Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013

Vol. 793 No. 1

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Northern Ireland Issues

Micheál Martin


1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views on the recent violent protests in Belfast by loyalists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56521/12]

Micheál Martin


2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views on the continued violence in Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2310/13]

Gerry Adams


3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the measures he has put in place to allow his Department to work to build and maintain peace and new relations on the island of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland which is identified as one of the Department's strategic priorities for 2011-14 in his Department's strategy statement 2011-2014. [2323/13]

Gerry Adams


4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had since the Christmas recess with political leaders in Northern Ireland on the ongoing disturbances in Belfast on the flags issue. [2372/13]

Gerry Adams


5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had since the Christmas recess with the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers on the ongoing disturbances in Belfast on the flags issue. [2373/13]

Gerry Adams


6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had since the Christmas recess with the British prime Minister in relation to ongoing disturbances in Belfast in relation to the flags issue. [2374/13]

Joe Higgins


7. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any meetings or discussions he has had with representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive regarding the controversy over the union flag being flown over Belfast City Hall only on designated days following a vote in the city council [2642/13]

Micheál Martin


8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met the SDLP recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8248/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, together.

As I outlined in my replies to the House on other Northern Ireland questions over the past two weeks, I welcome the significant reduction in the level of public disorder in Belfast in recent weeks. However, I believe a concerted political solution is still required. I remain deeply concerned at the street violence in parts of Belfast since late last year, the attacks on members of the PSNI including the attempted murder of police officers and the widespread attempts to intimidate public representatives and their families.

The Government has no closer political relationship than with the Northern Ireland Executive. That is reflected in the fact that we have had more meetings with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive over the past year than at any other time since the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council. Let me repeat that for Deputy Martin.

I heard the Taoiseach. It will never end.

We have had more meetings with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive over the past year than at any other time since the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council.

Over the past year alone the Tánaiste and Government Ministers and I have met with members of the Northern Ireland Executive on over 50 occasions. As I have previously stated we will continue to work closely with the British Government and with political representatives in Northern Ireland to identify ways to help to address not just the current crisis but its underlying causes. In this regard the Tánaiste is in regular contact with political leaders in the North. At his most recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, on 11 February they agreed to continue working together to support the parties in Northern Ireland in addressing both the underlying and immediate causes of the violence seen in recent months on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. They also urged strong support for the PSNI and the Parades Commission as the summer loyalist marching season approaches.

When he last met the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister he made clear that the Government will provide all support necessary for Executive Ministers and local politicians to find solutions to the current situation. This is about building relationships between communities which have been divided for so long, which takes courage and persistence. It also requires respect and tolerance for different traditions to achieve consensus, often around the difficult issues of flags and symbols. It is also about equality and a determination to end ongoing sectarianism which persists despite all our best efforts.

Let me again emphasise that security and co-operation on the island has never been stronger. This was discussed when I met on 18 January with David Ford, Northern Ireland Minister for Justice and leader of the Alliance Party, some of whose members were targeted by loyalist groups in the aftermath of the decision by Belfast City Council.

The violence that we have witnessed is of broad concern across society, including business and industry who are rightly concerned about the negative impact at home and the damaged reputation abroad. The British Government shares our concern regarding the violence and the consequential damage to Northern Ireland's international reputation and the cost to local business and tourism prospects. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see an end to street violence. The violent protests and riots have caused major damage to community relations, severely curtailed economic activity in the pre-Christmas period and conveyed a deeply negative impression of Northern Ireland to international audiences, countering the positive campaigns to attract tourism and investment and potentially undermining the gains from last year's positive events. All of that potential should not be lost due to the actions of a small number of determined individuals or groups.

This crisis will not be resolved other than by a cross-party, cross-community response. I hope that party leaders in Northern Ireland will shortly agree on a framework for talks to address the issues that have arisen in relation to flags and symbols. Moving forward, the focus of political leadership in Northern Ireland should be on maintaining and creating jobs through economic recovery, in which inward investment and tourism have such a crucial role. As I have already said the Government is ready to support the Executive and political leadership in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can.

There has been valuable progress in co-operation through the North-South Ministerial Council and the North-South implementation bodies. The institutional framework of the NSMC is robust and works well. The meetings are always positive as we continue to seek ways of developing North-South co-operation across a range of agreed areas to the mutual benefit of all the people on this island. The joint communiques that issue following each plenary meeting only give a sense and summary of the real engagement that takes place. I would, of course, like to see more progress being made. There is greater room for further co-operation. However, I am satisfied that continual progress is being made through the programme of ministerial meetings that takes place between plenary sessions.

Across a range of issues, the NSMC is facilitating economic and social sector activities on a cross-Border, all-island basis. Ministers have reiterated their commitment to practical co-operation on economic co-operation and to explore areas where potential cost savings might be achieved. The potential benefits of developing markets for both jurisdictions has been recognised.

