Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

EU Presidency Engagements

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with President Barroso in Dublin. [2312/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues considered during his address to the European Parliament on 16 January 2013. [2349/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the recent contacts he had with EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso. [2377/13]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the detail of his recent meeting with Mr. Herman Van Rompuy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2381/13]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the detail of his meeting with President Barroso; if the bank debt issue was discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2382/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the issue of unemployment was discussed at his meeting with the President on the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, in Dublin on 9 January. [2383/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, in Dublin on 9 January. [2384/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the issue of Ireland's legacy bank debt during his meeting with the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, in Dublin on the 9 January. [2385/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, in Dublin Castle on 10 January. [2387/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the issue of Ireland's bank debt was discussed in his meeting with European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, in Dublin Castle on 10 January. [2388/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the involvement he will have in the running of the EU Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2756/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the amount of his Department's budget that has been allocated to hosting the EU Presidency; if he will provide a breakdown of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2758/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a schedule of the meetings he is involved in as part of the EU Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2759/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the meetings, if any, he has had while in Strasbourg in January and if he will report on these meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2763/13]

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

15. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the European Parliament. [2641/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

16. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Microsoft founder, Mr. Bill Gates. [5091/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with President Van Rompuy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5486/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

18. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the issue of unemployment in Ireland and the eurozone was discussed at his meeting with European Council President Van Rumpuy in Dublin in January; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8566/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the issue of Ireland's legacy bank debt with Jose Manuel Barroso at the meeting with him on 10 January 2013. [9965/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 19, inclusive, together.

As the House is aware, Ireland took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 January. However, the Government has worked intensively on preparing for the Presidency since it entered office. The Presidency programme titled "Stability, Jobs and Growth", which has been laid before the Oireachtas, outlines the core priorities of the Presidency which are focused on promoting stability and confidence in the EU economy, job creation, and delivering sustainable economic growth across the EU.

Both in the run-up to the Presidency and in recent weeks, I have met the president of the European Parliament, the president of the European Commission, the president of the European Council and other partners to present and discuss Ireland's Presidency policy and legislative priorities. Following the publication of the programme on 9 January, I met the president of the European Council in Dublin to outline how the Government plans to secure agreement on key dossiers and legislation to deliver on its programme objectives, including tackling youth unemployment. We also discussed a range of other current issues and, in particular, ongoing negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, or the budget.

The Government met President Barroso and the full College of Commissioners in Dublin on 10 January. Following a plenary meeting, Ministers met with their Commission counterparts to review and discuss policy aspects of the Irish Presidency programme in detail. I also held a bilateral meeting with President Barroso and our discussions centred on the jobs and growth agenda in Europe, including how making progress on the banking union proposals, Single Market measures, the digital agenda and the Presidency's ambitious trade agenda can deliver stability and economic recovery in Europe and create employment. I used the opportunity of the meetings to update Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso on the Irish economic situation, including our bank-related debt. Both expressed their support for a positive outcome to the negotiations.

On 16 January, I addressed the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and presented the Irish Presidency's plans and objectives for the Presidency. During my visit to Strasbourg, I also met the presidents of the European Parliament and of the European Commission to discuss how to ensure progress on the Presidency programme and, in particular, our objectives on the MFF, the banking union proposals, the Presidency's external trade agenda and our plans with regard to the Single Market.

On Monday, 4 February, I met Presidents Van Rompuy, Barroso and Schulz in advance of the European Council meeting later that week. Our discussions centred on the MFF. During other discussions, I stressed the strong importance that Ireland attaches to decisions on an appropriate budget that supports programmes such as the CAP, the CFP, Horizon 2020 and cohesion-regional funding, which are of critical importance to underpinning future sustainable growth and job creation in communities in Ireland and right across the EU.

As I have already said, I was pleased with the positive outcome of the European Council on 8 February and I look forward to further meetings of the European Council during the Presidency, as well as to continuing bilateral contact with my counterparts in the institutions and partner states.

I was pleased to meet with Bill Gates on 23 January to discuss the work of his foundation and Ireland's plans to progress the development aid agenda during the Presidency to help the world's poorest people. For the remainder of the Presidency I will continue to chair the Cabinet committee on EU affairs and Cabinet meetings which play a key role in the preparation and delivery of the Presidency programme. Following an extensive period of planning and preparation for the Presidency, my Department is now co-ordinating and monitoring the overall policy management of the Presidency, working closely with Ireland's Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels and all Departments.

The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs continues to oversee the work of the main interdepartmental committee charged with co-ordinating and monitoring the progress being made on the Presidency's policy and legislative agenda. The Minister of State also acts as the main Presidency interlocutor with the European Parliament. She represented the Council at the plenary session in Strasbourg at the beginning of February.

