1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he had at the European Council meeting in December 2014, in Brussels, Belgium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2129/15]View answer
Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 12 May 2015
1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he had at the European Council meeting in December 2014, in Brussels, Belgium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2129/15]View answer
2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the decision by the European Commission to seek information on tax rulings for all European Union member states was discussed at the meeting of the European Council in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2130/15]View answer
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of direct bank recapitalisation through the European Stability Mechanism fund at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2131/15]View answer
4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the growing crisis around refugees fleeing conflicts in Africa and in the Middle East at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2132/15]View answer
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of recognition of a Palestinian state during any recent European Union Council meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2133/15]View answer
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the possibility of greater tax harmonisation at European Union level at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2135/15]View answer
7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the growing concerns at the growth of extreme right-wing racist groups in Europe at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2137/15]View answer
8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi, in Brussels, Belgium, in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2138/15]View answer
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the need for the Central Bank of Ireland to provide evidence to the banking inquiry with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2139/15]View answer
10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach following his preliminary discussion in December 2014 with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi, if there have been any follow-up conversations or discussions; if a date is set for a further meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2140/15]View answer
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of direct bank recapitalisation through the European Stability Mechanism fund with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi, at his meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2141/15]View answer
12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and other neighbouring African states during the European Union Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2153/15]View answer
13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting held on 19 and 20 December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2166/15]View answer
14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if European Union leaders discussed economic stagnation at the European Council meeting held on 19 and 20 December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2167/15]View answer
15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if a change of Government in Greece and a change in European Union policy in relation to Greek debt were discussed at the European Council meeting held on 19 and 20 December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2168/15]View answer
16. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the role of the Irish bank guarantee in the financial crisis with any European leaders at any of his recent meetings with them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2170/15]View answer
17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views on his meeting in December 2014 with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3361/15]View answer
18. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on meetings and discussions he had at the European Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3365/15]View answer
19. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversation with the former President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4300/15]View answer
20. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the discussions and the decisions taken at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014, in respect of Ukraine, and in particular the ongoing volatile situation in the east of Ukraine. [4301/15]View answer
21. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the decision taken at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014 regarding the closer co-ordination of economic policies to ensure the smooth functioning of economic and monetary union; if he made any contribution to the discussion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4305/15]View answer
22. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the decision made at the meeting of the European Union Council in December 2014 regarding the mobilisation of €315 billion in new investments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4306/15]View answer
23. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the discussions and decisions taken at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014 regarding the trade agreement between the European Union and the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4307/15]View answer
24. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the discussions and decisions taken at the European Union Council meeting in December 2014 regarding the fight against tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning at both European Union and global level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4308/15]View answer
25. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5471/15]View answer
26. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the European Union Council position on writing off Greek debt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5472/15]View answer
27. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views that a viable solution will be found for Greece and its people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5474/15]View answer
28. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views on the response of European Union leaders to the Greek debt issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6603/15]View answer
29. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the Chancellor of Germany, Ms Angela Merkel, regarding the situation in Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6604/15]View answer
30. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views regarding the discussion by leaders of the European Union on sending defensive weapons to eastern Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6605/15]View answer
31. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the latest developments in Palestine at the European Union Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6612/15]View answer
32. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the growth of anti-austerity parties being elected across the European Union at the European Union Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6613/15]View answer
33. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his contribution to the discussion on the crisis in Ukraine at the European Union Council meeting on 12 February 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7684/15]View answer
34. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if European Union sanctions against Russia were discussed at the European Union Council meeting on 12 February 2015; if he contributed to this discussion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7685/15]View answer
35. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his contribution at the European Union Council meeting on 12 February 2015 in respect of the Greek deficit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7686/15]View answer
36. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he had bilateral meetings in or around the European Union Council meeting on 12 February 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7687/15]View answer
37. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the European Union Council has discussed its ongoing relationship with Russia at its meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7688/15]View answer
38. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the proposed military action by the United States of America against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was discussed at the European Union Council meeting on 12 February 2015; if he made a contribution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7689/15]View answer
39. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to or met with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7712/15]View answer
40. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions with leaders of the European Union on the Greek debt crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7793/15]View answer
41. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the latest developments in Palestine at any of the recent European Council meetings since December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7795/15]View answer
42. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the latest developments in Syria at any of the European Council meetings since December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7796/15]View answer
43. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has met the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr Alexis Tsipras; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8838/15]View answer
44. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8839/15]View answer
45. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to make a statement on the latest developments in the European Union, particularly following the deal made with Greece . [9966/15]View answer
46. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any discussions he had regarding the developing situation in Ukraine at any of the recent European Union Council meetings he attended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9979/15]View answer
47. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he placed any particular item for discussion on the agenda of any European Union Council meetings held since March 2015 ; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11635/15]View answer
48. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if, at any European Union Council meetings held since March 2015, he outlined Ireland's concerns regarding the way the eastern Ukraine situation was being dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11636/15]View answer
49. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there was a discussion at any of the European Union Council meetings held since March 2015 regarding a partial lifting of the sanctions on Russia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11637/15]View answer
50. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he made a contribution to any discussion on the Greek deal at any of the European Union Council meetings held since March 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11638/15]View answer
51. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of the European Union Council meeting in March 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12793/15]View answer
52. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12794/15]View answer
53. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his views on the European Union Council response to the debt crisis in Greece. [12795/15]View answer
54. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on discussions at any of the European Union Council meetings since March 2015 on the implementation of the Minsk agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12796/15]View answer
55. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he spoke to the President of France, Mr. Francois Hollande, and to the Chancellor of Germany, Ms Angela Merkel, on their efforts to secure the future of Ukraine. [12797/15]View answer
56. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the issue of Syrian and other refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa was discussed at the European Union Council meetings in December 2014 and March 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12798/15]View answer
57. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he had any bilateral meetings when he attended the March European Union Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15197/15]View answer
58. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met or spoken to the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, since the Greek Prime Minister's appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15198/15]View answer
59. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding discussions at the European Union Council on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15201/15]View answer
60. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if European Union sanctions against Russia were discussed at any of the European Union Council meetings since March 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15202/15]View answer
61. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the European Union Council has discussed the outcome of the Greek election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15203/15]View answer
62. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the European Union Council has discussed the growing trend of extreme left and right political parties across the European Union; his views on the matter and if he will discuss the matter. [15204/15]View answer
63. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Middle East was discussed, particularly Palestine and Israel, at any of the recent European Union Council meetings; and if he will discuss the matter. [15205/15]View answer
64. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the situation in Syria was discussed at any of the European Union Council's meetings since January 2015; if any new actions were taken other than donations for humanitarian aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15206/15]View answer
65. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his meeting with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi; the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15207/15]View answer
66. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he specifically mentioned retrospective debt for Ireland at his meeting with the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi; if any action will be taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15208/15]View answer
67. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if the situation in Egypt with regards to human rights was discussed at any meetings of the European Council since December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15209/15]View answer
68. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the political and human rights situation in Egypt with other heads of Government at any of the European Council meeting since December 2014. [15211/15]View answer
69. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the human rights situation in Egypt was discussed at any of the European Council meetings since December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15230/15]View answer
70. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the Italian Prime Minister regarding the tragic mass drowning of hundreds of boat people off the coast of Italy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16208/15]View answer
71. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the agreement made at the March European Union Council meeting to ensure that Europe’s citizens and businesses have a reliable, secure, affordable and sustainable supply of energy; the actions that have been taken since the June European Council meeting, when it was made a priority; the immediate actions being taken in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16209/15]View answer
72. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the March European Council meeting, at which a number of concrete and measurable steps were taken to deliver the Energy Union; if these measures will ensure affordable, sustainable and secure energy for all member states; the steps, and the way, these measures will apply to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16210/15]View answer
73. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has written to the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, since Mr Tsipras was elected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16212/15]View answer
74. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach wheher he discussed the European Central Bank interest rate at the April 2015 European Union Council meeting, and the way some banks chose not to pass on the reductions; if not, his plans to do so at a future meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16218/15]View answer
75. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the actions the European Union Commission is taking to promote and harness the full benefits of fifth freedom, discussed at the March European Union Council meeting, where it was decided to act quickly and decisively; the specific actions being taken because of the instability in the European Union’s neighbourhood, and the realities of climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16219/15]View answer
76. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the European Union Council is actually doing enough to assist Greece from possibly exiting the European Union or defaulting on its debt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16221/15]View answer
77. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the European Union Council is satisfied that a Greek default on debt would not necessarily require an exit from the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16222/15]View answer
78. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had any meetings or correspondence with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras; and if he will make a statement on the matterView answer
79. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the Ukraine taken at the European Council meeting in December 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter.View answer
80. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he contributed at the special European Union Council meeting in April 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18116/15]View answer
81. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the comments he made at the European Union Council meeting held on 23 April 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18146/15]View answer
I propose to takes Questions Nos. 1 to 81, inclusive, together.
I last answered questions on European Council matters on 16 December 2014. There are 81 questions of this type placed by Deputies today which were received on a weekly basis since that time and they have gathered on the Order Paper. I delivered pre-Council and post-Council statements on the December 2014 European Council on 17 December and 27 January 2015, respectively, and pre-Council and post-Council statements on the March 2015 European Council on 11 March and 24 March, respectively. It has not previously been the case that Deputies have had the opportunity to comment both before and after European Council meetings. I have dealt with many of the issues raised in the questions today. However, I am, of course, happy to go over this ground again with Deputies with respect to the questions they wish to ask today.
I attended the European Council meeting on 19 December 2014 and reported to the House on it in my statement on 27 January. The December European Council did not discuss or adopt conclusions on the Ebola crisis, Palestine, Syria or Egypt, or with regard to refugees from Africa and the Middle East. There was no discussion about extreme right-wing racist groups or the growth of so-called anti-austerity parties in the European Union either in December or at other recent meetings of the European Council. I attended the informal meeting of EU Heads of State and Government on 12 February. The main issues were counter-terrorism, the situation in Ukraine and strengthening Economic and Monetary Union. I had no formal bilateral meetings on the margins of that meeting; however, I did have an opportunity to engage in informal discussions with a number of colleagues, including the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, who at the time had just recently entered office. Proposed military action by the United States against ISIS was not discussed at the February meeting.
I attended the European Council on 19 and 20 March and reported to the House on the outcomes of that meeting in my statement on 24 March. There were no discussions on the situation in Syria or about Israel and Palestine. The agenda for the March meeting was prepared in the normal way. President Tusk circulated an annotated draft agenda and draft conclusions which were then considered by COREPER and the General Affairs Council which was attended by the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy. Ireland's views were contributed at each stage of the process. I had no formal bilateral meetings at the March European Council, but I did, of course, see and speak to many of my counterpart leaders at the meeting. There was an extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 23 April which was convened to address the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, which is still of great concern to everybody. The European Central Bank interest rate was not discussed at the meeting because it was not called for that purpose.
I will respond to questions about specific thematic areas which were recently addressed by the European Council. I did not meet specifically Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Renzi, about the recent tragic incidents in the Mediterranean. However, the Prime Minister and I both attended the extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 23 April. I contributed to that meeting, as would be normal. The scale of the recent tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean is appalling and shocking and underlines the importance of the European Union acting urgently and as one to address this complex ongoing crisis. As we are in the House, people are walking from areas of strife and war, heading for borders in the hope they can make their way from Libya across the Mediterranean. Foreign Ministers met together with Justice and Home Affairs Ministers before the extraordinary European Council and welcomed a ten point plan by the European Commission as the basis for further work in addressing the irregular flow of migration which has such serious consequences for many. Tomorrow the Commission will publish its European agenda on migration which will propose a comprehensive approach to migration issues, including those highlighted by the European Council.
At the extraordinary European Council I was pleased to be in a position to indicate that Ireland would contribute a naval vessel and crew to take part in humanitarian efforts, subject, of course, to the mandate and other legal issues being clarified. This morning the Cabinet agreed to a memorandum from the Minister for Defence to approve this contribution.
The ship and its crew will make their way towards the Mediterranean in accordance with conditions and the understandings arrived at with our European colleagues. I also indicated at the meeting that we had approved additional funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Relief and Works Agency. That brings our total funding to those affected by the Syria crisis to €41 million, which is a considerable allocation from a country of Ireland's size. The issue of migration was also discussed in the context of the Libyan crisis at the March European Council.
