Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Micheál Martin


1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with US Vice President, Mike Pence; and if the ramifications of a hard Brexit on the island of Ireland were discussed. [37405/19]

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Michael Moynihan


2. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if the matter of the undocumented Irish was discussed with US Vice President, Mike Pence, when they met recently. [37412/19]

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Brendan Howlin


3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the US Vice President, Mike Pence. [37445/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald


4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his contact and engagements with the US Vice President, Mr. Mike Pence, during his recent visit here. [37286/19]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the US Vice President, Mr. Mike Pence. [37384/19]

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Eamon Ryan


6. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the US Vice President, Mr. Mike Pence. [38501/19]

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Joan Burton


7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the US Vice President. [39682/19]

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Oral answers (28 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

On Tuesday, 3 September, I met the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, at Farmleigh House. He was on an official visit to Ireland, marking the latest in a series of high-level visits this year by the most senior figures in US politics, including President Trump and the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Preceding our meeting, I was pleased to host the Vice President, the Second Lady, his mother and sister for lunch.

The Vice President and I, accompanied by officials, then held a bilateral meeting at which we discussed a range of issues of mutual interest, including US-Ireland bilateral relations, economic relations, Brexit and Northern Ireland. We also discussed international trade, including the prospects for an EU-US trade agreement.

Our discussion on economic relations focused on the two-way trading relationship between the US and Ireland. We welcomed the fact that trade between the US and Ireland is valued at in excess of €2 billion per week, with over 100,000 American workers employed by Irish-owned firms right across the United States, and 150,000 workers employed in Ireland by US-owned firms. We also discussed international trade issues and agreed that an EU-US trade agreement would provide a significant boost to the transatlantic economy.

We discussed Northern Ireland and Brexit. I explained Ireland’s position and interests regarding the negotiations, as well as the likely adverse impact on the Irish economy on both sides of the Border which would stem from a disorderly withdrawal by the UK. I recalled the pivotal role that successive US Administrations have played in bringing peace to the North.

The Vice President set out the US Administration’s established position, emphasising that it continues to back and defend the Good Friday Agreement, while at the same time backing the UK Government in its wish to leave the EU. He emphasised that the US Administration fully appreciates the importance of the Good Friday Agreement. He indicated the US will continue to urge the UK to ensure it is respected and taken into account in any agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This is a welcome and important statement from the US Administration.

We did not discuss immigration issues in great detail on this occasion. The Vice President is already keenly aware of Ireland’s perspective on immigration issues, including our particular concerns about our undocumented citizens. I have had detailed discussions with the Vice President and with the US President, Donald Trump, on this matter previously. They are also both supportive of an E3 visa Bill which will expand eligibility to include Irish citizens. The US Administration has been helpful in garnering support for the Bill in the US Congress.

This visit by the Vice President and his family represented another valuable opportunity to deepen one of Ireland's most important bilateral relationships. It is incumbent on us to ensure we never take the US-Ireland bilateral relationship for granted. We will continue to have a deep and comprehensive bilateral dialogue with the US at both a political and an official level.

I had the opportunity to again meet with Vice President Pence last week on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

Given the number of questioners, I ask Members to stick to the time allowed.

The US Vice President’s comments concerning Brexit were frankly inappropriate, given that US diplomats would have informed him in advance of the position of the Irish people on this matter. I note a worrying trend with the US Administration’s anti-European Union stance. It is striking how the US Vice President’s support for Brexit is like that of regimes trying to undermine the European Union. On this and many other areas, the current approach of the Washington Administration only serves to prove how much the world loses when the United States turns inwards.

One issue which has caused justified public concern about the visit is that the report that the Government spent an incredible €100,000 at the Trump hotel in Doonbeg during the visit. Will the Taoiseach clarify that? It sounds like an incredible sum of money. If it is the case, it would put us on a depressingly long list of countries which have spent large amounts in facilities owned by the US President. Will the Taoiseach clarify if this amount or anything close to it was spent on this visit? Does he think it is appropriate?