Officials in my Department also chair working groups, including groups on Presidency communications and the promotional opportunities that the Presidency affords Ireland, working closely with State agencies. The communications team for the Presidency, including management of the website eu2013.ie, is also staffed by my Department. My Department has been allocated a budget of €2,485,000 for the Presidency, of which €700,000 is for pay.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. These questions relate to the European situation and the meetings held with various personalities, including President Barroso.

One of the defining features of the European response to the unprecedented global crisis which began in 2008 is that the tendency is do as little as possible until a crisis erupts and urgent intervention is required. There is no sense that the European leadership has come to grips with the nature of the crisis. In the aftermath of the Italian elections, there is still a lack of confidence with regard to the eurozone and its future. A particular election result in one country can have an impact on others, such as higher borrowing costs. There seems to be a lack of urgency in dealing with some of the issues. For example, where stands the banking union proposal? There is a sense that it has been delayed and watered down. The president of the Bundesbank and others have said they will not stand for any changes in policy. There are doubts about the nature and scale of the banking union when it finally emerges.

What new proposals for jobs and growth have been introduced by the Government at European level? On the face of it, the only significant event in the past month has been the agreement on the budget. The budget is the major instrument in the hands of European decision-makers for the creation of jobs and for the development of a pan-European stimulus. The cut in the annual budget of the European Union - which is less than 1% of the overall income of the European Union - bodes very poorly for the capacity of the European Union to create jobs. I await the Taoiseach's response on this issue.

I refer to the European Central Bank and Irish interest payments. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on suggestions made by Mr. Draghi and members of the ECB council that they may require our Central Bank to sell off its Irish bond holdings much earlier than projected in the aftermath of the IBRC liquidation. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify the issue.

The ECB is currently earning over €500 million per year in profits from its Irish bonds. Last year the ECB agreed to return to Athens all profits on Greek bonds. Ireland and other countries that have been forced out of the market by current EU policies have a clear right to be treated in the same way as Greece. It has been confirmed that Ireland has not formally asked for this money to be returned to Dublin. Will the Taoiseach change his policy and formally request that the €500 million be returned to Ireland?

The horsemeat scandal continues to do immense damage to one of our most important industries. I am on the record as saying that in my view, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, understated and underestimated the scale and gravity of that scandal. The degree to which it is still locked within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is worrying. In my view, the interests of health and consumer rights have been relegated behind that of the industry. In the early days of this controversy we all received assurances that the crisis was nearly solved. Various other countries were being blamed, such as Poland. It seems that official statements were being cavalier in calling out the names of other countries as being responsible for this kind of behaviour. We know as of last weekend that on our own doorstep there has been falsification of labelling and horsemeat exported as beef to other countries. This is a major issue which should be the responsibility of a number of Departments. The Department of Health has jurisdiction over the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. There is a need for an independent inquiry into the horsemeat scandal - one that does not have the capture of the industry. It seems that in the earlier phase of the response to this issue the Government was focusing on the effect of the scandal on the industry. Ultimately, that does more harm than good.

I agree that the reaction from Europe was not as expeditious or as energetic as one would wish when the economic crisis first began. The tools that are currently available to deal with it were not in place at the time when this country went over the edge. The situation is very different now. I have said this publicly on other occasions. Decisions have been taken at the European Council, since I became a member, in which there was very little faith or belief. This was reflected in market opinion the day after many of those decisions were made. The attitude has changed now. The European Council mandated the Ministers for Finance to look at the question of the architecture of the single supervisory mechanism. Their proposal was put forward before Christmas and endorsed by the European Council. Far from the talk of the demise of the euro and countries being thrown out of the European Union or leaving the euro, the prospect is very different now. Ireland is making steady progress - under challenging conditions, admittedly - towards exiting the programme in 2013.

Deputy Martin referred to the banking union. An agenda on banking union is being followed through by the Ministers for Finance. It is hoped they will report in June on that architecture. Some time at the back end of this year or early in 2014, the banking union single supervisory mechanism will click in. The working group set up by the Ministers for Finance will report next month on the issue of an extension of the maturity of loans for Ireland and Portugal, as was given to Greece. It is hoped that progress will be made on that matter.

I asked about the interest.

I will deal first with the question about equine DNA. This scandal was uncovered due to the validity and the extensive range of testing carried out by the FSAI. It was assumed by people that this was an Irish problem. This testing has had global implications-----

Foreigners were blamed in the beginning.

Yes, I understand. However, just yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, together with the Ministers in Europe, have set out the criteria that will apply.

