Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)

Micheál Martin


5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump, when they met at Shannon Airport. [23897/19]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with President Trump. [23992/19]

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Brendan Howlin


7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. [24099/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald


8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if will report on his recent meeting with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. [24206/19]

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Micheál Martin


9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if a company (details supplied) was discussed when he met President Trump at Shannon Airport; and if security issues were raised. [24297/19]

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Michael Moynihan


10. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he discussed climate change with President Trump when they met at Shannon Airport. [24323/19]

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Eamon Ryan


11. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with President Trump. [24326/19]

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Joan Burton


12. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump; and if he discussed the recent inclusion of Ireland on the US economic watch list. [25166/19]

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Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 12, inclusive, together.

On Wednesday, 5 June, I was pleased to welcome to Ireland the US President, Mr. Donald Trump, and the US First Lady. The US President and I had a substantive bilateral meeting. It was an important opportunity to enhance further the bilateral relationship between Ireland and the United States - a relationship that is important for political reasons, as well as for the welfare of many thousands of Irish citizens living in the US, for Americans of Irish descent, for Irish businesses in the US and for the hundreds of US firms investing in Ireland and sustaining jobs here. Our discussion focused on US-Ireland bilateral relations, including our economic ties; Brexit, in particular the importance of avoiding a hard border and the potential consequences for Northern Ireland; and visa and immigration issues, including the undocumented Irish in the United States.

President Trump was very positive in his assessment of US-Ireland relations. We discussed the strong performance of our respective economies and the growing two-way trading and investment relationship between the US and Ireland. I highlighted that approximately 100,000 people are employed in the US by Irish-owned companies and that client companies of Enterprise Ireland have opened 120 new offices in the US since President Trump took office. The US President remarked that Ireland is an excellent location for the overseas operations of US multinationals. We briefly discussed the US-Ireland trade balance and the fact that the US trade deficit in goods with Ireland is broadly offset by its surplus in services. He and his officials fully understand that the data on Ireland reflect the strong contribution of US multinationals to Ireland’s economy.

The US President was interested in Ireland’s perspective on Brexit and I explained our continued focus on ensuring there will be no return to a hard border on the island. He expressed his hope that Brexit will be ultimately resolved in a way that works for all sides but recognised the importance of avoiding any return to a hard border. The US President reiterated his backing for an E3 visa Bill to allow Irish citizens access to the US. I outlined the Government’s concern about the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US and we agreed Irish officials would continue to work with their US counterparts to explore resolutions to the issue.

While we did not have detailed discussions on climate change, I told the President of my intention to attend the UN climate action summit in New York. We did not discuss 5G security issues, other than some brief remarks to the media preceding the bilateral meeting. While the President and I were meeting, the US First Lady was hosted by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, at a cultural performance by local artists. The visit by the US President and First Lady, and my meeting with the US President and his team, including Mr. Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Mick Mulvaney and Mr. John Bolton, represented another valuable opportunity to deepen one of Ireland’s most important bilateral relationships.

There has been some controversy about a claim that Ireland is among a list of countries that have spent money on properties owned by President Trump, although this has been denied to the media. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Government has spent no money on facilities owned by President Trump, in either Doonbeg or Washington DC?

On policy, unfortunately, President Trump has adopted quite an aggressive approach to the European Union and the historic transatlantic relationship between Europe and the United States. His ambassadors have actively engaged in anti-EU activism in a number of countries, while he has not only supported Brexit but said other countries should follow the United Kingdom's lead. It is a position close to President Putin's on these matters.

While we accept there are limitations to what the leader of the Government can be expected to do at such a short meeting and the Taoiseach's discomfort was clear when the US President stated the Border should be reinforced, was there any pushback from the Taoiseach at the anti-EU and pro-Brexit line from the US and, in particular, its President? Did the Taoiseach take the opportunity to explain why Ireland is such a strong supporter of the EU and why Brexit is a lose-lose situation for everyone? Did he raise with the US President our concern about the United States' decision not only to reject the climate change consensus but to increase carbon dependency? Did they have a substantive discussion on climate change?

