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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 Nov 2021

Vol. 279 No. 10

Address to Seanad Éireann by Members of the European Parliament

I welcome my colleagues and our MEPs to the Chamber for this important session. I consider this an extremely important session in that the linkage between the Seanad and the European Parliament is a vital one given that so many European directives and regulations impact on Irish law and life. It has been quantified in the past - I do not know by what methodology - that the impact is about 70%. The impact of European law in this country is significant and the European Court of Justice takes precedence. The link between the European Parliament and this Chamber is a vital one. It is a central plank of Seanad reform and maintaining Ireland's link with Europe. It is something that the people who put us here, in all our respective capacities, would want. There is a very high satisfaction rate and support for Europe in Ireland and there is a great will among the populace that we would have these linkages and this connection, and that MEPs would be central to our activities here and not as some distant component. For that reason, this is a very important session. I welcome the MEPs and I thank them all for being here.

I will start with the address by the MEPs. We are doing it in alphabetical order. We are going to ask each MEP to speak for not more than six minutes. I appreciate the good number of colleagues who have come here and who are on their way here. That is very impressive and it is a testimony to how seriously they take this issue. It is my great pleasure to call on Barry Andrews, MEP, former Minister of State and Member of the Dáil. He is a member of the Committee on International Trade, the delegation to the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, the Delegation for Relations with South Africa, a substitute member of the Committee on Development, the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation, and the delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, among others. He has had a very distinguished career to date and that continues. He has a very impressive CV. It is my great pleasure to ask him to address the Chamber.

Mr. Barry Andrews

Thank you very much for the invitation, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. It is really great to be back in the Seanad ten years on from when I was a Minister of State and dealing with various bits of legislation here. It is a great initiative. As you have just explained it, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, the need for connection between Dublin and Brussels has increased exponentially since Brexit and anything we do to try to increase those links will be richly rewarded, including today’s exercise. We are the second constituency to be brought in before the Seanad.

I have written to the Chair of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, Deputy McHugh, to express my view that the scrutiny of EU legislation in the Oireachtas generally, not just in the Seanad, but in the committees of the Oireachtas should be substantially increased and reformed. Not to change the method of scrutiny after Brexit is something that we will regret. When I was in the Dáil there was a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs which dealt exclusively with scrutiny of EU legislation. That is no longer the case and I think it should be built back in. For example, the Finnish Parliament's Upper House is exclusively responsible for the scrutiny of European affairs, so I think there is more that we can do under that heading.

I will briefly share with the House the main items that I am dealing with as an MEP. I am a member of the European Parliament’s delegation to the UK, so part of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly under the trade and co-operation agreement with the UK. That has not kicked into action yet, but tomorrow I will be in Belfast meeting with various interlocutors, including a representative of the unionist parties, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and Sinn Féin. I will be meeting with representatives of the business community and civil society. On Thursday, I will be in London meeting with representatives in Westminster as well as academics and people who are interested in Brexit. Brexit is a main part of my job, but I am also on the joint committee with other Members of the European Parliament that has dealings directly with Maroš Šefčovič under the withdrawal agreement, so it does occupy a lot of my time.

My main committee as a full member is the Committee on International Trade. International trade is one of the key competences of the European Union, where it has exclusive competence over member states. The trade agenda is something I am sure Members will wish to pose questions about.

I am a substitute member of the Committee on Development, which is an area of great interest to me given my background as a former CEO of GOAL. That has led me to be chair of the European Parliament’s informal group called the SDG, Alliance, which tries to assess the implementation of the sustainable development goals, SDGs, at a European framework. I took up that role earlier this year. The sustainable development goals are a perfect roadmap for post-Covid pandemic recovery. It is an informal group. We are trying to incorporate the SDGs into the European semester. We are also trying to get a key debate and annual report on the SDGs at some point early next year as part of the European Parliament’s annual calendar.

The final area I will mention is that I will be rapporteur on the Committee on International Trade's opinion on due diligence. This is a piece of legislation which is aimed at ensuring that supply chains are cleaned up from the point of view of environmental degradation but also human rights. It will have a huge impact on the way the European Union's businesses deal with their supply chains from third countries, where there have been many instances of child labour and deforestation. We are suffering carbon leakage in the context of environmental degradation, but we are also facilitating human rights abuses in various parts of the world. The due diligence legislation is designed to provide a European framework so that we can have confidence that our supply chains are appropriate for European values.

I will leave it at that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I look forward to the question-and-answer session.

I thank Barry Andrews, MEP, for raising an interesting range of questions around the SDGs and for his reference to the protocol.

I now invite Ciarán Cuffe, MEP, to address us. When he told us a little about himself, he modestly omitted that he has an extraordinarily gifted academic career, which I came across. It is worthy of merit. It includes a masters degree of science in cities, a masters degree in regional and urban planning, a research scholarship and a bachelor's degree in architecture from UCD. He has had a distinguished academic career. He is a Member of the European Parliament for Dublin for the Green Party. He sits on the energy and transport committees of the Parliament, and he serves as president of EUFORES, a European NGO that promotes the deployment of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. He is an architect and planner. He graduated in 1989. He has served as a Dublin city councillor, as a Deputy for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and as Minister for State with responsibility for sustainable transport and climate change. He lives with his family in Stoneybatter in Dublin’s north inner city. We look forward to his address.

Mr. Ciarán Cuffe

Dia daoibh agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as an gcuireadh bheith anseo libh inniu. Is mór an onóir dom a bheith os bhur gcomhair. On my last visit to the Seanad, a decade ago, I was a Minister for State with responsibility for climate action. It is good to be back with you today and to see some familiar faces.

The European Parliament, as the Senators will know, is a co-legislating assembly. Unlike the Seanad, we do not have the power to initiate legislation. This is an important issue that informs our work. We share equal legislative and budgetary powers with the Council of the European Union. The European Commission initiates legislation in the form of proposed directives. These are then amended by the European Parliament and by the Council of the European Union. The Council’s discussions are led by the six-month rotating Presidency of the European Union. It is currently led by Slovenia. That will pass over to France at the end of December 2021.

In our day-to-day to work, we have 20 standing committees in the European Parliament, which examine and amend legislation. I serve on the transportation committee and on the industry, research, telecommunications and energy, ITRE, committee. That is where much of the climate action is happening at a European level. The final drafting of legislation is undertaken at trilogues, using a four-column document, with the text from the Parliament, from the Council and from the European Commission. Sometimes we burn the midnight oil to the fill the fourth column, to finally give birth to the legislation that is then put to the member states by way of directive. It is a fascinating process. We learn that we have to work with colleagues from the other 26 members states in order to progress things along. We tend to move big things slowly. I have served as a councillor, as a Deputy and as a Minister of State. These have different approaches and ways of making things happen. I certainly enjoy the activity at a European level. We also approve the nomination of Commissioners. Fairly recently, we had the rather unusual task of filling a vacancy in the European Commission. I am glad to say that our former colleague, Mairead McGuinness, was successfully nominated to her current job as a European Commissioner.

The current Parliament has many challenges, not least of which is the departure of our friends and colleagues from across the water as a result of Brexit. We have had to deal with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the challenges to the rule of law in Poland and issues around migration. We also engage in discussions around the entry of new member states to the Union. Quite often in Ireland, we think that Brexit is the only game in town. However, it is important that we show a pathway forward to the western Balkans, to states such as Albania. In that region, there are tens of millions of people who want to be part and who want to share that European dream. With all the other rows going on, we have got to give a pathway forward to those states that want to be part of the European project.

In addition, the Conference of the Future of Europe is trying hard to enthuse the 450 million citizens of Europe over the future of governance and powers of European institutions. There is an online platform,, which contains more information on this.

We have to ask ourselves the question: do we want more Europe or less Europe? At the outset of the pandemic, it became clear that our healthcare is managed at a regional and at a member state level. There is a compelling case for granting more powers to the European Union, certainly to co-ordinate the delivery of healthcare. Much more can continue to be achieved without treaty changes. There is certainly an appetite in Ireland for Europe to do more. We constantly rank among the most Europhilic nations on the continent and it is no wonder. The contribution of the European Union to Dublin alone has been remarkable. Access to the Single Market has driven the success of Europe as a financial centre but concrete investment has made a difference too. The extension of the Luas cross city received hundreds of millions of euro from the European Investment Bank, EIB. The national children’s hospital will receive at least that sum over the years ahead. Quite often, we say that we are not getting contributions from Europe any more but actually, the projects that have cranes over them in Dublin quite often have European money coming in. We should not forget about that and this investment is dispensable.

For many, the debate around the European Green Deal has been the main event in the current European Parliament. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, indicated that this would be a major focus of her presidency. As MEPs, we are now charged with progressing 16 separate items of legislation that comprise the Fit for 55 package, which is about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% between the years 1990 and 2030. That quite strongly mirrors the actions that we will follow here in Ireland under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, with the 7% reductions in greenhouse emissions per year.

While these measures are radical, they do not enough to address the climate crisis. We are on our way to a catastrophic 2.7°C of warming unless we increase our ambition and unless other countries do so as well. We will be busy with the updating of the renewable energy directive and the energy efficiency directive. We also will provide new laws, such as the carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Before I conclude, I want to say that the climate action will change the way we build, the way we travel, the energy we use and the way we farm. It can be a good news story. These measures can improve our air quality, make our streets safer, allow us to live healthier lives and live in warmer homes with lower fuel bills. It is crucial in Ireland that we prioritise the retrofitting or the energy upgrades of social housing, both public and voluntary, and start by protecting the vulnerable from energy poverty. This is achievable, it is doable, and the financial institutions are willing to provide that money.

In conclusion, it is worth remembering that there are many nations and tens of millions of people who want to share the European dream in the western Balkans and beyond. Accession states deserve a roadmap and a timetable for progress on that score. I come here from Glasgow yesterday, where I was at the opening of the Conference of the Parties, COP, that is, the UN climate conference. In Glasgow, I met Rahima Kazal from Bangladesh. She told me 20 million people will be displaced by climate change in Bangladesh by 2050. The EU and Ireland can and must increase our ambition to help her and her fellow citizens in the years ahead.

