Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the undocumented Irish at his meetings in the United States of America; and, if so, the response he received. [13892/19]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

2. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meeting he had with the Vice President of the United States of America, Mr. Mike Pence; the issues that were discussed; and if they included climate change. [13894/19]

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Joan Burton

Question:

3. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his St. Patrick's Day visit to the United States of America. [13946/19]

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Brendan Howlin

Question:

4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the United States of America and his meeting with President Donald Trump and representatives of Congress; and the other meetings he held. [13954/19]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

5. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he discussed climate change with President Trump when they met in the United States of America. [14015/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States of America. [15013/19]

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Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together. I travelled to the United States last month for the annual St. Patrick's Day visit to Washington DC, following which I also visited Chicago. In Washington D.C. I had a series of political discussions and meetings, including with President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressmen Richie Neal and Peter King.

In each meeting, we discussed the Ireland-US bilateral relationship, including the importance of the two-way economic relationship between us, and the relationship between the USA and the EU. I explained the Government's position on Brexit and the importance of ensuring there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland. As ever, there was clear and unambiguous backing, both within the Administration and across Congress, for the Northern Ireland peace process and the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. I highlighted the continuing problems facing the undocumented in the USA and called for a speedy resolution of this issue, acknowledging the issue affects people from countries other than Ireland also. I also expressed the Government's appreciation for the strong backing last year, both from the Administration and across the aisles in Congress, for the E-3 Bill, which we hope will be reintroduced shortly. I did not have an opportunity for detailed discussion of climate change issues during this visit.

My programme in Washington DC also included a number of engagements with an economic focus, including events hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and Tourism Ireland. At these events, I met people from Irish-owned companies which, in total, employ more than 100,000 workers in the USA. I also met a number of US companies with significant investments in Ireland. I attended a number of other St. Patrick's Day events, including the White House reception, a breakfast hosted by Vice President Pence, receptions hosted by the Irish ambassador and a dinner hosted by The Ireland Funds. In Chicago, I had a meeting with a number of emigrant support groups that receive Irish Government funding and had the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's commitment to finding a resolution on the status of the undocumented. I also met with political leaders, including the Governor of Illinois, Jay Pritzker, and the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, and we discussed bilateral relations and topical issues, including Brexit. I also met Chicago's incoming mayor, Ms Lori Lightfoot. I attended Chicago's annual St. Patrick's Day events, including a dinner hosted by the Irish Fellowship Club. I read at mass in Old St. Patrick's Church and attended the Chicago parade. Finally, I launched Tourism Ireland's new publication marking the tenth anniversary of the Global Greening initiative on the Chicago river.

The visit was an invaluable opportunity to promote Ireland's interests with the US system and political, business and community leaders and to deepen the political, economic and cultural links between Ireland and the United States of America.

The decision of President Trump to withdraw the USA unilaterally from the Paris Agreement has been immensely damaging to the climate change agenda worldwide. Added to this, the obsessive attempt of President Trump's Administration to promote fossil fuels above cleaner and sustainable alternatives means the USA, at least at federal level, is not only opting out of the agreement, but actively trying undermine its objectives and prevent it achieving its goals. Did the Taoiseach raise this issue in any of his discussions with the President and Vice President or any member of Congress?

As appears now to be the custom, the White House announced a presidential visit to Ireland before our own Government did. While the Taoiseach has an uncanny ability to announce Prime Minister May's activities, it appears President Trump fulfils this role for him. Can the Taoiseach explain what has actually been agreed? Did the Taoiseach issue an invitation to President Trump to visit Ireland, when is the visit due to take place and when does the Taoiseach propose to make the basic detail available, as is customary?

At a moment when two of the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement are suspended and the third is dysfunctional, does the Taoiseach think the cause of peace and reconciliation is served by senior Irish politicians reverting to old practices and marching behind simplistic banners bearing quotes such as "England get out of Ireland" or, indeed, by attacks on anyone who questions this? A new Ireland, as envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement, is accepted to be underpinned by three sets of relationships, namely, the British-Irish relationship, the North-South relationship and the relationship between the two traditions on this island. In any future evolution of that agreement, those three sets of relationship have to be centre stage. Does the Taoiseach agree with that proposition?

Since Donald Trump became President of the USA, the US Agency International Development has reverted to a Republican position of boycotting all programmes in developing countries which involve support for women's health issues, in particular access to contraception and medical services specifically for women. Successive Irish Administrations have raised this with the US Administration. Did the Taoiseach do so?

Did the Taoiseach raise also the ongoing situation between Israel and Palestine? Did he raise, in particular, the enormous suffering in Palestine and in Palestinian areas of Israel? The Taoiseach's predecessors have acted through the decades as peace brokers to try to reach a peaceful settlement. Did the Taoiseach raise the issue specifically with President Trump? If so, what advice did he give the President and what information did he provide on the position of the Republic of Ireland on peace between Israel and Palestine?

