the event of a no-deal scenario there would be no hard border on our island, no diminution of citizens' rights and no damage to the Good Friday Agreement. The backstop was to be our insurance policy to prevent the imposition of World Trade Organization trading rules if negotiations ended without a comprehensive agreement. We were told that this draft agreement would be converted into a legally binding text in March. This did not happen. The British Government delayed and distracted with nonsensical non proposals and it refused to commit. Instead, earlier this month and as a last minute effort perhaps to spare its blushes, the British Government dreamt up another proposal that would scrap the backstop proposal that was agreed in December and that would leave our island with zero legal assurances. I am sure that I do not have to say it to President Juncker that it is absolutely essential that we have not just words and kind sentiment; we need legal protection.

I ask that President Juncker publishes the promised annexe to the backstop that would set out the protection of citizens' rights. This is in the gift of the European side and it would be helpful and reassuring for us to see it. Sinn Féin has argued, and there is a wide consensus, as to what Ireland needs. We need the North to remain in the customs union and the Single Market. We need to ensure that the rights of citizens, particularly the citizens living in the North of Ireland, are protected and acknowledged. Irrespective of the wilder ramblings and rantings of exotic Tories, we need to ensure that our peace agreement is respected in full: every letter, every dot and every comma.

I am happy to hear President Juncker reiterating a policy of Ireland first, but when I met the British Prime Minister yesterday she set out a policy of Ireland last, if at all. It seems clear that British policy and tactics are to run down the clock and to delay and delay again. We are most disappointed that, despite an assurance that the Irish question would be answered in advance of setting out the details of the new relationship that Britain wishes to foster with the European Union, this has not happened. It is dangerous for us and brings jeopardy to us if the British are allowed to go into the European Council meeting at the end of this month, refuse to agree on or answer the Irish question, and emerge with something of a diplomatic triumph in a statement that we will move to the next phase of the negotiations. I have shared this view explicitly with our colleagues in government. At the Council meeting, the British Government needs to be called out on its antics and the position of Ireland first that President Juncker referenced needs to be explicitly stated to Ms May. It needs to be made clear that the British Government will not roll the Irish question into its new relationship in an attempt to pressurise this country into accepting a bad and potentially calamitous deal for the island of Ireland.

It is clear that the Brexiteers still cannot agree what Brexit means, much less what it looks like. That is their problem and cannot be ours. The upcoming Council meeting cannot simply be another exercise in kicking the can down the road. This is crunch time. In the absence of the British demonstrating how they would avoid a hard border, uphold the Good Friday Agreement and protect citizens' rights, it is reckless to allow talks to progress to the next phase. I ask President Juncker and Mr. Barnier to please not make that mistake. The future of the people living on this island is on the line, and history will not judge kindly anyone who decides to ignore the import of this reality. History remains the business of tomorrow and it can be shaped by the decisions that we make today. The present provides us with the opportunity to do the right and responsible thing. The position of Ireland first and Ireland now articulated by President Donald Tusk and President Juncker must be the guiding principle for the European Union team. That is the duty of the EU and the Irish Government. I hope the EU does not blink and fulfils this mission.

A Cheann Comhairle, a Chathaoirligh, Monsieur le Président, I join others in welcoming President Juncker and his colleagues, Mr. Michel Barnier and Commissioner Hogan, to the House for an important interaction at a crucial juncture in our history. I have a mere four minutes to set out a few ideas on behalf of my party, the Labour Party.

When the Irish economy collapsed in 2008, our National Economic and Social Council produced an important report, entitled "Ireland's Five-Part Crisis: An Integrated National Response". The five parts were banking, our tax base, the economy generally, the social impact and implications, and Ireland's reputation. The core recommendation of that analysis was for an integrated response. That is exactly what the European Union needs now. We are facing several major crises simultaneously across Europe, specifically Brexit, migration, populism, climate change, and new technologies displacing traditional, secure employment. Woven through all of these crises is public anxiety. We need to understand that people across Europe are afraid. They are afraid of being left behind by the global economy, of poverty in their old age and of their children having fewer opportunities than themselves. They are afraid that globalisation is out of control and the natural environment is being ruined forever. Populists are good at tapping into people's fears, but they do not offer solutions other than hate and the identification of others to blame. We in the EU's mainstream must show that we understand, comprehend and get the fears of our peoples. More important, we must show that we have a solution in our hands to address these problems.

