Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 23 Oct 2013

Vol. 818 No. 2

Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements

The European Council meeting later this week is the first since the end of Ireland's successful Presidency of the EU Council. It will consider the digital economy, innovation and services, social and economic issues and ongoing work on the economic and monetary union. I have three equally important priorities at this summit: to contribute to a productive discussion on the digital economy, innovation and services as vital sources of future growth for Ireland and Europe; to push for action on developing digital skills in order to combat youth unemployment and to urge partners to reach agreement on the final elements of banking union, which is the outstanding political and economic priority which Heads of State and Government must address. This will also be the final summit before Ireland's planned exit from the EU-IMF bailout programme in December. I believe this will be an important achievement for Ireland and Europe, demonstrating that solidarity between European partners, allied to strong implementation, can actually be successful.

It is essential that Ireland's return to the markets is sustained and durable. As the House will be aware, the Minister for Finance is currently engaged in discussions with the troika partners on how best this can be achieved. I have also written to each member of the European Council in advance of the summit and I look forward to the opportunity of updating my colleagues on this issue tomorrow. I expect that Government will during the next few weeks weigh up all of the information received in regard to Ireland's exit from the bailout and its consequences prior to making its decision. Overall, I am pleased that the focus on jobs and growth which was the defining feature of Ireland's Presidency is being continued. Jobs and growth are priority issues for citizens in Ireland and across the continent. I will work to ensure that Europe does not lose sight of this. The Council must show that it can deliver where it matters.

It is fitting that the digital economy and innovation should be considered by Heads of State and Government on this occasion. The digital economy is a huge source of growth and we must maximise its contribution. Ireland is particularly well placed to contribute to this debate. I am also convinced that the development of digital skills can make a tangible contribution to efforts to combat the dreadful blight of youth unemployment. I will be pushing for action on this at the Council meeting. Work on the stabilisation of the euro area is continuing. As we know all too well in Ireland, the relative calm of recent months does not mean that the task is finished. In Brussels, I will again push strongly for the completion of banking union. Good progress has been made but now we need to get the job done.

The Council agenda is extensive and in the course of our two day meeting we will also look at helping SMEs obtain financing - a further priority for my Government - and at the question of European regulatory fitness as well as the single market in services. In addition, on Friday morning, the Council is expected to deal with foreign policy issues. We will receive a briefing from the Lithuanian Presidency on preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of November.

We will also discuss the recent deeply sad events which saw hundreds of migrants drown near the Italian island of Lampedusa. We were all shocked by the television pictures showing the extent of the tragedy.

Before getting into more detail on the different items, I would like to make a more general comment. I am struck that the agenda for the European Council tomorrow is almost exactly the same as the provisional agenda announced by President von Rompuy some time ago. This underlines the fact that while there is still much to be done, Europe has moved out of immediate crisis mode. European Councils are no longer being completely overtaken by the events of the day. We have the time now to consider seriously economic and social challenges and to take long-term decisions. This is a positive development for all of us. This is what the European Council should do.

Discussion tomorrow afternoon will open with a political debate on the digital economy, innovation and services. I greatly welcome this as a contribution to ongoing work on the jobs and growth agenda. The discussion also aligns with our own strengthening domestic policy focus on entrepreneurship and skills development, including through the Action Plan for Jobs and the Pathways to Work strategy. Entrepreneurship will be fostered further by measures announced in last week's budget, namely, the start your own business scheme and capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs who reinvest the proceeds from the disposal of assets into new investment in productive enterprise.

As a major centre for both home-grown and foreign digital sector companies, Ireland is perfectly positioned to contribute to this debate on the digital sector, as we did when we hosted the successful digital assembly in June. The outcome from this summit, which I was very pleased to attend, has fed into the preparation of tomorrow's Council. It is also noteworthy that the Council is meeting just ahead of the Dublin web summit next week. The web summit has grown into a global gathering of more than 10,000 of the world's brightest minds in technology, representing not just technology companies and start ups, but all types of business being affected by new technologies. That Dublin plays host to such a significant event underlines the extent to which Ireland has established itself as a digital hub.

