1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the meetings he held during the St. Patrick's Day visits in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7477/14]View answer
Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 10 June 2014
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the meetings he held during the St. Patrick's Day visits in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7477/14]View answer
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with President Obama at his meeting in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7478/14]View answer
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if any new development was discussed at his meeting in the USA in relation to the undocumented Irish; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7479/14]View answer
4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the situation in Ukraine was discussed with President Obama; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7480/14]View answer
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met representatives of the Ancient Order of Hibernians when he was in the USA for St. Patrick's Day; the issues discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7481/14]View answer
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the Dr. Haass report with President Obama; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7482/14]View answer
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the double tax agreements were discussed at any of his bilateral meetings in the USA during the St. Patrick's Day celebrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7483/14]View answer
8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the USA-EU trade agreement was discussed at any of his bilateral meetings in the USA during St. Patrick's Day celebrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7484/14]View answer
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he met members of the Irish-American community during his visit to the United States in March 2014. [8934/14]View answer
10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the matters on the agenda of his meetings with political leaders in Washington in March 2014. [8935/14]View answer
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the issue of the undocumented Irish and US immigration legislation, as it affects Irish citizens, was on the agenda of his talks with US political leaders during his visit in March 2014. [8936/14]View answer
12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he met any of the undocumented Irish groups when he visited the United States in March 2014. [8937/14]View answer
13. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he met business leaders in the United States during his visit in March 2014. [8938/14]View answer
14. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the Pat Finucane case with the US Administration during his recent St. Patrick's Day visit. [8947/14]View answer
15. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with President Obama; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14914/14]View answer
16. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with political leaders in Washington in March. [14915/14]View answer
17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there will be any action taken on the undocumented Irish following his meetings in the USA with President Obama and others; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15988/14]View answer
18. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he attended any fund-raising meeting in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15989/14]View answer
19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the meetings he held with business and industry leaders during his St. Patrick's Day visit to the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24237/14]View answer
20. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the continuing use of Shannon Airport by the US military with President Obama during his visit to the US for St. Patrick's Day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24238/14]View answer
21. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the US-EU trade agreement was discussed at any of his meetings in the US and with whom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24239/14]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 21, inclusive, together.
I travelled to the United States this year for the St. Patrick's Day period. Each year the St. Patrick's Day celebrations provide the Government with a unique opportunity to engage with Heads of State and Government, senior politicians, business leaders, civic organisations and the media right across the globe. Our overriding objectives are to strengthen Ireland's international relations and enhance our profile and reputation as a location for trade, tourism and investment. It also gives us a unique opportunity to connect with and advocate on behalf of Irish people living abroad.
This year, my visit to the United States ran from 13 to 18 March and included a comprehensive programme of engagements in Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. My main focus was on advocating the case for immigration reform and promoting Ireland as a location for investment and jobs. I took every opportunity to highlight these issues at over 30 meetings and speaking engagements, including bilateral political meetings, business and economic focused events and civic engagements.
In Washington I met President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner. During my meeting with President Obama we discussed a number of issues of interest to the United States and Ireland. I outlined the progress made towards Ireland's economic recovery and we also discussed developments with the US economy and the prospects for negotiating a transatlantic trade and investment partnership between the European Union and the United States.
We discussed the Northern Ireland peace process, including the current state of play in resolving the issues of flags, parades and the past, after the good work of Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan. We agreed that continued effective and strong leadership from within Northern Ireland was essential in building on progress made. I thanked the President for his Administration's continued attention to Northern Ireland, both in terms of engaging with the political leadership and in terms of addressing the social and economic development needs of the communities in the North.
I also raised the question of the appointment of an ambassador to Ireland. I note the President has proposed Mr. Kevin O'Malley to be considered for appointment as the ambassador, which I welcome.
I did not discuss specifically the Pat Finucane case with the President or his Administration which are very well aware of Ireland's position on it.
On international issues, we discussed the situation in Ukraine. For my part, I briefed the President on the emergency European Council meeting the previous week, at which the European Union was united in its strong condemnation of the actions taken by the Russian Federation in Ukraine. We also discussed the referendum in Crimea. We agreed that the Russian actions were unacceptable, that there was a need to take appropriate action to support Ukraine and that the focus had to be on a diplomatic solution.
In recent months, most notably during his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama has clearly set out his intention and determination to achieve comprehensive immigration reform as quickly as possible. During my discussions with him and Vice President Biden they both acknowledged the particular significance of this issue for Ireland and the Irish living in the United States. In all of my political meetings, as well as during relevant public engagements, I highlighted the urgent need for immigration reform to resolve the issue for the estimated 50,000-plus undocumented Irish living in the United States and to provide adequately for legal migration flows in the future through reciprocal arrangements between Ireland and the United States.
