Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Questions (9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 99)

Micheál Martin

Question:

9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on his commitment to double Ireland's global footprint. [25355/18]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his commitment to double Ireland's global footprint by 2025. [26447/18]

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Alan Farrell

Question:

11. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent launch of Global Ireland – Ireland's Global Footprint to 2025 with specific reference to the need to diversify export markets in the context of Brexit. [26543/18]

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Brendan Howlin

Question:

12. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his commitment to double Ireland's global footprint; and his plans for visits abroad to support same. [26545/18]

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Peter Burke

Question:

13. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the launch of Global Ireland - Ireland's Global Footprint to 2025 with reference to the need to strengthen and deepen Ireland’s international presence. [26548/18]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

14. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if there is an implementation plan or costing attached to the plan he launched on 11 June 2018 to double Ireland's global footprint. [26558/18]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

99. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the plan he launched on 11 June 2018 with regard to doubling the number of staff across the globe by 2025; if it has an implementation plan; and if it is costed. [26439/18]

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Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 14, inclusive, and 99 together. On Monday, 11 June I launched Global Ireland, the Government's strategy to double the scope and impact of Ireland's global footprint by 2025. This represents the most ambitious renewal and expansion of Ireland’s international presence ever undertaken.

Investing in our international presence in this way will enable Ireland to be more ambitious in advancing its strategic international objectives, promoting its values and exerting its influence, both within and beyond the European Union. Global Ireland 2025 sets ambitious targets to accelerate progress in diversifying and growing Ireland's exports, inward investment and tourism, particularly in response to the challenges posed by the UK's departure from the European Union.

Under the initiative we will expand and strengthen our diplomatic and enterprise agency presence across the European Union and its neighbourhood, as well as in the UK; strengthen our presence in the United States, including a new flagship Ireland House in Los Angeles, and increasing our presence elsewhere in the Americas, including Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean; expand our presence in the Asia-Pacific region, including a new flagship Ireland House in Tokyo; develop our relationship with Africa beyond our traditional focus on aid to building new multifaceted partnerships; strengthen our presence in the Middle East and Gulf region; deepen and widen our connections with our diaspora throughout the world; ensure that our distinctive culture and heritage reaches new generations and audiences across the world; enhance our digital footprint through a communications strategy to increase visibility, raise awareness and enhance Ireland's reputation; publish a White Paper on Irish Aid, reaffirming our commitment to delivering 0.7% of gross national income, GNI, to development assistance by 2030; and promote Ireland's values of peace, humanitarianism, equality and justice, including through our campaign for election to the UN Security Council, which the Tánaiste and I will launch at the United Nations in New York on Monday 2 July.

The rationale for and urgency in undertaking this initiative now is abundantly clear. Technology is transforming lives and driving change in every corner of the world. Geopolitical and economic power is shifting south and east. The global trading environment is turbulent, with challenges to the rules-based systems on which we as a country rely. Closer to home, the United Kingdom, our nearest neighbour and trading partner, is preparing to leave the European Union.

In addition, the challenges that the world faces, whether climate change, security, tax in the digital age or migration, demand multilateral responses. Global Ireland will equip Ireland to shape and influence these critical debates and to take full advantage of new opportunities.

Implementation of the plan is already under way and will be overseen by a Cabinet committee, supported by a senior officials group chaired by my Department. Priority actions each year will be identified with corresponding decisions about investment to be finalised in the annual estimates process.

A number of significant decisions have already been taken since the initiative was announced last year, including the establishment of new embassies in Chile, Colombia, Jordan, New Zealand, Ukraine, Liberia, Morocco and the Philippines and new consulates in Vancouver, Mumbai, Frankfurt, Cardiff and Los Angeles.

Being a citizen of the world in the 21st century requires a strong and effective international presence, both physically and virtually. Global Ireland sets out the building blocks for Ireland to achieve that. The initiative will, of course, inform the Government's approach to overseas visits and engagement. For example, while my visit to Madrid last week was primarily an opportunity to meet with the new Prime Minister, I also attended an event with the Spanish-Irish Business Network and met our agency staff who are working there on the ground and had an opportunity to give them our thanks for promoting trade, tourism, inward investment and education in Ireland.

We waited nearly a year for the Global Ireland document to be published but last week's document was more than a bit of a let-down. Fundamentally, there is no implementation plan and there are no costings in the plan.

I and my party have been calling for a significant expansion in our diplomatic, commercial and cultural footprint since well before the Brexit referendum. We have argued strongly that we do not have the personnel available to develop the scale and depth of relations which we need, particularly in the aftermath of Brexit. We do not have an issue with supporting the expansion as announced.