With Europe facing unacceptably high levels of unemployment, the reality is that most new jobs are created by fast-growing young firms which is generally taken to mean firms that are less than five years old. The key implication is that looking ahead five years, most of the new jobs created between now and then will be in firms that do not even exist today. Europe must ensure that it is creating the right conditions to support new growth areas. We need to recognise the role of coherent market rules in supporting trust and confidence in digital growth areas. We must also be careful to avoid new administrative requirements that would impose disproportionate burdens of red tape on the job-creating engine of the economy.

A central prerequisite for growth will be to ensure that our education and training systems are in line with the needs of the digital sector. The European Commission has estimated that by 2015 there could be up to 900,000 unfulfilled vacancies in the ICT sector. This skills mismatch is not only detrimental to our economies, but at a time of mass youth unemployment it is frankly unacceptable. I hope that the European Council will agree to concrete steps to address the skills shortage, including using part of the European Structural and investments funds for ICT education, support for retraining and vocational training in ICT. This would build on the work being done under the Commission's grand coalition for digital jobs, launched during Ireland's EU Presidency. Importantly, it would also be a concrete step towards combating unemployment and providing new prospects and new hope for young Europeans.

The European Commission estimates that the digital economy is growing at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy, but its potential is currently held back by a patchy pan-European policy framework. This was why we placed such a strong emphasis on this area during our Presidency. I am proud that we were able to make important progress on dossiers such as collective rights management, e-identification, data protection, cybersecurity and web accessibility, as well as on completing the European Network and Information Security Agency and public sector information legislation. These were all important aspects of the Irish Presidency, and we are very happy to see them completed.

Discussions at this week's Council should be seen against the backdrop of the compact for growth and jobs. Its goal is to achieve a well functioning digital single market by 2015. There is much to be done to fulfil this objective, including in the copyright and data protection areas, which are very complex indeed. A further focus here will be the connected Continent proposals for a single telecommunications market. This was presented by the Commission last month as the most ambitious telecommunications market reform in 26 years. Ireland has conveyed its broad support for this important and ambitious project, while also highlighting some particular sensitivities for smaller and peripheral member states, including in the spectrum management area.

Innovation will also be the focus of a political discussion at the Council. The most recent competitiveness Council on 26 and 27 September highlighted a number of serious concerns. These include the fact that European business research and development continues to lag behind its main competitors and that the European Research Area is still too fragmented. It is worrying that innovation and research performance across member states is not converging and that new European companies are growing more slowly than in US and failing to join the ranks of the world's largest firms. These are matters of concern. Against this background, the Commission has proposed a new innovation indicator that seeks to capture innovation outputs. Discussions are still at a relatively early stage, but it is hoped that it will balance the existing emphasis on research and development intensity under the Europe 2020 strategy.

I expect this week's European Council meeting to provide political guidance for this work, which is of particular interest to Ireland. We secured political agreement on the new Horizon 2020 package, which is now one of the world's largest public research programmes, under our Presidency in June. Our shared challenge now is to maximise its impact.

There is an impressive level of research currently being carried out in Ireland. I was reminded of this last week when I launched a €52 million science and engineering initiative at the University of Limerick. Known as the Bernal project and named after J.D. Bernal from Nenagh, this will make a significant contribution to our national research efforts in strategic areas such as pharmaceuticals, biomedical science and energy. That is a great project and there are five other world-class professors to be added to it, and I think it will lead to very significant results in the future. While great strides have been made, there is absolutely no room for complacency at national or European level and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue with my European colleagues.

The European Council will also discuss the single market in services, particularly in terms of improving implementation of the services directive. The Commission has recently completed the first phase of a peer review process that points to evidence of wide variations in professional regulation, legal form and shareholding practices across member states. It also adopted a communication at the beginning of this month, announcing the start of an evaluation of national regulations on access to professions. I support the work of the Commission here and will be pressing for a high level of ambition in our agreement on next steps.

Turning to social and economic issues, the European Council will review progress implementing the investment plan agreed in June and towards having the youth employment initiative fully operational from the beginning of 2014. Significant progress was made in this area under the Irish Presidency. As mentioned earlier, I will also be pushing for recognition of the concrete role which the development of digital skills can play in combating youth unemployment.