In the area of transport, Ministers have agreed on a detailed timetable for the drafting, passage and enactment of parallel legislation, North and South, by 31 December 2014 to allow the mutual recognition of penalty points across Ireland. In the tourism area, Tourism Ireland is currently rolling out major promotional campaigns for The Gathering Ireland 2013 and the UK City of Culture 2013, which is Derry.

InterTradelreland has introduced two new programmes Challenge and Elevate which support SMEs and micro businesses to grow and develop through innovation and exporting against difficult market conditions in both jurisdictions. They have also overseen an increase of over 50% in European funding for research and development for the period from November 2011 to July 2012 for North-South projects.

In the field of environment, work has now commenced on the repatriation of illegally dumped waste at a further two sites in County Tyrone. Education is a sector of great promise. Among the joint work being undertaken is a joint attitudinal survey to inform cross-Border pupil movement and school planning and liaison between the two teaching councils with the objective of facilitating full mobility of teachers across both jurisdictions. In health, there is ongoing collaboration on minimum unit price for alcohol and proposals for a North-South alcohol forum to develop strategies in both jurisdictions on alcohol misuse. Planning is well advanced for the establishment of a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin. Construction will commence this year with the unit being operational in 2016.

Both the Irish and the British Government remain strongly committed to improving economic ties on the island of Ireland also. The joint statement signed last March between the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron and I envisages a comprehensive programme of engagement between the two administrations, including close bilateral engagement between respective departments and regular meetings at Secretary General-Permanent Secretary level.

A series of bilateral meetings have taken place across a range of policy areas since then. A plenary meeting of Secretaries General and Permanent Secretaries took place in November in London and considered progress to date, mapped out future work as well as looking ahead to the annual review summit in 2013. The joint economic study currently underway also takes into account the North-South dimension of the all-island and east-west relationship. The main findings emerging from the study will also inform the summit meeting in March with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. While the agenda has yet to be formalised we will also be discussing the developments in the North as well as other issues.

I met for over an hour with the SDLP in Government Buildings last Thursday. In the words of Alasdair McDonnell, MLA, our discussions were honest, positive and constructive and we covered a range of issues across the political spectrum including the forthcoming parades season.

I listened very carefully to what he and his colleagues had to say in the aftermath of the recent protests and disturbances and to their assessment of how the Executive is functioning under these pressures. We jointly spoke of the challenges and opportunities for the island at this current time.

I reassured him of my intention to continue to work together with the British Government as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. I also said that at my meeting with Prime Minister Cameron in London next month we will discuss these issues, as well as advancing the ambitions of the Good Friday Agreement. This combined effort, along with the support of our friends in the US, including President Obama and his Administration, is aimed at ensuring a peaceful and prosperous future for all. We are nearly 15 years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and we need to get beyond difficulties such as contentious parades. I want to assist the Northern Ireland Executive in its efforts to grow the economy and improve social conditions for all communities there and along the Border counties.

Finally, I briefed the SDLP on our successful efforts to secure €150 million for a PEACE IV programme, as well as our co-operation with the North on Ireland's Presidency of the EU. The PEACE IV programme was signed off during the discussions on the MFF at the recent meeting in Brussels. I want to look at ways in which strengthening North-South relations can reap economic rewards. The SDLP will also meet the Tánaiste later this week and I welcome this renewed focus between us.

For the last year, I have been raising the need to significantly increase the level of engagement on issues concerning Northern Ireland. The disturbances over the flag issue should serve as a major wake-up call for everyone that all is not well. Added to that are the ongoing efforts of criminal dissident elements who are trying to organise and perpetrate violence against the security forces and individuals. The evidence shows significant elements of the community in Northern Ireland are still excluded.

Many people look at the parties in power in the Executive and see partisan interests triumphing. There is no sense of a cross-party approach on some of the core issues facing the North, and that has been the case for some time. The work of promoting development and directly combating sectarianism has not been done with the required urgency. Something new is needed. Previous Governments worked very hard to win this peace and put in enormous efforts with parties to bring it about. Those hard-won gains could dissipate if something new and fresh is not developed now and if greater urgency is not shown in addressing communal exclusion and sectarianism and the gap between communities from different traditions.

The recent disturbances and increased activity by criminal elements show the need to give peace, reconciliation and development the same priority the Taoiseach's predecessors gave them. I am not talking about set-piece meetings or summits, I am talking about deep engagement with the issues and communities involved. There has not been a proper governmental response to the disturbances and the related issues. I have not seen any extra initiatives over and above what has happened to date to tackle the entrenched communal divide on the streets. Is the Taoiseach proposing in partnership with the British Government and the parties any fresh initiative over and above the ongoing meetings that are part of the institutional arrangements? What does he intend to do to respond to the present situation? Specifically, will the Taoiseach give a commitment to convene a special summit with all the political parties in the North to deal with these issues and chart out a pathway that de-escalates tensions and gives new energy to anti-sectarian initiatives?