In addition to substantive discussion of the immigration reform issue with President Obama and Vice President Biden, I also discussed the prospects for progress with a range of other members of Congress including Speaker John Boehner, Congressman Bob Goodlatte who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee which has responsibility for immigration legislation in the House, Congressman Paul Ryan, the Congressional Friends of Ireland and Senator Patrick Leahy who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee which oversaw the passage of the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill last June.
While in Washington, I also called into a St. Patrick's Day gathering for members of the Republican Party, which provided me with a very valuable opportunity to talk to a number of key Republican Congressmen about the issue and encourage progress. I emphasised the need for progress on immigration reform in my speeches to influential audiences at the US Chamber of Commerce, the American-Ireland Fund gala, the White House St. Patrick's Day reception, the Ambassador's St. Patrick's Day reception and, most importantly, at the Speaker's Lunch on Capitol Hill where a large number of members of Congress were present in addition to the President, Vice President and Speaker Boehner and where I called in the strongest possible terms for Congress to show leadership and deal with the immigration issue now.
One of the principal reasons for going to the US for St. Patrick's Day is to share the celebration of our national day with the Irish-American community which has done so much to keep its Irish heritage and culture alive and strong. During my visit, I met with members of the community in Washington D.C., Boston and New York where I heard first-hand accounts of the difficulties faced by our undocumented citizens and, of course, saw some of the tremendous efforts that are being made to support our citizens living in the United States.
I did not have any detailed discussions on double taxation agreements with the President or at other meetings. I would mention, however, that in December 2012, Ireland became one of the first countries in the world to sign an agreement with the US to improve international tax compliance and implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, FATCA. During my meeting with Vice President Biden, we discussed a number of issues of mutual interest including Ireland's economic progress and the need for immigration reform. The Vice President confirmed his desire and intention to visit Ireland.
At the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, I highlighted Ireland's economic progress as well as the current state of play with regard to negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, and the benefits of an ambitious agreement for both the US and Europe. I also had a meeting with Mike Froman, US Trade Representative, where we discussed progress on the negotiations to date and our joint commitment to the conclusion of a comprehensive and ambitious partnership.
I also participated in a number of other events in Washington, including addressing a major business event organised by the embassy and the economic promotion agencies. I presented the inaugural Science Foundation Ireland St. Patrick's Day Medal to Professor Garrett Fitzgerald. I attended the American Ireland Fund's 22nd national gala where Vice President Biden was recognised for his distinguished public service and presented with the American Ireland Fund Peace Award. Also, in Washington, I took the opportunity to meet Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. We discussed the current situation in the North, including prospects for political talks on dealing with contentious issues, including the past. I emphasised the need for courage and leadership from the Northern Ireland Executive and the political parties. A few days later, I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Richard Haass during my visit to New York, and heard at first hand his assessment of the talks process and prospects for further progress between the parties.
In Boston, I attended the South Boston St. Patrick's Day breakfast, which was attended by federal, state and city council representatives including its host, state Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry; the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick; and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Afterwards, I met the new mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh. We spoke about the strong economic ties between Boston and Ireland, which the mayor's Irish links will only help to make stronger. I visited the Irish Cultural Centre based in Canton outside Boston. This centre is at the core of the Irish community in the Boston region and is doing tremendous work on its behalf. I also attended a reception at the consulate general in Boston attended by representatives from the business, economic and philanthropic Irish organisations in the region. Finally in Boston, I visited the USS Constitution Museum, a ship once captained by the grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell and which is claimed to be the oldest functioning naval ship in the world.
In New York, I had a range of meetings focused on political, economic and cultural issues. I attended the traditional St. Patrick's Day mayor's breakfast with the city's political leaders, including Mayor de Blasio. Later that day, I had a bilateral meeting with Mayor de Blasio at City Hall where we discussed the mayor's election success and I updated him on economic progress in Ireland. I proposed that the mayor meet regularly with leading Irish figures in New York, including the consul general, in order to discuss matters of importance to the Irish community in the area. I attended the annual Ireland Chamber of Commerce reception before joining the St. Patrick's Day parade where I marched with New York GAA members marking the centenary of the GAA in New York. I attended the traditional lunch event with the Knights of St. Patrick following which I visited the American Irish Historical Society. This society receives funding from the emigrant support programme and has served as a centre for Irish scholarship and the study of Irish history in the United States for more than a century. I did not have any meetings with representatives from the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Before returning home on 18 March, I attended a number of business events in New York, including addressing a gathering of business leaders at the Partnership for New York City, which is an influential group. Following this, I attended a meeting of business leaders to discuss ongoing negotiations on a transatlantic trade agreement and the potential benefits for Ireland.