I was asked a question on the Juncker investment plan. The December European Council, on which I reported, gave strong political backing to the investment plan put forward by Commission President, Mr. Juncker, and agreed that a European fund for strategic investments, or EFSI, should be established. I am pleased to report that there has since been strong progress in establishing the EFSI. Finance Ministers have agreed a general approach on the draft regulation and negotiations with the European Parliament are under way. The March European Council reinforced its expectation that there will be political agreement on this by June. I was also asked about the co-ordination of economic policy. The December European Council reiterated the need for closer co-ordination of economic policies to ensure a smooth functioning of economic and monetary union. It was agreed that the presidents of the European Council, Commission, ECB and Eurogroup, working together with the member states, will progress work in this area with a view to reporting to the European Council meeting in June. The informal meeting of Heads of State and Government in February also considered this issue on the basis of an analytical note presented by Commission President, Mr. Juncker. A further two follow-up meetings to discuss preparations for the June European Council have been held at senior official level and another meeting will take place later this month.
On tax, I note that the European Council in December reiterated the urgent need to advance efforts in the fight against tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning at both the EU and wider global level. It also looked forward to the Commission's proposal on the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings in the EU. The European Commission has since published its tax transparency package, which includes a legislative proposal on the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings. Ireland supports the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities as an important tool in the fight against tax fraud and evasion and we look forward to its implementation at EU and global level. Tax harmonisation was not discussed at the December European Council. Ireland strongly opposes the harmonisation of tax rates as it would reduce the flexibility of member states, particularly smaller member states, to deploy taxation policy in support of broader economic policies.
On the questions on energy, ensuring that Europe's citizens and businesses have a reliable, secure, affordable and sustainable supply of energy is one of the five priority strands of the strategic agenda agreed by the European Council in June last year. The European Council in March discussed a number of concrete and measurable steps to deliver energy union and to ensure affordable, sustainable and secure energy for all member states. The discussions focused on two key matters; enhancing energy security, and reaping the benefits of the internal energy market. Diversifying the routes and sources of our energy and putting in place appropriate infrastructure to support that diversification are critical for Ireland. At my instigation, a specific reference to peripheral regions was included in the section of the European Council conclusions dealing with infrastructure and interconnection in respect of energy. With regard to implementing the energy union framework, the Commission is in the process of establishing a governance system in consultation with member states and will produce a state of the energy union report at the end of this year.
The December European Council called on the EU and USA to make all efforts to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial transatlantic trade and investment partnership, TTIP, by the end of 2015. Since then, there have been two rounds of talks with the USA and a further negotiating round will take place before the summer. Discussions on a number of areas are continuing and the basic architecture of the agreement is emerging. During my visit to the USA for St. Patrick's Day, I reaffirmed to both President Obama and the US trade representative, Mike Froman, Ireland's commitment to reaching a mutually beneficial and ambitious agreement. I briefed my counterparts at the March European Council on these discussions on TTIP with US interlocutors. The European Council discussed the state of play in the negotiations and agreed that the EU and the USA should make every effort to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreement by the end of the year. The fear is that if the agreement is not concluded this year, it will be difficult to get a conclusion given the movement towards the American primaries and subsequent presidential election. It was also agreed that member states and the Commission should step up efforts to communicate the benefits of the agreement and enhance dialogue with civil society. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and Commissioner Cecilia Malmström took part in a well attended seminar on TTIP in Dublin Castle on 27 March where an authoritative economic analysis of the very positive likely impact of an agreement on Ireland was launched.
I was asked about retrospective capitalisation. The possible use of the European Stability Mechanism for bank recapitalisation has not been raised at recent European Council meetings or in my contacts with ECB President Mario Draghi. While direct recapitalisation by the ESM remains an option, I reiterate that it is no longer the only, or necessarily the best, option open to Ireland.
It was supposed to be seismic in 2012.
Yes, but we have another option now and the Government will make a decision in the best interests of the taxpayers. The market value of our investments has improved considerably and, in deciding how best to recover the money used to recapitalise the Irish banks, the Government is determined to pursue the course of action which will be most advantageous to the Irish taxpayer.
That was always an option. It is a change of language.
The question is whether it is recapitalisation as allowed for now under ESM or the alternative route of determining the value of the banks.
Did the Government tell a lie in 2012?
It is about making the best choice in the interests of the Irish taxpayer. I regularly discuss Ireland's economic situation with European Council counterparts and I had the opportunity at the March European Council to outline our progress to date. We have not discussed the Irish bank guarantee in recent contacts.
In regard to Greece and Greek debt, I note the meeting yesterday on this. I wrote to Alexis Tsipras in January to congratulate him on his election as Prime Minister of Greece and to wish him and his government well. I had a short informal discussion with Prime Minister Tsipras in the margins of the February meeting of Heads of State and Government and again in the margins of the March European Council. As well as congratulating him again on his election, I indicated that I would be happy to welcome him to Ireland and to have further discussions about how we worked through and successfully emerged from our EU-IMF programme. The December European Council did not consider the question of a possible change of government in Greece or issues relating to the Greek debt situation. The informal meeting of the European Council in February received an update from the Eurogroup President on negotiations in relation to the Greek programme. While the situation in Greece was not on the agenda of the March European Council, Prime Minister Tsipras met informally with the Presidents of the European Council, Commission, ECB and Eurogroup and the leaders of Germany and France to discuss how to make progress in the discussions on Greece's economic and financial situation. All parties expressed full adherence to the Eurogroup statement of 20 February.
Ireland, together with other euro area member states, understands and empathises with the difficult situation faced by the Greek people. That is why there has been a willingness to negotiate a way forward which takes account of the realities of the situation in Greece and the political priorities of its new Government, which was elected by the people, while also respecting existing commitments. Intensive negotiations on the Greek programme have been taking place in the Eurogroup and it is in all our interests that Greece remains in the euro area. All members of the euro area, including Greece, have obligations and that is why all the parties signed up to the Eurogroup statement of 20 February, including the comprehensive list of reforms. Progress in the discussions has been slow, however, and needs to be accelerated.
As a consequence, the situation of Greece's finances is very challenging, with immediate financing needs to be addressed now. Therefore, urgent agreement of the necessary structural reforms is imperative to conclude the fifth review and release the associated disbursement. As the House is aware, repayments are due in the very near future - this week in fact. The Greek authorities are currently working with the institutions on the list of reforms. Greece has committed to making its repayments. Ireland does not support a writedown or cancellation of Greek debt. There is, of course, room for manoeuvre in terms of maturity extension and other ways to reduce the burden of debt, which we have done in Ireland, in co-operation with our European partners.