On the same issue, the people of Israel went to the polls last week and the incumbent, Mr. Netanyahu, was again elected as Prime Minister of Israel. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu are close friends and allies. In fact, President Trump called Prime Minister Netanyahu a great ally and friend and said there was a much greater chance of peace if he was elected. Did the Taoiseach discuss the long-expected peace proposals and Middle East plan from the American Administration? The Taoiseach's own programme for Government commits to recognising Palestine as part of a two-state solution and, last year, the Tánaiste indicated that Ireland would recognise Palestine if the peace process continued to fail. What point are we at now in that regard? Does the Taoiseach expect, having had these discussions with the American Administration at various levels, that there will be a peace initiative? What stage is that at and what are the criteria the Taoiseach would use to determine whether the process was making progress or whether we should recognise the state of Palestine?

I refer to the undocumented. I have raised with the Taoiseach that it would greatly strengthen Ireland's moral stand on the undocumented in the United States of America if we regularised the undocumented here. Is there any prospect of that happening?

It is very welcome that a congressional delegation led by Speaker Pelosi will visit Ireland for a two-day tour. I note Speaker Pelosi's remarks setting out clearly that there will be no trade arrangement with Britain in the event that the Good Friday Agreement is in any way damaged or undermined. That is most welcome. I note that members of the Committee on Ways and Means of the US House of Representatives will form part of the congressional delegation and that Congressman Richie Neal will also be in Ireland. Those are all very positive things. I acknowledge the role of the United States of America in so many facets of Irish life, in keeping faith with Ireland and in being an innovator in the peace process by internationalising the issue of Ireland. Irish Americans across the board have been most effective and, indeed, some on the delegation that will visit Ireland were instrumental in those events. Did the Taoiseach raise with President Trump the issues of Palestine, the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the other interventions by President Trump?

What is happening in Palestine is profoundly worrying. It is incumbent on us to raise these issues. Did they form the basis of any of the Taoiseach's conversations?

I wish to mention the 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens in the US. They live in a state of fear and worry. This is a complex issue and does not concern just the Irish, but we need to find an arrangement for them. Will the Taoiseach expand on this matter?

The list of threats that Donald Trump poses to the world is too long to go through, but I will ask about two. Trump's sabotage of the Paris climate change agreement is an open declaration that he does not care about the existential threat to humanity and life on the planet that is facing our children and grandchildren. In the aftermath of the school students' climate change strike and their call for radical and urgent action to save their future, did the Taoiseach raise this issue? More importantly, does he believe it to be appropriate in that context to invite a climate saboteur like Donald Trump to this country? Will the latter not inevitably be met with fury from those young people and many more who are concerned about the climate?

I also wish to mention the issue of Palestine. Donald Trump has endorsed and legitimised the effective illegal annexation of East Jerusalem by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which is a breach of international law, the annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, and the ongoing administrative detention and subjection to military law of hundreds of children, which I discussed last week. Does the Taoiseach really believe that someone who poses this kind of threat to peace in the Middle East and the wider world should be welcomed to this country by him?

In relation to climate change, as Deputies will be aware, the US Federal Government has decided to withdraw from the Paris accords but has not actually withdrawn yet. There are a number of years that it has to wait before it can withdraw, and it may not actually withdraw until after the next US presidential elections. The US has to give notice and the withdrawal only applies-----

It has withdrawn in spirit.

-----in 2021 or 2022, but it has withdrawn in spirit, as Deputy Martin rightly says. Notwithstanding that, many states and many cities in the United States are continuing to take climate action, and have taken the view that not only is this the right thing to do in terms of preventing climate chaos, but they also think it makes sense in terms of long-term economic policies, with future jobs being in the green sector, not in importing fossil fuels. It is very possible that the United States will meet its 2020 targets while it is very unlikely that we will. I think that, when we are critical of the United States and the US Administration's attitude to climate change, we should bear that in mind. The best thing that we can do is to catch up and to meet our targets in 2030 at the very least. Then we will be in a stronger position to give an example and speak to other countries.

In terms of a visit, there is a standing invitation to the President and Vice President of the United States to visit Ireland. As of today, there is no date agreed and no programme discussed, but as Deputy Martin correctly pointed out, President Trump can be somewhat unconventional in his communication methods and may well inform us by electronic means of his imminent arrival, but that has not happened so far.

He is as good a tweeter as the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.

We did not have an opportunity to discuss Palestine or Israel on this occasion, but we did last time, specifically in relation to the status of Jerusalem. The Tánaiste, however, is very engaged on this issue. Deputy Boyd Barrett will know that, a few months ago, he organised a retreat in Farmleigh, which was attended by Arab foreign Ministers and EU foreign Ministers. I think he has been engaged with Jared Kushner as well on the long-awaited US peace initiative on the Middle East peace process.

He will be waiting a long time for that with Jared Kushner.

We very much welcome exploratory US efforts to relaunch a process to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. We will be interested to see the proposals when they emerge. We have had no sight of them. We have already said to the US that any proposal must meet the needs of both peoples and not be one-sided. We have also urged President Abbas and the PLO to keep an open mind on these proposals. Of course, recent US actions, such as cuts to UNRWA funding, the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and its recent statement recognising the annexation of the Golan Heights, are all damaging to the prospects for peace in our view and are not actions that are conducive to laying the ground for a successful peace initiative.