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Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 28 June 2022

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Questions (9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Ivana Bacik


9. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the French President since his re-election. [24221/22]

View answer

Seán Haughey


10. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the President of the French Republic since his re-election. [24818/22]

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Mick Barry


11. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the French President since his re-election. [26199/22]

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Mary Lou McDonald


12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the French President since his re-election. [25806/22]

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Ivana Bacik


13. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the special European Council meeting in May 2022. [29330/22]

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Brendan Smith


14. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the French President since his re-election. [30062/22]

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James Lawless


15. Deputy James Lawless asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the French President since his re-election. [30121/22]

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Neale Richmond


16. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent European Council meeting. [30514/22]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the French President since his re-election. [30725/22]

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Paul Murphy


18. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the President of France since his re-election. [30728/22]

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Oral answers (43 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 18, inclusive, together.

Following his re-election as President of France, I wrote to President Macron to offer him my warmest congratulations. I also had the opportunity to congratulate him in person when we met at the special meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 30 and 31 May. That meeting began with a video call with President Zelenskyy. We then went on to agree financial support for humanitarian, liquidity and reconstruction needs in Ukraine as well as a sixth package of sanctions, including oil, putting further pressure on Russia to end this war. We discussed the Commission's REPowerEU plan and how to fast-forward the green transition. We also discussed food security and were joined in our discussions by President Macky Sall, Chairperson of the African Union. We discussed a European Commission analysis paper on defence investment gaps in the EU, with all agreed on the need for more and better investments.

The European Council met again on 23 and 24 June, when we took the historic decision to confirm European Union candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, and to recognise Georgia's European perspective. We also discussed the ongoing impact of Russia's war on Ukraine and our commitment to continuing strong humanitarian, military, economic and financial support. We condemned Russia's weaponising of food supplies, which risks famine and instability. We discussed wider Europe, which was an initiative of the French President, including the idea of a European political community to foster political dialogue on strategic challenges across our region. We noted the recommendations of the Conference on the Future of Europe and called for effective follow-up by the Union's institutions.

In the margins of the meeting I met the President of Kosovo, Dr. Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, and assured her of Ireland's support for Kosovo's European perspective and urged further progress in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. Following the European Council meeting proper, we met as the Euro Summit where we heard from President of the European Central Bank, Ms Christine Lagarde, and President of the Eurogroup, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on prospects for the European economy. Countries across the Union are experiencing the same challenges from rising energy and food prices as well as rising inflation and interest rates. These challenges are being fuelled by Russia's war on Ukraine. We agreed on the need to co-ordinate closely in our response and to return to the topic at a future date.

As we know, in February there were planned Russian naval exercises in Irish waters. These were eventually moved due to the campaign of Mr. Patrick Murphy and the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation who threatened to sail out to meet the navy. Last week the same organisation had a second victory when planned manoeuvres by the French navy were moved outside of Irish waters. The organisation, with which I have engaged closely, is raising legitimate concerns about the impact such military exercises will have on biodiversity, spawning grounds and sea life generally. The Minister for Foreign Affairs confirmed on Twitter that the French plans had been changed. Did the Taoiseach at any point discuss this with the French President during his recent engagement?

I am conscious Mr. Murphy, the producers organisation and Mr. Brendan Byrne, the CEO of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, have been drawing up proposals for a ten-year moratorium on military exercises by any foreign navy taking place within Ireland's exclusive economic zone. As a neutral country and as a country that wants to protect our own territory and the biodiversity of our seas this is a common-sense measure. Will the Taoiseach support it and will the Government work to implement it?

We know the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, is a key player in future developments in the European Union. He is very ambitious for the EU, as his commitment to the Conference on the Future of Europe and the French Presidency of the EU have demonstrated.

In this context I want to raise the issue of enlargement. While welcoming the decision of the European Council to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, there was disappointment in the western Balkans and Georgia that their cases for accession were not advanced. Ireland rightly supports enlargement as a general principle. Enlargement promotes peace and stability in various regions and makes sense from a strategic point of view. The Taoiseach and German Chancellor Mr. Olaf Scholz have questioned the need for a unanimous decision-making when it comes to admitting new member states. The French President has spoken about a political community in the neighbourhood of the EU, as the Taoiseach has just said, without full membership, a partial integration into the EU, if you like. Would the Taoiseach agree that, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we need to speed up enlargement and give geopolitical considerations an increased weighting in this process?