During the US Vice President’s visit, it was announced by the Prime Minister of Israel that he intended to annex large portions of the West Bank if he succeeded forming a new right-wing government in Israel. It was clearly implied in reports that he expects to receive support for this from the Trump Administration.

Thank you, Deputy. I call Deputy Howlin.

Did the Taoiseach convey to Mr. Pence Ireland’s opposition to Israeli annexations and our belief that Washington needs to stop enabling Netanyahu taking more extreme positions?

In his reply today and in his commentary in the immediate aftermath of the Pence visit, the Taoiseach used what can only be described as diplomatic camouflage to respond to what were an unhelpful series of comments. The current hostility of the US Administration to the European project and to the European Union itself, along with its support for the hardest of hard-line approaches to the withdrawal agreement, are profoundly unhelpful. They are certainly not in keeping with the traditional view of a series of US Administrations of both Republican and Democratic Party hue. Maybe we need to burst through the diplomatic camouflage and make clear Ireland’s interests in these matters.

We were told by the Garda Commissioner that the cost of the security element of the visit is of the order of €15 million to €18 million. We understand this will not be met by supplementary allocation, as is the norm, but is expected to be met from the current Garda budget. This will put pressure on Garda overtime and activities for the rest of the year. Why is there a move away from the norm of a supplementary allocation for this security requirement of An Garda Síochána which could not be budgeted for when the Estimates were presented earlier in the year?

Last week, Tom Suozzi, a Democratic Representative, and Peter King, a Republican Representative, introduced a resolution to the US Congress which supports the avoidance of a hard border and protection for the Good Friday Agreement in the Brexit process. It insists that any new or amended trade agreements and other bilateral agreements between the governments of the United States and Britain include conditions requiring obligations under the Good Friday Agreement be met.

This is not the first time that US politicians have taken an active and responsible role in protecting the peace and economic stability of our island. Senior Democrats, including House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the head of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Richie Neal, have been unequivocal in their expectations of the British Prime Minister. Representative Neal has bluntly reminded Boris Johnson that Brexit is not about a return to empire and has accused his administration of collective amnesia regarding the success of the Good Friday Agreement. He also acknowledged that not many foreign policy initiatives have worked as well as the agreement.

We welcome the positive role US politicians are playing in seeking to protect the peace and people of this island. Boris Johnson should be taking heed of their words and actions. The ways and means committee is responsible for any future trade deal between Britain and the US. It is clear from this latest revelation that American legislators will not stand for any undermining of the Good Friday Agreement and the rights of citizens.

I am sure the House would like to formally recognise and commend US Congressmen for advancing this latest resolution supporting our country, the Good Friday Agreement and the people of island.

My understanding is that US Vice President Pence thanked the Irish Government for the ongoing use of Shannon Airport by US army facilities in the movement of troops. The US Administration seems increasingly hostile to the European Union and, through Vice President Pence’s comments during his visit, it is clearly siding with a hard Brexit UK Government position. During his address to the UN, the US President, Donald Trump, spoke about those who have a global outlook and those who are nationalist in their outlook, which his Administration is. At what point do we reconsider the use of Shannon Airport?

Will the Taoiseach arrange to send an update to me about what the checking arrangements for those military flights coming into Shannon Airport are in terms of what is carried or what they are used for?

When do we end up taking sides against the nationalist approach the US Government is currently taking?

Recently, I was incredibly surprised to meet a group of five gardaí on the main road of the Phoenix Park.