On the long list of threats that President Trump's agenda represents to the world, near or at the top is his climate sabotage, that is, his determination to derail global efforts to deal with the climate emergency. I am disappointed, to put it mildly, that the Taoiseach made only a cursory reference to that. In recent days, the Government has made great play of its concern and determination to act on the climate emergency but for the world's greatest climate saboteur, we not only invite him and roll out the red carpet but do not challenge his climate-wrecking agenda. Is that because the Government is ultimately not so concerned about the matter?

Most notably, the Government continues to set its face against People Before Profit's climate emergency measures Bill, which seeks to give expression in law to the central demand of the global climate movement, namely, to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Like President Trump, the Government does not wish to upset the global fossil fuel industry and, therefore, it uses the trickery of money messages to underpin its determination to frustrate efforts to keep fossil fuels in the ground. It does this despite knowing, as does everybody else, including scientists, that the precondition for addressing the climate emergency is to keep 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground, rather than providing opportunities to explore for and extract even more fossil fuels, as the Government seems determined to do.

I do not know whether diplomats in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were deployed to draft the Taoiseach's reply. Anybody listening to President Trump, as I was, would have been completely taken aback at the total lack of knowledge displayed at his meeting with the Taoiseach at Shannon Airport. His comments about a hard Brexit and its impact on the Border were shockingly ignorant. The Taoiseach met President Trump previously this year. Has the latter not been comprehensively briefed on the impact on the island of Ireland of a hard Brexit and on the decades of investment in our peace process? Did the Taoiseach outline that to him after he made those amazing comments?

When President Trump said Brexit would be very, very good for Ireland, did the Taoiseach correct him? I understand he was accompanied by his Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Treasury. Were they briefed on the economic impact of Brexit on Ireland? Obviously, they are not allowed to demur from the ex cathedra statements of the President in his company. However, away from the President, did they privately display to the Taoiseach any understanding of the impact of a hard Brexit and what it would mean for our economy and the peace process?

The issues relating to President Trump range from Brexit, his attitude towards it and his ignorance of its possible impact on Ireland to climate change and other matters. The issue I want to raise with the Taoiseach is President Trump's continued support for Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. It might be of interest to note that the Israeli Prime Minister only last Sunday unveiled a new settlement in the Golan Heights named after the US President and called Trump Heights. This is a reflection of what Israel feels it can do with the support of the US against the people of Palestine in flagrant defiance of international law. In response to the construction of settlements in the West Bank, the international community, including, unfortunately, Ireland, has failed to hold Israel to account. This new set of settlements in the Golan Heights, where the Irish Defence Forces have served with distinction for many years, could lead to more tension and could risk escalating the situation in that area, which is very dangerous for Ireland. The time to act is now. Clearly, we need to express our concern to the US Government and President Trump about the Israeli actions in the West Bank. The Taoiseach needs to come out very clearly and tell President Trump and his people that their actions in respect of the Palestinian people are totally wrong and fly in the face of the prospect of building peace in the area. As part of an international stand for peace and progress in the Middle East, it is time for Ireland to formally recognise the state of Palestine, ensure that we pass the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 and condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the illegal actions of Israel in respect of this matter.

When we are dealing with President Trump, we clearly have to be very explicit as to where we stand because he does not listen to the subtleties or recognise the dropping a hint. He is a person with whom one must be very direct. In that regard, I would be interested to know if the Taoiseach raised the issue of Israel and the Palestinian people and whether he was direct in that regard.