I am glad that the issue of SME financing is on the Council agenda again. This is a key national issue for Ireland and indeed for all our economies. There is an undeniable need for early and tangible progress and Ireland has taken a very proactive role in this discussion at European level. It is clear that the European Investment Bank, EIB, has a crucial role to play, particularly in supporting recovery in economies hit hardest by the crisis. Looking beyond the role of the EIB, it is clear that the whole area of non-bank financing for SMEs requires further attention. Ireland is now actively involved in the work being taken forward by finance Ministers on foot of the Commission's Green Paper on long-term financing of the European economy. I look forward to early, concrete proposals here.

There will also be initial political reactions to the Commission's regulatory fitness proposals, as presented at the beginning of this month. I believe we should view our digital and smart regulation agendas as entirely interdependent. The increasing complexity of the digital era places a new premium on making things as simple as possible, removing unnecessary barriers, and minimising transaction costs for the job-creating sectors. We will press for clear objectives and timelines for specific measures on simplifying existing rules, withdrawing proposals that are not needed, and repealing legislation that is out of date.

This includes building on the Commission's earlier communication in March that has already identified the top-ten most burdensome pieces of EU legislation for SMEs.

The discussion on economic and monetary union is expected to take place tomorrow evening. My clear priority in this discussion will be to press for the swift completion of banking union. The issues involved are complex and sensitive but it is time now to move forward and finish the job. We need to make good on the agreement to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns. As I have consistently said, it is vital to the Union's credibility that decisions taken by leaders are implemented in full.

Like other EU partners, Ireland relies on the stability of our Union, and of the euro area, to copperfasten our fragile recovery. The recent stabilisation of sovereign borrowing rates in the Union is a product of hard-earned trust and confidence - trust that the banking union will be completed on time, and confidence that momentum will be maintained on our shared jobs and growth agenda. These political commitments must be implemented. No time can be lost in building on the decisions reached in 2012 and earlier this year on banking union legislation. I hope this Council will point the way forward on this.

Turning to the foreign policy elements of the agenda, I expect briefing by the Lithuanian Presidency on the state of play of preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit, to take place in Vilnius on 28 and 29 November. The main business will be the initialling of association agreements with Moldova and Georgia and potentially the signing of the association agreement with Ukraine. I am also expecting a discussion on the issues that arose following the tragedies near Lamepdusa.

I hope this provides an overview of the agenda to be discussed and I look forward to hearing Members' contributions.

When these pre-summit debates were introduced in 2011, the Government stated that it intended to ensure the Dáil had a real input into Ireland's policy at the most important level of the European Union. This is the 19th session we have had since then and there has been more than enough time to draw conclusions about their effectiveness. Unfortunately, this is yet another area where the Government has pretended to implement Dáil reform but has done nothing of the sort. There has been an increase in the amount of time given to European debate, but no one can credibly claim that the Dáil has been allowed to make any input whatsoever into the positions taken by Government at these summits.

The standard procedure, followed again today, is that the Taoiseach comes in and reads out a statement devoid of any real information. Unless something has been agreed in advance, he never gives us any detail on what Ireland's specific negotiating objectives are - something which allows him always to return from summits and announce that he has achieved his objectives.

These are supposed to be informed and constructive debates, but how can they be given that the Government has never circulated so much as a single piece of paper giving information about the summits and Ireland's proposals? The Dáil is informed of the general topics for discussion. In order to be able to make any contribution to these debates, the Opposition has to seek even basic information directly from Europe. When I have asked for details of material circulated by Ireland, or specific proposals put to Ireland, the Taoiseach has refused to provide the information in the House and has used a specific exemption from freedom of information legislation to block its release to me through that route. The Taoiseach has come to these debates and praised himself for rejecting a proposal but has blocked us from seeing the content of the proposal he rejected.

As we have seen yet again in the past week, this Government is more obsessed with public relations than any in our history. On European policy, the Government works in the hope that journalists will not look beyond the briefings and is, therefore, even more prone to systematic self-congratulation and exaggeration. The reality is that there is an unprecedented range of major issues currently under discussion in the European Council. These touch on the fundamental architecture of the European Union as well as every major economic and social policy. A number of member states have even initiated reviews of all existing Union competencies and are preparing proposals to roll back long-established actions.