This is more than contact, we need a new initiative here on a scale which may require investment but that will have a long-term impact, particularly for communities where there is significant social and economic under-provision and deprivation. Some of those communities are becoming fertile ground for those who wish to exploit these issues to cause violence and stir up sectarianism, exacerbating the existing divide.

Deputy Martin talks about something new and fresh being needed. Clearly we are not happy about the situation when there were riots before and after Christmas with disruption, injury and threats to PSNI officers, along with the acquisition and discovery of rocket launchers here in the South for use by dissident groups in Northern Ireland with potentially lethal consequences. That is why we had direct discussions with President Van Rompuy of the European Council on the PEACE IV initiative, including funding of €150 million, not an insignificant amount, and how to use it effectively to continue the work many community groups on both sides of the divide have been involved in over recent years.

There has been a lot of interaction between the Oireachtas and the Assembly and the Government and Downing Street. I will speak with Prime Minister Cameron about this early in March when I visit there, both to review the strategic partnership agreement we signed on behalf of the Government and people last year and to focus on the question of Northern Ireland.

Deputy Martin is aware the G8 conference will take place in June in Fermanagh and there is an opportunity during the preparations for that to also discuss the possibility of doing some things differently in Northern Ireland. Clearly, it is vital that we continue to work in co-operation with the PSNI to deal with cross-Border terrorism. That is why I will raise the reports that Britain wants to pull out of the justice arrangements at European Union level with Prime Minister David Cameron. This would have particular consequences when it comes to dealing with crime and criminal activities across Ireland. I intend to spend some of the time in discussions with the British Prime Minister on his own personal involvement in the activities in Northern Ireland, what we can do here to continue the high level of ministerial activity that takes place and see how best we can use our experience in Northern Ireland to predict the sore points and how we can then deal with issues surrounding contentious parades with the Parades Commission. We can then concentrate on moving beyond that to economic arguments about the fostering and development of investment in Northern Ireland, where the answer is for the creation of jobs leading to careers in business.

I intend to spend a portion of my discussions with the British Prime Minister concentrating on those areas and will follow through with direct ministerial contact where it is appropriate.

Will the Taoiseach convene a meeting between the parties in the North?

I have ongoing meetings with the individual leaders. The leaders came together in the middle of the riots to put together a community response and to ask disparate groups on the streets to desist from continuous rioting. It would be only right and proper to discuss this at prime ministerial level to see how both Governments might approach this and whether the suggestion made by Deputy Martin is of any value. I got a particular insight from the leader of the SDLP, Alasdair McDonnell, MLA, about the SDLP view of the workings of the Executive and Assembly and issues that must be focused on as a priority.

It might be better to meet individual leaders in the first instance to see where is the range of where we might be able to assist.

I hope that the PEACE IV allocation can be used, as the Deputy stated, in a different and possibly new way, with greater beneficial impact for everybody.

I acknowledge the work that is being done by both Administrations on the island, although there is an ongoing need for a strategic focus at a political level and for ongoing engagement. I made the same criticism of the previous Government. I understand how the affairs of this State can keep a government so busy, especially with the economic situation, but the Taoiseach last week correctly highlighted the need to nurture the peace process and not to take it for granted. Therefore, there is a big onus on the Government both to raise it with the British Government and show leadership on these matters.

There are outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. We do not have a bill of rights, which is part of the Good Friday Agreement, and neither do we have a charter of rights, which is also part of a recommendation for the all-island dispensation. We do not have acht na Gaeilge. I attended two events yesterday, the first of which was just outside Maghera in County Derry, at Carntogher, a wonderful development for the Irish language community. The other, last night in Newry, was at Gaeláras Mhic Ardghail, a new building which is a hub for the Irish language. However, we still do not have what the Good Friday Agreement promised us. Therefore, there is ongoing work.

I want to raise two questions. Last week, an all-party delegation from here visited Maghaberry prison and also the city hospital to meet Ms Marian Price. An Teachta Ó Snodaigh was my party's representative on that delegation and I have asked him to give the Taoiseach a report on it because there are issues of concern.

The biggest issue at present surrounds the continued imprisonment of Ms Marian Price and a man called Mr. Martin Corey. They are held without charge or trial. There is no due process whatsoever. I raised this with the Taoiseach on a number of occasions and I gave him a doctor's report on Ms Price's health. The delegation found her very ill. Obviously, she is also grieving for her sister, Dolours, who died just a short time ago. She is confined. The Government needs to raise these issues. I would like to know when was the last time the matter was raised and whether the Government will unequivocally call for the release of these two individuals.