As President Juncker has undoubtedly heard clearly time and again in the past two years, Ireland's immediate priority is Brexit. The United Kingdom's decision two years ago, compounded by its inability, unwillingness or both to set out an acceptable pathway to future relations between the UK and EU, presents us in Ireland with real and unique difficulties. I thank President Juncker for his words today. There are many who are suggesting that, without a deal that is clearly mapped out in legal terms before the June Council, we will be abandoned by some, if not all, of our European colleagues. That solidarity, expressed so clearly by President Juncker, is fundamentally important for us and the future of our Union.

However, we must also look through a wider lens than merely Brexit. Our industrial activity has disrupted the natural climate in the developing world as well as in our own countries. A social Europe would greatly increase our investment in these countries and help them to transform their economies. A Marshall plan for Europe's neighbourhood to create jobs and real opportunities at home and across the Middle East and Africa would make the dangerous and risky migration to Europe less attractive. A social Europe would also invest more in formerly industrialised regions of Europe, which are hotbeds of support for populism - every election has shown that, as did Brexit - after decades of economic decline. A social Europe would be more attractive to some in the British Labour Party, with whom I had detailed discussions last week and who see Brexit as an opportunity for state-led investment to counteract poverty and inequality. A social Europe would provide a strong safety net to empower people to experiment with new forms of work and new fields of economic activity to compensate for the rise of robotisation. A social Europe would recognise that we cannot measure or understand public anxieties through crude socioeconomic statistics like GDP or even our own unique GNI*.

We need to better understand people's states of mind and comprehend and address their fears. We have the means to address them if we have the will. Are we willing to put sufficient investment into making an immediate difference in people's lives? That would require a new approach. Our challenge, one which can be met, is to agree how to fund the needed investment in a sustainable way. However, what are needed now, above all, are real and practical demonstrations of European solidarity.

Next is Deputy Boyd Barrett who is sharing time with Deputy Barry.

I will be brief as my time is short. People Before Profit and Solidarity are thorough internationalists. As such, we have no faith in the petty xenophobic nationalism of the British Tory Party and no trust that it will deal with the issue of the Border to ensure that no hard border is reimposed.

My question is how can we trust you, President Juncker. The European Union shoved €60 billion worth of toxic banking debt down the throats of the Irish people and we are still dealing with the consequences, with dire housing and health crises. The European Union has allowed 15,000 desperate migrants to drown in the Mediterranean Sea because of its fortress Europe policies-----

A Deputy


-----which it is escalating. Why should we trust President Juncker with our Border or the interests of the people in this country? I have a simple question about the Border. If negotiations fail and collapse with the Tory Government on the exit agreement, we know that we cannot trust Theresa May with the Border. Will President Juncker give us a clear commitment that the European Union will not impose a border, customs posts or any other infrastructure of a frontier to protect the European borders in the way he is doing to the detriment and loss of life of people in the Mediterranean? That is the question. We do not trust the Tories. Can we trust you?

Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker


No border, under any circumstances.

I call Deputy Barry. We have limited time. Can we have order for Deputy Barry, please?

Other Deputies have chosen to address President Juncker primarily on the issue of Brexit. I choose to address him on an issue no less important, which is now an emergency in Irish society. There is a housing emergency here. Rents skyrocket and 10,000 are officially homeless. More than 500,000 young people are locked out of the housing market, unable to afford rents, let alone being able to afford the purchase of their own home. The Irish State has billions of euro in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and in the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. We need to spend this money on social housing. This is where President Juncker comes in. We are told again and again that the money cannot be spent because it would breach the EU fiscal rules that he helped to design, that it would breach the expenditure benchmark and it cannot be done on the balance sheet. If our parliamentary grouping held the reins, we would build the houses and break President Juncker's fiscal rules-----

-----but we do not hold the reins yet so instead I ask him to relax those rules. He should agree to relax those rules to allow the emergency to be addressed before a social explosion takes place in Ireland on this issue.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Tá fáilte chroíúil faighte ag an Uachtarán i Seomra an daonlathais inniu agus tá sé sin ceart agus cóir. Ní ionann an dá rud: fáilte chroíúil agus a rá go bhfuilimid go léir den tuairim chéanna ó thaobh an treo a bhfuil an tAontas Eorpach ag dul, go háirithe ó thaobh cúrsaí daonlathais de, cúrsaí teifeach agus cúrsaí míleata. Tuigeann an tír seo an focal meitheal, daoine ag teacht le chéile ar son leas an phobail, b'shin bunús Chomhphobal Eacnamaíoch na hEorpa, nuair a cuireadh tús leis. Tá an togra sin, áfach, imithe chomh fada ón mbunphrionsabal sin nach féidir glacadh leis. Táimid anseo an lá i ndiaidh Lá Idirnáisiúnta na dTeifeach. Ó na figiúiri atá agam, 2017, bhí trí mhillún duine lasmuigh dá dtír féin. Chomh maith leis sin, tá 75 mhilliún teifeach ar fud an domhain.