France's Presidency of the Council of the European Union ends this month. President Macron's big idea during his term was the establishment of what he terms the European political community, a decision-making structure for political dialogue and co-operation on matters of common interest for European countries inside and outside the EU. He has emphasised in his public statements the inclusion of collective security and building this security architecture throughout the European Continent in the work of his new structure. What discussions has the Taoiseach had with the French President on his proposal? What has been the response of Council members? Has the Government taken a view on the matter?

I want to raise briefly the British Government's so-called bill of rights legislation that was rejected outright by parliamentarians attending last week's meeting of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. This legislation will radically weaken human rights protections for people living in the North. It is a deliberate attempt by the British Government to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Will the Taoiseach and his officials continue to engage with their counterparts in the coming months on this urgent matter? What progress has been made to date?

Since 2016, other EU member states, including France, have been very supportive of Ireland's concerns and interests with regard to Brexit. We recall that the French Government and others at EU level were very supportive of investment in the PEACE programmes from the mid-1990s. At that time the investment was critical for economic and social progress on the northern and southern sides of the Border. Thankfully today, our Border region North and South is much less dependent on this type of financial transfer because the cross-Border economy and all-Ireland economy have developed so much since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. One of the areas of particular importance in my constituency and in neighbouring counties North of the Border is the agrifood sector.

This sector has grown on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis. It is essential that the other member states of the European Union continue to support the Government in protecting that sector. It will be very vulnerable, should the British Government's decision to tear up parts of the protocol be implemented. It is absolutely ludicrous for the British Government to come up with the idea of two regulatory regimes for food; it is not viable. Who would certify the transfer of milk from Northern Ireland to southern processing units? A food chain, in the context of processing, cannot be broken.

The recent French presidential and assembly elections confirmed the absolute crisis in the cost of living that is sweeping Europe. Interestingly, even Macron's government, which is widely discredited among very significant layers of French people, some of whose disillusionment I am glad has led to success for radical left forces around the NUPES coalition but, more worryingly, has also seen a rise in support for what are essentially fascists on the French far right, has moved to control energy prices and limit energy price increases to 4%. It has also introduced new forms of rent control to try to link rents to people's ability to pay. We have made those proposals here and the Government has resisted. Why is it that even Macron's government, which is hardly radical, is trying to control key things such as energy prices and rents, while the Government holds out against doing that?

I wonder whether the Taoiseach has seen the pictures and videos from last Friday at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Dozens of refugees fleeing war and oppression were crushed to death against the border fences. Others were beaten to death by the border patrol, all to stop them getting into the EU where they could claim refugee status. This was mass murder of refugees trying to flee persecution. NGOs are saying that at least 37 people have died; it could be more. Many more were injured trying to pass through. This is the responsibility of the EU. The EU recently announced funding of €100 million to Morocco to "support border management". To quote the NGOs, "This is a tragic symbol of the European policies to externalise the EU's border." The two-faced and racist border policies of the EU are on display for all to see. Why should black and brown people fleeing from persecution and war not have exactly the same rights as those correctly fleeing from so-called white or Christian countries such as Ukraine? Will the Taoiseach condemn the murder of refugees on the border of Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla? Will he condemn the fortress Europe policies that lead to these deaths?

The Deputy's anti-Europeanism is shocking, as is his consistent anti-EU position. He always seeks to undermine the Union, despite the fact that the Union, of any actor in the world, is the most humanitarian. It contributes most-----

I ask the Taoiseach to tell that to the refugees.

-----on humanitarian issues to the neighbourhood and all it gets is attack, attack, attack.

The European Union has murdered refugees.

Deputy Murphy has consistently attacked Europe; he does not consistently attack Russia.

Will the Taoiseach condemn-----

He does not consistently attack-----

The Deputy does not.

The Taoiseach has previously said in the Dáil that we do.

The Deputy always uses the opportunity to attack the European Union-----

-----whether it is on vaccines, helping Ukraine or migration.

Will the Taoiseach, please, talk about the refugees who died?