There are two major problems with the document launched last week. First, it is a stitching together of individual proposals from different Departments and agencies. There is no real clarity as to exactly what our strategy is for operating where we have representation and there is too much focus on headline projects which are welcome but secondary to how we use our presence in general. Second, and incredibly, there is no implementation plan setting annual targets and committing funding. I know the Taoiseach said he will budget for this but I find it strange that a year on we do not have an implementation plan or any costings. In the past two months the Taoiseach and his party have extensively briefed newspapers about a supposedly secret committee that is costing Opposition proposals.

The Taoiseach said he would have zero tolerance for uncosted promises. Of course, this misses the fact that many of the proposals the Taoiseach was criticising have also been made by Fine Gael Ministers and the Taoiseach himself. It is okay for the Taoiseach to make these promises uncosted but not for others to do so.

Why is there no specific year-by-year implementation plan or detailed costings for this plan? Without these there is no basis for assessing the credibility of the plans or the level of real commitment being made for the future by different Departments. Will the Taoiseach address this immediately and publish the costings behind the plan?

I welcome the eventual launch of the Global Ireland 2025 plan. It had been mooted in public on no less than two occasions by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. Fair play to them for getting a couple of bites at the cherry.

I agree with the Taoiseach, especially in light of Brexit, on the need to extend our reach for the purposes of investment, tourism, trade, links with our diaspora and valuable cultural exchanges. I support all of that. The Taoiseach referred to the opening of new missions and embassies. Of course, this had been announced previously. When will they become operational? The Taoiseach referred to other agencies like IDA Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. What additional supports and resources are planned for them?

I have a question on a similar matter. John Concannon headed up the strategic communications unit in the Department of the Taoiseach. I understand he is now working on the State's bid to secure a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-22. Will the Taoiseach confirm what that work entails?

As has been said, the publication of the report is welcome, as are the improvements in cultural and business opportunities the State will be afforded once the plan is implemented. There is a fair question, however, on when some of these proposals are to be implemented, especially in respect of the new missions announced. As the Taoiseach has pointed out, opportunities will present in terms of the State broadening its footprint in the coming years, especially in the event of Brexit, and there will be implications for certain sectoral employment firms in this State and their ability to branch out further afield.

I wish to inquire about Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Will their footprints be included in this as well? I appreciate that with missions and embassies come personnel. Are there any additional proposals for IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland offices? This is especially relevant in Asia where complementary services should be provided to the counties with which our trade has increased substantially in the past two or three years. I would welcome a comment from the Taoiseach on that point.

The Taoiseach listed several new locations for diplomatic missions to be opened. Are we preparing the additional staff now so that we will have a sufficient, robust, trained and experienced cohort to move into these missions? Some of these are small missions and would not have a cohort of mentoring staff available.

I note the proposal for Japan includes a new Ireland House that will cost €23 million. I was in Japan and I saw the two buildings we have currently in Tokyo. I know the price of building land there. In fact, if a building is devoted to a diplomatic purpose, the occupier gets a decrease. Is the concept of Ireland House to be a uniform concept now? Are we going to migrate to that concept everywhere?

The perception of Ireland is relevant for our footprint. Everywhere I go, including at international conferences I attend within my political group, I constantly have to address the issue of tax haven Ireland. Recent academic research and analysis from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Copenhagen suggest €100 billion in corporate profits were shifted into Ireland in 2015. The research estimates that Ireland is the biggest recipient of such corporate shifts, bigger than all the Caribbean islands together. These are real issues. I realise they have been rejected by the Department of Finance, but perception is very real and we need to formulate a robust answer to that charge.

The Taoiseach might recall that his predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, believed in one of the perceptions of Ireland derived from our peacekeeping role through our military. Certainly in my time in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform he was a champion of the replacement of the flagship of the Naval Service with a multi-purpose vessel that could have a hospital facility. He believed that move could project positivity for Ireland in conflict zones. The Taoiseach wears a dual hat as he is Minister for Defence as well. Is there any progress on that as part of the global positive footprint for Ireland?

I welcome expanding diplomatic trade and cultural links with countries around the world. Undoubtedly, that is a good thing to do in an increasingly globalised world, especially in a world where people like Donald Trump are trying to dig people back into nasty little nationalist trenches.

In tandem with those links, our reputation is important. I heard the discussion earlier about Trump and I welcome the criticisms of the barbaric treatment of young children being separated from their parents. Some 12,000 of these children are now encaged in the most horrific conditions. The Taoiseach did not answer Deputy Coppinger's question about whether he considers this as a line that has been crossed or action that goes too far. She asked whether the Taoiseach should withdraw the invitation of the Government to Donald Trump to come to this country if we want to improve our international reputation. Reference was made to our humanitarian reputation and our reputation for humanitarian values. Is it not time to make a firm statement that Donald Trump is not welcome in this country and will not be invited to put his footprint, to use that term, in this country while thousands of children are encaged in a most barbaric fashion, separated from their parents and criminalised for simply being migrants?