Mr. Cuffe finished the great contemporary challenge and presented it in positive terms, in that it can affect a good and new lifestyle for us all. It is now my great pleasure to move on to Clare Daly, MEP, who is a distinguished former Member of the Dáil here.

Ms Daly is a former airport worker and shop steward. She was a county councillor for many years, and all of us in this assembly know county councillors very well. She was twice elected to the Dáil from the Dublin Fingal constituency where she had a high profile on issues such as Garda reform, repeal the eighth and workers' rights.

Ms Daly has been an Independents 4 Change MEP since 2019 and sits in the Left group in the European Parliament. She is a member of a number of vital committees. I was given their acronyms - LIBE, SEDE, TRAN, INGE and INTA - and had great fun with Google identifying them as the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, the Subcommittee on Security and Defence, the Committee on Transport and Tourism and the Committee on International Trade. It is my great pleasure to invite Clare Daly, MEP, to address the House.

Ms Clare Daly

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I thank the Seanad for inviting us here.

Against a backdrop where we normally only have one minute to speak, six minutes can seem like loads of time but it is very difficult to cover the work of two years in that time. It is particularly difficult when there is a lack of knowledge of what actually goes on inside the European Parliament. Unlike the Oireachtas, a lot of our detailed work, where we can make change, takes place in committees and there is no coverage of that by the Irish media. That is unfortunate and does not happen in other member states. For this reason, it is really good that the Seanad has organised this engagement which I hope will be the first of many such engagements. It can make a positive contribution to bridging that huge gap.

We have an idea for a European Parliament television channel on which we have done detailed work. The initiative could be accommodated under the existing legislation with relatively little finance. We will bring that proposal to the Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming weeks and seek the assistance of Members with it because the lack of knowledge is stark.

As the Leas-Chathaoirleach said, I am a member of five committees. Rather than discuss them all, I will briefly address the committee that Mr. Cuffe discussed, namely, the transport committee. As an island nation, aviation is particularly important to us. The sector was decimated by Covid but we are seeing a recovery taking place. Billions of euro in public money have been pumped into the airlines and airports. This is an opportunity lost because we could have attached to that money a condition that we have a socially and environmentally responsible recovery. We have blown it a bit. Ireland was in the bold camp as it was one of the countries that not too enthusiastic about attaching a condition to those payments on protecting workers' rights and so on. That is a key area for us. This year is the European year of rail and rail is an important area for us as well.

I will now deal with the two most important committees of which I am a member. LIBE, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, is similar to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice. It deals with the bulk of legislation from the European Parliament. We have dealt with issues such as prison reform. I have a number of former prisoners working with me at the moment and members of the committee visited a lot of prisons across Europe. The committee has also dealt with huge files, which are being upgraded and will affect European citizens. For example, the European arrest warrant legislation and Europol legislation dealing with police co-operation across Europe are being updated. These are two very important files and I was the shadow on both of them.

I am on the scrutiny group of Europol. All of the member states have an oversight role on that group but Ireland has not been represented at its most recent meetings. When I was a Member of the Dáil and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was Chair of the justice committee, Ireland was always represented at scrutiny group meetings. The current Committee on Justice may wish to address that issue because Europol has been found wanting in terms of violating civil rights and on data protection issues, which it is now retrofitting. This will have a big impact.

Data protection is a topical issue. The Data Protection Commission has come in for a lot of criticism in Europe. I think this criticism is unfounded and I am not just saying that because I am Irish. We gave the DPC a hard time when it was before Oireachtas committees but it has become a scapegoat for the deficiencies in the legislation. That lets big tech off the hook and is not productive.

Migration is also a major issue for the LIBE. I am a member of the Schengen scrutiny group. The Schengen Agreement is a jewel of Europe as it grants citizens the ability to freely move across boundaries. However, it has become the arena for some of the most appalling violations of human rights. Senators may have seen the coverage by Der Spiegel, a German media outlet, which exposed the complicity of Croatian and Greek border guards in the most appalling violence meted out to migrants on the borders there. Migrants were set out to sea on dinghies that were burst and shipped back to Turkey. On the Croatian border, roads were built to literally drive people to the border. Their possessions were burned and they were pushed across the border to Bosnia. This is all being done with EU money. The scrutiny group was very good at exposing some of this. We have worked with NGOs and citizens' groups in those countries to expose many of these activities. Finally, we now have an independent monitoring mechanism for fundamental rights. It is not great but at least it is heading in the right direction.

The rule of law is another major issue for us. We have produced a publication on the rule of law, which is timely. There will be one for everybody in the audience in the next few days. I will send copies to the House. The rule of law is a topical issue because of Poland. The way in which the EU deals with Poland is a real test now for Europe's future. Obviously, like everyone else, I was horrified at the antics of Poland, including attacks on its judiciary, women, the LGBTIQ community and so on. However, we must be careful and not hand ammunition to those who violate those rights. The Commission has implemented its mechanism in a highly partisan way. Our study highlights what has gone on in France, Spain and Bulgaria and critiques the rule of law mechanism on that basis. Colleagues will find it useful in that regard.

I do not have much time to discuss security and defence, which is unfortunate. Maybe we can discuss the issue when summing up. Historic steps are being taken to an ever-closer defence union, which is utterly frightening. Senators may have seen the comments made by President Biden backing Europe in taking a stronger military role in NATO.

We have seen the unprecedented step of €8 billion being allocated for arms expenditure in the European Defence Fund. We have PESCO, or permanent structured co-operation, the European Peace Facility, another pocket of money that allows African nations to buy European arms and destabilise their areas, the Strategic Compass, and the European Military Planning and Conduct Capability, MPCC. The list goes on. Senators will have heard the state of the Union address by Ursula von der Leyen this year. It was very strong on defence commitments, which is pretty scary to any country that says it is neutral. If Senators want the hair to stand up their heads, I suggest they tune into any meeting of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence where they will see all of the action.

The same companies that came up with the idea of spending money from a public budget on defence are also profiting from that historic change. They are also profiting from the securitisation of the border. When those who have become refugees because of wars and destabilisation seek refuge the same companies block them. It is shocking that this has happened when no money is being spent on more important matters.

I thank Ms Daly for her remarks. We share her concerns about Poland, Hungary, etc., as will emerge later in questions.

Our next speaker is Frances Fitzgerald, MEP. She is familiar with this Chamber as a former Leader of the Seanad. I had the great pleasure of serving with Ms Fitzgerald in the Seanad some years ago. She is now an MEP for Dublin city and county and the vice-president of the EPP group in the European Parliament. Prior to her election to the European Parliament, she served as a Fine Gael parliamentarian for 20 years as a Senator and a Deputy. She served as Tánaiste, as one of four women to ever hold that post, and as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs. She is a member of a number of prestigious committees. If I were to read out Ms Fitzgerald's entire CV and the CVs of all four MEPs, it would take me until 7 p.m. I invite Ms Fitzgerald to address the House.

Ms Frances Fitzgerald

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senators and MEP colleagues. I thank the Seanad for the invitation. It is a pleasure to be back in the House representing the citizens of Dublin city and county and to have an opportunity to give Senators a sense of the work we do in the European Parliament.

The range of activities every day in the Parliament is quite extraordinary. Members get a feel of it from some of my colleagues. It is quite difficult to keep up with the amount of material and the number of votes and resolutions, opinions and reports that arise every day. I find the quality of the work there extraordinarily high. I find it very co-operative. Obviously, there is much consensus building in the Parliament and the amount of work that can be done and agreed upon is amazing despite the very different backgrounds, experiences and cultures people bring to the European Parliament.

Speaking earlier in the year at the annual State of the Union speech, Ursula von der Leyen said many are the people who feel their lives have been on pause while the world has been on fast forward. That summarises the feeling of isolation people have sometimes had from Covid-19 but also the feeling that the world is changing very fast. In regard to the European Parliament and European work, I often say that the kind of lens through which everything is seen now is Covid-19, green and digital. I also add in that it is equality and care and inclusiveness and diversity. Those are the sorts of criteria around which much of the work is done in the Parliament.

I will say a few words about the Covid-19 recovery. This has preoccupied the Parliament as indeed has the development of the vaccines, on which there was a slow start but fantastic co-operation after that, particularly between public and private. It has been great to see that. There has been huge, unprecedented and timely economic support from the European Parliament to all member states. This was very impressive. As we know, this has enabled individuals and businesses to continue and survive as much as possible. The point I would make about that €750 billion recovery fund, even though Ireland is getting just about €1 billion in grants under the recovery and resilience facility, RRF, and a further €7 billion for 2022 and 2023, is that it is about solidarity. It is really about making sure the countries that need this money to transition in the areas I have talked about have it. It is very strictly controlled. The criteria around it, green, digital and so on, are very important. We have been working quite hard in the Parliament to ensure that it is well spent and there will be a careful watch on it in the months and years ahead. One of the things I have been watching in particular is to ensure that the RRF is gender-proofed. I did a report for the Parliament on the differential impact of Covid-19 on women and men and it is very important that we spend the money appropriately to ensure the recovery meets everybody.

A second area I have been working on is the question of the care economy. This is very important. We had a very particular lens on care during Covid-19. We clapped the carers and so on but I have been trying to get the EU to have a care strategy. I am delighted to say that Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech announced that the Commission would be working on a care strategy next year. I can go into some details on what that will encompass. Care is a national competence but we can do much work at European level to co-operate, to share data and to look at best practice. Best practice networks have targets such as the Barcelona targets for childcare. That is very important and it is great that the Commission is now taking a more serious role in regard to care.