As in previous years, it was evident to me that the strength of our relationship with the US is something that Ireland must continue to nurture. Everywhere I travelled, I found tremendous goodwill towards the country and an enthusiastic acknowledgement of the economic progress it is making. This sentiment was in evidence again last week during my visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. St. Patrick's Day offers us a unique opportunity to promote our country on the global stage. The dedicated efforts of our Government Ministers and the staff of our diplomatic missions and overseas agencies who represent this country so professionally are essential to Ireland's social and economic interests and have a tremendously positive impact on Ireland's profile and reputation and, ultimately, on our ability to compete for tourism, investment and job creation opportunities.
Deputies Martin, Adams, Higgins and Boyd Barrett have questions in this group and I will take questions from them in that order.
I have quite a number of questions under a number of different headings. Clearly, the Taoiseach had a very busy schedule in his journey to the US during the week of St. Patrick's Day but I put it to him that it has taken us about four months to get the opportunity to ask questions about it. This cannot be satisfactory. I do not think it is just about the Taoiseach's own idea around the party proposals. At the minimum, we should return to the system of two periods per week for questions, which was the position up until this Dáil. Second, when the Taoiseach has to cancel questions, he should at least agree to reschedule them. I think he is the only member of Government who can cancel questions without rescheduling them and there have been a number of them. All of this leads to a situation that is very frustrating where it can take four months before we can get answers to questions.
It is very clear that the overall issue of the undocumented Irish is ultimately a function of domestic politics in the US. I was formerly involved as Minister for Foreign Affairs. We must maintain our contacts with particular people in the House of Representatives where a significant degree of the opposition still exists. There was some hope after the last presidential election that there would be momentum behind comprehensive immigration reform legislation. That appears to have stalled. I would appreciate the Taoiseach's assessment of that. In respect of the bilateral strand, I negotiated a working holiday agreement with Japan and others some time ago that involved a 12 month visa. Has there been any evaluation of that? Is there any potential for developing more flexibility around that and getting greater numbers on that working holiday agreement? The idea is that we can get more people travelling legally to the US as opposed to being incentivised to do something illegal, which we do not want.
I would appreciate his views on that and on the bilateral agreement we had pushed at one stage, to which there was resistance in the US and which the Australians had developed.
Is it the e-visas?
Yes. Has the Taoiseach an update on that?
With regard to taxation, did he have discussions with President Obama about Ireland's corporate tax regime? Last week, the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, used humour when he raised questions about our tax rates, but his comments were played back here and they were serious none the less. He said that California would be an independent state if it had Irish tax rates. He is ill-informed and I was surprised that there was not a stronger push-back from the Taoiseach and others, because we must be much more robust regarding our taxation structures. A one-sided debate has opened up on our corporate tax regimes and tax structures. Even people in this House are suggesting the country should apologise or should rush to amend its corporate tax regime. There are jobs in this country based on the regime. There are jobs in my constituency and in many other constituencies in the pharmaceutical, electronics and technology industries. We must be robust in this regard. Countries have different regimes and tax structures. We have higher taxes than California, for example. It has flexibility on tax that we could never have. Its VAT rate, for example, is 8.5%, while its top income tax rate is 10.5% for those earning in excess of $1 million a year. I would put it to Governor Brown that if the people of California had to pay our tax rates, they would be far from happy. We structure our tax code to encourage business and to attract inward investment. I cannot change the global order. I will not change what is happening in Singapore.
Could we get back to Question Time?
This is about an important tax issue. There has been a great deal of comment on this by American politicians, and when we visit America and meet the President, we must be robust and say that we are entitled to have a corporate tax rate of 12.5% and to structure our tax regime to attract inward investment. Many of these companies are no longer US companies; they are global companies that trade internationally. One only has to look at the incentives offered by Singapore and Israel. They outstrip any that an EU member state can offer in state aid and tax structures.
Companies such as Intel and Apple have had deeply embedded functions and an embedded presence in Ireland for a long time and they have employed thousands over the years. Apple, for example, at one time manufactured more products in Ireland than in the US. These are the realities we have to push back with. During his meetings with business interests, chambers of commerce and so on, was the tax issue raised with the Taoiseach? We have to push back more assertively and effectively on these issues because damage is being done to Ireland's international reputation. A proactive narrative needs to come out of Ireland, robustly arguing for our position. Did the Taoiseach raise this in the US?
Recently, the European Commission asserted that it intended to examine Ireland's corporate tax regime. What about the Dutch and the French? If the Commission wants to start looking at one country it had better look at every member state, because every country does not play by the same rules or have the same structures.