On the big issue of the ongoing situation on the streets of Belfast, the vast majority of the people of Belfast are opposed to what is happening. Those who are fomenting the violence and the protests are a very small minority and they are persons who either fear change or who are exploiting those who are afraid of change. There needs to be an unequivocal message from all the political leaders in the North that this must stop.

I acknowledge the Backing Belfast campaign which is doing its best to bring people back into the city with all sorts of innovative ideas. I acknowledge the support of the Government, the Mayor of Dublin and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for this campaign. The only way we will change these folks who are very sectarian - sectarianism is a scourge on this island, particularly in the North - is if we change the political conditions in which they live, and we will only do that if there is a strategic approach to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the ongoing development and nurturing of the peace process.

Specifically, I ask the Taoiseach to give us an update on the Government's position on the continued incarceration of Ms Price and Mr. Corey and ask him to do his level best to have these two individuals released.

We discussed this in part last week and we had agreement on quite a number of matters. I commend the business people and the retailers in Belfast on the extraordinary resilience they showed in the face of all those riots and their efforts to continue to say to people that they are welcome to Belfast and that it is a city where they can have good business engagement. I hope, following the period of calm, that does not return and Northern Ireland business, in particular, Belfast business, is allowed continue to progress as it has done for quite a number of years.

I answered on the bill of rights previously. This is part of the Good Friday Agreement but it is a case for the Northern Ireland parties to come forward with their proposals. When they do, we would be happy to engage with them. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, we would be anxious to see the agreement, of which that is part, implemented in full but the piece of the jigsaw that is missing is the proposals for this from the Northern Ireland parties.

I am aware that an all-party delegation visited Maghaberry prison and met and spoke to Ms Marian Price. This is a difficult situation. It is not easy to decide what is the best thing to do. I look forward to hearing the report of the all-party committee. I hope to have that soon so that I can both read it and raise the matter directly with the British Prime Minister when I discuss Northern Ireland issues with him when I have the opportunity to meet him in early March. Obviously, it is a matter of concern but one hears different options that should be available here. I am aware of the circumstances of Ms Price going back into Maghaberry and of the medical reports regarding her state of health. I look forward to getting the report from the committee shortly and I have undertaken to discuss that as part of my discussions with the British Prime Minister on Northern Ireland.

I will return to Deputy Adams. I call Deputy Martin.

I will ask the question again as a supplementary. The Taoiseach stated he met the SDLP. My party has met with that party and others. There is a view that the meeting of the five parties has not quite produced the results or achieved anything in the aftermath of the disturbances. I put it to the Taoiseach that there is a view that it needs a governmental initiative with the parties to really take stock. What has occurred is a wake-up call. Some parties in the North certainly would welcome a governmental response to the issue. That is why I have asked if the Taoiseach would consider convening a meeting with the British Prime Minister and the five main parties to discuss the fallout of what has happened, to chart a way forward, and to give fresh impetus and a sense of urgency to the issue. Time is of the essence. In the course of this year, over and above the traditional marching season, we will have other commemorations and we are leading into a period of significant historic commemorations which have the potential to be exploited by those who would like to do so. I put it to the Taoiseach that such is an initiative he should consider. I ask that he give serious consideration to convening such a summit.

It is a view Deputy Martin has here. As I stated, in approximately three weeks I will have the opportunity to discuss these matters directly with the British Prime Minister. At that level, if we have the opportunity to consider any new initiative, that is the place to do it. If, arising from that, it was deemed appropriate to try to get all the groups together, it is certainly something that could be considered. I am not sure there is anything new in that but it might bring a collective focus on issues that might be tackled.

As we approach the beginning of the marching season, on the questions of the parades and of the PSNI, I am somewhat concerned at the level of activity in dissident groups. The detection by the Garda recently of the find here in the Republic was, to put it mildly, disturbing.

These are issues I want to discuss with the British Prime Minister and I will be happy to report to the House following our discussions about that. I will take into account what the Deputy said.

Let us talk about what is happening on the ground up there. When the two British soldiers were killed and when the two PSNI officers were separately killed, the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, MLA, came out and stood shoulder to shoulder with the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, MLA, and the Chief Constable of the PSNI. He made it clear that it was unacceptable, that those days were done and that everybody had to come out and support the peace process. The difficulty is that elements of unionism have not been as forthright as that in this situation. They have their own reasons for that and I am being very measured in how I put this. The five political leaders did not meet, as we know. I know the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, MLA, relatively well and he has his own reasons for all of this. He has a slightly different position and, unfortunately, that feeds into what is happening on the ground. What is happening in the ground is significant because it is blatantly sectarian. An Irish League soccer match over the weekend between two local teams, Crusaders and Cliftonville, had to be called off because these protesters went directly to that ground to foment sectarian trouble. Great credit is due to the two clubs which showed real anti-sectarianism by bringing all their supporters together. Unfortunately, sport suffered. Similarly protesters are quite blatantly and deliberately going to the Short Strand.