As Deputy Martin is well aware, there is no room here for cowboys. This is the case because both our standards and our reputation as an exporting nation, with particular reference to foodstuffs, are of such importance. Those standards, which will apply across Europe, are being discussed and will hopefully be signed off by the European Ministers. The activities of whoever has been involved in what has occurred are now the subject of a criminal investigation. While it has been stated all along that there is no danger to people's health, this is not a situation over which anyone can stand. This is an exceptionally complex issue, particularly in terms of tracing of the origin of various ingredients used in the production of beefburgers and discovering how these arrived in the plants at which the latter are produced. It is far from being a simple issue of somebody infiltrating the line, as it were. An extensive and complex operation has obviously been in train for quite some time. However, that operation was discovered by virtue of the quality of the Irish testing regime. Again, this proves that our standards must - in the interest of consumers - be applied across the board.

In the context of the meetings we have had with Presidents Barroso, Schulz and Van Rompuy in the lead-in to the multi-annual financial framework discussions, Ireland wanted a budget that facilitated us in developing the European Union, providing opportunities to keep the CAP intact and focusing on the exceptional phenomenon of youth unemployment. That is why €6 billion has been included for countries with a rate of unemployment among young people that is above 25%. Assuming the European Parliament approves the budget, I hope the schemes being developed will pay dividends in Ireland's case. As we discussed last week, the €150 million set aside for PEACE IV is important for Northern Ireland, and another €100 million is being made available for rural development and the BMW region. The latter funding stream was supposed to have come to a complete end by now.

The Italian people have made their choice in respect of the politicians who presented themselves for election. The final results will indicate whether they will be obliged to vote again. I am anxious that Europe keep its focus on the three pillars that are the hallmark of our Presidency - namely, stability, growth and jobs. That is why the Labour Relations Commission paper in respect of the agreement with the trade unions provides an important signal with regard to Ireland's meeting the challenges it faces in reducing its deficit and putting itself back on a strong financial footing for the future.

What about interest rates?

I wish to concentrate on the outworking of the promissory note deal and on initiatives to tackle unemployment. I will perhaps return to the issue of the horsemeat controversy later. Just this week, the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Mr. Olli Rehn, stated that the expected €1 billion savings from the promissory note deal should not be regarded as a "windfall gain" for the Irish economy. The Taoiseach will recall that when the deal was first agreed, Government spokespersons said it would give rise to €1 billion less in tax increases and spending cuts in the budget. Does that continue to be the situation? Has the Taoiseach discussed this matter with any of those whom he met at the series of bilateral meetings to which he alluded? Has he discussed with anyone what Commissioner Rehn described as a backstop or economic cushion to facilitate our exit from the bailout programme? Will the Taoiseach elaborate on this matter? What are the arrangements involved and what is likely to be put in place? Last week the Taoiseach stated that the agreement reached by the European Council last June remains in place. Is it still his view that the Government will obtain a deal on the retrospective recapitalisation of the pillar banks? If so, when is this likely to happen?

There are 26 million unemployed people across the EU, approximately 6 million of whom are under the age of 25. This represents a huge crisis and it is reflected in this State. Given the level of emigration from this country, the figures can to a degree appear somewhat better than is actually the case. During Ireland's Presidency, the Government will have an opportunity to show great leadership by moving away from austerity. It will also have an opportunity to move us away from the old European Union and into one which will deliver stability, jobs and growth. The latter is the slogan being used in respect of this Presidency. If we consider the initiatives that have been taken to tackle the crisis, it is obvious that they are not sufficient. The figure for youth unemployment across the EU is 23.4%. In certain member states, it is even higher than that. Some €6 billion has been allocated in respect of the youth guarantee but only €3 billion of this is new money. The other €3 billion is being taken from the social fund, which would previously have filtered into many communities across the EU. In the context of the Presidency, what initiatives does the Government propose to launch to spearhead efforts to tackle the unemployment crisis across the Union?

Last year I presented a paper to the European Council on unemployment among young people. No funding at all had been allocated in the budget to deal specifically with this scourge, which is affecting quite a number of countries. Rates of unemployment and employment vary from country to country. In reply to previous questions from the Deputy, I indicated that Austria has a youth unemployment rate of 3%, that the rate in Ireland is 29% to 30% and that in Spain and a number of other countries it is 50% or more. This is the reason that all of the leaders, as I understand it, made a specific case during the bilateral meetings with President Van Rompuy - I was no different in this regard - that funding should be put in place for unemployment programmes for young people. The €6 billion allocated is new money and Ireland will obtain a portion of it. I hope the schemes put forward will not just be schemes for schemes' sake but will give young people the opportunity to get on the ladder of employment and make a contribution.

I heard the comments made by Commissioner Rehn. We have clearly outlined the path we propose to take in order to reduce our deficit to 3% of GDP by 2015. We will not be deflected from achieving this goal because the future rests on ensuring that our country is lean and competitive, that our cost base is reduced, that the banks operate as they should and that, as a result of lower interest rates, we have access to credit, which can be spread around in respect of the opportunities that exist by the thousand. That is extremely important.