With regard to Northern Ireland and his discussions with Dr. Haass and the US, has the Taoiseach reflected on what some perceive to be the hands-off approach he has adopted up to now regarding Northern Ireland? Is there a need for him and for both governments to become more hands-on in the negotiations about the past and the issues that were part and parcel of the Haass process? The situation within the Executive and the Assembly is not what it should be, and many people in the middle ground have been disappointed by the lack of progress on a broad range of issues. The politics of the Assembly still appear to be very partisan, with the parties primarily engaged in electoral gain as opposed to breaking the mould on social and economic policies. There has been a drift, and people are commenting on that. Will the Taoiseach indicate what is the American perspective on creating new momentum in the process to get talks going?
Question No. 18 asks whether the Taoiseach attended any fund-raising meetings in the US. I presume he did not.
For my party.
As I said, I briefly attended a function organised by Congressman Mulvaney. It was an occasion to meet a number of Republican congressmen just to reiterate to them the importance of focusing on the question of immigration and the undocumented-----
Was it a fund-raiser for him?
I was there for about 15 minutes. I am not sure that it was an official fund-raiser for him or his party. My conversation with him was in regard to the undocumented Irish. He extended an invitation to drop by to an event he had arranged. Obviously, he is quite a close friend of Ireland. He is influential in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party and he is supportive of Ireland's immigration reform agenda. He was one of the honourees at the event organised by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform on Capitol Hill on 12 March. It was not an occasion for me to make a public comment other than to speak directly to Congressman Mulvaney and ask him to continue to support the issue of dealing with the undocumented Irish and to provide long overdue relief for people suffering in that regard.
I apologise for having to cancel some of the questions. These things are sometimes outside my control.
I spoke directly in his office to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and Congressmen Ryan, Goodlatte, and Mulvaney about the question of immigration reform. The Republican Party recognises the importance of dealing with the immigration issue. Clearly there is a range of views within the party, no more than in the Democratic Party. The Irish ambassador, Ms Anderson, is exceptionally active on the Hill in keeping members up to date and in trying to put together a group that will continue to focus clearly on what is needed in this regard. My impression, directly from Speaker Boehner, was that he is very anxious to get this done before November. There will be an opportunity before the autumn elections take place to deal with this, and it seems as if the congressmen are focused on attempting to sort it out. For us, it is 50,000 undocumented out of between 15 million and 20 million. These people will not be deported and there is a growing realisation in both parties that a path to legitimisation or to legal access to the US would allow them to contribute more fully to US society and the economy and to be able to travel back and forth to their home countries, no more than our own here.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is going to the USA in the next week or so to continue these discussions. I spoke to Ms Anderson in California last Thursday and Friday. She is focused on this at a high level of activity.
Now is a time for the American Administration to deal with this, as the Deputy correctly says, and I hope it does.
There was strong representation of American politicians at the Speaker's lunch on Capitol Hill and they got a clear message about the importance for us of dealing with this. Deputy Adams was also in attendance. On the basis of what they were saying, it was not a case of just focusing on the question of e-visas. There was a strong reaction from the Republican Party members who said they wanted to deal with it comprehensively and that they had identified ways of doing that. I hope they can have the resolve and co-operation to make it happen. As the Deputy is aware, if it goes beyond the autumn elections the priorities in American politics will change and the opportunity will be lost. They and the Democrats are conscious of that. Senator Leahy and all of those to whom I spoke, as well as the Irish group there, are all focused on this. It is a case of the American political administration dealing with it. We will continue a high level of intense activity and the Tánaiste is visiting America next week.
I spoke to Dr. Richard Haass about his reflections on the outcome of the talks. He told me that he is to come over to Ireland to accept the Tipperary International Peace Award and that he might make other comments on his reflections on the talks there. We can see the difficulty here. I said to Deputy Adams last week or the week before that I wished to have an early meeting with his party and to meet with the Executive in Northern Ireland. The Tánaiste was there on Sunday and Monday with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers. There is an opportunity for some progress before the intensity of the marching season. I spoke to the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, on the telephone last Saturday or Sunday week about the importance of moving this forward and not letting it drift into unfocused areas. The parties in Northern Ireland are meeting, but these are three issues about which there are clear sensitivities.
Dr. Richard Haass pointed out where progress could be made on a number of areas and, with the goodwill of the political process, it is a case of trying to make progress on that. If the Governments get involved, they would go beyond the Executive and the parties, who invited Dr. Richard Haass to Ireland to see if he and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan could make progress on the past, parades and the legacy issues. It is a case of having a fix on what can be achieved. I have not spoken in detail to the Tánaiste about the outcome of his meeting with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers. I will meet with Deputy Adams and his people at an early date and talk to the Executive to see if, in the short time ahead, there is an opportunity for both Governments to get involved and make progress on a number of these areas.