A number of my colleagues spoke about the European Green Deal and that is huge in the Parliament. There is commitment from all the political parties. There is much discussion about the implementation, as there is in Ireland. How will it be implemented? What committees will have responsibilities for what part of the European Green Deal? What committees will have competence around it? The Commission published its Fit for 55 package, but much remains to be worked out in the detail still. There is much concern, particularly among colleagues from countries in eastern Europe which are dependent on fossil fuels and coal and have big industries such as car manufacturing and so on. It is very important that we have what I would call a just transition for individuals and communities. I have been rapporteur on two reports - two just transition legislative files for my group. This is involves a huge amount of funding - €100 billion - for Europe to make sure there is a just transition for all countries and for communities. When we say communities, it is not just for the coal miners but it is for their families and their communities. There is much to be done in that regard.

Finally, I have two small points. One relates to Europe's place in the world and geopolitics at the moment with the USA and China. There is much tension with China. There are hopes of rebuilding the relationship with the USA because that had really broken down in the past few years. We are having many discussions and debates on what Europe's position will be and on how Europe will defend itself. Ms Daly touched on some of her attitudes and beliefs around that. That is quite an interesting discussion in terms of defence and security and, of course, Brexit. I will finish by saying that the support for Ireland and the understanding in the European Parliament in regard to the protocol and Brexit is quite extraordinary. There is huge interest and support and a real wish to see the TCA fully implemented.

I thank Ms Frances Fitzgerald, MEP. That will give rise to a number of themes, very notably the degree to which Covid-19 has set back women's rights in a big way internationally, and that question needs addressing. It has had a huge impact on the education of women in a number of areas of the world, and on a number of other factors.

The first part of the dialogue was our MEPs speaking, and that was certainly very engaging and worth hearing. A huge number of very real themes and important linkages emerged. The next part of the dialogue is the response from the leaders of each of the groups here. The part that was most fascinating and worked best the last day was the question and answer session.

For the first part of the session, we had to be slightly deferential and welcoming to our guests, but I am ruthlessly going to impose time limits from now on. We did not do that in phase one. All our leaders have five minutes. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I call Senator Gerry Horkan.

I thank the Leas-Cathaoirleach. Maybe I will use the minute and a half Mr. Andrews did not use end of my speech. This is a very important day. Ireland is a member of the European Union since 1973. I do not believe this process has happened before, namely, MEPs coming into the Seanad Chamber and addressing the Senators. It is very worthwhile. The MEPs might not realise it but they are approximately half way through their five-year term as this month is two and a half years into the term of 2019 to 2024. Probably none of us got to see, or to engage with, the MEPs as much as we might normally have because MEPs have been in Brussels or cocooned. Everybody else has been cocooned as well. That engagement has been missing. In the last Seanad, when we were in the temporary Chamber, I asked for a debate not on the future of the European Union, but on the benefits of the European Union. We sometimes tend to use the European Union as a stick, in the sense that it introduced noise regulations, fertiliser rules or emissions rules. It is used as the body to blame. We say that we did not impose this on people and that somebody else did. Even though Ireland is one of the most pro-European Union nations in Europe, we need to be always cognisant of all of the benefits, including the Erasmus programme. My mother was Erasmus co-ordinator in UCD many years ago. People who participated benefitted from travelling abroad to universities in The Netherlands, France and Germany at the time because the EU was smaller back in the 1990s.

We also need to remember that it is the world's most successful peace project. We do not reflect on that. We take all the good stuff for granted, like in all politics. Dublin is very lucky, and this is before I throw any rocks at anybody, to have four parliamentarians who are so experienced and who bring so much knowledge to their portfolios and to their committees from Ireland. I just spotted that all four of the MEPs were elected in the local elections in 1999. I think Mr. Cuffe might have been on a local authority prior to that, but all of them were elected successfully and are still around. Some of them, like myself recently, had little gaps in their political career but have come back. That in itself shows great resilience.

I was on the finance committee in the last Oireachtas and the EU finance committees used to meet twice a year, once in Brussels in February and once in the country holding the Presidency around late October or early November. It was useful that we met each other.

The finance committees used to meet twice a year, once in Brussels in February and once in the country that held the Presidency in late October or early November. That was useful but has not happened in the past while. I am not sure many other committees do that.

We debated a reasoned opinion in the House today on the Fit for 55 package. I am on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. As an island nation, transport is important, as Ms Daly noted. The transport connectivity that other countries take for granted is not available in Ireland. One can jump on a train in the Czech Republic and go to Germany, Denmark or France. Even though the UK has left the EU, one can still get a train the whole way from Brussels to Glasgow, as I saw Mr. Cuffe post on Twitter. We do not have that kind of connectivity. Ms Daly referred to aviation, which has been a major issue for our committee. It is important that the EU appreciates just how disconnected we are from Europe. France, our nearest EU neighbour, will assume the Presidency in January, as the French embassy on Merrion Square has indicated. That will be positive for us.

We also need to acknowledge the success of the Covid digital certificate. It has been implemented really quickly, despite the fact that many people thought it would not be. All of a sudden, it arrived in everyone's inbox. It saddens me that vaccines have gone unused in countries in eastern Europe such as Romania, but 700,000 vaccines destined for Romania were not wasted as they were reallocated to Ireland where we have the highest vaccine take-up rate in the EU.

The question and answer session will be later. Not every MEP was able to attend our previous session on the Midlands-North-West constituency. It is brilliant that all four Dublin MEPs are here. Long may this engagement continue. Do they put on not just the green jersey but also the blue Dublin jersey? Do they work together as much as they can on behalf of Dublin?

There is a one China policy. In a vote on Taiwan recently, nine Irish MEPs voted one way, a couple went the other way and a couple abstained. I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of the MEPs present on what happened and why any of them voted in particular ways.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak. On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I thank all of the MEPs for being here.

Senator Horkan's reference to this important, radical and vital departure gives me a cue. It would be remiss of me to let the evening pass without acknowledging that the Cathaoirleach, who is away on business today, has been very proactive and has led in creating this initiative, working it up and taking it right through. He has been in touch with MEPs and has played a vital role in this. Without him, this would not be the success it is. It would be churlish to allow the day to pass and not acknowledge that. I am glad Senator Horkan gave me the cue for that.

It is great to see the MEPs here. As a Senator based in Dublin, I welcome this access, especially after the past couple of years. Ms Daly mentioned how difficult it is to get what they are doing into the media. That is true. The media here are absolutely dominated by Brexit. It is good, therefore, to hear about everything else. At the same time, I am Fine Gael Seanad spokesperson on Northern Ireland so I will focus most of my remarks on Brexit and Dublin.

This is a very sensitive time in EU-UK politics and of course the island of Ireland is in the middle of that, even though we sit on the edge of Europe. Without a doubt, it is the North of Ireland that is most affected. I want the MEPs to leave today with the importance of the all-island economy and duel market access for the North foremost in their minds.

The protocol is a solution to a problem, but the language is all very negative. I lived in Tyrone and consider myself a Northerner. The protocol is an opportunity for an area that has not had many opportunities. It is to be hoped this could be an opportunity to help our island move beyond identity politics and focus much more on prosperity politics. When I talk about the all-island economy, I talk about developing clusters of industry. This is especially important in regard to COP26 and the advantages of working as an island.

Representatives of the All-Island Cancer Research Institute appeared before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement a couple of weeks ago. Great work has been done since the Good Friday Agreement was signed with the Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium. There are massive opportunities there. We are already working with the National Cancer Institute in the US, and there is an opportunity there.

We have the Dublin to Belfast economic corridor and the Border area. The Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN, wants to develop the Border area as an economic area. The north west is crying out for infrastructure, skills and tourism. I was lucky enough to visit the area with my Fine Gael colleagues last week. There is also the need to protect the all-Ireland supply chains in respect of rules around mixed origins, in particular in the whiskey and dairy sectors.

Stability sets us up for foreign direct investment, FDI. The MEPs may say they are Dublin based, but we are all part of the all-Ireland economy and they have a voice when others do not. We have seen interest in FDI in the North and we want that to come to fruition. That does not happen whenever there is instability. I welcome the efforts of Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and engagement with the people who really matter - those on the ground - for coming up with solutions around customs checks and medicines and giving people in civic groups and the Assembly a voice.

At all times, the EU has acted honestly. It has been united and has acted in good faith. It has pushed an international agreement, and the ink is not yet dry on its boundaries. The Government has been very honest and not aggressive about the potential of Brexit in Ireland. The fears of a hard border in Ireland remain. The third edition of a report from ICBAN and Queen's University Belfast, The Border after Brexit, written by Professor Katy Hayward, was published recently. Fears of a hard border are increasing. I wanted the MEPs to take away the fact that this fear remains and we need them to be champions for the all-Ireland economy and opportunities for the North.

ALMA, the Aim, Learn, Master, Achieve initiative, will feature as part of the European Social Fund Plus. It would be good to see the North involved in that in terms of work experience. I am particularly interested in the European care strategy and what MEPs expect from the European Commission regarding that. I am an advocate for remote and flexible work, and I want to know how that will feature.

Dublin seemed to undergo something of an identity crisis in the pandemic. The perception was that the rest of the country would benefit from regional balance and Dublin would be left behind. I would like to hear the thoughts of the MEPs on that and where they think we and the county councils should go as a city.

I warmly welcome Mr. Barry Andrews, Mr. Ciarán Cuffe, Ms Clare Daly and Ms Frances Fitzgerald. I also welcome a former MEP, Senator Lynn Boylan, who is sitting on my right. She has a wealth of experience in Europe and I want to acknowledge that. The four MEPs present are diverse and a good choice for Dublin. Everyone who is an MEP representing the constituency of Dublin is exceptionally experienced, as previous speakers have said. That is worth acknowledging.

It is nice to be here, but let us not fool ourselves. We have talked about Seanad reform for long enough. Everyone here on my left and right is conscious of what we have been talking about.

The Tánaiste, when he addressed the Seanad last year, talked about EU legislative scrutiny, which he saw as an important role for a bicameral parliament and the Taoiseach is also on record in that regard. I thank the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Mark Daly, who proposed a Bill in 2013. The then Senator Mark MacSharry made a very elegant speech in which he talked about the need for scrutiny and reform. We can either be radical or redundant in this House. Are we going to be just a talking shop? Are we here to just listen to what the MEPs, who are exceptional, have to say? We need to do more. How can MEPs assist Senators in this House in giving legislative scrutiny real teeth?