The question of getting money back for the taxpayer is a central issue in the relevant discussions of the Eurogroup of finance Ministers, which is chaired by the Minister for Finance. Commissioner Rehn stated that there was no reason countries that had committed to a course of action should not honour that commitment. This matter has been raised in the House on previous occasions. Ireland was specifically mentioned in the decision made on 29 June last. It was agreed at the time - this was publicly endorsed by the French President, Mr. Hollande, and the German Chancellor, Ms Merkel - that our specific circumstances would be taken into account at the discussions which are now taking place. What we want to do is to reach a position at which, arising out of the decision of 29 June last, the maximum amount of money possible will be retrieved for our taxpayers.

That decision has not been changed. It is set out clearly by the European Council. The Presidency now falls to Ireland, and our Minister for Finance happens to have initiated the discussions within the Eurogroup about that very issue.

The Deputy will recall that the decision on 29 June set out that this could lead to the potential for recapitalisation of banks from the ESM. Our challenge, therefore, is to set out a position, which is recognised by everybody, with regard to how Ireland can now use the mechanisms currently in place - which were not in place when Ireland borrowed very extensively in the beginning - to retrieve the maximum amount we can for our taxpayers. That will be the centre of those discussions, which will continue during the course of 2013. That is the part of the progression we have to set out here to restore the economic health of the country. Obviously, there are other issues with regard to banks, mortgages, remuneration and so on, and the Minister for Finance will comment later in respect of the bank guarantee.

Does the Taoiseach know when those meetings will come to a conclusion?

They will continue through 2013. I cannot see that being implemented earlier. I believe there will be substantial progress towards the back end of this year. It is expected that it will kick in from 2014 but, as the Deputy is aware, when discussions at that level get going all kinds of complications can arise. However, our objective is clear. The European Council decision is in place and we are named in it specifically. The scale of the challenge facing Ireland and the particular circumstances that apply here have been recognised. Our intention, therefore, is to focus those discussions on how these tools can now be used to get the maximum amount back for the Irish taxpayer.

It was reported earlier in the year that the amount spent on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union would be €70 million, which is twice what the Danish Presidency paid. Does the Taoiseach believe that is acceptable when we are talking about further cruel cuts to low- and middle-income workers, including firefighters, gardaí and nurses, many of whom will probably be on-call and asked to work overtime during the EU Presidency? Does he believe it is acceptable that, for example, we are paying out €66,000 on neckties for the Presidency; €143,000 on wool scarves; €250,000 towards a website and gifts such as mugs and golf umbrellas; and a reported €775,000 on stationary packages for eurocrats and journalists? Does the Taoiseach believe that is enough to drive ordinary workers in this country around the twist? We are wining and dining these guys who are coming here while ordinary workers are being slaughtered, so to speak.

With regard to the so-called deal on the promissory note, is it not the case that since the great drama of the legislation being rammed through the Dáil that night, what has come out from several European spokespersons, including some from the European Central Bank and other senior figures, is that we will get nothing in terms of relief or respite for ordinary citizens from the crippling burden of austerity as a result of that deal? Although the Taoiseach asked us to engage in a great celebration as a result of that deal, it has been stated repeatedly by leading European spokespersons that Europe is specifically saying he is not allowed to hand that on in the form of stimulus measures, relief, respite or reversal of the cuts, or anything that will make a difference. Is it not the case that they are insisting that any so-called savings we may accrue - and that is doubtful - as a result of this deal must go towards accelerating the deficit reduction targets and paying off the debts of the private financial institutions, and that we will benefit not a whit from them? Could the Taoiseach comment on what has been said to us in terms of that relationship and what has been said to him in that regard? Does he intend to make that an issue during the Presidency and insist that we be allowed to pass on those savings to ordinary workers who are being hit with cuts, or that we be allowed not to sell off the State forestry assets, or that we be allowed to give some money to a stimulus programme to create jobs? What will the Taoiseach do in that regard during the period of our Presidency?

Last year we announced a €2.5 billion stimulus package covering a range of educational, health and legal facilities around the country. Many of those are either under way or in the preparation stage.

The Department of the Taoiseach's Estimate for 2013 is €20.086 million, of which €2.485 million has been allocated to the Presidency. Seven hundred thousand euro of that is for pay, and other costs relate to matters such as the Presidency website and communications and to hosting Presidency-related events.

I assume Deputy Boyd Barrett has attended events in other countries on issues they might be promoting, but he is really putting on the whinger's face when he says we cannot give visitors to our country a memento of the Irish Presidency, whether it be a tie, a scarf or whatever. He is descending to the bottom of the pit if that is his attitude.