I will be interested to hear Deputy Adams's views on where he considers we might be able to make progress on some of these matters. Clearly, nobody wishes to see a return to what happened previously. Along with the co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, this was a genuine attempt by the parties in Northern Ireland to involve themselves in a forum, chaired by Dr. Haass, and to see if progress could be made. There was a basis for progress in a number of areas, and we thank him for that. The parties have continued to meet. As to whether it is worth delving in on top of that if progress can be made, I will speak to the Tánaiste shortly about his discussions over the weekend with the Secretary of State.
I wish to raise the manner in which questions to the Taoiseach are organised and taken. The first tranche of questions today relate to March, which was three months ago. The second tranche are about the meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, in Paris at the beginning of February. We probably will not reach them today, so they will be postponed to another day. It is not an efficient, representative or inclusive way to deal with these matters. Clearly, some of the issues are ones we consistently raise, but the context changes. I will now ask some of the same questions that were asked earlier regarding the undocumented Irish in the US and our tax laws. I also wish to concentrate some of my time on the ongoing situation in the North. Will I deal with the tax first and then refer to the North?
Yes; whatever way suits you.
It allows for a focus on them. First, I appreciate and, indeed, enjoyed the way the Taoiseach raised the issue of the undocumented Irish at the Speaker's lunch. It was a very direct way of doing it and it certainly caught people's attention. I commend him on that. As the Taoiseach said, there is an opportunity before the election in November to push for reform that would favour the undocumented Irish, but this requires significant work by the Government and our diplomatic representatives in the US. I know the Taoiseach understands how important this is both for the families here in Ireland and the people who have no legal status in the USA. The Taoiseach told me yesterday he is working on this issue, which I welcome, but the Government must increase its engagement with the Obama Administration and the people on Capitol Hill. Perhaps he would take the opportunity to outline what his strategy is for the forthcoming period. This issue fluctuates but it never goes away. Depending on whom one talks to, it is likely to be resolved or is not likely to be resolved. In the meantime, there are ongoing difficulties for the people involved. Will the Taoiseach outline the Government's strategy for the next few months?
I noted the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, whom I know, venting on an issue that arises very regularly among those in politics in the United States. He was giving out, in a humorous way, about our tax laws and how US corporations such as Apple are treated in this country. Aside from his humour, his criticism was quite scathing and, one could say, undiplomatic. He talked about the Government's creative accounting, which allows US multinationals to avoid paying a substantial portion of their taxes in the USA. There is a roll-on effect of the USA being denied its tax take, the big multinationals getting off scot free and the consequent effect even in the developing world. Does the Taoiseach accept that these are genuine concerns expressed by Governor Brown, especially as the European Commission is to launch a formal investigation into assertions that the Revenue Commissioners have offered special deals to multinational companies here? The Government usually glosses over this, says it has signed an agreement and so forth. Would the hostility and anger about this issue result in senior US political figures making the job of the IDA more difficult? Does this arise, or was it raised with the Taoiseach in March?
I will come back to the issue of the North later.
I drifted from the question Deputy Martin asked about tax.
Governor Brown was speaking at an event in San Francisco attended by representatives of 20 small companies from Ireland who had been through a boot camp here on how to present their cases for investment by venture capitalists. I was very taken by the scale and nature of the presentations, ideas and propositions the companies put forward, sponsored and assisted by Enterprise Ireland. A number of them will certainly make serious headway in the time ahead.
On the point raised by the Deputy, this is a question of being very robust and strong in defence of our corporate tax system. He is correct to say these issues vary from country to country and sector to sector, depending on location. Our tax system is perfectly legitimate, statutorily based, ethically implemented and will be defended strongly by the Government if the concerns expressed by the European Commission are moved. Our corporation tax rate is not in question. We have had it since the 1950s and it is a cornerstone of what we offer to have a competitive rate of corporation tax. Unfair competition in taxation is an issue that must be addressed and the appropriate fora for this are the EU code of conduct on business taxation and the OECD's forum on harmful tax practices.
We published Ireland's international tax charter on budget day as part of the country's international tax strategy and reaffirmed Ireland's commitment to actively contribute to OECD and EU efforts to tackle harmful tax competition. We have made the point that the digital world has moved far ahead of the legislative world. For that reason, 15 sectors were identified and Ireland contributes enthusiastically with all other countries to these sectors to obtain an international response to an international phenomenon. On foot of a perception of reputational damage, the Minister for Finance abolished the stateless concept in the last budget. As a result of its own research, the OECD has indicated that it is in favour of tax competition. Pascal Saint-Amans, the director of the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration in Paris, stated recently that what OECD member states were concerned about was not low tax but zero tax or situations in which all profits and intangibles, including intellectual property, ended up in jurisdictions in which not only was there no tax but no business activity. Obviously, the situation in Ireland is that multinationals employ considerable numbers of people. It is not a matter of having a brass plate on a door indicating an issue. The OECD's base erosion and profit shifting, or BEPS, project will address the opportunities for locating profits in jurisdictions without co-locating actual business in the first instance.