In spite of this the Government has yet to make a significant public statement setting out its position on any of these matters. The President of the Council has held consultations on what formal changes to the European Union treaties should be sought to deal fully with the flaws in monetary union. He consulted our Government, but we have no idea how it responded. He published a proposal called "Towards a Genuine Economic & Monetary Union" in June of last year, but the Government has yet to outline its response. Worst of all, our neighbouring state and largest trading partner, whose jurisdiction extends to an important part of this island, has announced that it will potentially leave the European Union in four years' time and yet the Government is silent beyond uttering banal generalities.

It is long past time for the Government to start being open on what, if any, its objectives are in European matters, and to set out in specific terms exactly where it feels the best interests of Ireland and Europe lie. Only then will we actually start having meaningful debates here. The current approach, which is marginalising both the Oireachtas and the wider public, should stop.

Yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, announced a new phase in the public relations strategy, when he announced that he was negotiating an exit from the bailout with the European Central Bank. It is clearly intended that between now and December we will be treated to another round of breathless reports from "Government insiders" about their heroic efforts. This brings to mind the very insightful media commentary last month about how the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has become a master of misdirection.

The fact is that there is no exit to be negotiated. The programme agreed in late 2010 will come to an end. Even though it voted against 70% of the measures required to meet the targets in the programme, the Government has rolled out its strategy of praising itself as the saviour of the nation. This is fooling no one who pays attention.

What is more serious is that the Government is clearly putting self-promotion ahead of measures which Ireland needs and deserves. Ireland has not yet received equal treatment with other countries. Most importantly, the European Central Bank is keeping as profit interest it earns on its holdings of Irish bonds. These profits are returned to Greece, but we will this year lose €500 million in these payments. As this has not been mentioned publicly by any member of Government and given its tendency to leak anything at all that might make it look good, we must assume that this issue has not been put on the agenda.

As the Taoiseach will remember, it took him nearly a year and a half before he was willing to, albeit for a very brief period and only once in public, accept that Ireland required a bailout and was forced to carry an excessive debt. It is worth repeating what he said then: "Ireland was the first and only country which had a European position imposed upon it in the sense that there wasn't the opportunity, if the government so wished, to do it their way by burning bondholders."

The larger the backstop and the more explicit for Irish borrowing, the more secure and affordable will be market access for us in the post-troika funding period. What is Ireland seeking? Are we asking for the security of a backstop or not? What is our estimate for how much it might be worth in reduced interest? Until the Government starts providing even basic answers to these questions, people will be justified in believing that all that is under way is another public relations campaign leading up to a lot of backslapping in December. Of course this backslapping has a tendency to cover up how little was asked for or given. There are many examples of this, including the Government announcement made by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, in Washington, now long forgotten that burning of bondholders was on the way.

The best, however, remains the press conference in June of last year when the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, were giddy in their outlining of how they had just achieved a breakthrough on financing banks. The agreement of the European Council to potentially directly recapitalise banks with European Union funding - something Ireland had neither put on the agenda nor lobbied for - was, they claimed, a great victory for Ireland worth potentially up to €60 billion. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, in his typical way of taking credit without actually delivering, replied when asked what he was looking for said, "It's clear you've never been to the Fair of Glin or sold a calf. Sure, if I told them the minimum, that's what they would give me." So far it has been worth exactly nothing to Ireland and it appears unlikely to be worth anything in the future outside of another financial crisis.

I have said many times that a core priority for Ireland should be to seek an amended mandate for the European Central Bank.

Adding employment and growth to the targeting of inflation is essential if we are to have a European Central Bank which is a foundation for security rather than uncertainty. Mario Draghi has made a remarkably positive impact and it is almost frightening to imagine what would have happened last year if he had not faced down opponents to replace the failed orthodoxies and rigid policies of his predecessor. There is a new problem in that the Bundesbank has begun blaming the low ECB interest rate this week for an emerging house price boom in larger German cities. This is clearly a prelude to a push for higher rates. Ireland should join other countries in demanding that rates be set only in the interests of the eurozone as a whole. With crisis levels of unemployment, universal fiscal austerity and weak growth, the last thing Europe needs is rising interest rates.