Tá moladh tuillte ag an Uachtarán ar leibhéal amháin, mar is fear díreach thú, agus tá sé ráite agat go bhfuil gá le harm Eorpach. Chomh maith leis sin tá sé ráite agat gurb é an tUasal Viktor Orbán an deachtóir is ansa leat. Tá sé sin díreach. Tá a fhios againn cá sheasaimid.

President of the Commission, you are welcome here today and have received a very hearty welcome. It is not the same thing as saying that we are all of the same opinion about where Europe is going, with its increase on defence and going down the road of a European army, which Mr. Juncker has clearly articulated. He has also indicated that the Prime Minister of Hungary is his favourite dictator. Today or yesterday, it was just confirmed that legislation has been passed in the Hungarian Parliament, telling the people that it will be a criminal offence if they help somebody who is seeking asylum. We are also seriously worried about the state of democracy in Europe. If we are to learn anything about Brexit, which certainly poses an enormous challenge for this country but a positive one with solutions, it is to realise that many of the countries in Europe, including Ireland, are saying that they are unhappy with the way democracy is happening in Europe in their name. When we go back to the Lisbon treaty, it includes a specific article that said decisions should be taken as near to the people as possible. We have entirely left that principle. There is also the principle of "do no harm", the precautionary principle. We are certainly not doing that either. Later this month, I understand there will be a meeting of the leaders of Europe about a policy of containing refugees, a policy of disembarkation before returning them. I am certainly a committed European. There are intimate connections with my family with various countries in Europe but I will not stand over a European Union that is going down the militarisation route, a European army and putting vast amounts of money into a European defence fund and agency, while at the same time becoming a fortress Europe. Yesterday, we condemned the President of the United States, rightly so, with a unanimous motion. I condemn the European Union in the same manner for our approach to militarisation and refugees. It is a scandal.

Tá tuiscint faoi leith ag an tír seo ó thaobh teifeach de, na milliúin duine a d'fhág an tír seo, bliain i ndiaidh bliana, tá an-tuiscint againn. Do not do this in our name. We will not have a fortress Europe. We want to welcome people in. We want a different type of Europe, a democratic Europe. On every level. President Juncker is ignoring our neutrality, the rules of the European Union that talk about opening and welcoming policies and on making decisions as close as possible to the people on the ground. Tá fáilte roimh an Uachtarán, ach dúirt sé linn éisteacht leis. Tá mise ag rá leis éisteacht linn faoi na rudaí a bhfuilimid buartha faoi. Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I want to welcome you, Mr. Juncker, and your delegation to our Parliament. We want to work with Mr. Juncker and our European partners to advance the hard-won peace, economic stability and future of our State. We recognise that the challenges are many and diverse, each requiring sustained and complex negotiations. We hope that EU will display a more conciliatory attitude toward our friends in the United Kingdom who are seeking in all sincerity to have their democratic vote honoured in the best way possible. Some of the recent language from the European Union has seemed purposefully designed to create a sense of division between this State and our nearest neighbour. We do not want that. We want to work closely with our allies and in particular with our trading partners in the UK. Entire sectors of the Irish agrisector are being exposed due to the inability or unwillingness of the EU and the UK to nurture a deal that will be acceptable to all. As President Juncker's colleague, Mr. Barnier, stated some time ago, we are working on an international agreement between the UK and the EU that will seek the precision, rigour and legal certainty that is required for all international agreements. That is what we want here.

We must have clarity and legal certainty to sustain peace, remove any option of a hard border and respect the unique exposures Ireland will face in the years ahead.

Recently I travelled between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, as I do regularly, and found it frightening to see a vast, newly constructed border compound. The delays are significant for those involved in tourism and transport and everybody else. My question is similar to that asked by others. How can it be so different here if there is to be a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland? I ask the President to address that issue also.