We all think of the marching season as a summer spectacle, but it is going to start at the end of this month and will again go to areas that are vulnerable. There is urgency about dealing with this and there is a need to work intelligently with the leaders of unionism and all of those great Unionists who do not want anything to do with this. Regardless of the position they have on the flag issue, they are certainly opposed to what is happening in terms of the violence and sectarianism.

On the issue of Ms Marian Price, the Taoiseach said it is difficult to know what to do. There is a straightforward rule. If a citizen is to be accused of an offence, that citizen should be brought forward and subjected to due process - sin é. Ms Marian Price has not been subjected to due process. Whatever has been said against her has been said in secret - she cannot even hear it. It is back to the old days of internment, commissions and all the rest of it. I spent one and a half years in prison - in both a prison ship and in a cage - on that basis. It is easy to know what to do, with respect. If they want to keep these individuals in prison, let them go through due process or let the rest of us demand that they be released forthwith.

I discussed the question of the activities on the ground with the Minister, Mr. Ford, MLA, when he was here. Obviously as leader of the Alliance Party he gave me some insights into the impact on the streets and the homes, and the sectarianism that erupted from disparate groups both before and after Christmas. This is an issue about which we need to be concerned not only because of the advent of the marching season, but also the centenary commemorations that are beginning. Nobody wants to have these disrupted or hijacked for particular causes. Everybody recognises that because these things will be commemorated by particular groups, organisations or individuals, they should be done in a comprehensive and sensitive fashion.

The view of the all-party Oireachtas committee is important in the case of Ms Marian Price. I have had different comments in regard to the robustness of her state of health at the moment, which is an issue that needs to be considered. I am anxious to get the report from the Oireachtas committee quickly. As I said, I hope to raise this issue directly with the British Prime Minister when I meet him in a few weeks' time.

European Council Meetings

Micheál Martin


9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he circulated any papers at the November European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53796/12]

Micheál Martin


10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the questions on European Affairs that are replied to by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53799/12]

Micheál Martin


11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he circulated any papers at the recent EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55220/12]

Micheál Martin


12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the particular areas he plans to discuss at the December European Union Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55452/12]

Micheál Martin


13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met or spoke to Prime Minister Monti at the December meeting of the EU Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56516/12]

Micheál Martin


14. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the economy in Italy was discussed at the December meeting of the EU Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56517/12]

Micheál Martin


15. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the latest Doha agreement was discussed at the December EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56518/12]

Micheál Martin


16. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the situation in the Middle East was discussed at the December EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56519/12]

Micheál Martin


17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if unemployment was discussed at the December EU Council meeting; if any actions were taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56520/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett


18. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the European Union summit on 13 and 14 December; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56784/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett


19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of jobs and growth for Ireland at the European Union summit on 13 and 14 December; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56786/12]

Gerry Adams


20. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he held any bilateral meetings on the margins of the December 2012 EU summit. [2330/13]

Joe Higgins


21. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meetings that took place at the EU summit on 22 November. [2340/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett


22. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a list of upcoming European Council meetings which he will attend and issues he intends to raise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2757/13]

Micheál Martin


23. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the issue of strenghtening EU banking regulation has been discussed at EU Council meetings; if there has been any progress on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5093/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 23, inclusive, together.

I attended the meeting of the European Council on 22 and 23 November which aimed to reach agreement on the multiannual financial framework. Following productive discussions, it was decided that a little more time was needed to bring positions closer together and that, while we would maintain intensive contacts, we would return to the matter at a later time.

While I did not circulate any papers at the November European Council, in my bilateral contacts with President Van Rompuy and President Barroso, and in the meeting proper, I set out very clearly Irish concerns and priorities concerning the MFF. I subsequently followed up on a number of points in writing with President Van Rompuy.

I am happy to report to the House that the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework were finalised at the meeting of the European Council on 7 and 8 February. As I stated to the House last week, I believe the deal is a good one for Ireland and for Europe, one that fully protects our vital national interests - including in providing for a strong CAP - and recognises the impact of the economic crisis on this country through special allocations to the BMW region and under rural development funding. In addition, Ireland will be able to access a new €6 billion fund to tackle youth unemployment.