The Government decision of 20 December 2011 agreed that additional resources of the order of €60 million, plus security costs, would be required to meet the costs of our Presidency in 2013. That is a lot of money, but the Presidency is a major undertaking on behalf of 500 million people. It is across the entire spectrum of the Government. It is a lengthy period and a major challenge for any small country to undertake. It is also the last time we will have to undertake this particular effort for the next 14 or 15 years. Every effort is being made to meet the challenge as responsibly and as reasonably as we can, while taking advantage of the promotional opportunities the Presidency provides.

Sixty million euro is at the low end of Presidency Estimates in recent years and represents a reduction on the 2004 Presidency, for which there was €93 million in specific budgeting, and on which approximately €110 million was spent when all costs were taken into account. Nine years on, therefore, there is a very significant reduction in the cost of the Presidency; the costs of other countries participating are greater.

Twice what the Danes spent.

A sum of €23 million was allocated in 2012 and €36 million has been allocated for 2013. That will be used to fund the management of the Presidency here in home Departments; the operation of a significantly enlarged Permanent Representation in Brussels, with more than 90 people; a programme of events taking place in Ireland; and a cultural programme that uses the Presidency to promote Ireland and Irish culture to an international audience, which showcases the role of the EU in Ireland and is very important not just for tourism or The Gathering but for future years. The funding is also being deployed to meet additional staff resources both here and in the Permanent Representation in Brussels, where 90 extra young people have been taken on. It is also used to provide conference facilities and catering, because, whether Deputy Boyd Barrett likes it or not, those involved have to eat something. Fifteen thousand delegates will visit Ireland. Does the Deputy think we can bring them here without giving them an Irish welcome?

If that is the Deputy's view, he is even further to the left than I thought. It is also being used to provide administrative support for the greatly enlarged EU affairs division in all Departments. We have set out to run an efficient and cost-effective Presidency. In all aspects of administrative planning we have tried to find the space to fulfil our responsibilities and meet reasonable expectations and to do so in a cost-effective fashion. The use of Dublin Castle and a small number of other State-owned and managed venues, mainly in Dublin, is a clear example of this. Hosting events in State-owned properties greatly reduces venue hire and set-up costs, as well as keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum, which I am sure the Deputy will appreciate. At the Permanent Representation in Brussels all additional staff are being accommodated in the existing office premises, which means we do not have to lease or rent new premises. While it has led to some congestion, it has assisted in a common purpose of having people work together in the interests of the country.

The volume of goods and services supplied to the Presidency has been critically reviewed and, where possible, procurements have been aggregated to get the most benefit from greater buying power. From January to June, approximately 180 meetings and associated events will take place in Dublin, involving 15,000 delegates and the international press. It is in our interests that these are well managed and run effectively and competently. Offsetting part of the cost will be revenue generated by visiting Ministers and delegates and the use of local services and service providers for Presidency purposes. In addition, Audi Ireland is suppling a fleet of vehicles for use during informal ministerial meetings which will take place. Eircom and UPC are providing telecommunications services at the meeting venues. There are a number of smaller sponsorship and support arrangements in place, including support by Certification Europe of the certification and award process in respect of Double ISO certification for Dublin Castle in event sustainability and environmental management systems; the provision of some electric cars by the ESB; Visit it Virtually through a 3D animated construction of Dublin Castle and Agtel's provision of kinetic typography for the Presidency website wwww.eu2013.ie.

Semi-State companies such as Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia, local authorities such as Dublin City Council and bodies such as the Irish Hotels Federation are working very closely with the Presidency to run it as effectively as possible and send a good message about the country that despite the economic challenges we face, Ireland is well able to measure up in running a global Presidency in the interests of what we are doing here. It is 40 years since Ireland joined the European Union and it is still a net beneficiary of the European taxpayer, despite the fact that income per capita is among the highest in Europe.

The eurozone is in a severe economic crisis, while growth is stagnant. Tragically, 26 million people are unemployed, including a huge cohort of youth. All over Europe, particularly in southern Europe, austerity is the agenda being driven by the leadership of the European Union. Is it not the reality that the Irish Presidency will mean absolutely nothing to the tens of millions of suffering working class poor people in the European Union considering that the Taoiseach in driving the austerity agenda here will do absolutely nothing to bring new ideas or a different policy to bear on what is going on in Europe economically? Is it not the reality that the Irish Presidency, under the Taoiseach's leadership, will be nothing more than a blur that will be quickly forgotten as far as the hard-pressed peoples of Greece, Italy, Spain and other countries are concerned because he has nothing original or radical to contribute in bringing about a change in economic policy which would give hope to people stuck in this crisis, while at the same time, incidentally, big European corporations have approximately €3 trillion of accumulated profits sitting in banks which they refuse to invest? The financial press was full of it last year. What will the Taoiseach do to force these funds into productive investment?