This fifth summit of the year is yet another where the agenda is highly complacent. It does not display either the urgency or ambition which Europe needs. Important social and economic issues will be discussed but within the context of existing agreements and policies. The opening topic relates to the digital economy and innovation. Ireland should strongly support the proposals to strengthen the Single Market in this regard. We have many dynamic companies and a wide skills base built up over a decade and a half and the country is well poised to benefit from a more successful Single Market. In this respect, the Government should re-evaluate last week's budget and its potential impact on an area which is of growing economic and fiscal importance to us. We successfully reoriented much of the enterprise work of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to this area. An integrated policy has included everything from supporting frontier basic research through to targeted IDA Ireland activity. It has been so successful that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, have decided to whitewash this history from their speeches and publications. Given that so much has been deliberately covered up in the budget documentation, it is not clear where many of the cuts will fall, but it is known that €15 million is to be cut from the enterprise agencies. Since innovation is all that this money is spent on, it is a damaging decision which directly contradicts the Taoiseach's statement to be a supporter of expanded support for research and innovation. I congratulate the officials of the Department on their successful clearing during the Presidency of the first hurdle for enacting the Horizon 2020 research programme. The last-minute cut to the programme made by leaders was foolish, but the sooner it is up and running, the better.

Over dinner on Thursday night leaders are due to talk with Mario Draghi about a broad range of economic issues, including the balance sheet assessment of banks. The time allocated does not suggest that any significant developments are likely. Ireland should use this opportunity to speak up on the flawed banking union proposals which are progressing slowly and being watered down at every stage. Without common regulation and, in particular, some sort of common pool for deposit insurance, the banking union will fail and threaten us with another financial meltdown. More important, it will prevent a restoration of the confidence which is essential for the financial system to be able to return to proper levels of lending to small and medium enterprises and families.

The eastern partnership is on the agenda. It is clearly necessary for the Union to assert again that we see respect for human rights as a core requirement for deepening our relationships. The release of Yulia Tymoshenko is welcome but it in no way addresses the deeper issues which should give us all cause for concern with regard to Ukraine and the direction it is taking.

I call on the Government to break the habit it has developed during the 18 previous such sessions we have held and to start outlining some special details about what policies Ireland is promoting and supporting. If the Government continues the policy of bland generalities mixed with regular self-praise, it will confirm again that when it comes to being open and accountable, it will talk but never deliver.

I intend to share time with Deputy Dessie Ellis. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe. I understand this is his first outing. Tá fáilte roimhe. It has been my experience that his predecessor was very forthright and clear in her pronouncements in the House and I hope the Minister of State will follow that example. I thank the Taoiseach for his remarks as well.

As the Taoiseach pointed out, the agenda of the European Council meeting is intended to focus on competitiveness, the digital economy, innovation and services. None the less, the revelation by the Government of the United States of spying on the governments of EU member states through its National Security Agency programme will undoubtedly be raised. The Taoiseach never mentioned this and therefore we do not know the Government's view. Does the Taoiseach share the French Government's concern at these revelations? If it is raised, which it almost certainly will be, what will the Taoiseach say on behalf of the people?

There is also a significant dispute surrounding the EU budget and the urgent request from the President of the European Commission for a €2.7 billion supplementary budget. Mr. Barroso has warned that without a deal on the matter the Commission will no longer be in a position to meet its financial obligations by mid-November. He is looking for the governments to vote this through quickly and there are concerns despite indications this morning that the EU Presidency has brokered some sort of deal. Concerns remain surrounding future EU spending. MEPs are angry as well and are venting their anger because their request for a €3.9 billion budget supplement has not yet been approved. As a result of all this, the vote on the EU budget for 2014 to 2020 has been postponed. Consequently, this Council meeting takes on even more significance. I note the Taoiseach did not mention any of these matters in any detail in his remarks.