The situation in Ukraine and EU relations with Russia were discussed at the December European Council and the informal meeting of EU Heads of State and Government in February and again at the March European Council meeting. The February meeting took place on the same day that agreement was reached in Minsk on a package of measures leading to the current ceasefire. I joined with my counterparts in the European Council in welcoming this development and recognising the central role played by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande. People will have seen the statement from Chancellor Merkel at the recent press conference with President Putin. Heads of State and Government also confirmed that decisions already taken on sanctions would remain in place. At the March European Council, we agreed that the Minsk agreement remains the best prospect for the long-term resolution of the conflict in the region. We decided that the sanctions against Russia should be clearly linked to the full implementation of the agreements and that we would keep this under close review over the coming months. We will return to the issue at next month's meeting. Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande set out their positions in their contributions to the meeting of the European Council. I did not discuss the situation in Ukraine with either leader bilaterally.
While Syria has not been on the agenda of recent European Council meetings, the March Foreign Affairs Council adopted a comprehensive regional strategy on Syria, Iraq and ISIS. This sets out the EU's political and humanitarian strategy to address the impact of this conflict and to support conditions for a political framework to end it.
In the margins of the December European Council and during a subsequent telephone conversation, I raised the issue of ECB support to the banking inquiry with ECB President Mario Draghi. I also discussed the issue with former ECB President Jean Claude Trichet. Mr. Draghi subsequently outlined the position of the ECB on his participation in the banking inquiry, which he also set out in a letter to Mr. Matt Carthy MEP in January. He stated that owing to the ECB's accountability to the European institutions and primarily to the European Parliament, the ECB is not in a position to participate in formal inquiries conducted by national parliaments. However, Mr. Draghi also confirmed that the ECB stood ready, in liaison with the Irish Parliament, to determine how best to interact on an informal basis, outside the context of the banking inquiry, as has been done with other national parliaments in the past.
I was happy following the discussion with Mr. Trichet and, as the House is now aware, Mr. Trichet subsequently accepted an invitation to participate in an event in Dublin organised by the Institute for International and European Affairs, which took place in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham on Thursday, 30 April. Following a presentation, Mr. Trichet responded to a range of questions posed by members of the banking inquiry committee.
I am sorry for the lengthy reply, but there were all of these questions which had backed up, some of which we have reported on both before and after European Council meetings since December.
Four of six Members with questions are present. I therefore ask everyone to be brief in their questions and replies and I suggest one question each.
Tá 20 ceist agam agus ní bheidh seans ar chor ar bith ceisteanna breise a chur ar an Taoiseach inniu. Níl ciall ar bith ann leis seo. Táimid ag déanamh díospóireachta inniu maidir le ceisteanna a chuir mé cúig mhí ó shin. There needs to be a review of how questions to the Taoiseach are structured. This is not the first time this issue has been raised. I have 20 questions. Some of them concern events which occurred five months ago. Things have changed in the meantime and the questions are no longer topical or current. It is clear that I will not get through the 20 questions which I tabled. I also had supplementary questions to all of them. I would like to speak, if I can, and I will be as brief as I can, on a number of the questions.
Of huge importance is the Taoiseach's acknowledgment for the first time, to my knowledge, in this Chamber that the issue of bank recapitalisation has not been raised by the Taoiseach or his Government. That is shocking news. If the Taoiseach recalls June 2012, it was claimed that a deal hammered out at an EU Council meeting would allow banks to be bailed out directly using the European Stability Mechanism. It was also claimed that the same measure could be applied retrospectively to this State. The then Tánaiste said on "Morning Ireland" that this news "changes the game for us as far as bank debt is concerned" and that the method of breaking that link can now be applied to Ireland. The Taoiseach described the decision as a "seismic shift" in European policy. I repeat, a seismic shift in European policy.
Almost three years later, there has been no retrospective bank recapitalisation. We know from correspondence received last August by Mr. Matt Carthy MEP from the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism that it was unlikely that the direct recapitalisation instrument would be used. Critically, he said that any decision would relate to the circumstances in the requesting ESM member, which does not even arise, as we have made no request. The issue has, therefore, not even been considered because to avail of this seismic shift and to avail of this game changer our Government would need to make the request. Today we are told that this has not happened.
We accuse the Taoiseach, at different times, of being compliant, rolling over and accepting the position. The citizens of this State, who make up less than 1% of the EU population, have been burdened with 43% of the cost of the European banking crisis. Citizens will be loaded for generations. When none of us is even a memory, people will still be paying back this legacy of bad decisions made by EU bodies, the previous Fianna Fáil led Government and the Taoiseach's Government. Is ceist shimplí atá agam. Is it not true that we have now got clarity from the Taoiseach that he never applied for a retrospective bank recapitalisation and that he never had any intention of doing so? This was all spin. This was all soundbites and an attempt to influence public opinion. Will the Taoiseach face up to that fact today and will he apologise, not least to his own electorate, the Labour Party electorate, the Fine Gael electorate and those people who voted for him, for misleading them on this matter?
I will rest it there but I would like to think I will get to speak on the other two questions which are of huge importance. These questions concern the Palestinian state and the dreadful plight of the refugees who are drowning daily in the Mediterranean Sea.
I have on many occasions offered the Deputies opposite the opportunity to table a priority question each week if that is what they wish to do-----
The Taoiseach has not.
-----rather than have these build up as has happened.
The Taoiseach should stop talking nonsense.
As I said in my opening remarks-----
The Taoiseach has said this for four years.
-----but Deputy Martin never listens, we have reported both before and after the European Council meetings, which never happened before, to allow the Deputies to raise their cases. Most of what we have dealt with here has been dealt with since December in those meetings.
No, it has not.
Deputy Adams raised his question about recapitalisation, and he made the point that, as I said on that occasion back in June 2012, this matter would be a seismic shift in breaking the link between bank debt and sovereign debt.
The Taoiseach said that, not me.
Yes, and that is what has happened, because no more, Deputy Adams, if a bank goes bust will the taxpayer be out first to pay. The seismic shift in European politics is now in position, in that, if banks go down in future, the taxpayer is not going to be-----
We argued that, but the Taoiseach dismissed it.
The Taoiseach has the floor.
That is the breakage of the link between sovereign and bank debt-----
That is not the case.
-----and that is now in position.
What about retrospective recapitalisation?
The Deputy comes back to the question of recapitalisation. As I said, this Government did not put a cent into Anglo Irish Bank - €34 billion gone down the tubes, gone, lost to the taxpayer, to the next generation. This Government has put in restructuring of €30 billion. We expect to get all of that back.