Like the previous speaker, Deputy Catherine Connolly, I have concerns about the militarisation of the European Union. That is not what we joined for. The European Union is moving further away from the people I represent and the people we all represent here. That is a problem not only in Ireland but also, as we can see, in many other European countries.

There are many issues to be addressed. Reference was made to the heavy hand and coercing people to listen. Deputy Catherine Connolly used the phrase "Bí ag éisteacht". We need the President to listen. We need him to have empathy in dealing with our problems. We did not get a good ear when we had our problems following the banking collapse. We got very rough justice from our European friends. We are paying back and our grandchildren will also be paying back. There are many issues that need to be addressed sensitively and with more respect for the electorate in each of the independent states.

I wish the President an enjoyable time during his trip and hope he will take away the message that it is not all rosy in the garden and wonderful, as some parties here would like to make it appear. There are many issues and many people are suffering as a result of the European Union's inability or unwillingness to help us in our hour of need.

I also extend a warm welcome to the President who opened his address by speaking very positively about the nature of our membership of the European Union. It was understood it was about the pooling of sovereignty. While there continues to be a very strong commitment to membership of the European Union, that confidence was badly shattered during the economic crash when there was a feeling there was an intergovernmental approach whereby each individual country looked to itself and we felt very isolated. That experience has resulted in scepticism about Ireland coming first in the Brexit negotiations. Therefore, we need to deal in realities, not just hopes.

The President talked about the possibility of there being no deal. Will he expand on exactly what he means in terms of how it might play out? It will impact on every country, but no country will be impacted on more than Ireland. We know that eleventh hour negotiations are about compromise. There is a playing for time to create that scenario in the case of the British Government.

Our focus is on survival, but the focus needs to move to something more than survival where we will see a more democratic European Union that will not be undermined by populism. There are very real issues which are about inequality and a lack of democracy.

On the longest day I hope this will be the shortest speech. President Juncker will be glad to hear that it is the last one.

I am a member of the Irish Green Party. It is an all-island party, North and South, and a proud member of the European Green Party.

How we deal with Brexit will reflect on the European Union as a whole. I met a group of Irish nationalists last week who made the valid point that the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement had been forgotten. If, as the Taoiseach said, we are setting a compass, we cannot have a compass that only just looks at trade. There are four points on the compass. We also need to look at the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement to make sure they will be protected. I heard the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions say the protocols and all of the arrangements made to deal with the trade and customs issue ignored workers' rights. I know from my work in the Green movement that the protocols and all of the talk are also ignoring environmental rights in how we deal with Brexit and that must change.

Listening to President Juncker it seems clear that if there is a deal, we are facing having a border in the Irish Sea. That will present real challenges. Whatever happens in this process, if that is the outcome, I ask him to help us to work with our unionist friends in order that we will be able to manage the incredibly difficult task of operating much more as an island, which for me will be good, but it will not be easy.

We should be careful in the language we use. I am concerned about some of the language used here today in criticising nationalism in other countries. There was a slight tinge to the phrase "Ireland first". I use an Irish phrase instead: ní neart go cur le chéile - there is strength in unity. Our unity should continue with our friends in the United Kingdom. I was at Westminster yesterday talking to my colleagues in advance of the vote. I regret that they have had a vote, but everyone is aware of the interparliamentary relationship where we are on the best of terms with people of all parties in the United Kingdom. We have always got on well and should continue to do so. If it goes wrong, as seems to be the case, given that President Juncker has said there is now a chance of a crash-out and the prospect of no deal, I ask two things - first, that he keep open the prospect that the United Kingdom can revoke Article 50 should it change its mind in that regard. That may happen as late as early next year, depending on the Parliament. Second, I call for support for my colleague, Caroline Lucas, who will be one of the lead speakers at the people's march next weekend. The hope is that it will give rise to the prospect of a people's vote in which they might change their minds. We have done so in the past in two referendums on the European treaty. We know how to do it. The first thing is that one must not insult the people. One does not talk down to them. Ní neart go cur le chéile. A little decency might solve this problem more than anything else.

I begin by echoing the warm welcome extended by my colleagues to President Juncker and our distinguished guests. As the only Northern Irish person who has the opportunity to speak today in this House, I address it on behalf of my fellow Independent Senators. I am extremely privileged that that honour has been bestowed on me. I make no apology that my opinions are prejudiced by the fact that I live and work in Northern Ireland. I am proud to be defined as Northern Irish, British, Irish and European, a truly complex cultural cocktail.