Ireland will adopt a very strong defence of its tax position, including our rate of corporation tax, its legitimacy and the efficacy of its implementation. The matter was raised in a general sense by a number of companies. They like to have clarity in America and horizons against which they can plan. They like to know that Ireland's system is statutorily based and that the rate of corporation tax is not under observation or being considered.
Governor Brown has made a dramatic impact in his three years as Governor of California. He has shifted it from having a €27 billion deficit to a point where there has been significant economic progress. It was not without some very decisions being implemented in California. There are places in San Francisco where one can see houses which are highly priced with homeless people lying outside in significant numbers. I was speaking to a young person who worked for one of the major IT companies in Palo Alto and who lived in a very small bedsit, the rent for which was approximately €4,000 per month. That places serious pressure on housing in the city. Governor Brown and I had a good discussion. He was here last year and called to see me. He wants to come back again. He has strong connections with Ireland on foot of his ancestors' origins in Tipperary.
The impact of the companies projecting for business is very strong. Members can be very proud of how they are presenting their cases. Many of them will make significant progress.
One aspect of the Taoiseach's report concerned me. As if things were not bad enough in the economy, he goes to the USA and has tea with the Tea Party, so to speak.
It was coffee, actually.
He is not coming back with ideas to end austerity any time soon or for the public investment which is so desperately needed here. In any case, my question to him involves the substance of his discussions with President Obama on the proposed trade agreement between the United States of America and the European Union. Specifically, what did they discuss and into how much detail did they go? Did they merely reinforce the propaganda the Taoiseach and the President have been propagating, which is just a regurgitation of the claims made by the major multinationals which see the agreement they are trying to drive as the source of massively increased profits? They have been lobbying furiously for that type of agreement. Has the Taoiseach subjected to reality the claims being made for the agreement to the effect that there will be huge job increases? The same was said about the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, involving Canada, the USA and Mexico and jobs have been lost. Working people have been seriously discommoded by the effects of that agreement.
Is the Taoiseach aware of the details that have been leaked from the negotiations between the European Commission and the USA of what the big corporates on both sides of the Atlantic want? They want full scale liberalisation and further privatisation of public services, with concomitant downward pressure on wages and conditions for working people. Have we not learned from the savage proposals of Bausch & Lomb to drive workers in Waterford into penury and poverty to maintain profits? That, written large, is what is involved in these proposals. Is the Taoiseach aware that consumers - meaning ordinary people in Europe, including Ireland - do not want the standards being pushed by big US agri-businesses on genetically modified food, hormone-fed beef and chlorine-washed chicken to be imposed in Europe? These are all anathema to ordinary people in Europe.
Did the Taoiseach discuss with the President of the United States of America the implications of the investor-state dispute mechanism whereby business interests could override by way of the proposed agreement the ability of states to make sovereign laws? As a result of the NAFTA, Canada is being challenged by a major corporate in seeking huge damages because it placed a moratorium on fracking, which is considered to be an intrusion on the right of companies to do business as they wish.
I do not think the Taoiseach is up to speed on this. Nevertheless, I ask him if he has gone into such details with the President of the United States. Otherwise, they are reinforcing the type of propaganda that has obviously been fed to them by big business lobbyists.
I thank Deputy Higgins and I congratulate Deputy Ruth Coppinger on her election to the House. I am sure she does not need to learn anything but she has a good stiúrthóir beside her as Contae Chiarraí.
It is important to remember that things are not how they used to be. People from this country no longer go to America with one hand as long as the other. Some 80,000 to 100,000 American people are employed in Irish-owned and Irish-run firms across 50 states. This is set to continue and to expand, which is an important recognition of the progress we have made with our people over many years. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, has the potential to create 500,000 jobs in Europe and a similar number in the United States. Europe and the United States have a closely integrated economic relationship, but it is not one that has been fulfilled in terms of job potential.
The Deputy refers to the difficult situation in so far as the purchase of Bausch & Lomb is concerned, and I hope discussions taking place there can sort it out in a way that means Waterford and the south east do not lose out heavily. Recently, I was at Intel in Leixlip, which has spent €5 billion in the past three years. It is the single biggest investment in the history of the State, with 5,000 construction workers from this country employed for the past number of years building a plant that no one is working in yet but which will guarantee the future for highly skilled Irish workers and others over the coming 25 years. It is the first time in 40 years that Irish engineers were challenged and came up with a positive outcome in designing, instead of just manufacturing, a chip in the Intel plant in Leixlip. It is a case of intellectual property being vested here and it is an extraordinary achievement when we consider what is coming at us in terms of the Internet.
