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Cabinet Committees

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 27 April 2022

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Questions (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Mary Lou McDonald


6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [17583/22]

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Ivana Bacik


7. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [17879/22]

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Seán Haughey


8. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [20342/22]

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Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [20344/22]

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Mick Barry


10. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [21272/22]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 10, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on Europe oversees the implementation of programme for Government commitments in regard to the European Union and related issues. It generally meets in advance of a meeting of the European Council. The Cabinet committee discusses the agenda for European Council meetings as well as other programme for Government priorities in respect of the European Union. It last met on 7 March, ahead of the informal meeting of the European Council in Versailles on 10 and 11 March and the regular meeting of the European Council on 24 and 25 March. It is envisaged it will next meet in advance of the regular meetings of the European Council on 23 and 24 June.

The Taoiseach will know very well the severe impact of Brexit and the trade and co-operation agreement between Britain and the European Union on our fishing communities and the significant loss of income that will now lead to a further major decommissioning of fishing vessels in Ireland. How on earth can we justify the approach of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, referring to European Union directives in asking the masters of fishing vessels to turn blue whiting for human consumption in markets not just in west Africa but also Ukraine, into fishmeal to feed salmon? This is an affordable form of protein and nutrition and it is processed in factories in Killybegs, which creates jobs. The Taoiseach is aware of this. Deputy Doherty has brought this to his attention, yet it still goes on. In recent days, 100,000 tonnes were turned into fishmeal. I ask the Taoiseach, along with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, to intervene urgently with the European authorities to get this sorted out. This is not a European issue; it is an Irish issue.

I want to raise with the Taoiseach the suggestion by the British Government that it is considering introducing legislation that would unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. I heard the answer the Taoiseach gave to Deputy Richmond yesterday, when he said he would prefer not to comment at this time as the campaigning for the assembly election is taking place. I will leave it at that for the moment.

I wish to ask instead about the ongoing horrific situation in Ukraine, specifically the issue of war crimes. It is abundantly clear to everyone at this stage that Russia is using illegal methods to defeat the Ukrainian population. Civilians, including children, are being targeted and killed. Illegal bombs are being deployed. Schools, medical facilities and train stations are being blown up. President Zelenskyy has said that genocide is taking place in his country. This needs to be investigated by the International Criminal Court, its investigators and others on the ground in Ukraine. The European Union needs to address this particular matter and assist and support efforts to prove that war crimes have taken place and to bring about prosecutions of those responsible for these actions. I hope that is something the Taoiseach could call for at the next European Council meeting in June.

Would the Taoiseach be prepared to say something at this stage about the decision of the Russian authorities to stop gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria and the efforts of the EU to reduce dependency on Russian gas?

As we are all aware, for quite a number of years the people of Ukraine were subjected to very serious military aggression by Russia on the border. Sadly, since the end of February, we have witnessed daily on our television screens the horrors being inflicted on an independent and sovereign country by an evil regime in Russia.

Sadly, we have seen suffering and loss of life and millions of people displaced. I was glad that at the most recent meeting of the European Council there was a very strong and firm commitment by the European Union expressing its unity of purpose, along with partners such as Britain, the United States and other members of the international community. It is important that sanctions are imposed and that they have a major adverse impact on Russia. It is also important that the European Union continues to show solidarity with the refugees. I compliment the people of this country on their support for people fleeing war and horror and victims of an evil regime. Despite those challenges and the situation currently faced by the European Union and the international community, it is still important that the European Union progresses and accelerates the candidacy of Ukraine for membership of the European Union, as the Taoiseach stated, and, similarly, speeds up the membership applications of Georgia and Moldova. Like Deputy Haughey, I recognise that energy costs and supplies are having a significant impact on households and businesses and we need further measures at European Union level.

Last Sunday, an extreme right-wing and racist candidate won 42% of the vote for the French presidency. France is a nuclear power and the second most powerful nation in the European Union. There needs to be debate and reflection as to why this was the case. France is often portrayed as a society with a strong tradition of revolution and left-wing politics but it is also a country with a history of imperialism, the racism that goes with that, and right-wing traditions. Le Pen, like her father before her, taps into those traditions. The cost of living was a significant issue in the campaign. In France, as in Ireland, the crisis has been addressed at Government level merely by piecemeal measures that have failed to seriously relieve the suffering of the people. The failure of the self-described extreme centrist, Macron, left an opening for both the far right and the radical left. Another factor was how Le Pen's opponent was widely, and in my view correctly, seen as a president of the rich or the 1%. Malcolm X once stated, "You cannot have capitalism without racism." The far right cannot be seriously combated by a more moderate right which upholds that system which funnels wealth upwards and leaves the majority to scrap among themselves for a limited number of services, houses and jobs. To really fight the radical right, one needs a radical left that is prepared to challenge that system and unite all of the oppressed in fighting for change. That is the key lesson of the French presidential election. What is the view of the Taoiseach in that regard?