As someone who believes in and respects democracy, we need to consider how and why we have reached this place. A decision by the citizens of the United Kingdom based on the information available and their understanding of the implications of Brexit was taken at a point in time. It is one I respect. However, as a democrat, I need to ensure that whatever course of action we follow is representative of the views of the majority; that it reflects opinion now, not two years ago; that it reflects opinion based on fact, not fantasy; that it reflects opinion based on reality and is not reckless; and, most important, that the opinion of the silent majority is expressed and represented.

Credit must go to all those who have contributed to the Brexit discussions, including those in Northern Ireland - all of the civic forum groups, lobby groups, politicians and members of the general public who are so frustrated by the lack of clarity at this late hour.

Northern Ireland's nearest neighbours are in this House today. Its biggest allies are here. In an era in which a focus is placed on fake news, we need to be aware that the fake news and spin being played out is that Dublin and Brussels are conspiring against the United Kingdom, but nothing is farther from the truth. The United Kingdom proposed a departure, which I hope will never materialise. Therefore, it must present some solutions. History will judge this period by assessing whether decisions so critical to the future of the United Kingdom and Ireland were taken in the absence of reason and rational thinking. It will judge whether the United Kingdom's position was based on a fair and balanced evaluation of the potential impact of Brexit; whether Brexit was used for political gain; whether the people were consulted and then and only then whether we made a decision to deliver for the future; whether we truly represented the interests of the generations to come and the young people eager to grow and develop as members of the largest community in the world.

Leadership is not about the next election but the next generation. History has shown that strong leadership requires taking charge when one is placed in command. Former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it was not about the plan but about the planning because all plans change. The case of Brexit clearly demonstrates that changing circumstances and emerging information regarding its impact may mean the United Kingdom's plan will have to change. There is nothing Opposition politicians and headline hungry journalists like more than a government U-turn. However, as policy proposals are refined, negotiations and consultations progress and clarity is given to the potential impact of Brexit, it becomes much clearer that a review would be responsible, respectful and in the best interests of all concerned.

As stated, the position taken by the citizens of the UK on 23 June 2016 was based on information and knowledge available at that time. Hindsight is wonderful and with the benefit of hindsight and the information we now possess regarding the complexity of leaving the European Union and the less obvious or complete absence of clearly defined opportunities or dividends from Brexit, it would be sensible, if not imperative, to allow the Parliament and people of the UK to make a decision on support for or rejection of Brexit.

Strong leadership must be built on listening to the public as well as industry and expert opinion, rather than ploughing on blindly because changing tack would appear as a weakness in the eyes of one's critics. I am more convinced than ever that the European Union still presents the best opportunities for the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland. I am completely convinced that the benefits of EU membership greatly outweigh any opportunity arising from the UK leaving the EU. It is clear today that Dublin and Brussels are working together to ensure that any implementation of a Brexit deal must work for London, Dublin and Brussels.

I have just finished reading a book which discusses globalisation. It states: "The tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries." Collaboration is good and it is a natural phenomenon. This is a time for unity and not for division. There is more that unites us than divides us, as the murdered British MP, Jo Cox, argued. This is a time for strong leadership and clear vision.

The final speaker, on behalf of the Seanad Civil Engagement group, is Senator Alice-Mary Higgins.

I welcome President Juncker to the House. As he said, we have many passionate Europeans in Ireland. As one of those passionate Europeans, I believe I speak for many when I say we are concerned about the point at which we find ourselves in Europe and the period from which we have just emerged. During that period it seemed to many Europeans that market sentiment took precedence over public confidence. In some cases, alarm bells were ringing in the context of public confidence, as illustrated by the findings of Eurobarometer surveys. Failures of solidarity and in the language of solidarity between countries have contributed to stoking national and regional divisions. We have seen that long-term investment has, at times, been sublimated to short-term targets through rules such as those referenced earlier and austerity has strained our collective social fabric and damaged social cohesion.