There are two options to be considered here. One is the decision of June 2012, when the European Council agreed with my proposition that there should be a capacity and a facility for direct recapitalisation for countries like Ireland that were unfortunately first out of that gap. The banking inquiry is doing its business at the moment in regard to other matters around that. That position stands. That decision still stands and has not been changed or altered in any way. In fact, to use a phrase of the Deputy's own, I might say: "It hasn't gone away, you know." It is still there. So, the question for the Government, Deputy Adams, is what is the best thing to do here in the interests of the Irish taxpayer. The €34 billion squandered by the previous Administration is dead, gone, washed away. So, on behalf of the taxpayer in restructuring the banks - not for the banks' comfort, but for their customers' futures - that money was invested. We expect to get all of that money back.
So, what is the best thing to do? We have put money into Bank of Ireland. We have got back in excess of what was put in and we still own, on behalf of the people, a proportion of that bank. The same applies in respect of the ownership of the vast majority of Allied Irish Banks. The PTSB had its valuation at about €2 billion recently. The Minister for Finance is very clear that the Irish taxpayer will be able to recover all of that money, and possibly more, in the time ahead, so the question for the Government is what is the best option to choose here. Is it to go the route of recapitalisation, which was made by the European Council on my proposition back in June 2012, or is it to see what the valuations of the banks are and how those might be progressed in the interests of the Irish taxpayer? So, instead of having one option, we now have two.
What about retrospective recapitalisation?
That is the point of the decision of June 2012, and that position is still unaltered. The decision stands. It is there to be followed-----
Why does the Government not ask for it?
-----if the Government decides to do that. We know the amount that was recapitalised, we know that we have the facility available to us to pursue following the European Council decision of June 2012, and that is still on the table, but the new option, because of the improvement in the valuation of the banks following restructuring and recapitalisation, is also there to be pursued.
That was always there.
Which of these two gives the best return for the Irish taxpayer?
That was there in 2012.
The Government will make its decision based on what is best for the taxpayer and how-----
That is being pursued at the moment, as the Deputy understands. We had some response in respect of moneys invested in Bank of Ireland. We now have PTSB being valued at approximately €2 billion, and the Minister has made it clear that he intends to have a determination on a proportionate value of a section of Allied Irish Banks to see what that might be. So, we are not in a position just yet to make a decision as to which one is in the best interests of the taxpayer. The Government's only priority here is to pursue this to a point so that we can determine which is in the best interests of the taxpayer. Is it the route of recapitalisation or is it the route of getting the return on the people's money by virtue of moving on the banks? Work is proceeding on that element, with the Minister for Finance being very confident that, in respect of the Irish taxpayer, we will get back all of the money invested by this Government. Unfortunately, what happened before is dead and gone and washed away.
I call Deputy Martin.
On a point of order-----
Deputy Boyd Barrett is ahead of me. He is okay to go ahead.
That is right. I am sorry, Deputy. I did not know that you had been in at the start. I take your point. I am new to this job on a Tuesday.
I understand. The rules of this particular section of Dáil time seem to change on a regular basis.
I gave way.
Deputy Boyd Barrett is all right.
The point about the backlog in questions has been made. It must be addressed. These questions relate to Europe and I take the point about European statements, post and pre, but a backlog in questions to the Taoiseach is constantly building. More time needs to be allowed for them and we should be allowed to ask topical questions to avoid a backlog building. If the Taoiseach is committed to the democratic and political reform about which the Government promised so much, he should take this point on board.
Is it not the case that Europe and European leaders are sleepwalking towards the possible break-up of the EU? If that happens, responsibility will lie entirely with the EU's leaders and authorities, given their blind commitment to a failed and, in the case of Greece, vindictive policy of inflicting austerity on the most vulnerable and least well-off sectors of society. The belligerence of the EU in wanting to continue inflicting these discredited policies on the Greek people, to the point of millions of ordinary Greeks experiencing extraordinary suffering, and the failure of the policy being self-evident mean that we are at the brink of the dominos within the EU falling. Despite this, there is an utter complacency, behind which seems to be what cannot be described as anything other than a politically motivated vindictiveness towards any group of people who refuse, even in the smallest way, to accept crushing austerity.
The issue that has brought us to the brink is the EU's determination to have Greece cut pensions, make it easier to fire workers and refuse to rehire workers into a public sector that has been slashed to pieces. These are the points of conflict in doing a deal, with the EU saying "No, no, no" to a country that has been savaged, where the levels of suicide and poverty have gone through the roof and homelessness and despair are at extraordinary levels. The EU says that, on top of this, Greece must cut pensions and under no circumstances restore jobs in the public sector. This is appalling and has brought us to the brink.
Is it not time for the Taoiseach to raise his voice against the madness of the central institutions and European leaders being singlehandedly responsible for beginning the break-up of the EU?
The other worrying feature, evident in Greece and now in Britain, is that different forms of disillusionment with and alienation from the centralised, autocratic and failed economic policies of the European Union are now leading to a very worrying rise in racism across Europe. If in Greece the Syriza Government fails and is driven out and if there is a further economic collapse there, the beneficiary will be Golden Dawn. That is not a pretty prospect. In Britain, the beneficiary, to some extent at least, has been the vile UK Independence Party, UKIP. I am glad it did not win as many seats as it had hoped. These are people who have traded on racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Prime Minister Cameron, in order to try to see off the threat of UKIP, has moved in the direction of that sort of anti-immigrant rhetoric. That is dangerous. It is dangerously reminiscent of what happened in the 1930s and 1940s when economic crisis led to the rise of racism and xenophobia, with disastrous consequences. Is the Taoiseach not worried that the policy failures in the European Union and the blind commitment to austerity could possibly break up the Union and lead to a worrying rise in racism?
Mr. Ibrahim Halawa's sisters are in the Visitors Gallery. I believe Deputy Paul Murphy has brought them in today. As they are here, I wish to ask the Taoiseach, as I am sure will Deputy Murphy, what he is doing to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen who is being tortured in Egyptian prisons and who has been framed, essentially in a politically trumped-up case against him, for doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful protest against what is a brutal and despotic regime, led by President el-Sisi.