It does not appear in the document, as published, but Global Ireland 2025 is costed. I gave the figure at the launch event. The plan is costed at €300 million. That is not in one year. That is €300 million increasing incrementally every year until it reaches €300 million in 2027. The expenditure will not necessarily be exactly one eighth of the total every year, if that makes any sense. It will go up. The full cost by 2025 will be €300 million.

There are certainly targets although not annual targets. I will give three examples.

Is there an implementation plan?

There is a target to double our exports to the eurozone. There is a target to double the number of international students studying in Ireland. There is a specific target around tourism to treble the revenue coming from the new markets in the Gulf and Asia.

I do not think Deputies need to be concerned about implementation. This is something that I am going to drive. My Department and the Tánaiste will drive it as well. Let us consider what is happening. The plan lays out our intention to increase the number of embassies and consulates throughout the world by 26. All those I mentioned in my earlier reply will be done within the next two years. In fact, ambassadors have been appointed in some cases and are training up. They are ready to go and be deployed to some of these new locations. We look forward to seeing that happening.

Deputy Farrell asked about the agencies. They are very much at the centre of this. We are expanding our diplomatic presence in Frankfurt because it is the emerging economic capital of Germany. It makes sense for Ireland to have a much stronger presence there for IDA Ireland and for Enterprise Ireland. This is just one example of that. There is also the appointment of cultural attachés to some embassies and the appointment of Bord Bia staff to some agencies, especially in places where Ireland wants to increase its food exports.

There is also the Ireland House approach in Tokyo and Los Angeles, which is where the embassy is on one floor and the agencies on another floor. This is to try to integrate our entire presence in those countries. The Ireland House concept, which is a very good one, has to be considered on a case-by-case basis, which often depends very much on the country. The United States of America, for example, has its political capital in Washington DC but economic activity happens in places such as New York, Texas and Los Angeles, so it does not make any sense to have everything under one roof in the United States of America. This is similar to Australia, where the political capital is Canberra but the economic and business activity tends to happen in Sydney and Melbourne. It does make sense in a place such as Japan where Tokyo is the financial capital and the political capital.

John Concannon will be working on the UN Security Council campaign from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and his role will be to lead on the promotional and communication aspects of it, but not the political aspect, obviously, which will be handled by politicians and diplomats.

There is no recent progress to report on the multipurpose vessel, but Ireland is renewing its fleet. This is very much happening.

With regard to the invitation issued to President Trump, the invitation was issued by my forebear and the invitation stands. There is, however, no date for a visit and no preparations have been made for a visit.

So it is not a real visit.

As I have said before, I favour the politics of engagement rather than the politics of boycott or the politics of no platform. It is better to engage with people one disagrees with than to refuse to speak to them. If we are to get any outcome at all or any positive result, it is best done through engagement. We all have to talk to people all the time with whom we do not necessarily agree-----

It worked for Justin Trudeau.

Particularly in planning.

-----or with whom we radically disagree on occasion.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked about the decriminalisation of cannabis. Canada has voted to do that and it plans to do it by next September. I am aware that a number of US states have legalised cannabis, all the way down the west coast in places such as Oregon, Washington state and Colorado. The predictions from those who opposed the legalisation generally have not come true. It has been reasonably successful in the US states where it has been legalised. It has not been done in any European country yet, except for some special arrangements around coffee shops in Amsterdam. I have no doubt it is an issue we will consider. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has appointed a group, which is now sitting, to examine more broadly the issues around the decriminalisation of cannabis. The group has asked for public submissions and I will be interested to see what recommendations this group comes up with.

Medicinal cannabis is now available in Ireland on licence. The Minister for Health has issued seven-day licences. He has not refused a single licence when that application has been made with a prescription from a specialist. It is our intention to expand the medicinal cannabis access programme, based on prescriptions from medical specialists who are willing to take the risk of prescribing it as a medicine and who will monitor the patient. This aspect is very important because if cannabis is to be treated as a medicine, we must make sure it has the same standards as a medicine with regard to production, supply and monitoring.

It should include GPs.

This is being worked on by the Minister for Health. The Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 was rejected at the Joint Committee on Health which decided the proposed legislation was not fit for purpose and should not go forward. Amendments have been promised, but the last time I checked with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, the amendments that had been promised from the author of the Bill had not succeeded. It should be borne in mind that among the major problems with that legislation is the fact it goes much further by proposing the amendment, in effect, of the Misuse of Drugs Act. It does not establish cannabis as a medicine to be regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority like any other medicine. The Bill proposes to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act and may have the effect of legalisation. It also proposes to create two new Government agencies, one an institute for cannabis and the other a regulatory body. If cannabis is to be a medicine, surely it should be regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority like any other medicine.