The February European Council also adopted substantial conclusions on trade. Leaders agreed that the immediate priority must be to develop our bilateral trade agenda. The Irish Presidency had already set out an ambitious agenda in that regard, prioritising negotiations that provide the most benefit in terms of growth and job creation. In that respect, progressing the EU-US trade relationship is a particular priority.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama provided a significant impetus when he announced that talks would be launched on a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment partnership. This was followed the next day by a joint statement from President Obama and Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso in which they undertook to initiate the internal procedures necessary to launch the negotiations. This is a very significant development. Let me assure the House that Ireland, as Council President, we will spare no effort to make the maximum possible progress on this issue during the rest of our term, with a particular focus on securing a negotiating mandate within the Council.

I attended the meeting of the European Council on 13 and 14 December in Brussels. As I have already made a statement to the House on this meeting, I will merely give a summary of its proceedings. Discussions focussed on President Van Rompuy's final report on strengthening economic and monetary union, and good progress was made on a number of fronts, including banking union. Building on an agreement in ECOFIN on the eve of the summit, the European Council called for early agreement with the parliament on the single supervisory mechanism. That work is now well under way. Establishment of the SSM will pave the way for possible recapitalisation of banks by the ESM, and the European Council called for an operational framework for this to be agreed as soon as possible.

The December European Council also agreed conclusions on the annual growth survey and the European semester process, the Single Market and unemployment, including the adoption of the youth guarantee in early 2013. In addition, the European Council asked the High Representative to prepare for a discussion of the Union's Common Security and Defence Policy in December 2013. We also had a discussion on Syria.

I am responsible before the House in respect of my role as a member of the European Council. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade retains overall ministerial responsibility for the co-ordination of EU affairs. Parliamentary questions on European matters are answered on that basis.

The next meeting of the European Council is scheduled for 14 and 15 March. The draft agenda for that meeting will focus on concluding the first phase of the European semester process and, in that context, the state of implementation of the compact for growth and jobs. Next month we will have an exchange of views on relations with strategic partners and address other foreign policy issues, as necessary.

Further meetings of the European Council are scheduled for 22 May, and 27 and 28 June.

That is about 29 questions together.

All of which relate to Europe.

I am not complaining.

I know Deputy Martin appreciates my going against all traditions and advice.

I would not over-state it.

The advice is consistent anyway.

Yes, I know.

It must be noted that the majority of these questions were tabled three months ago. We would welcome if the Taoiseach could be in the House two days a week to deal with questions.

I will give shorter answers if the Deputy wishes.

Prior to this Government taking up office it was the norm that Taoiseach's Questions were taken on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Were the Taoiseach to do so, questions could be progressed much quicker than is currently the case. For example, we are nearing the end of February and are only now dealing with questions in regard to the December summit.

The Taoiseach referred in his reply to individual developments within the Union. What is Ireland's policy in regard to the development of the European Union? The work being undertaken by Mr. Van Rompuy is about setting the pathway for a different type of Union. There is no doubt the Union will face major issues in the coming years. A new treaty is to be discussed. What is the Taoiseach's view on the British Tory Party seeking to roll back 30 years of development in the Union and his position on the demands of the British Government as articulated by the Tory Party Leader and Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron? The difference between the speed of developments within the eurozone as opposed to the broader Union is becoming clear. What is our position on this? The future of the Union is at this point in time being defined. What is the Government's position on all of this? Where does it stand in relation to the proposals for different levels of integration with the European Union? Also, what new reforms does the Taoiseach support in the context of the European Union? Given the relocation of the EU division from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of the Taoiseach, these basic questions on EU policy fall to the Taoiseach to answer and give some direction on.

There has been a huge gap in terms of Ireland's position on the future evolution of the European Union given all that has happened in the past two to three years and the perspectives emanating from different member states. Ireland should at the very least develop a position on these fundamental issues. Also, the Oireachtas should debate these issues. An opportunity should be provided for the Oireachtas to debate either a White Paper or Green Paper on future European Union integration, the development of the Union and all institutions of the Union, including the European Central Bank.

Mr. Jacques Delors, a founder of the European Central Bank, accepts that the treaty provisions regarding the European Central Bank should be changed. Does the Irish Government support changes to the statute of the European Central Bank and how it operates? The banking union referred to by the Taoiseach is not in accordance with the original vision of a banking union. It is clear there will be no common resolution of the regime or deposit insurance and that a number, if not most, banks will escape common regulation. Many banks, in particular German banks, are resiling on the need, as first articulated and repeated at the June summit, for a banking union.

On the broader issue, what is the Government's policy on the European Union over the next number of years?

As I have outlined on many occasions at the European Council, European Parliament and other meetings Ireland supports the development of the Union to its full potential, including the development of the Single Market and digital market. We need to develop the unconcluded agreements on trade with Canada and the Far East and to implement the framework agreement on EU-US trade which, as the Deputy will be aware, have the potential to create almost 2 million jobs and to increase the economies of the Union by at least 2%.