The postponement of the multi-annual financial framework budget vote also means the postponement of the debate on a series of legislative packages that were dependent on MFF funding and which cannot operate without it. We understand a special meeting of ministers with responsibility for EU affairs is scheduled for 30 October. Where does all of this sit with the Government's boast in June that it had secured the EU budget, that the MFF was all wrapped up and that it was a done deal? There is no evidence of that. On the contrary, we have a high stakes battle between the Council and the Parliament and the question is who will give way first.

The most important question is what the Government will propose because this is not the fair at Glin, this is the Dáil, and we are entitled to know the Government's position and its proposals to solve the crisis. What will the Government bring to the EU affairs ministers meeting at the end of the month? Does the Taoiseach accept that the proposed MFF is an austerity laden budget that will attempt to lock the EU into austerity policies for the next seven years? Those of us who live in the real world know that what is needed is more investment in the struggling economies of member states to get growth, quality job creation and citizens, especially young citizens, into work. What is needed is an end to waste, especially in the over-inflated administration budget and a stop to the ludicrous and expensive moving between Brussels and Strasbourg.

The Taoiseach tells us we are almost at the end of the bailout programme. A total of €67 billion was borrowed from the troika, €65 billion of which was put into the banks. For six years ordinary and hard-working taxpayers were told that taxes needed to rise and public services and wages had to be cut to pay for the bailout. We were told the bailout was needed to pay for the wages of our hard-working public servants and front-line workers. Yet it is these same low and middle income civil servants who are being hardest hit by the Government's crippling austerity policies.

The people want to see us leave the bailout, but what does that mean? What effect will it have on average Irish citizens? We continue to get spin. The Government is spinning the yarn that the brutal austerity it decided to implement as a policy decision was all because the troika forced the Government to impose it, but that is not the case. The Government had choices and it decided to opt for austerity. That was a policy choice the Government made. The troika, the big boys, did not make the Government do it. It did not make the Government go beyond next year's targets with more austerity and it has never told the Government where the axe should fall. It did not ask or tell the Government to go a further €480 million beyond its target, with more cuts and taxes, in budget 2014.

There must be clarity from the Government on many of these issues because otherwise, the debate simply becomes a bland exchange of assertions from one side to the other. To make matters worse, the stance taken by the Government in respect of its negotiating position and policy at European level ensured there was no debt write-off, no commitment on the bank debt and no easing up on austerity. Members need to know what changes this exit will bring. Will there be a lifting of the constraints on our sovereignty? What is our sovereignty? Members should consider the reality of how much control we have over our own affairs. It is known that future Government decisions on the economy will go under German and European Union surveillance for a long time but with no quid pro quo. Moreover, next year’s budget, like the one for this year, will be passed in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin before the Government eventually introduces it in this Chamber. In addition, the Government will not allow debates in this Chamber of the requisite length and depth. While there have been many congratulations - fair play to the Government, which has been congratulating itself - the facts speak for themselves. In 2008, the deficit was just over 7% and in 2013, the deficit remains just over 7%. In the interim, the Government has taken €28 billion out of the economy, crucified Irish families and decimated public services, while all the time protecting the banks. This is hardly a cause for celebration.

At the beginning of this month, the Special EU Programmes Body announced it was withdrawing its offer of £18 million in financial support to construct a peace and reconciliation centre on the site of the former Long Kesh prison camp. This money was withdrawn on foot of the reneging by the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, on a programme for Government commitment to construct the centre. The DUP has broken a programme for Government commitment, has snubbed more than €21 million of hard-won EU funding and has jeopardised an opportunity to build a centre which would have been a catalyst for other investment that could have created up to 5,000 jobs. The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has publically stated his commitment and determination to retrieve this project and have the funding reinstated. Will the Government also do all it can at a bilateral and EU level to ensure this funding is reinstated? The idea of a peace centre that can examine the legacy of conflict and learn the lessons therefrom is vitally important. The Taoiseach could learn lessons from it. In response to my questions to him this morning, he made a totally inappropriate remark about a dreadful incident that happened in my constituency of West Belfast on this day 20 years ago. If such matters are to be discussed, it should be done in a mature, reflective way that learns the lessons and not to make cheap political points.

I did not intend it that way Deputy.