What is the real truth coming from EU summits when, for example, last year we were assured that there was a significant move towards the so-called separation of sovereign debt and bank debts and that major steps were allegedly being taken in that regard? The Taoiseach came into the Dáil two weeks ago with an agreement on Anglo Irish Bank's toxic debt which did exactly the opposite and pinned it formally to the Irish people and the sovereign for the next 40 years. Will he explain the disconnect between the two?

In regard to the intensive discussions the Taoiseach has been having in the course of the Presidency, will he explain the implications for the State and the Government arising from the two pack and the six pack process in the European Union as it affects the budgetary process in this country? What has been decided or what is coming from the discussions in regard to the submission of an Irish budget to European bureaucrats for approval before the Dáil or anybody else sees it? What are the implications for the date of the next budget - budget 2014?

The Deputy was correct when he said there were 26 million people unemployed in the European Union. Growth is sluggish around the world, which is a major problem and a scourge in many countries, causing a great deal of concern and anxiety inside and outside the eurozone and the European Union. Other countries have a growth rate of 5%, 6% and 7%.

When speaking about Ireland, the former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton, made the point that there was opportunity in the European Union market of 500 million which was enhanced by a further 500 million on the edges where growth was very strong. This means trade is an issue for the European Union. With 90% of world trade taking place outside the borders of the European Union, clearly there are opportunities, which is why we need to address issues with Japan, Singapore and Canada and get negotiations between the European Union and the United States under way. I was very happy that the high level report recommended that this should commence. The European Union under the Irish Presidency has been very happy to say that should become a reality. I was glad to note that in his State of the Union address President Obama referred to this issue specifically. The indications are that were we to conclude these negotiations - obviously, it would take some time - there would be the potential to create at least 2 million jobs in Europe and to raise the figure for economies by at least 2%.

In respect of the budget agreed by the Council but to which approval has not yet given by the Parliament, the consent of which is necessary following the Lisbon treaty, €6 billion was included for youth unemployment initiatives in the most affected areas. I hope our share of this sum will be used effectively. The budget includes a €3 billion youth unemployment initiative; €125 billion for competitiveness and growth measures to create jobs with, for instance, the ERASMUS programme and research and development measures being singled out, over and above the 2013 amounts; €325 billion in Cohesion Funding, a major tool for job creation, and €100 million for rural development measures and the BMW region.

The Deputy referred to the promissory notes.

Clearly, the signals internationally have been very positive in terms of the rating agencies looking at Ireland differently and the investment line continuing to be very strong. I met with the representatives of a multinational this morning and they were exceptionally taken by the way Ireland and its people are dealing with this challenge. They made the point that many other countries should look at how we are making progress towards emerging from this very difficult situation.

The benefits of the promissory note decision were outlined in the course of the debate in the House. The provision of a longer-term non-amortising portfolio of Government bonds to replace the promissory notes will have a significant benefit from a market perspective as it ensures the liability to repay is beyond most credit investors' time horizon. It spreads the cost of the promissory notes from a weighted average life of seven to eight years to 34-35 years at a lower funding cost for the State, resulting in significant annual interest savings. There is a substantial annual cash flow benefit to the State from replacing the promissory notes with non-amortising Government bonds amounting to €20 billion over the next ten years in reduced borrowing. Obviously, there is a reduction in the general Government deficit or debt over time, efficiency gains from legacy assets in a single vehicle, the removal of IBRC from the financial landscape and the removal of exceptional liquidity assistance and the inherent risk associated with short-term borrowings which have had to be rolled over on a fortnightly basis. The overall effect is that we enhance our debt sustainability and assist our return to the markets. This solution does not address other issues in the Irish banking system which must be addressed, notably the question of distressed mortgages, which we have debated here previously, the reports that come in about remuneration and the question of getting the maximum amount of money we can for our taxpayers.

I have given the Deputy the figures for the elements that are included in the MFF. The two-pack that was agreed was brokered by the Irish Presidency in talks with the European Parliament and the European Commission. This is a key piece of the eurozone's economic architecture and was a priority of our Presidency. The new rules will improve budgetary and economic co-ordination among eurozone countries. They will ensure that we will have full knowledge of developments across the eurozone and assist in preventing future crises. As I said during a previous Question Time, this means the Government will make a decision in regard to the timing of the budget, which will be earlier this year than last year. The Government will set out at an earlier date the overall picture of the budget for 2014. It has not yet made a decision about the date of the budget, which will be presented later this year, but it will be earlier than December.