Films have been made about the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and Irish citizens who languished in prison in Britain having been framed for political purposes although they committed no crimes. Since we are all appalled that this would have been done to our citizens in the past, why are we, including the Taoiseach, not much more vocal and robust in demanding the release of Ibrahim Halawa and the lifting of the charges, which are clearly trumped up? Mr. Halawa, along with hundreds of ordinary Egyptians, has been framed by a despotic, nasty government that is now in power in Egypt. What is the Taoiseach doing about this?
The Deputy mentioned raising Topical Issue matters. I have already said I am happy to take Priority Questions from Members if they want to submit them on a weekly basis and deal with others afterwards.
The Deputy mentioned the break-up of the European Union. Clearly, this is a matter of very serious concern to leaders. Prime Minister Tsipras has said that Greece does not want to leave the Eurogroup and will not default on its responsibilities. Given his statements in this regard, it is clear that the Government of Greece is now working with the institutions - I saw Mr. Dijsselbloem's comments yesterday - to arrive at a position where Greece can continue to be a valued member of the Eurogroup and European Union and find a way of moving out of the very severe difficulties it faces. I have mentioned the extension of maturity dates and a variety of other developments that could make it possible for it to do that.
At the European Council meeting, in the presence of the Greek Prime Minister, there was very strong support for the view that every facility should be given to Greece to allow it to make its way. The Deputy should remember that other taxpayers would be very heavily exposed if there were to be a write-down of Greek debt, as the Deputy is very well aware. That is very clear from comments made by other leaders. There is exceptional exposure, and I am not talking about Germany in this case. In that sense, given the conviction and determination by Prime Minister Tsipras for Greece to succeed and play its part, I hope, based on the discussions that took place yesterday, arising from which there was a statement from the group last evening, that progress has been made. The position is still very fragile and I hope an accommodation can be reached whereby Greece can continue to find a way to accept its responsibilities and play its part. Every one of the other 27 states, whether in the Eurogroup or eurozone or not, wants this to happen. I have no doubt about the effect of the detailed discussions taking place at the official meetings. I note that some changes have been made by the Greek Prime Minister himself and his negotiating team.
Clearly, the decision of the British people was not foreseen by political commentators, pollsters or those who know all the answers before they are decided. The people made their decision. For the first time in many years, they elected a Conservative Government with a majority vote. I am sure there will be considerable analysis by pundits as to why people voted as they did. I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron at the weekend and congratulated him on winning his election. He had made a strong case at the European Council on many occasions regarding the unprecedented numbers of jobs created, the unprecedented scale of the opportunity for people in Britain to have a job of sustainable stature and make their way forward. However, both the Prime Minister and I, in addition to all the other leaders, are very clear that freedom of movement is one of the central pillars or tenets of the European Union. That has always been the way and it will continue.
With regard to discussions that Prime Minister Cameron will have with President Junker, who has welcomed his re-election and who has said he will engage constructively with him, there is a very clear understanding from the European leaders of the importance of holding this Union together and reorganising it in a way that makes for efficiency of business, a true Single Market, a single energy market and all of those other factors that have been the subject of discussion for a very long time but in respect of which a conclusion has not been reached in many cases. Many, although not all, of the recommendations for improved efficiency, the elimination of red tape and more effective administration put forward by Prime Minister Cameron have strong support around the table. To make this happen is the issue. Freedom of movement is one of the central pillars and will remain so.
Deputy Boyd Barrett asked about progress in respect of the Halawa case. The objectives in this case are very clear. The first is to see Mr. Halawa released by the Egyptian authorities so he can return to his family and studies here in Ireland. The second is to provide consular support to secure his welfare while he remains in detention. The considered approach and sustained action undertaken consistently by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, and his officials in this case have been such as to further those two objectives and, more important, avoid any action that could be counter-productive or detrimental to Mr. Halawa’s best interests. Having spoken to the Minister on many occasions about this, I fully support that approach.
It is important to bear in mind the role of the Irish Government when citizens are imprisoned abroad. Irrespective of any views regarding the fairness or appropriateness of any arrest abroad, the reality is that where an Irish citizen is charged with an offence under the law of a foreign country and is imprisoned in that country, it is the foreign law that applies and the relevant foreign court that decides on matters, such as bail and release.
The decision to release Mr. Halawa either on bail or any other basis will be made solely by the Egyptian authorities. Since he was detained originally in August 2013 he has received consular visits on 37 occasions. I can confirm that the Government has formally supported both the application of his lawyers for his release and return to Ireland under the November presidential decree and the more recent application for his release on bail. Unfortunately, the application for his release on bail was rejected at the most recent hearing of his case. Our official support for his release has been duly committed to the Egyptian authorities in formal diplomatic notes that have been included in the documentation submitted to the court and the authorities by his lawyer. The Minister has had continuous personal contract with his Egyptian counterpart.
The trial has started, with the next hearing scheduled for 3 June. All of the information we have received indicates that it is highly unlikely there will be any decision on Mr. Halawa's release until the court makes its decisions. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to review the approach and actions in this case and the Government is guided, at all times, by the two central objectives set out. Given that the trial has commenced, we have to exercise restraint in our public comment, as I do now. This is entirely consistent with our approach to other consular cases, in line with our objective in this case and what we firmly believe to be in Mr. Halawa's best interests as a young man and what is most likely to contribute to a positive outcome for him. All actions taken in the case are considered in the light of the objectives I have mentioned. At this stage, while there is a specific application for Mr. Halawa's release on bail being considered by the judge, any inappropriate escalation of political intervention could well be counterproductive in pursuing our objectives in the case and Mr. Halawa's best interests in the achievement of a positive outcome. We keep matters under review at all times. It should also be noted that in none of the other cases involving foreign nationals was any individual released either on bail or otherwise while the original trial was being conducted. We might bear this in mind.
I am happy with the approach the Minister is taking and the continuous actions both he and his officials are taking in Dublin and Cairo. I can confirm for the House that no other consular case is receiving greater attention in the Department at this time.
Notwithstanding what has been done - I accept that the officials are working very hard - it might be no harm if the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, flew to Cairo and met the administration because these regimes act on a state-by-state basis. I agree with other Deputies who have poured scorn on the quality and integrity of the judicial system that it operates. We know this from even a cursory look at what has been going on in terms of the trial of opponents of the regime and so on. This is a young Irish man and the length of time he has been left there is intolerable. Direct political contact in the form of a direct visit could yield some results. I make this suggestion to be constructive.