On the Government's view of the Union, the founding principles of the European Union are that big countries work with small countries, a demonstration of which is the assistance currently being provided to governments working in challenging circumstances as committed to by Europe. The more one helps oneself the greater the demonstration of assistance. After 40 years, Ireland remains a recipient country from the Union. We would like to believe that in time and with proper competency Ireland could be a net contributor to the European Union. This requires us to develop our economy and sort out our problems, thus proving we can be, like other countries, competent, competitive and attractive in terms of location for investment, thus giving our people the opportunity to give vent to their flair and creativity.

I have answered the question about Britain on a number of occasions. The Prime Minister has set out his stall in terms of the repatriation of certain powers from Europe and his view of the British people having an opportunity to decide by way of referendum in 2017 whether Britain should be part or not of Europe. Ireland has been closely aligned with Britain for many years in terms of trade, business and so on. We do not want to disrupt this. The Deputy will be aware that the verdict of the fiscal responsibility referendum was 60:40 in favour of the euro and eurozone from an Irish point of view. The European Union would regard the tradition of Britain being the driver of the Single Market as important. The European Union and Leaders regard Britain as an important element of a new emerging Europe. It is important to reflect again that 90% of the world's trade over the next ten years will take place outside the European Union. For this reason, I would like to see European Union leaders begin to focus on the real priorities such as the implementation of a eurogrid in terms of energy. We are currently losing out in the context of the increasing independence of the United States in terms of energy capacity from shale, gas, oil and so on, which means that costs for major investments in the United States have and will continue to drop and will increase in Europe as a consequence. This is not good. We also need to take account of the aging society in many European Union countries and how we propose to deal with it in terms of the provision of services.

The European Union comprises the largest collection of well developed economies. There is no reason we cannot bring this to a new level with the second greatest economic block in terms of the United States and all it yields. Through Ireland's presidency of the European Council we are trying to make an effective impact across a thousand different fields for the good of the Union, which also helps us. As an exporting country, we need to be lean and competitive and to be able to export quality goods worth €500 million into that market. It is important to note that the new Europe will have to take interest in what is happening across the Mediterranean in North Africa and the Middle East. This is an issue on which Europe needs to reflect carefully. It is also important to note that many countries in North Africa are growing by 5%, 6% and 7%, which presents trading opportunities for a country like Ireland.

In the context of the Union as we know it, we are not reaching our potential because of the struggle and challenge faced by many countries in the eurozone and Europe as a whole. As a Union with a population of 500 million people we have enormous potential to increase that. We support enlargement.

Croatia expects to join on 1 July. I have had meetings and the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, has been to all of the applicant countries, from Montenegro to Serbia and everywhere else, which want to make a case for joining the European Union once they can comply with all of the conditions required. This is our position on Britain and generally in so far as the Union is concerned.

Through the chairmanship of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, we have allowed the financial transaction tax to go to a working group with enhanced co-operation. While we disagree with this we have not held it up because more than 11 countries support it. Banking union is one area where the finance Ministers were in a position to make a recommendation on time. Following the decision of 29 June, a single supervisory mechanism architecture was established prior to Christmas and approved by the Ministers on the day before the European Council meeting where it was also approved. It is now a part of the discussions which apply. It is expected the architecture for banking union and the single supervisory mechanism should be in place by June, and I hope it is, but I cannot see it being effective or implemented until late this year or, more than likely, 2014. The discussions taking place on the possibility of the ESM being allowed to recapitalise banks is part of these discussions and a working group is being established to consider the principle of extending the maturity dates which applied to Greece so they are also applicable to Portugal and Ireland. They will report back in March. If it is accepted it is of potential benefit to the country.

The programme of the Presidency is to deal with approval by the European Parliament of the multi-annual financial framework. I was to have a meeting this morning in Brussels with President Barroso and President Schulz at 7 a.m. but it was not possible for President Schulz to attend so it has been postponed. We have a responsibility to engage with the various sectors in the European Parliament to get this through, as consensus is required under the Lisbon treaty. Reform of the CAP is of direct interest to us. Ireland is working with our counterparts on 70 pieces of legislation to run an effective Presidency over the course of the next three to four months. It is a very packed agenda.

I see a real necessity for leaders to focus on the bigger picture in a global sense so that Europe has the potential to play its real part. Given the amount of trade taking place outside the borders of the European Union we have a major challenge ahead of us but also huge potential if we have the political will and agreement to get our affairs working as we all know they can.