I had forgotten about the Pence visit. It is unfair to the Garda to effectively take a significant number of millions of euro out of its budget and not provide a Supplementary Estimate for the cost of visits, such as those of US Vice President Pence and of President Trump. I also saw in the newspapers recently that €107,000 was charged by the Trump hotel for Garda food, and presumably a cup of tea, in the context of the visit. When communities are being stripped of the presence of community gardaí, how can the Taoiseach justify not reimbursing, through a Supplementary Estimate, the cost of the visits by the US Vice President and by the US President? These are important and are significant. Nobody disagrees with that. They should get an appropriate welcome. Nonetheless, the Taoiseach really got a sucker punch when, in the context of all the work done, in particular by Irish American politicians, to support the island of Ireland in relation to Brexit, the US Vice President put up his hand and said he is backing the British Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, the British and Brexit all the way.

The time is up.

Maybe sangfroid is something the Taoiseach possesses but it was a humbling moment, both for him and for the people of Ireland-----

The time is up.

-----that they would walk away from supporting a fair resolution of the impasse with the UK on Brexit.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. As I stated in Wexford a few weeks ago, I felt the US Vice President's comments on Brexit, made while in Ireland, were unbalanced. He specifically called on the EU and Ireland to negotiate in good faith with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson. That should have been qualified by recognising that we had negotiated in good faith with the former British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, for two years and came to an agreement. It should have been qualified by a call on the UK Government to also negotiate in good faith with Ireland and the EU. I had the opportunity to speak to him briefly in New York last week and I said that to him. I said that I was disappointed with what he said in Farmleigh and I felt it was unbalanced. He acknowledged what I had to say and assured me that he had taken back to the White House the concerns that I had expressed to him in our meeting in Farmleigh about stability, in particular, in Northern Ireland.

In terms of any spending at the Trump resort in Doolin in County Clare, that would have been incurred by the Garda and to the best of my knowledge would relate to accommodation and subsistence. I do not have any details of that but I am sure that the Garda Síochána would be able to provide that for Deputies on request.

It seems the total security cost for the two high-profile visits this year by President Trump and Vice President Pence would be somewhere in the region of €15 million to €18 million. What was not mentioned by Deputies was that the Garda overtime budget allocated for this year is, in fact, the second highest Garda overtime budget allocated ever.

That was not known when it was allocated.

Within that, it is anticipated that there is one significant high-profile visit every year, whether it be President Trump this year, Pope Francis last year, etc.

Can I ask what the overtime was meant for?

What is different is that there were two high-profile visits this year and that was not anticipated. That has given rise to a request for a Supplementary Estimate, which we are not ruling out at this stage. That is a matter for later in the year.

As the Deputy will be aware, we are often criticised by others, such as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, and often such criticism is echoed in this House, for Supplementary Estimates and for incurring costs during the year but the truth is sometimes that happens. Throughout the course of the year, not only in health but in other areas, costs that were not predicted arise and one must make a decision as to whether one will have a Supplementary Estimate or try to find the money by making savings elsewhere in the budget.

The Government has had a Supplementary Estimate every year.

The Taoiseach is answering.

That is something we now need to work out between now and----

The Government has had a Supplementary Estimate every year.

A year has not passed in Irish financial history that the Government did not have Supplementary Estimates. If one did, I would like to know.

This year the Government seems to be taking a different tack for some reason.

What we are doing this year is we are listening to the advice and criticism of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and trying to minimise the number of Supplementary Estimates so that if there are Supplementary Estimates this year across different Departments, they will be a fraction of what they were last year. That is us listening to and taking the advice of IFAC, which I think we should.

Or will the Government kick real problems into next year?

The issue of Israel and Palestine was not discussed in our meeting. However, the Government will oppose and object to any attempts by Israel to annex the Jordan Valley or any other part of the West Bank which we would consider to be both wrong and contrary to international law.

On the issue of Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement, picking up on Deputy McDonald's remarks, we have been very much buoyed by the very strong solidarity that we have received from quite a large number of members of the US Congress, Senators and Representatives alike. I refer, of course, to the Speaker, Representative Pelosi, but also people like, Representative Richard Neal, Representative Brendan Boyle and others. We are grateful for that support and hope it will continue. We are keen that it should be done on a bipartisan basis as well as much as is possible.

Can we move on to Question No. 8?