I was struck by the Taoiseach's comments on recapitalisation because one gets the sense that we were told a load of lies for quite some time, although I am not making that accusation. I recall that in 2012 - I remember it well - we and the nation were told that there had been a major breakthrough and it was not about the separation of bank and sovereign debt alone. It was Mario Monti, the then Italian Prime Minister, who drove the deal at the time; it had nothing to do with the Taoiseach. In fact, the then Tánaiste had left the meeting, but on hearing something had happened went on "Morning Ireland" to say breathlessly that we had achieved a great breakthrough - "a seismic shift" was the phrase used, with game changer. The phrase "retrospective recapitalisation" was also used. The Ministers, Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, said we could expect billions in return. They said this giddily at a press conference at the time and I think the figure of €6 billion might have been mentioned. The Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, said he could not talk about how much specifically was involved and mentioned some fair he had experience of going to and that one never revealed one's hand. It has now been truly revealed because it has been revealed that we did not ask for anything. We never asked for retrospective recapitalisation.
I will give the Government credit for spin, camouflage and rewriting the narrative as if what went before never happened and was a dream we all had. However, the reality is that selling the banks was an option in 2012. Selling AIB and our shares in the Bank of Ireland was always an option by definition. The Taoiseach knew this, as did the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. The Taoiseach knew this when he called the decision in 2012 by the European Council a game changer and a seismic shift. The likelihood was that in time, as the banks recovered, these two banks would wipe their faces. However, the Taoiseach chose to take a political route and say this was fantastic, that it was a new world and that there would be retrospective recapitalisation, but we never asked for it. The new story of the Government is that it did recapitalise AIB and Bank of Ireland, but the reality is that the Government honoured up to €20 billion of both unsecured and unguaranteed bonds. There was the famous episode when Mr.Trichet said to the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, that a bomb would go off, not in Brussels but in Dublin if he were to proceed to burn the bondholders. Essentially, the Taoiseach made political claims in 2012 which were untrue, so much so that he never pursued them. I have been asking about this for two and a half years and all I get is mumbo jumbo. The Taoiseach confirmed in the past two to three months that he never asked for direct or retrospective recapitalisation and he is not asking for it now either. That is the level of dishonesty and untruth at which he has come at this issue.
I was struck by the Taoiseach's comment that he had spoken to the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Tsipras, and explained to him how we had come through our recovery. The conversation probably went a little like this-----
What about the bailout into which the Deputy's party led us?
Yes, I was going to come to it. The Taoiseach probably said to Mr. Tsipras-----
The promised land - the cheapest bailout in history.
I understand from where the Taoiseach is coming because I was where he was before the general election. I understand he opposed everything the previous Government did to achieve fiscal consolidation and make two thirds of the correction which was necessary to get the public finances in order. I opposed all of it, too.
The cheapest bailout in history.
The former Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, opposed it also.
The Deputy set up the HSE.
I understand Mr. Tsipras. Deputy Eamon Gilmore had to say, "It is Labour's way, not Frankfurt's way." I know that Mr. Tsipras had to do all of this too in Greece, but where he and I differ is that, in terms of what happened after the election - as one of our Ministers said, that is what one does before an election-----
The Deputy walked away. He walked out; he could not stick the heat.
The Taoiseach said to Mr. Tspiras that that was how we had come through it, that we had said what we had to say to be elected but then a new reality dawned after being elected and going into government when we just calmly, nonchalantly and without too much fuss jettisoned everything we had said before the election, particularly about the bondholders and retrospective recapitalisation. It was said we did not bother with any of that stuff, that we had just gone ahead and did what we had to do. If the Taoiseach was a clever guy, he probably said to the Greek Prime Minister that he should do the same and forget the commitments he had made.
The Deputy is not listening.
Put another €44 billion on top of citizens - my God.
I think the Taoiseach might be having an influence because the Greek Prime Minister has sidelined his Finance Minister since his conversation with the Taoiseach and he is in trouble. If I was Deputy Pearse Doherty, I would be a worried man because the Greek Finance Minister has been sidelined in the negotiations.
That is the truth of what occurred. The mirage has continued on in terms of game changers, seismic shifts and the shimmies that have been made politically right up to now, where we are dropping any talk of recapitalisation. We have never asked for it and we never will. Of course, the Taoiseach and his party voted for the bank guarantee. He was a champion of it at the time, so much so, he wanted it extended and----
Why did Deputy Martin not hold Fianna Fáil to account-----
Please allow the Deputy to ask his supplementary question.
-----with good reason in some respects because what is never mentioned is that under that guarantee, up to €173 billion in retail and corporate deposits were protected. They had to be protected. That is a net figure for retail and corporate deposits out of the overall amount of €373 billion that was guaranteed.
The fundamentals of "no bank must fail" and "no bondholders must be burned" were European policy positions. The Taoiseach says that sovereign and bank debt were separated in 2012 but they were not. The ESM fund is nowhere near sufficient to deal with any similar bank crisis if it happened in the next ten years. It is the best that could be achieved through compromise and negotiation but it is at negligible levels in terms of what would be required if there was a systemic financial and banking collapse of the kind we experienced across Europe five to six years ago. It is not at all clear that, if in the morning a similar collapse happened at European level, the sovereign would not be called upon again, if the truth be told. That is borne out by the disappointing figures for the funds that have been provided through the ESM and has been acknowledged by most commentators.
The Taoiseach must acknowledge that what he and the then Tánaiste said in 2012 was not the truth. There was no game-changer or seismic shift in terms of what was to happen to Ireland's debt position and getting retrospective recapitalisation. The IMF, a former participant in those negotiations, is now saying that the position of Europe and of the ECB with regard to Ireland was not fair and that Ireland is entitled to some recapitalisation. A number of key individuals who were involved at that time are now making that point. I would not take too much credit for my intervention having brought Mr. Trichet to the Irish Institute of European Affairs. That was not the banking inquiry. The idea that parliamentarians would go along, sit in the audience and ask a few questions and be nice boys and girls was farcical in many respects. Mr. Trichet should have appeared before the inquiry. Just because he sees the European Parliament as the body to which he is accountable is no reason for him - or even Mr. Draghi - not coming before a sworn inquiry to answer fundamental questions about the eurozone system, how it works and its future, in terms of what went wrong at a regulatory and supervisory level as well as the whole idea of banking union. We are a long way away from any development or achievements on those issues.
Deputy Paul Murphy to ask a brief supplementary question.