I took the time recently to read a document prepared by the UK's Institute for Government entitled "Parliamentary scrutiny of European Union legislation". Ireland was one of the ten countries on which the report focused. The report is really interesting. On the German Bundestag, the report says that the scrutiny process is supported by a very large European affairs directorate within the Bundestag. Regarding Sweden, the report finds that significant scrutiny took place after the Lisbon treaty and that the position has radically improved. In the Netherlands, the authors find:

... debates in advance of Council of the EU meetings create ‘de facto mandating’ by the legislature of the government’s position. Once a committee or the plenary has made clear its position on a particular proposal, it is unthinkable’ that the government would take a different position in negotiations.

That is very restrictive. On Ireland, the authors say that the "Oireachtas has no legal or political mandate over EU matters: the government is merely obliged to take the Oireachtas’ opinion into account." That is the challenge for us and we have to do something really different. That is what is important for us in this House. Asking people to come in here to talk to us is all very well and while it is great to see our MEPs, two of whom were former Deputies in my constituency whose political careers have moved forward greatly, we need to go further. We must reform Seanad Éireann to make it more meaningful and more supportive of MEPs in their work.

Ms Fitzgerald touched on the European Green Deal. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I am anxious that we get the message out about the green deal. It is the responsible thing to do but we must underline the importance of a just transition. That is going to be the challenge. We cannot simply engage in greenwashing or talking about what is great. We must convince people and bring them along. Ireland is unique in Europe in the sense that our citizens strongly support the European Parliament and engage with it. In the past our citizens, me included, looked out across the water to the UK and Europe to vindicate our rights, lift us up and hear what we had to say on having a more liberal, open and inclusive agenda. We turned to Europe and its institutions to defend our rights and we owe those institutions a great deal. It is important that Members of this House work closely on that.

I invite our guests to elaborate on their views regarding the Horizon Europe programme which started this year and runs until 2027. Innovation, technology and the logistics of the future are where it is at now and we have a real opportunity to tap into that. Again, I thank our guests for coming to the House. We must collaborate more. We cannot leave this Chamber today and claim to have had a successful meeting unless this is the beginning of a process and of a relationship that will make the work of our MEPs and our work more meaningful for the people we represent.

I welcome our four MEPs to the Chamber. While Dublin is not my constituency, I am delighted to speak to them. I will leave the issues of agriculture and CAP to one side as we spoke about them with some of their colleagues previously. On the issue of connectivity, Ireland is more connected than we think. I know that Mr. Cuffe took the train but a couple of us here will be taking the train and the boat to COP26 on Saturday and Sunday. It leaves in the morning and arrives in the afternoon. There is a lot more connectivity than just airports and it is important that we invest in that. An important part of that connectivity picture is Northern Ireland because we are travelling via the North to Scotland.

Today is a hugely important day. Most of what I am going to say involves questioning our MEPs on the work of the EU and their own work. That is what they are here for and that kind of engagement is important. There is no point in me standing up here and giving a fine speech because our guests have the answers. We hear people saying constantly that they do not know what MEPs do. In every one of their addresses today, they have laid out what they do, which is quite telling. We do not stand up here every day and say what it is that we do. That highlights the fact that there is a lack of connection. It is important because it is people in Ireland who vote for MEPs. Mr. Cuffe mentioned all of the things around Dublin that European funding has paid for and Ms Fitzgerald did likewise. Money talks and we forget that a lot of the infrastructure around our island was developed with European funding.

Senator Horkan commented that the EU is a peace project and we need to talk about that. I would like to hear our guests' thoughts on the rule of law and how that is, or is not, operating at the moment. In the context of Poland, I ask them to speak on the delays and perceived lack of action by the Commission. It is important to get that piece right. Otherwise, we are living as neighbours with people whom we fundamentally know are not buying into the same peace project that we have all signed up to and for which we all voted.

Trade, which is an area of specific interest to Mr. Andrews, can be very opaque when it comes to the EU. It is absolutely essential that Irish people understand what they are signing up to and that MEPs understand that too. I would love to hear the MEPs' views on Mercosur in particular and on trade in general. A lot of the early stages of trade negotiations seem to happen behind closed doors before they even reach the European Parliament. I ask our guests to comment on that. Are reforms needed at this stage?

I would like to touch on an issue that is very close to my heart, namely, the European care strategy which was raised by Ms. Fitzgerald. The last couple of years have changed the narrative on care and community. Who would have thought that a citizens' assembly a couple of years ago would decide that we do not need to remove care from our Constitution but amend references to it? We need to take out the gender bias but we need to reflect the fact that, fundamentally, the Irish people are a people who care. We have huge levels of volunteerism and community activism. It has been recognised now that when it comes to the care of children, every form of care matters. I look forward to having further conversations with our MEPs on that issue. I appeared before an Oireachtas justice and equality committee, of which Ms Daly was a member, before I was elected as a politician, to discuss this very issue. At that time, it was almost a new idea that care is not just about childcare but about the care we all give each other, old and young.

Finally, in terms of our international obligations around climate, it is fair to say that the EU and all developed countries have failed when it comes to climate justice. We have not even reached the bare minimum of €100 billion in climate finance for developing nations. I attended the pre-COP26 meeting in Rome and it was heartbreaking to listen to the stories of developing nations. There is a loss of trust. Where do our MEPs stand in relation to the TRIPS waiver? That was a key opportunity for developed nations to show developing nations that they can trust us and that we really are all in this together, both in terms of the pandemic and climate action.

Senator Boylan, a distinguished former MEP, will speak on behalf of Sinn Féin.

I will share my time with Senator Warfield. Is that agreed?

Of course. That is acceptable.

I welcome the Dublin MEPs. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach said, I am a former MEP-----

Senator Warfield is on the list for later. Does he still wish to speak now?

Yes. We will do it now. We can start the clock again.

This is not part of the Senator's time; do not worry.

I welcome the MEPs to the House. I know from my experience that it is incredibly hard to get anybody to pay any attention to the work they do. It often feels like being a hamster on a wheel. One problem is that although MEPs can attend the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, which allows better scrutiny of European legislation, the timings never worked. If we have learned anything from Covid, we now know that we can do things remotely. We should certainly look at bringing MEPs to the European affairs committee on a more regular basis to feed into the legislative process before it is too late.

We know it is very convenient for governments to blame the EU when they do not want to do something. They very often say the EU will not let them. When something does happen, the excuse is often used that it was not because of governments but the EU. If we had proper scrutiny in advance of legislation and directives, it would remove that from the conversation. We are certainly seeing that now in the case of the ban on liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminals. The Attorney General says we cannot ban them because of EU law, when I have it in writing from the EU that they absolutely can be banned and that it is entirely up to a member state what energy mix it wants to have. As someone who is unapologetically critical of the EU, it is right to criticise it when it is wrong and to praise it when it is right. We owe it a lot in terms of the habitats and wildlife directives because our biodiversity is in a dire state in Ireland and it would be much worse if we did not have the protection of that legislation.

I will focus particularly on climate change. It is welcome that the EU is showing some leadership on this issue. While the EU is not ambitious enough, it is at least showing leadership in setting binding targets and increasing its ambition going into COP26. It is mind-blowing, however, that the EU continues to think it can modernise the Energy Charter Treaty. I would like to hear the MEPs' opinions on that modernisation process because the Energy Charter Treaty cannot be fit for a Paris-compliant future. It is not fit for purpose. It is a dinosaur agreement that was founded at a time when fossil fuels were the way to go and it now deserves to be buried alongside the fossil fuels it protects. Ireland ratified the treaty in 1994 without debate, which is interesting given that the Government tried to rush the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, through with a very short debate. Ireland is on the hook for investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, challenges under this treaty and the Dutch are already being sued for billions of euro for phasing out coal power plants in their country. I would like to know the opinion of all the MEPs. Do they support the EU leaving the Energy Charter Treaty? What are their views on the fact that the EU is now trying to carve out a dispute so it cannot be sued inter-EU, but the Energy Charter Treaty is being used to protect European fossil fuel companies when they go into the global south by expanding that treaty into those countries?

I welcome the MEPs to the Chamber. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is the only international instrument that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. While an increasing percentage of Europeans support equal rights for LGBT people, they are facing increased discrimination in the EU. There are obvious moves in some EU member states to exclude and discriminate against LGBT people. I do not need to talk about Poland or Hungary, where a new law means that only married heterosexual couples can adopt children. The list goes on for all of those matters so I will not spend my time on them.

Most EU member states do not allow for legal recognition based on self-determination for trans people but, rather, based on mental health diagnoses. I will not talk about LGBT zones either, but I know that as part of the MEPs' work in the European Parliament, a resolution was passed that declared the EU a LGBT freedom zone. While that is a symbolic move, it shows that MEPs will continue to protect and promote LGBT rights as a key European value even when some national governments fail to do so. The EU LGBTIQ equality strategy 2020-2025 seeks to tackle discrimination against, and increase the inclusion of, LGBT people, for example, by respecting cross-border situations, strengthening legal protections against hate crimes, hate speech and online abuse, improving recognition of trans, non-binary and inter-sex people and upholding the rights and promoting attention to the specific needs of people claiming asylum for reasons based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

I would like the MEPs' views on all these matters and on whether the European Commission and Europe have been too tame in response to national governments. As a defender of the treaties, should the Commission move much more decisively to champion the freedom of citizens to live and love who they wish and to promote sexual and reproductive rights?

I thank the four Dublin MEPs for being here today. As has been said, it is very important to have this interaction and to better understand the work they are doing on behalf of this city and county. I was struck by Mr. Cuffe's statement that the Green New Deal forms a major part of the focus of the work of the Parliament at the moment, which is very true. The equality agenda has also been a major part of that work; Ms Fitzgerald touched on that.