We will make a decision on that in the next couple of weeks.

It will not be a case of presenting documents to lending countries which have a right to see them. The Minister for Finance will present his budget in the normal way and anything presented to any other country will be laid in the Oireachtas Library at the same time. It is not a case of representatives from other countries seeing an Irish budget before we see it.

The new two-pack initiative will ensure that the Commission will see our budget. That was recently agreed.

I asked the Taoiseach a question earlier to which he did not reply. It relates to the ECB, which is currently earning over €500 million per year in profits from its holdings of Irish bonds. Last year, the ECB agreed to return all profits on Greek bonds to Athens. Ireland and other countries forced out of the market, essentially by EU policies, have a clear right to be treated in the same way as Greece. It has been confirmed that Ireland has not formally asked for this money to be returned to Dublin. Will the Taoiseach change his policy and formally request that this €500 million be returned to Ireland?

The second issue is jobs. The European Union is not doing enough on the scale required on the jobs issue. The EU budget has been cut for the first time ever. It is completely counterintuitive and is going in the opposite direction to the United States. There has been quantitative easing in the United States and it has a very assertive central bank, which has responded to the worst crisis across the globe since 1929. The approach in the US has been different. The US is not out of the woods but it has had two substantial stimulus packages and its central bank is behaving far differently from the European Central Bank in its response to the crisis, although I accept things have improved under Mario Draghi. With regard to jobs, nobody can say convincingly that Europe is treating the jobs crisis with the urgency it requires. It has reduced its overall budget and is reallocating from the same envelope, all because the payer countries are determined that the budget should be continually reduced. In fact, the influence of David Cameron over the budget negotiations was quite significant, and he got his way to a significant degree in respect of his agenda for cutting the budget. What is the Taoiseach's response?

I do not have the detail of the discussions the Minister for Finance has undertaken. I will advise Deputy Martin of the current position with that matter.

Is the Taoiseach not aware of it?

In respect of bonds and interest rates, I do not have the information about the current position of that discussion. I will advise the House when I do.

With regard to the European budget, there was a range of issues involved for the 27 member states. Some wanted Cohesion Funds, some wanted Structural Funds and some wanted serious cuts in administration for the Commission. There was a genuine feeling among contributor countries that there should be a cut in the European budget. The point made was that as every government is required to cut back seriously, there should also be a cut back in the European budget. The point of argument was how far that should be. The European Parliament, European Commission and European Council had their own views, while contributor countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Britain had their views.

In the initial discussions that took place before Christmas there were 14 or 15 vetoes on the table because of the requirement in that regard. That meeting was suspended until the European Council met again to consider the matter. There was a great deal of discussion about how far it was possible to move from the positions that had been adopted. When the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and others made their views known there was an acceptance that one did not want a pyrrhic victory of the European Council saying that a budget had been agreed because at the other end of the equation it required the support, approval and consent of the European Parliament.

The European Parliament wanted more spending.

When the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, was here and I met him he said we would need something to do with own resources and flexibility to get approval from the European Parliament. When President Van Rompuy was in the European Parliament recently he was given a fairly torrid time. Some sections of the Parliament are already gearing up for the European elections next year.

At the end of the day, there was a general acceptance of the validity of the budget. The figures under the five headings were: smart and inclusive growth, €451 billion; sustainable growth and natural resources, €373 billion; security and citizenship, €16 billion; global Europe, €59 billion; and administration, €62 billion. There were reductions for the Commission, there were reductions all around, with compromise here and there. For us, we made the point that a budget fit for purpose was required, that the CAP had to be protected and that it was necessary to look after research and innovation and to put money into employment schemes for young people. In a more local sense, we raised the PEACE programme for Northern Ireland and the issue of funding for rural development and for the situations that arose here. Other countries such as Cyprus, Malta, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, for Alpine farmers, did the same.

Each leader's country had its own case to make. To accommodate all of these in a budget which was going to be reduced, it was better to compromise rather than to have to revert to the annual negotiation of budgets. That would absorb an enormous amount of time and torpedo the effectiveness of Ireland's Presidency. I am glad the Council made its decision and hope we can work with the President of the European Parliament and the Commission to obtain consent and approval. I hope this can become a reality soon.

I am surprised the Taoiseach does not know about the €500 million bonds issue.

I do not know what the up-to-date position is. I will revert to the Deputy.

I want to return to the issue of the horsemeat scandal. In his earlier remarks the Taoiseach neglected to tell us whether he had discussed it as part of the ongoing series of general meetings or in the bilateral meetings in which he has engaged. It is worth commending the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for having found this out in the first instance. I note and commend the co-operation between the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the agricultural Minister in the North, Ms Michelle O'Neill. While I do not want to repeat any of the rumours, I share people's concerns. We saw the revelation about the factory in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. We have called for an investigation into these matters and it may be that there is more to them than we know. Clearly, we must have confidence, given that so many people are dependent on jobs in the farm and agrifood industries.