I wish to refer to the points made by Deputies Boyd Barrett and Martin regarding the case of Ibrahim Halawa. Will the Taoiseah indicate whether the human rights situation in Egypt has been discussed at the European Council since December 2014? Have the mass trials that are ongoing been discussed? A few weeks ago people were sentenced to death for participating in a protest and last week numerous others were sentenced to ten years in prison at mass trials. In that context, does the Taoiseach not agree that now is the time to personally intervene? That is what Mr. Halawa's family has been asking for. I understand that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met the Egyptian Minister for the Interior last week and asked if Ibrahim could be moved to another prison, which has not happened yet. The examples of the release of the Australian citizen, Peter Greste and the Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy point to the highest level of political intervention being necessary to achieve the release of citizens. Would the Taoiseach not agree that now is the time to intervene directly with President el-Sisi and to demand the release of Ibrahim Halawa?
I must ask the Taoiseach to be brief in his response because we are over time.
I will try to be brief and will start by responding to the last question raised by Deputy Murphy. Ireland has made clear on a number of occasions our continued concerns about the human rights situation in Egypt in general. We intervened at the UN Human Rights Council to express these concerns in September 2014, indicating our continued concerns over arbitrary detention, selective justice and respect for the rule of law, impunity in cases of civilian deaths at the hands of the security forces, sexual abuse and violence against prisoners as well as proposed new measures to restrict the freedom of civil society. Many of these issues were also raised in the separate EU statement delivered during the same debate.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has raised our concerns directly with his Egyptian counterpart Mr. Shoukry, stressing the importance that we attach to upholding basic rights like freedom of expression and the rights of a free press. He also set out in numerous statements the Government's strong concerns in respect of the case of Ibrahim Halawa, including on Monday, 27 April 2015. There have been calls for me to intervene in this case directly. I keep in very close contact with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, about the matter and am very conscious of the need not to escalate this in the wrong way. People have referred to the interventions of the Australian and Canadian Prime Ministers leading to the release of their citizens but we must be very careful about making comparisons with other cases which are based on very different facts. Irrespective of any action taken by the Australian Prime Minister or the Canadian Government, none of the al-Jazeera journalists was released while their cases were still pending before the Egyptian courts. They had all been sentenced before their release.
References have been made to moving Ibrahim Halawa from the current area of the prison in which he is being kept. Ensuring Ibrahim Halawa's welfare while in detention is clearly an issue of concern to us here. The Irish embassy in Cairo is in very regular contact with the Egyptian authorities and as I said already, there have been 37 visits to Ibrahim. At a recent meeting between the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and Mr. Shoukry the latter emphasised that the matter was currently before the Egyptian courts. He said that he is conscious of the Irish Government's concerns over Ibrahim Halawa's welfare and the conditions of his ongoing detention and undertook to pursue directly the Irish Government's concerns with the appropriate Egyptian authorities. Both Ministers agreed that this should continue.
In respect of Mr. Halawa's bail application, all bail applications were refused and a decision was taken that all defendants would remain in custody until the end of the trial. It is important for the House to know that according to information recently received by the embassy from Ibrahim Halawa's legal team, not all of the defendants are facing identical charges as was originally believed to be the case and which was a key cause of concern. It now appears that there are different charges against different defendants within the group trial and that Ibrahim Halawa is one of a relatively large group of defendants facing more preliminary charges related to events at the al-Fatah mosque, namely, presence inside the mosque at the time of arrest; refusal to leave the mosque when requested to do so and when offered safe passage by military police; travelling from a different part of the city with the intention of getting involved in a protest; and assisting in locking and barricading the mosque from the inside, according to photograph and video evidence. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister are seeking clarification of the exact charges against Ibrahim and examining what this change may mean. In the meantime, and on the face of it, the new information would seem to be a somewhat positive development. This is being very carefully monitored by the Minister.
I will now respond to Deputy Martin's final comments about direct recapitalisation.
Deputy Martin makes the point that one gets the sense of this being a major breakthrough. I was at the meeting until 5 a.m. and eventually there was no objection to the decision taken by the European Council with Ireland named specifically in there. That decision still stands and that option still remains open for the Government to pursue.
Why did the Taoiseach not take it so?
Why did the Taoiseach not take it?
It does not stand because the Taoiseach is not taking it. The Taoiseach has not even asked.
Deputy Martin is now advising me to do as his Government did. That Government sank €34 billion into Anglo Irish Bank which is dead money - flushed down the tubes and gone.
By the way, the Taoiseach supported it when he was here.
Deputy Martin was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and he refused to stay in that Government because he knew it was imploding. He could not stick the heat and he walked out. That is his conviction; that is his belief; that is what he did-----
Would the Taoiseach answer the question I put to him?
-----and good luck to him.
Why is the Taoiseach getting so upset?
As far as I am concerned-----
This was the fair of Glin as the Minister, Deputy Noonan, said.
-----the Government still has the option of following through on direct recapitalisation. The second option which Deputy Martin says-----
He said one should never show one's hand.
Well, it was always open to sell the banks, but at what value? Nobody would invest in our banks-----
The Taoiseach wanted to sell them in 2012.
-----when they were worthless. The Deputy says to me now that the option was always open to sell them-----
The Government has not sold them yet.
They were basket cases until they were recapitalised and restructured.
The Taoiseach said he would not give them another cent.
Now they are beginning to return to profitability and they are worth much more to the taxpayer than they were at that time.
Not another red cent.
Not another red cent. The Taoiseach is blustering. There is no substance behind what he is saying.
What we have got to do-----
There is no truth behind what he is saying.
The Taoiseach to conclude.
-----is to get away from the cheapest-----
It is political bluster all along the way.
-----bailout in history and make the decision that will be in the best interests of our taxpayers and that is what the Government will do. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, is very confident that we will get back all that was invested and more.
The Deputy should believe me that I am not here to look for any credit for calling up Mr. Jean Claude Trichet. I met the man many times at European Council meetings. I rang Mr. Mario Draghi and told him there is a banking inquiry here in Ireland, a formal operation. He said that their legal position was that they had to respond to the European Parliament. He had Mr. Trichet call me. He was very forthcoming in wanting to assist but could not do it as part of a formal engagement. Obviously the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis made its direct contact and put together an opportunity for members of the committee to ask the very same questions they would ask in a sworn inquiry.
The Deputy should believe me that I do not look for any credit in this at all.
He did earlier.
I merely made a call that Mr. Trichet would appear and I am glad that he did so.
He did not appear before the inquiry.