Most of these questions are about the December summit so we must agree they are dated although this is nobody's fault. The way they are now grouped is better and I thank the Taoiseach for this and I welcome it. We should continue to examine ways we can get the most benefit from Questions to the Taoiseach. Since the budget was announced in December we have had the deal with the ECB on the promissory note. Prior to the budget we had the June announcement and the Government's claims the objective of separating bank debt from sovereign debt had been put together. Last week, bank debt was converted into sovereign debt which strikes me as being a very big contradiction. What is the status of the Eurogroup's decision of last June given what occurred at the most recent summit? I stated at the time the Taoiseach was overselling the June deal and I made the same point with regard to the recent promissory note arrangement.

On the day the deal was agreed we were told by Government spokespersons it would mean a €1 billion saving. The big question for most citizens is what does this mean to them. SIPTU has called for the money to be invested in a job creation stimulus. Will it be used for job creation or to lessen the burden of austerity? Will the Government be able to do away with the property tax? Will child benefit or carer's allowance be restored? What will happen with regard to the €1 billion which the Taoiseach states has been saved? What progress can be made in the short term given the Taoiseach's claims about the deal? What is the status of last June's decision to separate banking and sovereign debt?

There are already indications that the deal on the IBRC which the Taoiseach trumpeted as historic will face objections from Germany in particular and possibly elsewhere, and that the Government will not be allowed to in any way attempt to use the claimed savings to the State of €1 billion next year and €1 billion the year after to pull back or alleviate in any way the austerity which has been imposed or which the Government plans to impose under troika arrangements or as conditions or targets of the fiscal treaty. Has this been indicated to the Taoiseach? Was it indicated at the December summit? Will our EU so-called "partners", particularly Germany, prevent the Government passing on any benefit of the supposedly historic deal on Anglo Irish Bank to citizens who are being hammered with austerity? Will the Taoiseach clarify this? If this is not the case will the Taoiseach clarify precisely what benefits can be passed on to ordinary citizens to alleviate the burden of cuts and austerity, or using the extra savings the Taoiseach claims to have as a result of the deal for financing a stimulus jobs programme or a programme of economic growth? The President of the ECB, Mario Draghi, is now discussing possible legal problems with the IBRC deal, and even the possibility of legal action being taken if the deal breaches ECB rules on monetary financing. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether this was discussed with him previously? Was it signalled this might happen? Did the Taoiseach fully proof the deal to ensure it would withstand any such legal challenges from the ECB or any other quarter in terms of its legality under ECB or European regulations?

I must say we are stretching this a little as I do not see any question on the Order Paper on the recent agreement. Perhaps the Taoiseach wishes to respond.

I will keep it brief. Deputy Adams asked about the status of the European Council decision of 29 June. It is as it was. The decision was to break the vicious circle between sovereign and bank debt, taking into account the particular analysis of the well-performing programme in Ireland, that equal cases would receive equal treatment, and that following this the architecture of the single supervisory mechanism would be set in place. These discussions are under way. The decision of the European Council stands and has not been changed or revoked. It is now being followed through.

In regard to when that will apply, it would be great if they could agree on the architecture for the single supervisory mechanism by June. Obviously, however, it will be the back end of this year or into next year before those complex discussions can conclude. Separate from that, if the question of the extension of the maturity applied to Greece is applicable to Portugal, which tabled this, and to Ireland it would be to our benefit as well.

With regard to the sum of €1 billion being saved, this also goes into the question raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett. We have set out our stall as a country that is in a programme with the troika to get our deficit below 3% of GDP by 2015. The borrowing requirement is €12 billion this year, €9 billion next year and €5 billion in 2015. There is no question but that these are challenging times. However, this is about rectifying fundamental problems in our public finances and the economy to get to a point where we can start recruitment programmes again in a more structured way to deal with front-line services.

Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke about Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, who referred to this at the economic affairs committee of the European Parliament yesterday. It is fair to say that since the decision was made, the IBRC has been liquidated, the promissory notes have been replaced by long-term bonds, the first repayment is not due until 2038, Standard & Poor's has changed its view of the country, Irish Life has been sold today - which gives back over €1 billion to the people in respect of what was put in there - and Facebook has announced extra jobs.

I can confirm that the line of investment in here continues to be very strong. Hopefully, in due course, the bank guarantee will go, which will allow banks to be out in the markets themselves. That will also allow greater flexibility for credit to be available for lending to small and medium enterprises which are the backbone of future growth in the economy.

As Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware, we are only in February. We have set out the budgetary programme for 2013, which is challenging for a number of Departments, but it has to be achieved. As we move through the year towards the back end, the Government will set out its position in so far as the budget for 2014 is concerned.

With respect, that is not what I asked the Taoiseach.

The Minister for Finance and other Ministers will be engaged in that process. The current talks are now at a critical stage and I do hope that everybody can get involved in those discussions again. These are wage negotiations between the Government, employers, management and unions. I do hope that they can settle down to focus again on the issues at hand and come to a decision very quickly in respect of the savings that can be achieved.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.