There is a particular issue of consumer rights. If there is false labelling, people buy something that is not advertised. If something is advertised as Irish when it is not, the very good reputation developed through the hard work of many people is tarnished. I ask the Taoiseach to provide the House with an update on these matters. Deputy Martin Ferris is bringing forward legislation which the Taoiseach will not yet have seen on traceability and labelling. Has the Taoiseach had discussions with our partners in the European Union on the matter?

If Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett has another supplementary questions, will he put it now? I am conscious of the time limit.

Yes, thank you. I am not being a miserable skinflint or extremist in suggesting the budget for the Presidency might be excessive.

The Deputy would never be like that.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the budget is excessive when we are proposing to spend twice as much as the Danish Presidency - in the region of €70 million - and when many of those who will be catering for and facilitating delegates coming to events are being hammered with cuts? They are being placed in extreme financial distress as a result of decisions being made by the EU authorities. I would not mind if the Taoiseach put the delegates on a bus to Ballymun, Ballyfermot or Ballybrack to point to estates in which there is a 50% unemployment rate. I would not mind if he put them on a Dublin Bus service to west or north Dublin to point to estates where half of the residents are in negative equity.

That is on the northside.

It would be a useful trip for delegates and give them a sense of the reality of what their austerity measures are doing to the State. To be happy-clappy and handing out ties, scarves and mugs when the country is being battered with austerity policies is to take the stage Irishman act a little too far. We should be pointing out to delegates the grim reality that their determination to force ordinary people to pay off the debts of private financial institutions is not working for the State and that we need relief. It might help us to win the argument on legacy debt relief.

Someone has to make it.

God love Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. The Greek Prime Minister does not have to go to an estate in Ireland to see the implications of incompetence and an economic crash, nor do the Spanish, Maltese and Portuguese Prime Ministers or the new President of Cyprus. In other countries there are significantly worse conditions than in Ireland. They look at Ireland two years after the point at which we had neither reputation nor integrity, 250,000 jobs had been lost in the private sector and money was haemorrhaging from banks and see our people working together with the Government in transforming the economy from what it was to what it can be. If the Deputy thinks it is beneath the Irish to give some memento of the Presidency, be it a decent meal, a tie or a scarf, God love him. He is further out than I ever thought.

The figure is €70 million.

That is a very expensive tie.

Will Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett wear a tie?

Even Deputy Gerry Adams at his most eloquent would never suggest anything like that. He would say, "Send them away with a little memento of the Irish Presidency." Poland spent €100 million.

Give them a brick from a NAMA building.

When delegates come here, they want to be associated with the people. They like Irish culture and music and the gregariousness of the Irish.

I like Irish culture. Friends of mine have had to leave the country.

We could give them a sapling from a Coillte forest before we send them off.

I attended at the Four Seasons last week the COPA farming group event which was attended by 400 people, including 200 farmers from all over Europe. The best Irish produce was on display and the delegates enjoyed their visit.

Our citizens cannot even afford that produce.

They wanted to participate further and engaged directly with Irish farmers, agri-sector representatives and producers with a view to buying our products. That is good for job creation and economic expansion. Even Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett who attended a private school-----

There is no need for that.

He wore a tie and blazer.

-----and was reared as a model student will appreciate that visitors to these shores have always been made welcome and we would want to send them away with a little of what we have.

Did you ever wear any of the ties you were given?

A tie or scarf hanging in the wardrobe is a little memento of days spent in Ireland to see how a country could emerge from a very challenging programme. We hope to do this in 2013. I hope when it happens and the sun shines in his constituency Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett will agree that the Irish have never let themselves down in the area of hospitality shown to people who visit our shores.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question on horsemeat.

He was distracted.

He was in the Four Seasons with the beef.

I am sorry. It is a very important question. The horsemeat problem was discovered because of the extensiveness of forensic testing in Ireland. The decisions taken yesterday in Brussels and on Wednesday, 13 February, have had the clear outcome of introducing testing in all member states. This is an issue on which we cannot afford to mess around. It is very technical and complex. The purchase and distribution of horsemeat and its infiltration into the system here are at the centre of a criminal fraud investigation. I hope that when the root cause is established, serious action will be taken. For the sake of our reputation and the quality of what we produce and other countries, we cannot afford to have this problem which was discovered because of the quality of testing in Ireland. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, in his capacity as President, with the European Commissioner, agreed to carry out testing in all member states. Ireland will lead the charge. I expect our tests will be more significant than others, maintaining our reputation, image and brand quality with the leaders where they have always been.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.