My comments will focus on the Parliament's workers' rights agenda and work in that area. Any of us who are familiar with the history of workers' rights in this country will know that the EU has been the genesis and impetus for many of the rights in respect of equal pay, equal status, working conditions, health and safety, posted workers, temporary agency workers and so forth. While many of us with a real interest in workers' rights over the past decade may have despaired at the lack of progress in this country over many years, we have taken some heart from the very clear direction taken by the Commission, especially over the past two to three years.

I want to hear the MEPs' views, as representatives of the city and county, and the views of their respective parties within the Parliament, on their position on the proposed adequate minimum wage directive and their stance on the gender pay transparency directive. The updated European pillar of social rights action plan was published in May. We also know the Commission is signalling its intention to publish a draft directive to protect platform workers. We need to hear from the MEPs on how they intend to vote and support those initiatives, especially in respect of the adequate minimum wage draft directive. That, in truth, has the potential to be a game changer for workers in this country in terms of their ability to exercise some say on their terms and conditions. As we know, that directive does not force Ireland to introduce the right to collective bargaining, but it would potentially force us to put in place a framework to ensure that workers have that right or ability to negotiate, collectively, their terms and conditions. Ireland stands apart from most other EU member states in not having the right to be recognised for collective bargaining purposes.

Let us be clear about why that directive is so important for this country. An estimated 370,000 workers, or just under one fifth of our workforce, earn 66% of the median wage. Nearly 23% of all women are low paid. The message is to get a good education in order to get a good job and be well paid, but 13% of all graduates are classified as low paid. Across this Chamber and, no doubt, in the European Parliament, there is a lot of talk about needing to close the gender pay gap.

Of course, there is no single silver bullet. While the proposals within the gender pay transparency directive are really important, the directive will only be effective if it is complemented by giving women workers that right to be able to negotiate and bargain on a collective basis because there is a growing body of research across Europe showing that the greater the levels of collective bargaining coverage, the less is the wage dispersion within companies and the less is the wage gap between men and women within those workplaces.

When we talk about the wage gap here in Ireland, all too often the figure of 14.4% is trotted out. The wage gap is actually much bigger in this country. It is 25%, in terms of the average weekly wages between men and women in this country because we have to take into account that women are discriminated against, in particular, by being trapped in low-paid part-time jobs. Of course, the pensions gap is even larger, at 28.6%.

I am conscious that the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs is due to meet next week. I understand that the co-rapporteurs from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, S&D, and the European People's Party, EPP, have done excellent work. I am concerned about some of the reports about the Renew Europe representative on that committee and that representative's position and I would like to hear, across all the parties here, what their own individual positions are and what they will do within their own party groupings in the Parliament to ensure that this important directive is passed.

I am glad to welcome all the MEPs, and some of them back to the Seanad. We are here at a key moment for Europe. Much of the connection that Ireland has - much of the pride that people have for the European Union - is in its history in driving forward workers' rights, women's rights, environmental progress and disability rights. However, much ground and trust was lost during austerity because it seemed that those social solidarity principles and that idea of progressing rights and progressing bigger, better ideas of how we live together, was put aside. The smart sustainable inclusive growth of Europe 2020 was pressed aside in favour of short-term fiscal targets. Some of that lesson has been learned because we see in the response to Covid that there is recognition of the need to suspend fiscal rules and to focus on stimulus and on solidarity funding. I believe it is a great disgrace, however, to the European Union that a TRIPS waiver is still bring blocked, almost only by Europe. Even the United States of America is now supporting it, together with 100 other countries. This is probably one of the greatest moral and, indeed, diplomatic failings that Europe will ever have made.

Within Europe, there was a response on solidarity. I note the recovery and resilience funding was mentioned. Unfortunately, Ireland was one of the only countries that did not have parliamentary scrutiny or debate on that recovery and resilience funding. I hope that, on just transition funding, we will have that. I would encourage my MEP, Ms Fitzgerald, who is active in these areas, to press the Government to ensure that it engages at national level in proper debate on these fundings. They are important decisions on a European Green Deal, on digitalisation and, crucially, how they overlap because one of the issues that does not get discussed is the energy footprint and the environmental footprint in relation to digitalisation and how we do that right and in an ethically and environmentally sound way.

Another aspect, of course, is what comes next. We are in the debate about the future of Europe. I am lucky enough to be one of the national parliamentarians taking part in that. There are some very fundamental questions. It is about priorities. The questions will be, for example, whether we will strengthen the Charter of Fundamental Rights because it was Ireland and the UK that blocked legal force for the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the past. Ireland withdrew its objection and the UK has now left the EU. Can we strengthen the Charter of Fundamental Rights? What are the MEPs' views on a social progress protocol? The issue of collective bargaining has been mentioned and that is something where the EU has competence. In terms of workers' rights within care, the EU has strong competence. The European women's lobby has been active in working on a new care deal with the European Trade Union Confederation, ETUC.

These are really important choices and they will be fundamental as to whether trust is rebuilt in the long term. Alongside that, there is a question of how we avoid rushing back to business as usual. I would like the MEPs' views on the replacement for the semester process and recovery and resilience. Do we continue to suspend the fiscal rules to re-imagine them? There is a review of European economic governance under way and I seek the MEPs' thoughts on key issues for that EU economic governance.

I will move to the wider question on trade because two of the MEPs are members of the Committee on International Trade. Indeed, the Energy Charter Treaty is, of course, related to the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy where the MEP, Mr. Cuffe, also sits. We have seen, as has been outlined, the tension that is there. The European Court of Justice has adjudicated that there is a tension with those cases but we know that the arbitration panels choose to disregard the ruling of the European Court of Justice as they have done in the Achmea ruling. I believe we are looking at a rule of law tension here whereby we have a situation where the European Court of Justice is saying that things do not apply and yet we have arbitration panels. Is the only option in that context to leave the Energy Charter Treaty and to move into our next era? What are the MEPs' views on that?

In relation to due diligence and the question of human rights in trade and the supply chain, the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, which the MEPs will be aware of, explicitly tried to address that because, of course, it was a supply chain that went outside EU trade competency and into an occupied territory not covered by EU trade. I would like the MEPs' views on whether this issue might be addressed by that.

In terms of the TRIPS waiver public-public research, what can we learn around technology transfer and public-public research on climate because we have seen the dangers that intellectual property protectionism may cause in terms of bringing solutions to scale? Does that mean we need to reimagine how we do research?

In terms of the social cohesion funding and its re-routing into defence, social cohesion is what protects us as the EU. Peace-building is something that is different from security. What are the MEPs' thoughts on that? I will not comment further on migration but I am sure the debate will come forward. I thank the MEP, Ms Clare Daly, for her comments on that matter.

I thank Senator Higgins. The third phase of our dialogue is a two-minute response from each MEP. I would appeal to the MEPs, who are used to this in the Parliament anyway, to stick to the two minutes so that we can move into questions. I call on the MEP, Mr. Barry Andrews, to respond. It is not easy to respond to all that in two minutes.

Mr. Barry Andrews

In that case, I will only touch on trade and a little on Brexit. On trade, I agree that the Energy Charter Treaty dispute settlement mechanism is completely inappropriate and we need to move into a new phase, which is reflected in the plans around a multilateral investment court and the investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, that was attached to Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. In my view, it brought trade completely into disrepute. There was a lack of public confidence in trade delivering prosperity across the world and that must be corrected. I am delighted that Members in this House are so engaged on that issue. It is very much involved in the House's discussions on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, which is now a national competence to decide on what the House wants to do about ratifying the investment elements of CETA

Senator Higgins asked about due diligence and whether it touches on the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 and the issues contained therein. It definitely does. I had a discussion with the ambassador of Palestine only last week on the very same subject. I am excited to see what the European framework for supply chain due diligence will do, not only for the occupied territories but also for Uighurs in Xinjiang in China.

On Brexit, Senator Currie asked if we will remember the importance of Northern Ireland. I take it very seriously, as part of my job as an MEP, to try - we all do this - to fill the gap left behind by the Northern Ireland MEPs because much of the EU acquis that is contained in the protocol impacts Northern Ireland and yet there is this big democratic deficit.

As a result, we must play our role. There are other things that can happen. For example, building out the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly and having Northern Ireland civil society involved in a joint working group. There are many other things we can do to fill the void resulting from the democratic deficit. I will leave it at that.

Mr. Ciarán Cuffe

I made the somewhat fatal mistake of not bringing my peann luaidhe with me, but I will try to respond to some of the many questions that were put to me. There were questions about scrutiny, trade, social equality and social rights.

On scrutiny, it is really valuable that we are in the Seanad today. Looking ahead, there is the committee on European scrutiny and that is very important. It is vital that we appear there regularly and also in the Houses. Within most of the political groups within the European Parliament, we tend to sit in sectoral groups and look at economic issues, social issues, environmental issues and, more recently, issues relating to human rights and the digital world. If we were to adopt a theme, it could be how to address the economic or social issues in Europe. Given that we are trying to cover a wide area in a very short period, it might be useful to look at that.

In terms of trade, I echo much of what Mr. Andrews said. Many trade agreements are up in the air, including TTIP, CETA, Mercosur and the Energy Charter Treaty. Many of these date from or their origins lie in the last century. Most international trade treaties take five, ten, 15 or 20 years to progress. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is evidence of this. None of them reflects the science relating to crisis that we are experiencing in terms of environmental changes in the world. There is a need to rethink them all but I do not think that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. For a young child growing up in favelas of Rio de Janeiro, her future depends on trade. Her future depends on her mother and father being able to find jobs. Many of those jobs will depend on trade links between South America and Europe, so we must be careful that we do not completely negate trade.

Finally, the issue of social progress is imbedded in all of our work. Ms Daly and I are members of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, TRAN, and social issues arise all of the time whether it be an airline worker or truck driver trying to find his or her way from central Europe to western Europe and back. So social issues are imbedded in many of the matters with which we deal.