I recognise and welcome the belated but important reassertion of the social pillar and its significance. However, if we have a new commitment to the social pillar, it must be made robust and actualised. A Europe of inclusion must include those with disabilities. My colleague, Senator Dolan, has expressed the concern that many European Commissioners do not seem to understand exactly how serious the work of inclusion is in the area of disability and many other areas, particularly given that the EU has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The social pillar must be reflected and weighted strongly within the EU semester process. In the past we saw that the Europe 2020 vision of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, which was a positive collective vision for Europe, was sublimated to short-term and immediate fiscal targets to the detriment of our national and collective development. The targets to which we sign up together, including the sustainable development goals and climate change targets, must be part of that national and international conversation in the context of the EU semester process.

In areas such as the environment and data protection we see Europe at its best, with countries pressing each other to raise standards, recognise collective goals and exercise a vision which might not be possible individually. I hope Mr. Juncker will press our Government on its failure to achieve Ireland's climate change targets, as recent reports have indicated. There is also a role for civil society and citizens working together across nations in pressing and driving those targets. However, civil society and citizens' groups have also expressed concerns about areas such as trade, to which we must listen. Given the widespread concerns about trade, which are not based on protectionism but on a different vision, and in light of European Court of Justice rulings, including the court case taking place in Luxembourg next week, is it not the case that we must change our minds from time to time? We may need to re-examine international trade and trade mandates to address the role of investor courts, which create a chilling effect in the context of the democratic driving forward of higher standards.

Others have spoken about Brexit and its importance. I wish to highlight concerns relating to human rights equivalence, particularly given the move away from the Human Rights Act in the UK. Human rights equivalence also applies in the area of reproductive rights. Many in Northern Ireland and those who stand in solidarity with them in the UK are reminding us of the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to ensuring human rights equivalence for all men and women, North and South of the Border.

I welcome Mr. Barnier back to the House and acknowledge the work he has done to try to avoid a hard border. However, one day after World Refugee Day, we must also look to the wider question of borders in Europe and at how we are reacting on that issue. It is a matter of deep concern that Hungary has passed legislation that will see those who help refugees being penalised. There is a deep failure at a European level in the immigration control agreements that are being signed with countries such as Libya, Sudan and Turkey where there are serious human rights concerns in respect of how people are being treated. This undermines us and Europe's credibility on human rights. It also undermines our work to build peace in the world. I agree with Mr. Juncker's assertion that, at its best, Europe is building bridges and working for peace but the militarisation of our borders is not building bridges. That the text of the PESCO agreement does not contain any references to peace or peacekeeping is a real concern. Peace-building is the foundation of the European Union and it must be our future.

Mr. Juncker and others have spoken in favour of an EU army about which I am very concerned. Mr. Juncker said that a European army would send a signal to Russia and other entities but the future should not be one of big powers or allies forming alliances in the context of those big powers. The future must be one of multilateralism in its truest sense, in Europe and at the United Nations, where we recognise that diversity is strength. The diverse perspectives and skills each nation brings to the table, including the neutrality and extraordinary peacekeeping legacy of Ireland which is such an asset in Europe, are a source of strength. I urge Mr. Juncker to consider the unique capacity of all nations and how we may contribute together to a better future and play a better role in tackling global challenges.

A Uachtaráin Juncker, thar ceann an Cheann Comhairle, thar mo cheann féin agus thar ceann Comhaltaí an dá Theach, ba mhaith liom buíochas ó chroí a ghabháil leat as bheith i láthair anseo inniu ag an gcomhshuí seo agus as plé a dhéanamh linn. President Juncker, on behalf of the Ceann Comhairle, on my own behalf, and on behalf of the Members of both Houses, I would like to thank you most sincerely for your attendance at today's joint sitting and for your engagement with us.

Today's discussion has provided a valuable opportunity for us to highlight Ireland's priorities in the current negotiations. I know I speak for all Members when I express our thanks for the support and solidarity we have received from other EU member states, from the European Parliament and, of course, from the Commission in relation to our concerns. We look forward to continued support as the negotiations progress.

While the withdrawal of the UK from the EU has clear implications for Ireland, it refocuses our attention on the conversation on the future of Europe. Today's debate has provided an important opportunity to underline again Ireland's commitment to Europe. Ireland has benefitted greatly from its membership of the EU. We continue to believe in and support the EU values of partnership and co-operation. We are committed to the vision of a united, strong and democratic Union. Again, we thank you for attending this joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We hope you enjoy your visit. We wish you well in your work. Go raibh maith agat. Thank you.

The Joint Sitting concluded at 1.20 p.m.
The Seanad adjourned at 1.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 June 2018.