Of all the actors in the world, if one goes through any of the data and analyses them objectively, the EU does more than any other in trying to look after and provide for people. That is the reality of what is happening. With regard to Deputy Smith's point-----

Will the Taoiseach talk about the refugees?

With regard to Deputy Smith's points-----

Did he see the videos? Will he condemn the policies? He cannot just move on and say how great Europe is. Does he support an investigation into the murders?

I have the floor now. I have made my points.

The Taoiseach has not answered. He did not answer the questions at all. He just accused me-----

I have dealt with-----

No, the Taoiseach did not.

-----the Deputy's ceaseless propaganda against the European Union. He is consistently anti-EU.

What does the Taoiseach say to the families of people who have died because of fortress-Europe policies?

The Deputy should attack the authorities in which many of these reside-----

The EU is funding them.

-----that create an authoritarian regimes and conditions that makes life impossible for people.

It is EU policy to pay for Moroccan border guards to kill migrants.

Europe has a migration policy and frontier management. Every authority in the world has a migration policy and manages migration, but the bottom line is that this authoritarianism is undermining the world. It is creating-----

Killing Africans.

Here the Deputy goes again interrupting. Other Members have asked questions. The Deputy should have the good faith to allow me to answer other Members.

Did the Taoiseach answer the question?

The Deputy does not like the answer because he is a propagandist at heart and he lacks objectivity in every presentation he makes.

It is shameful.

Deputy Smith is correct about what is transpiring in respect of the decision that has been made on the dual regulatory framework. All of those involved in industry, manufacturing, the dairy industry and agrifood are saying this loud and clear. It is a form of economic illiteracy from the perspective of Northern Ireland that one would create such a dual regulatory framework because it does not allow for full traceability and it creates challenges for those exporting commodities. This has been pointed out to me by the interests concerned and I have pointed this out. Manufacturing in Northern Ireland is saying it has had the best time under the protocol. That needs to be said.

Deputy Haughey raised the western Balkans and I should have addressed that in my original comments. There was something of a breakthrough at the end of the meeting, when the Bulgarian Parliament removed its objections to North Macedonia, although it put some qualifiers into the motions that were passed. It now remains for North Macedonia to respond to that. I would welcome rapid acceleration for North Macedonia and Albania, in particular, which are more than ready to join having adhered to all the issues that were raised with them over a long number of years and, likewise, countries such as Montenegro. There were also good conclusions with regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina regarding criteria it must meet. The Commission will review, up to October, the degree to which Bosnia-Herzegovina responds to the various standards it has to achieve in respect of a number of issues. That is positive. I agree with the Deputy generally in that enlargement is important. I reminded members of the EU Council that it was back in 1990 during an Irish presidency, of which the Deputy's father was president, that the unification of Germany was accelerated. Many people at the time were against the unification of Germany following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United Kingdom, in particular, was concerned about it but that meeting in Dublin paved the way for German unification.

Other former members of the Soviet Union joined during the EU during the 2000s. It gave them, not just a home but an opportunity to grow and develop. That is why I believe in enlargement. Ireland, 50 years ago, joined the Union and it has been transformative for the Irish experience. We cannot deny others the opportunity to be part of the Single Market and a broader, standards-based approach.

Deputy Brady raised the issue of President Macron's idea. He has put forward an idea about on which we had a general discussion at the dinner on the night of the meeting. We are open to it as a country if it means broader dialogue with countries that are not members of the EU. However, we are very clear, as are many member states, that it cannot be a substitute in any shape or form for an enlargement process. It cannot delay the candidacy of countries that want to join the Union. The idea is that there would be a broader framework for dialogue on the Continent of Europe, which is important.

Deputy Bacik raised the moratorium on exercises. There was no need in the end because the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had been in touch with his counterpart. There is a fair point in terms of military exercises within the Irish exclusive economic zone , but we should look more ambitiously at marine reserves. I appeal to the fishing organisations to work with us on that in terms of areas where we can protect marine biodiversity. I certainly support work on a moratorium on military exercises that damage spawning grounds, biodiversity and marine life. We attended a summit organised by President Macron some months ago in respect of the marine economy and marine life. Fishermen and others are also raising legitimate issues.

I might not have gotten to everybody.