The Allergan plant in Westport is the subject of a €300 million investment, with considerable employment being created in its construction. I was in Sligo last week with the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, at the opening of the AbbVie plant, which is another significant investment. There is a very highly skilled workforce and they will produce the serum and the vaccine for hepatitis C. It has a cure rate of 95% in respect of the people it is intended for and it brings comfort and quality of life to millions of people around the world. Around 23,000 people will benefit in Ireland. It is an expensive drug but it is being produced by AbbVie in Sligo.
I did not discuss the intricacies of fracking with President Obama. Clearly, it has transformed United States, but I am not sure everyone would be happy with the outcome in terms of the way it is performed in some states. It has reduced energy prices by considerable amounts in the US, while Europe has gone the other way in terms of increasing energy prices. It makes it so much more competitive for serious investment and with regard to companies' long-term decisions to locate in the United States as opposed to Europe. That is not to say that we must have fracking everywhere. There are arguments for and against these issues, and the Keystone pipeline is a major issue of discussion in the United States between Canada and the area southwards. It is an issue for the American Government to deal with.
With regard to the relationship between the EU and the US, I do not see why we should be afraid of this. These are the two most economically developed entities on the planet and we can set down the conditions for world trade for the coming 25 years or 30 years, assuming we can get a conclusion on the TTIP arrangements. When the matter was raised at the G8 meeting at Loch Erne in Fermanagh, which I attended because Ireland held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the response was swift. The discussions have been progressive, as I understand it, and there are very good people representing Europe and the United States. There are difficulties in the United States that always come to light when we get down to the nitty-gritty. People will say they are in favour of free trade until it begins to hit a particular sector. That is where the discussions must get the parties together. The proposal for the TTIP agreement has the potential to boost the GDP of Europe by 0.5% and create between 400,000 and 500,000 jobs. Another advantage is that the agreement will enable Europe, and Ireland as a consequence, to develop the regulatory standards that are of benefit not only to the EU and the US but to other countries as well, and to strengthen the multilateral trading system, which is of particular importance in the area of intellectual property rights, and the environment and labour standards of which the Deputy speaks. These are important issues and there will be a global knock-on effect.
The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has commissioned a study that is expected to be completed in the coming eight to ten weeks to identify more precisely the sectors in Ireland from where the greatest opportunity and economic impact can come. Our flexibility and the many creative firms here mean this is an opportunity for us. If jobs are our priority, as they are, we must use every opportunity to ensure that more people can be employed as a consequence of providing services that we know we can deal with.
Europeans are serious about the TTIP, as are the Americans. Many of the issues are complicated, technical and difficult and we may not get agreement on them all, but there is no harm in trying to move on from stage to stage. This is about jobs in Europe, jobs in Ireland and jobs in the US, and I am all for that, subject to the conditions that apply in normal good regulatory situations.
Following on from the TTIP, we are all in favour of trade, but the issue is whether trade is properly regulated and accountable to citizens and whether the interests of citizens and the environment are protected. The critics of the TTIP point to the settlement mechanism proposed for disputes between investors and states, which means that multinational corporations can sue Governments for breaching the terms of the treaty and these matters will be arbitrated in offshore panels of lawyers bypassing domestic courts. This is a manifesto for multinationals to ram their interests down the throats of unsuspecting citizens across Europe, and the citizens of Europe will have no recourse. These supranational arbitration bodies will be dominated by the usual suspects of legal and accountancy firms that are accountable to nobody. That is why it is a serious matter of concern in terms of letting the multinationals off the leash.
George Monbiot, one of the leading critics of this measure, has brought forward proposals regarding negotiations. A question I will ask regarding the Taoiseach's discussions with the Americans is whether he is in favour of the details of the negotiations being published in order that we know his negotiating position and that of European Union on the matter of how environmental and other concerns, including about workers' rights, will be dealt with and not overridden by this supranational disputes body which will allow multinationals to sue governments and strike down legislation protecting workers. What is the Taoiseach's position on this issue?
Should there be a vote in this Parliament on every chapter, not just the full package, of any final agreement? I do not know if we will even see the agreement in this Parliament. The European Parliament has indicated that we will just see the whole package, rather than individual chapters. This will deny public representatives the opportunity to engage in proper scrutiny and the right to vote on each detail of this enormously significant deal. There should be a sunset clause in any agreement and a provision for regular review in order that if the economic benefits the Taoiseach claims will derive from the agreement do not materialise, the sunset clause will cover the issue.