I ask the Taoiseach to comment on what has been dubbed "CatalanGate". This is a very serious scandal in the Spanish state involving a significant number of Catalan politicians and activists, including the Catalan President, legislators and every Catalan MEP who supported independence for Catalonia, being targeted with mercenary spyware. This happened either directly or through suspected off-centre targeting that involves spouses, siblings, staff or parents. The fact that the targeting coincided with political events, namely, the referendum, raises clear suspicions in respect of who would benefit from it and suggests that it was being done by the Spanish state. At least 65 individuals were targeted. The office of the Spanish Prime Minister has claimed it was not aware of the operation but according to the group that produced the spyware programme, known as Pegasus, it is sold exclusively to governments. That, among other reasons, implies the Spanish state was responsible. Does the Taoiseach agree this would represent a very serious infringement of the democratic rights of people to campaign for Catalan independence? Does he agree there should be an official inquiry to determine who authorised the hacking?

Deputy Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of the impact of Brexit on fisheries, which was significant because the approach of the Government of the United Kingdom to the fishery negotiations left it until the 11th hour. A no-deal Brexit would have been ruinous and had appalling consequences for our fishing industry. Brexit has led to a reduction, particularly in terms of the pelagic fleet, because of decommissioning and so on but, in fairness to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, he has worked with the industry and the Department to try to achieve the best possible outcome in terms of the allocation of funding to the industry in respect of that and also the other issues that continue to arise in respect of regulatory frameworks governing the weighing of fish, for example, and all of that. There have been challenges and Commission investigations. We want to work with the fishing industry to develop a stronger relationship with the European Commission in the fullness of time and to have the proper regulatory frameworks in place and be in a position to develop the industry because it is a very important industry in our coastal communities. I will speak to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, regarding the specific issues the Deputy has raised. I know he is working on them.

Deputy Haughey raised the issues of the Northern protocol and the horrific situation in Ukraine. As I stated yesterday, it is important that all Governments adhere to international agreements and work with like-minded Governments on any issues of concern. I am conscious of the electoral cycle at the moment. There is an upcoming election to the Assembly and the Executive and I would prefer to hold back comments on those general issues until after the election.

As regards Ukraine and the International Criminal Court, we have allocated €3 million in additional funding to strengthen the resources of the court. We believe war crimes have been committed in Ukraine - there is no question about that - and the people responsible need to be brought to account. I met the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal, in Shannon last Wednesday and assured him of our strongest possible support for Ukraine, including providing supports for those who have arrived in Ireland having had to flee their homes. I also made clear my support for Ukraine's application to join the European Union and for the further sixth round of sanctions against Russia. We have joined 40 countries in referring what is happening in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court and we will look at other ways that we can get accountability for these heinous crimes.

The European Union has provided €1.5 billion of a package of European peace facility support for the Ukrainian armed forces. Ireland is contributing its full share of €33 million, which will go towards non-lethal elements. Discussions on further sanctions continue, particularly with regard to banning imports of oil from Russia. We will continue to support the widest possible sanctions. Ireland has frozen more than €1.2 billion of Russian assets as of 22 April and the European Union amended existing sanctions to better facilitate humanitarian access and work in Ukraine, including by the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies and certain humanitarian organisations. The Government has provided €20 million in humanitarian aid through the UN and NGO partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. A deep and dedicated Ukraine civil society fund of €2 million will specifically support Irish NGOs responding to the crisis. Deputy Brendan Smith also raised issues relating to this.

The Russian invasion is also now putting immense pressure on global food and nutrition security, driving up prices for essential food and agricultural commodities. The worst impact will be felt by the poorest counties as well as those that are reliant on imports for their food security. As I stated earlier in the House, energy, food and a migration crisis are part of the war effort of the Russian Federation and that is designed to put pressure on European member states or, in other words, to take the pressure off the Russian Federation ultimately, but that will not happen. I agree with Deputy Brendan Smith that we need to accelerate the application by Ukraine for membership of the European Union and I have articulated that, as well as for other countries in the neighbourhood, such as Georgia and Moldova.

In response to Deputy Barry, I would maybe argue a bit differently - that what we witnessed in the French election was the triumph of the centre. I think President Macron stuck to his principles and values. I do not see him as a right-wing leader at all, which Deputy Barry more or less asserted that he is. I communicated my strongest and warmest congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his decisive victory in the French presidential election. I think he has been a strong leader of France and within the European Union as well. I think it was important for the European Union that he was elected because he is a committed and passionate upholder of the values of the Union. He is, in my view, genuinely a principled leader. That is something I would have to say. There are challenges, including the whole area of misinformation and disinformation and the growth of right-wing politics across Europe and the world. There are many factors responsible for that and I take the Deputy's point about cost of living and so on being a dominant element of the election. The radical left also did reasonably well in the first round of voting.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised the Catalangate issue. The Spanish Government has made clear it was not involved. The Pegasus software has been used widely across the world. It is a matter for the Spanish authorities and political system to deal with. I will seek to be briefed further on the matter but that is the current situation in regard to it.