Ms Clare Daly

I am experiencing brain freeze because it is impossible to respond to the debate. I will first respond to the point made by Senator Boyhan, and I think this should be the start. It is literally impossible for us to even answer one of the questions properly. It would be an idea to come back to themed discussions whereby we dig deep into some of the things such as the rule of law, trade, climate change or whatever, because that would be the only way we could do justice to these issues.

There are a huge number of positives about the European Union, but we must be honest and say that it has reached crisis point. It is at a crisis point in terms of climate because he truth is that Europe's goals are not even compliant with the Paris Agreement. They just are not, and that is the truth. Military carbon emissions are not counted. When we table motions in the European Parliament on the matter, they are defeated.

We now have an energy crisis across Europe. One of the reasons for this is that we have paid lip service to the idea of renewables and opted for the idea that gas is a transition fuel. It is not. We have a major problem now because of that reliance because it has delayed the implementation of renewables and we are paying the price for that. The response in Europe is not a realisation that we need to cop on and deal with that. many member states are saying that the targets we have set are too ambitious and that we need to row back and keep producing fossil fuels. One can see that division as well in rule-of-law issues in terms of fundamental rights. I refer to the violation of fundamental rights not just in Hungary and Poland but also in Bulgaria. There has been vicious treatment meted out to the LGBTQI community in Bulgaria but nobody mentions that because the ruling party in Bulgaria is quite well in with the ruling elite Europe. There are many issues. We would all like to see a co-operative Europe so we need to put a bit more meat on this. I am not even going to mention the topics because I cannot do them justice. I suggest, however, that we come back and deal with them in more depth.

Yes. We will wait until the very end to address the challenge outlined by Senator Boyhan that was referenced by Ms Daly.

Ms Frances Fitzgerald

The commentary from all of the Senators has been fascinating. A discussion in the Seanad differs from a discussion in the European Parliament because we can hear the points of view of Senators. Like my colleagues, I obviously cannot do justice to all of the points that have been raised. I will, however, discuss three areas beginning with that of the European care strategy referred to by Senator Currie and a number of other Senators. I imagine that the following will come out of the European care strategy. First, we will look at who has access to care. We will consider the affordability, sustainability and quality of care. We will consider who provides the care and the gender aspect. What we can do is gather data. We can look at the EU funding that will be made available. We can look at the gender questions of work-life balance, a matter to which quite a number of Senators referred. I think it will be very comprehensive in terms of making recommendations based on all of those points and I could say a whole lot more. Europe can be a leader in this area. Across Europe, it is amazing how little data there is on who is doing the caring. Sometimes it is so informal - it is done by migrant workers and so on. There are a lot of workers' rights issues as well, which Senator Higgins and others mentioned.

Second, the rule of law is a very current issue. I spoke directly to the Polish President at our meeting just a week or so ago. I thought the hearing was chilling in terms of his reactions and challenges to Europe. We are at the cutting edge with the rule of law and how we are going to deal with the €38 billion budget that Poland could get. Hungary and Poland have both at the centre of the whole question of whether the EU can have conditionality when it comes to the budget. That is going to be a really serious issue. There is increasing determination within the European Parliament not just to speak about but to take action, not least because of what has happened in respect of women's rights and the rights of the LGBTQI community in Poland. It is disgraceful what has gone on there. However, elections are due to be held in 2023 and tens of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets saying that they want to stay in the European Union. As a result, I do not think it is the same as Brexit.

The third and final area is equality in general. Europe has been a leader in so many areas, including equality. I would say that Europe has been a leader in climate although Ms Daly has commented to the contrary. However, when one looks around the world, one will see that Europe leads in many arenas.

I thank Ms Fitzgerald. Now we move to questions. I will try to get everyone in. We have a very tight window, unfortunately, as per the decision of the House on the Order of Business, so I cannot alter the allocations. There are only 15 or 17 minutes to get the questions done. As a result, I ask Senators to please ask very succinct questions. If they ask their questions in a minute or as little as 30 seconds then all the better. Equally, I appeal to the MEPs to give succinct answers. I call Senator Mary Fitzpatrick.

I urge the Leas-Chathaoirleach to keep his finger on the buzzer for the other side of the House. My questions are really simple. I thank all of the MEPs for the work that they do on behalf of Dublin and for representing the voices of Dublin within the European context.

There are three big issues: climate action, which has been spoken about; the energy crisis, which is really affecting households in Dublin and other European cities; and sustainable energy. On the latter, I am interested in the UN sustainable development goals and, in particular, No. 11 which refers to sustainable cities and communities. I ask all four MEPs to respond and indicate to us how they will work with us to progress action. The State is committed to significant climate action but we need Europe to act as one, not just in terms of a just transition but also helping us make a just transition here.

I call Mr. Andrews, MEP. To try to get everyone in, maybe one or two MEPs could answer each question and then we could move on.

Mr. Barry Andrews

Referring to an issue which arose earlier and touching on what Senator Fitzpatrick said, I have made a proposal on having a Dublin office in Brussels. I realise this only impacts those who represent Dublin areas but we represent Dublin and almost every large city of the EU has its own trade and representative office in Brussels. Dublin does not, yet we have four local authorities which do not speak to each other properly and do not align on the key issues of transport and housing about which all of us have been talking about today. I would like to get support from everybody to push this issue, to have a place within Brussels where we can X-ray and find out what proposals are going to impact us, as a city and county, in the future and what legislation is coming, whether directives or regulations.

On the question of the energy crisis, there are some things the EU can do contrary to the Government opposing ideas that came from other Council member states, for example, a strategic gas reserve is something the EU should and will support in my opinion. However, I am not able to comment on whether suspending the current wholesale electricity market in the way that is proposed would be beneficial or not. My main concern is energy poverty which impacts so many families throughout Dublin. With a sixfold increase in energy prices, this is very dangerous.

Finally, on the SDGs, I am glad they were thought of because that space has been almost completely cannibalised by climate policy. There are so many other SDGs touching on the things Senator Sherlock talked about, so we need to put that at the centre of debate, particularly as we consider how we recover from the pandemic.

I thank Mr. Andrews. I will rotate the questions. If somebody has a specific objection to an answer given by a colleague, it can be taken the next time. Otherwise we will not get the questioners in. I call Senator Mary Seery Kearney.

I thank all the MEPs for being here. I say a special thank you to Ms Fitzgerald for the work she did with me when I was trying to get the waiver on VAT on period products to alleviate period poverty. Last week the gender equality index was published by the European Institute for Gender Equality. Ireland fared quite badly in that, particularly women in decision-making positions. We saw 58.4% out of 100 regarding the representation in the Dáil. I image we would fare a lot better if it was based on the Seanad. There are other sectors such as business, media and sport. Deputy Emer Higgins brought forward a Private Members' Bill looking at gender balance on company boards. The European Commission has put forward a similar women on boards directive, but the results are painfully slow. What do our MEPs think the EU can do to improve gender equality?

I call Ms Fitzgerald. If anyone objects to a colleague's answer, he or she can give an answer later.

Mr. Ciarán Cuffe

Watch your back.

That is to ensure there is a balance.

Ms Frances Fitzgerald

There is much work being done on equality in the European Parliament. It has always been a leader on equality. I am on the women's rights committee and there is a very full agenda there at present. On the women on boards directive, the Germans did not do anything on it during their Presidency but it would make a difference in terms of business, women's voices, representation and so on. There is very good work being done on pay transparency, which I think Senator Sherlock raised. There is a new directive on pay transparency. That is very important and it will go through. That will make quite a difference, about which I have no doubt, because currently we have a variation of between 14% and 19% in the pay gap, with a 39% gender variation in pensions throughout Europe. It is incredible when you think about it and what it means for women, particularly for older women living in poverty. It is very serious. It is urgent that we deal with those issues nationally and throughout Europe.

Last week we had a very interesting week in the European Parliament. It was gender equality week. Every committee had to do some work on equality, which was the first time I had seen that. For example, the economic committee had a session on women and the economy, which I do not think it has had before. The development committee is doing a new EU-Africa strategy and we discussed the particular issues in regard to development. Europe can continue to lead on equality. There is much work still to be done.

We need to look at women's rights across the globe. FGM, for example, increased hugely during the pandemic. This is hard to believe but it was because of the lack of community leaders, education classes and with opportunities being reduced. Young, early marriages increased. We have to take a broad perspective around the world on gender equality.

The MEPs are amazing being MEPs, as being a Senator is mind-blowing. I do not know how they do it for the whole of Europe. I do it for County Clare and the country, but hats off to them. I hope people appreciate that it is not that easy.

The meeting happening in Scotland this week is the single most important meeting that has ever happened on this planet and that will ever happen on this planet. I want to talk about farmers in Ireland in regard to climate because I have deep concerns. We all know a massive percentage of CAP goes to a very small percentage of farmers, so they are not the farmers I am talking about or the farmers I am concerned about. I am sick of hearing from that small percentage of farmers who huge lobby groups and representation and do not represent the small farmers who I want to speak and ask about today. I have deep concerns about them not getting the money they need to survive and thrive. I listen to Macra na Feirme and to my neighbours and they are not getting the guidance they need nationally, from Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and from Europe. We talk about Mercosur and exporting pigs to China. I want to hear what the MEPs are doing for small farmers in Europe.

A succinctly made point. I call Mr. Cuffe.

Mr. Ciarán Cuffe

I am on thin ice talking about farming as a Dublin MEP but my first job was snagging fodder beet on John Leeson's farm in south Dublin so I have had a little bit of involvement in that area. A third of the European Union budget goes to farmers but it has to go to the right farmers. We need leadership. I see that leadership from Macra na Feirme. We need that leadership from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and from Teagasc, particularly in regard to climate action. Today at COP26 it is all about the methane strategy. Much of that methane comes from farm animals. We need more science coming from Teagasc and more understanding of the radical changes needed in farming.