There is no evidence for the claims the agreement will lead to the creation of 500,000 jobs. Rather, there is good reason to believe letting multinationals off the hook and giving them power to strike down environmental and workers' rights regulations will lead to the loss of jobs. Let us see the hard evidence on how the agreement will produce extra jobs. I do not believe for one minute that it will. Once again, it is a charter for the multinationals.
That brings me to the issue of corporation tax, the discussions the Taoiseach may have had on it and the barrage of criticism in the United States about our corporation tax rate. I do not doubt that some of the US critics of Ireland's corporation tax rate are motivated by politics, cynicism, self-interest, opportunism and so on. However, behind all of this is a substantive issue, namely, that everybody should know that Ireland is spearheading a race to the bottom in terms of corporate taxation. We have been at the vanguard in reducing the tax obligations of the most profitable entities in the world, thus encouraging a race to the bottom. As a tax system should be moral, I ask the Taoiseach for an honest answer to this question. Is it moral that the lady who cleans the toilets and the floors in multinationals such as Google or Facebook pays a higher portion of her income in tax than the shareholders of these companies? Is that moral and are we acting morally in spearheading, on an international level, a race to the bottom, where these companies will pay less and less in corporation tax, while ordinary workers are screwed to the wall? Is that not the basis of the criticism the Taoiseach is receiving in the United States because people know that is what we are doing?
I have asked the Taoiseach about this issue before, but I do so again today. While he was in the United States, speaking at a Grant Thornton conference, he said that if one had 30,000 three-bedroomed detached houses in Dublin, one would sell them in one week, thereby encouraging, as is happening, large profit driven American investors to speculate in Irish property. Is that a responsible way for the Taoiseach to talk about a crisis, a property bubble and a homelessness and housing crisis that is devastating significant sections of Irish society? Is it responsible of the Taoiseach to talk in these terms to profit driven international investors? Is he seriously suggesting the people concerned who have no interest in dealing with the homeless and housing crises in Dublin or the dire situations in which ordinary people who have been forced into accommodation for homeless persons or who, with nowhere to go, must sleep on the streets find themselves should come and solve the housing crisis? That is crazy, but is it his policy?
That is absolute nonsense. What I was doing was pointing out to people in the United States the scale of the economic catastrophe the Government had inherited and the consequences for so many people, including a housing shortage and the demand for housing. It was not a case of inviting American investors to come here to build houses. That is absolute nonsense and well the Deputy knows it.
That is what it sounded like.
The Deputy never mentioned the scale of Irish investment in property in so many countries during the so-called boom years. I do not hear him talking about this. In many cases, that investment pulled down good business in this country. Banks had to cut deals when property dropped in value in other countries, pulling down business that were thriving here as a consequence. That is an issue. Therefore, it is not true to say an invitation was issued to American investors to come here to build houses. The construction sector is only contributing from 6% to 7% to GDP, a drop from the figure of 25% that it used to contribute. We need it to be at approximately 10% to 12% and to be building 30,000 to 35,000 houses annually. The Deputy knows well that if we were in a position to magically transform, as some here seem to think we can, to a position where we had 30,000 three-bedroomed houses available in this city, they would go very quickly.
Use the National Pensions Reserve Fund.
I was in Blanchardstown during the recent by-election when I spoke to two estate agents, both of whom told me that people were walking into their offices with mortgage approval from one or other of the two main banks or some other arrangement, but there was no property available to sell to them. That is part of the construction challenge. The construction industry needs to be able to step up to the mark with a funding stream to provide private housing where appropriate and at the scale required.
The Deputy suggested the TTIP was a charter for multinationals. What is his focus? Does he not understand that I was just talking about small Irish firms that employed 100,000 people across America? Does he not understand that when quotas go next year, we will have the most productive agri-sector on the planet and that one element of the TTIP arrangements, if they are concluded successfully, will allow for many Irish firms to be able to send fresh Irish agricultural produce to the United States, with benefits for the economy and jobs in production on and off farms? These are not multinationals. It is not a charter for multinationals, rather it is a charter for economic expansion on both sides of the Atlantic.
What is the quid pro quo?
The Deputy says there is no evidence that 400,000 jobs will be created, but there may well be double that figure because we have the greatest number of developed western countries in the European Union, offering enormous opportunities if we conclude an agreement. I do not accept the Deputy's view.
Let me make another point. I remember co-chairing, back in the 1990s, the WTO talks in Singapore. In the case of world trade, there is a solution to the issue of a row breaking out between countries. It is determined by panels within the WTO and works successfully. If we have an agreement and sign up to it, there must be a dispute resolution mechanism. It is not about overriding the legislation of countries, rather it is about dealing with the conditions signed up to in the agreement for the benefit of both countries. Sometimes we need a dispute resolution mechanism, as the Deputy knows well.