A notice was recently posted to the effect that Ireland had been placed on a watch-list in the context of its trade with the US. The report points out that Ireland had a good proportion of the overall trade surplus of $47 billion with the US last year and a current account balance of payments surplus of 9.2%. In the world of Trump economics, these are seen as evidence of unfair practices on our part. On the face of it, placing us on a watch-list for countries manipulating their currencies is really odd. Did the Taoiseach raise this matter with the President? In the world of Trumpism and in light of the forthcoming election, this has the potential to give rise to a conflict between Ireland and the United States, one which the latter will have initiated. Just as we are all fearful of war with Iran, we would be quite fearful of an aggressive stance on the part of the US which is totally out of character with that adopted by all other recent Presidents in respect of Ireland.

Trump famously said at his meeting with the Taoiseach, if he was quoted correctly: "'It'll all work out with your wall, your border." Where is our wall? I think we all know where the Border is and what we want. Did the Taoiseach just regard that as a passing comment or did he take it on and state that while we have stone walls, which President Trump may have seen in County Clare, we certainly do not have a walled border, nor do any of us intend that something like that would ever be built. Did the Taoiseach have enough time to perhaps contend the matter of this space or this wall with him?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. Some of the questions are really questions for President Trump rather than me. I will do my best to answer the questions that I can answer and perhaps a mechanism can be found to pass on the other questions to President Trump through the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.

The Taoiseach can tweet them.

Perhaps we can do it when the new ambassador arrives.

He is arriving next month. I am glad that position has now been ratified by the US Senate and that the new ambassador will arrive in advance of 4 July.

To answer the questions from Deputy Micheál Martin, I am not aware of any Government spending at properties owned by Donald Trump or the Trump organisation, either in Ireland or the US.

I have met President Trump three times now, so I think I have the measure of him, perhaps a little bit more than those who have not.

We can see that the Taoiseach is having a great effect on him.

I have explained on a number of occasions why EU membership is good for Ireland and why Brexit is bad for the UK, bad for Ireland and bad for the EU. I have also explained the peace process and a hard border, what that would mean and why we are doing all we can to avoid it.

The issue of climate change was raised but his focus was more on air quality. He was keen to point out that, at least in his assessment, air quality in the US had improved since he became President.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's legislation, I have explained on a number of occasions why we do not think it is a good idea. It is not about trickery. It will not assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions per se and could undermine our energy security by requiring us to import more in the future. As many people do, including most climate scientists, we see natural gas as being a transitional fuel. As we move off coal and oil, we will use gas, which produces probably half the emissions. For decades to come we will still use gas as part of our power mix and businesses, farms and homes will use natural gas too. Therefore, if we are going to use it, we think it makes more sense to use ours than to import it from Russia or the Middle East or to import shale gas from America. That obviously does not make sense economically or in terms of energy security and actually comes with an environmental risk because shale gas is much dirtier than the natural gas that would come from under our seas. There is also the risk of leakages along the way.

As I stated yesterday, what the Government supports and will drive forward is what we refer to as sensible climate action - measures that make our air cleaner, actions that make our homes warmer, actions that improve our quality of life by, for example, reducing commuting times and, above all, actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is what this is all about. What we will not support are climate actions that increase poverty or make people poorer, that take away people's jobs without offering alternatives, make us less secure or do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all.

I did not have any private discussion with any member of President Trump's delegation, other than to exchange pleasantries. The time and opportunity was not there to have any one-to-one conversation with any of his delegation. On this occasion, I did not have the opportunity to raise the issues of Israel and Palestine but we have done that at previous meetings.

On the trade surplus, we discussed that both with President Trump and with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. When it comes to assessing the issue of trade distortions and trade surpluses, President Trump focuses on merchandise rather than services. He counts the merchandise surplus but does not have regard to the services. That is very much how he sees things: in terms of physical goods, not services. We had a disagreement on that, as Deputies can imagine. I pointed out that, in a modern economy, it is more about services than merchandise and that the US has a significant services surplus over us which more than balances out the merchandise surplus that we have over it. I also pointed out that many of these measurements are distorted by the fact that there are such large US companies with operations here.