To go back briefly to Senator Fitzpatrick's question and Mr. Andrew's response, we need a Dublin office in Brussels. Vienna has an extraordinary office there. It is a bigger city, but a presence is needed. Dublin also needs a mayor. The permanent government runs Dublin and by that I mean the four chief executives, the four county managers. I have rows all the time with those people. At a personal level, I get on with them but we need a political voice, and a Dublin voice. Ireland and the cities in Ireland are outliers compared to elsewhere in Europe. If I can make one plea today, particularly to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it is to support the proposals for mayors for Limerick, Dublin, Waterford and Cork. That is the only way cities will get the voice they need. Yesterday I sat down with a senior European Commission official to talk about carbon neutral cities. He said he wants to get Dublin on board but there is nobody he can talk to and convince of this. That is why we need somebody. Henry Kissinger who asked, "Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” but who do you talk to when you talk to Dublin? There are four local authorities and four mayors. In the space of five years, there will be 20 mayors for Dublin. That is not the way to run a city region. We need a stronger voice. I am sorry for taking up the time on that.

On the sustainable development goals, tomorrow COP26 will devote one day to cities and regions because a huge amount of climate action comes from cities and we need a voice there.

I thank Mr. Cuffe. The point well taken. I ask that MEPs reference a question that they did not get to comment on as Mr. Cuffe did there. I call Senator Warfield.

Can I offer my minute to Senator Ruane?

I call Senator Ruane.

I will add it to my minute at the end, or else I will not get two minutes. I was getting a donation.

Ms Clare Daly

Your minute is up now.

I thank the MEPs for joining us today. As they may be aware, next Monday marks equal pay day in Ireland, the day when women in Ireland effectively stop earning relative to men, given the current gender pay gap of 14.4%. Despite this ongoing inequality, Ireland remains perhaps the only country that has not yet signed up to the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, CEMR, European charter for equality of women and men in local life. The charter seeks to promote gender equality at local and regional levels across Europe by proposing concrete methods through which equality of women and men can be pursued in areas such as political participation, employment, public service and urban planning. While I understand that this charter may be better suited to Irish European Committee of the Regions colleagues, I wonder if anyone can offer any explanation or insight as to why this charter has yet to be signed. Will their offices encourage and pursue this matter with their region colleagues?

Ms Clare Daly

I do not know the answer to that. That is the short answer. It strikes me that is a bigger problem for Ireland rather than the EU if it is dragging its heels. The issue of gender equality and equal pay is key and links into the other question raised earlier, which Ms Fitzgerald dealt with. She did not get a chance to mention the area of tackling poverty because how can someone have any equal rights at all if they do not have a roof over their head or they have no stability? That is why the points made by Senator Higgins earlier about fiscal rules and so on are so important. You never hear the word "austerity" in the EU, not because there are no austerity policies, but because the word invokes such hostility because of what happened after the banking crash that they do not like to use it. They have taken it on board with the recovery plan. There are measures there that will soften the blow but it might come back full circle when they ask for the money to be repaid.

The short answer is that I do not know about the directive, but we can find out. However, if we want equality, tackling poverty at all levels has to be the first starting point. That means having social rights enshrined, and not only fundamental rights. That might not really answer that question.

I extend a welcome to all our MEPs. It is fantastic to have them here this afternoon and we welcome the engagement. My question is probably best directed to Mr. Andrews. He said at the outset that they do much work on the Brexit area. The Seanad has a special committee, which I chair, on Brexit. One issue that we are grappling with, for which we are yet to find a solution we can recommend, is around the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland now comes under the customs union and Single Market rules but it does not have a seat at the table at the European Parliament. We have been tasked with answering the question of how we give the people of Northern Ireland a voice at that table in the absence of an MEP.

It occurs to me that maybe we could take two questions at a time and see if we can get through some questions and then rotate the responses among the MEPs, if the MEPs are agreed.

I welcome the MEPs. It is great to see Ms Fitzgerald in particular, a former colleague, and Ms Daly, who I served with on the justice committee, one of the best committees this House has ever had in terms of what we achieved.

I want to talk about Covid. We have not seen the MEPs and they have not seen us in person for the last two years because of Covid. While I think we in Europe did very well in co-ordinating the vaccines, we were not really prepared for a health crisis in the way that we should have been. What are the MEPs thoughts on how Europe should prepare for a future health emergency, whether a pandemic like Covid-19, or even a step down from a pandemic which is a health emergency? What lessons has Europe learned from Covid-19?

I will ask Mr. Andrews to answer that and the others can comment in their own time later.

Mr. Barry Andrews

I am in the House of Lords tomorrow where the Lords will ask exactly the same question. There is a three-hour slot to hear people talk about how the UK Government and UK Parliament can address the democratic deficit. They want to fill in the deficit. There are so many ways it can be done. There are mechanisms in the Good Friday Agreement, particularly under Strand 2, articles 16 and 17, that describe work that can be done to make sure that Northern Ireland MLAs and the Executive have the furthest upstream visibility of what is coming from the European Union. We have been talking here about what the Oireachtas can do that but that is what is sought to be addressed. A mechanism was mentioned earlier in terms of having a subcommittee of the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly dedicated exclusively to Northern Ireland affairs. If you read Lord Frost's command paper from July 2021, he decries the democratic deficit as well. Everyone seems to be aiming towards addressing it. Hopefully the vast amount of suggestions out there can be successful.

On Covid, I see the European Union not as a regulatory monster but as deregulatory in its nature. It sweeps away checks at borders, and various restrictions on the movement of goods and services across the 27 member states. We have seen this very successfully in Covid with the procurement of vaccines for our own member states and the digital Covid certificate. On Senator Conway's exact question, we have to recognise that post-pandemic, there must be a better system globally of governance of the procurement and distribution of vaccines. I voted consistently in favour of the TRIPS waiver. We need a system where the wealthy countries are not at the top of the queue all the time. It is disastrous for developing countries.

We have two questions of one-minute each.

Leading on from Senator Chambers's question, I will follow in the same vein. We have spoken about representation and disparity around human rights in different parts of Union. Many of those rights are visible on a daily basis in Northern Ireland. Mr. Cuffe mentioned earlier the mayoral positions in Galway, Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. There is a major disparity in this country, north and south. I do not refer to the Border but to the Dublin-Galway line. It is key in relation to Northern Ireland. What do the MEPs think they can do to help the shared island Unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to close the gap that exists? It applies not only to the Six Counties. There are five Border counties as well which are equally effected. There is a major disparity. This exists in Northern Ireland around education attainability and economically between there and the South.

On this round, we may take three questions and have three responses for each. The next question is Senator Ahearn.

I welcome the four MEPs, and particularly my colleague, Ms Fitzgerald. The EU recovery and resilience facility, RRF, is a huge funding programme all about building back better. It took a serious amount of negotiation. Everyone will recall the five days of the European Council summit back in July 2020 where EU leaders agreed on its broad outlines and a seven-year EU budget. How was the Parliament involved and what level of parliamentary scrutiny will there be over the RRF in future?

I welcome the four MEPs. Their performance has been excellent. Mine is a different type of question. Richard O'Halloran is held against his will in a Chinese jail. His wife and family are going through torture. Robert Pether from Elphin in Roscommon, originally from Australia, is jailed in Iraq. His wife and family are going through absolute torture. I know the Pether family well. I have been representing them. Mr. Pether's wife, Desree McCarthy, is originally from Dublin.

I ask all four MEPs to think of those families this evening and to do everything they can to ensure that something is done for them at EU level. Their situation is so sad and desperate and I am hugely concerned for both families.

Each MEP will have four minutes to respond. I ask them to make note of the questions posed and to respond to them within their four-minute slot. That is the only way we will be able to allow everyone to contribute this evening.

I will direct my comments to Ms Fitzgerald. How will the recent surge in energy prices right across Europe, including in Ireland, affect the European Green Deal? What is the EU doing to protect ordinary citizens and households in the context of that surge in energy prices? The just transition fund in the European Union is worth €1.75 billion. Does Ms Fitzgerald believe that is enough to achieve the type of just transition we need, not just in Ireland but across the Continent?

While my question is for Ms Fitzgerald, I welcome all of the MEPs to the House. I admire the work they do in representing Ireland in Europe. Ms Fitzgerald has been involved in work on gender-based crime and I ask her to elaborate on that. She has been involved in trying to make this an EU-wide crime, particularly in the context of sexual violence against females.

The recent decision of the Polish constitutional tribunal to essentially upend the rule of law in Europe is creating a flashpoint. What are the next steps, particularly for the European Parliament as opposed to governments or the Commission? I mention the rule of law like-minded group which I understand involves a lot of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries but not Ireland. Should Ireland be in that group? I ask about China, specifically its actions against Lithuania and the pile-on that is happening there. There seems to be a serious lack of solidarity from Europe. Finally, I ask Ms Daly to justify her vote on the motion on Taiwan.

I welcome the MEPs to the Seanad Chamber. The Mercosur deal has huge ramifications for Irish farmers, who produce high-quality food and engage in the best agricultural practices. We could potentially be importing a lot of food from outside Europe as a result of that deal. This is abhorrent to me and to Irish farmers and I would like to hear our MEPs' views on that.

I will reverse the order now and invite Ms Daly to respond first. Each MEP has four minutes to respond.

Ms Clare Daly

I will start with my good friend, Senator Martin Conway, whose presence at the Europol meetings is sadly missed. We look forward to his return. To respond to his questions on health, he is right that post Covid we are going to see a scenario where there is a drive for Europe to take over a health competency. That is currently a member state competency but the truth is that big pharma is there in the wings. While we can say at one level that the EU played a very good role in eventually getting vaccines out to member states, it also played a very counteractive role in blocking the dispersal of vaccines on a global scale, even though nobody can be safe unless everybody is safe, and that is down to big pharma. We know that the EU has interfered with health budgets in other scenarios. Going forward, how do we deal with that? The European Medicines Agency has done quite a good job. It has been beefed up and more work is being done in that area. However, we must be very careful about possible privatisation and moving in on the health portfolio. I would be a little wary in that regard.

On the disparity between the regions, it strikes me that this is a consequence of years of successive government policies which focused too much development around Dublin. Uneven development in Ireland is a question for the Irish Government rather than the European Parliament. We do not have a stick with which to beat Ireland on that but there are plenty of resources there with which to insist on more even-handed development.

The two cases raised by Senator Murphy are very important. We have raised them with the authorities in Iraq and China and with our own diplomatic forces here. It is a bit like the Ibrahim Halawa case which we raised when we were in the Dáil. These are complex diplomatic issues which need to go through a process but the more they are spoken about and dealt with, the better.

On the rule of law, there is no doubt that what happened in Poland is a game changer. We saw the government of a member state actively going to its national constitutional court, a court it created, seeking an opinion that EU law is of lesser importance than its own national law. The court the Polish Government set up said that the government was right. This is a huge crisis for the EU. It has been decided to impose fines, the Commission has taken Article 7 proceedings and the Parliament is looking to take action. There must be a strong response but it must be an even-handed one. Chancellor Merkel was right when she said at the recent European Council meeting that we need dialogue. We cannot start putting people into camps or the whole thing will unravel. That said, there is no doubt that we should not be paying any money to people who violate fundamental rights.

I am not aware of what China is supposedly doing in Lithuania but in terms of Taiwan, as Senator Horkan said, Ireland like all EU countries has a One-China policy. It is not a matter of choice for me but a matter of international law and UN relations. It was very unhelpful for the European Parliament to introduce a motion on Taiwan. What would we say if the Chinese Government passed a motion seeking diplomatic relations with Catalonia, for example, against a backdrop of Russia arming the Catalans? I do not think the Spanish would stand for that. I am very concerned about the build-up of militarism in Taiwan and the fact that the US has been arming the Taiwanese military. I do not think aggression is helpful. Dialogue and diplomatic relations are what is needed. I remember that there was murder here when some colleagues went to Taiwan but I believe that people can go to Taiwan if they want to. It is not my business-----

Ms Daly would win the Guinness world record for the number of questions answered in four minutes. I now invite Mr. Cuffe to replicate Ms Daly's performance.

Mr. Ciarán Cuffe

I thank Senator Conway for his question on what we do about the next pandemic or health crisis. As I said in my introductory remarks, we need to have greater co-ordination on health at an EU level but when it comes to pounds, shillings and pence, the European Centre for Disease Control has one hundredth of the budget of its US equivalent. We need to beef up our health competency at a European level so that we are ready with clear data on what is going on, whether it is the spread of Covid in central Europe or the next known unknown that may occur.

On the issue of the shared island raised by Senator Blaney, I was in Belfast yesterday and a bus was set alight, allegedly as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol. I have also sat on the board of a charity based in Belfast and believe that we need more common projects across the Border. We need more common projects that involve both Governments working together. When it comes to regional disparities, we need to devolve more powers to the regions rather than have Dublin controlling the purse strings. That is very important.

On the issue of China, I have spoken with Mr. O'Halloran's family. I have worked in China and believe that it is difficult to find a common dialogue that will work. In recent months, some of my MEP colleagues have been banned from entering China, including Mr. Reinhard Bütikofer, who has been very outspoken about Chinese foreign policy. We need to speak truth to power about the Uygher people and unfair and unlawful detentions. I have written to the Chinese ambassador to Ireland and have received lacklustre responses, to say the least.

On the issue of the rule of law, financial penalties concentrate the mind. Some anti-LGBTQI+ declarations in Poland have been rescinded because of the withdrawal of EU funding for tourism. The €1 million per day fines against Poland will concentrate the mind but I agree with Ms Daly and Chancellor Merkel that we must be careful here.

We also need to ensure that our own house is in order. Up until very recently, we had a Minister who was preoccupied with ensuring that the appointment of judges was not politicised. We need to be quite careful in that regard. Dialogue is how we overcome this. As always, there is a danger that we will polarise Europe and that is unhealthy for the approach we take to the big issues of the day. We have to work together on the big issues to be addressed in a Europe of 450 million people, such as inequalities, immigration, the Covid response and the issues being debated over the next two weeks in Glasgow. The only way forward is through co-operation, listening and sitting down with each other, even those with whom we might not share a common language or common ground. For all the bureaucracy and challenges of working in the European Parliament, it is the globe's second biggest democratic assembly and it is a place where we can achieve progress on the huge economic, social and environmental issues of the day. I want to keep this dialogue with the Seanad going in order to feed its views into the work we do for Dublin, for Ireland and for Europe.

Ms Frances Fitzgerald

Senator Murphy made a point about the individual cases where rights are being completely disregarded. An earlier question was on how much we work together. All Irish MEPs are working on those cases, both formally and informally, and trying to highlight the terrible injustices and appalling personal situations that people who have been detained unlawfully are facing.

Senator Conway's question on health is interesting. While health is not an EU competence, there is still a lot of scope for co-operation and improving health systems by action at European level. I am working with a number of groups on breast cancer, lung cancer and so on. I will take the issue of access to drugs as an example. There is a huge amount we could do across Europe as regards procurement to make sure there is better access to drugs. There is so much innovation in the drugs sector at present that that is something we are going to have to do because they are unaffordable otherwise. That is just one example. I agree with Mr. Cuffe about developing the competencies of the EU health agencies, as well as their budgets, because they can do an awful lot. We saw how much could be done with Covid. It was a slow start, as I have said already, but there was incredible support there. We have exported 50% of all the vaccines produced in the EU. People forget this. We have exported more than 700 million doses to outside the EU. There is a great deal of work being done to share the vaccines from Europe, more than anywhere else in the world.

Senator Ward spoke about the rule of law. There are a number of options possible at the moment, as he knows. One is conditionality and taking some of the funding away. The other is infringement proceedings against Poland, which I think will happen. The third is taking away voting rights and so on. I do not see that happening right now but some of the other initiatives will happen and they will be taken very seriously.

Senator Maria Byrne asked about violence against women. That went up hugely - by more than one third - during Covid, across all member states and the world. The Istanbul Convention has not been signed, much to my surprise, by seven EU member states, primarily because they feel it is some sort a Trojan horse for LGBTQI rights. That is quite extraordinary. We are going to make violence against women a crime in the EU. A directive on that will be coming through in the next year or so and that will be very important in dealing with it more effectively across the Union.

Senator Ahearn asked about the resilience fund and the role of the Parliament. We have seen a lot of activity in the Parliament in respect of this fund, more than we have ever seen from a supervisory point of view as regards funding. We have changed many of the criteria and done a lot of good work on it. I expect that that will go on right through the implementation phase. It is important that the Parliament continues with that. We are not getting great data back from the member states yet, however, and there is a bit of disappointment about that. We are going to have to push to make sure we get the information on how the money will be spent, and is being spent, and monitor it very carefully in the period ahead.

Senator McGahon asked about the energy crisis and what can be done from a European perspective. There are many recommendations coming from the Commission at the moment around energy procurement being done across Europe, which could make it more affordable and accessible. We are going to have to watch the transition in terms of what energy uses we allow because people will literally be out in the cold if we do not take a range of initiatives across Europe to make energy more affordable in the near future.

Mr. Barry Andrews

I thank everyone for their questions and the opportunity to be here today. I am happy to share with Senators the letter I wrote to Deputy McHugh in which I suggested ideas on how we can improve scrutiny on EU legislation here in the Oireachtas. One example is that a member state parliament can give a recommendation to a government ahead of a European Council meeting. That is a right that is almost never exercised across the European Union but it is something that can be done. The Lisbon treaty also gave further rights to national parliaments and it is important that this House is aware of those rights.

On the rule of law and Poland, the Polish Government is captured by an even more right-wing coalition partner. It is a bit like what happened with the Conservative Party in the UK, with a very extreme right-wing agenda that grabbed the party. In this case that the PIS Party has been grabbed by the United Poland Party, particularly the justice minister. This situation carries the danger of escalating and I agree with my colleagues that this must be dealt with carefully. It is possible to feed into a mythology in Poland that Brussels is the cause of all its ailments and we have to be very careful to avoid that.

I do not agree with Ms Daly on Taiwan, although she will not be surprised to know that. The analogy with Spain is not appropriate because Spain is not responsible for a genocide of people within its country. The Department of Foreign Affairs warns our citizens not to travel to China if they are involved in investments of any sort, in case a dispute arises in China and they are subject to arbitrary detention. That is the way our Government views China. Ms Daly is correct to say that the People's Republic of China is singly entitled to representation of China in the UN but that does not mean we cannot defend the rights of Taiwan as an independent state with a sovereign Government. Lithuania is being persecuted because it recognises that fact. We should never resile from that.

I thank all the MEPs for the way they have been focused and engaged, and for the comprehensive nature of their answers. I ask colleagues to wait for the concluding remarks from Senator Ward, who will say some words of thanks on behalf of all of us. We have had excellent participation. The MEPs have shown how seriously they take these issues and that has been reciprocated here. We will take up the challenge of further development of this engagement and I will discuss it with the Cathaoirleach.

I will not take too much time, but it is important to recognise the value of this session. It is a very good idea and is the first time we have seen genuine interaction at this level between our representatives in Europe and Members of the Oireachtas. In this case, all the MEPs are also former Members of the Oireachtas and the fact that two of them previously represented Dún Laoghaire endears them hugely to me. We are blessed in Dublin to have such a strong team at European level. They are clearly on top of their brief, are working extremely hard and are engaged at all kinds of different levels working for us. It is tremendously important that we get an opportunity to engage with them. As some of them have said themselves, it is something we should repeat on a more frequent basis in order to properly tease out the issues that we are facing, through them, in the European Parliament. I thank them all for coming and for giving of their time.

I thank Senator Ward for saying what we would all wish to say individually. We would be here until 9 o'clock tonight if we did that. I thank the MEPs collectively. Go raibh míle maith agaibh uilig. Táim iontach buíoch daoibh.