Táim an-bhuíoch as labhairt ar an ábhar seo. I am thankful to be speaking on this subject. I also wish to express my gratitude to Edward Snowden for his courageous work in exposing the USA’s secret spying programme. During the summer, we learned that US agencies were secretly bugging the EU mission and member states in New York and its embassy in Washington, as well as the French Embassy in Washington and France's office at the United Nations in New York. It has now been revealed that more than 70 million French telephone calls were recorded in one 30-day period by the National Security Agency, NSA, late last year. It has been found that the interceptions were likely to have targeted people in business, politics and the French Administration, not those who it could be argued threaten America’s national security. The USA clearly is gathering inside knowledge of policy disagreements on global issues and other rifts between member states, particularly on the transatlantic trading and investment partnership, TTIP. Does the Taoiseach intend to raise this issue at the European Council this week? Will he advocate that the TTIP negotiations be stopped due to the USA’s illegal spying? It is ridiculous that this meeting will discuss EU-US co-operation on the digital industry and progress on new European data privacy laws and not face up to this huge elephant in the room. There are a lot of negative consequences of a TTIP for agricultural sovereignty, and ideologically Sinn Féin is opposed to what it seeks to create. However, at a basic level, how can the EU push on with these discussions and negotiations if there is no protection of private data for EU governments or citizens? The US Government has yet to even admit fault and apologise for its actions against so-called allies.

The agenda for this European Council includes a discussion on the progress of the youth employment initiative and the aim to make it fully operational by January 2014. The latest EUROSTAT figures show youth unemployment is at 23% across EU member states but the picture is even gloomier when looking at the jobless rate of under-25s in some crisis-hit countries. For example, it is 55.6% in Spain and 63% in Greece, while this State’s rate is more than 30%. This does not take into account the mass emigration of Irish citizens. It is estimated that over the last five years, 177,000 young people aged between 15 and 24 emigrated. This exodus exceeds even the previous crisis of the 1980s. This is not a lifestyle choice. Families and communities across Ireland and those forced to leave know that for them, emigration is an economic necessity. Although 89,000 people left last year, unemployment fell by just 23,000, which constitutes a 1% decrease in the unemployment rate. It is clear that the policy of Fine Gael and the Labour Party is failing the people and the economy. One way to reduce these trends would be a robust, funded youth guarantee scheme that would create quality full-time employment for those aged 25 or under. Last week the Government announced it was cutting the jobseeker's benefit rate for the under-25s. Those aged 21 to 24 will lose almost 33% of their weekly payment, while 25-year olds will lose 25% of their payment. Basically, the Government is kicking the future of this country when it is down, while wrapping it up in negative spin and blame. One is told that young people are lazy and this cut will shock them into work. One Labour Party Deputy stooped to portraying young people as stuck to flat screen televisions and being uninterested in working.

This illogical cut gives young people just one guarantee, namely, emigration. The meagre €14 million that has been announced for the youth guarantee scheme will do nothing to stop this. The Government seeks to force young people into temporary or precarious employment. Failing that, it will shame them into the JobBridge scam, thereby providing free labour for what would be full-time jobs with negative propaganda that they are lazy and unwilling to work. Cuts in jobseeker's allowance will despatch the rest to another country, thereby passing the buck once again. I take it that nothing else will change after this European Council meeting and discussion except an increase in the empty rhetoric over real investment in young people. The Gathering has nearly finished and 2014 will be the scattering for the young people because of the inadequate responses from the Government at a state and EU level.

Earlier this month, everyone was shocked by the Lampedusa boat disaster that killed more than 350 immigrants and many other similar disasters have occurred with much loss of life. Shockingly, survivors of the disaster were excluded from the funeral ceremony, which also fell short of the full state funeral the Italian Government originally had promised. This must be a massive wake-up for the European Union to increase the support it provides to prevent similar tragedies in the future. A lack of action from EU member states is leading to an increase risk of maritime disaster in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, further inaction could lead it to become a graveyard for the vulnerable and impoverished. The solution is not to create a fortress Europe or to shove vulnerable migrants into overcrowded, inhuman and prison-like camps.

We need to tackle the root causes of these migration trends and to ensure that the EU protects the dignity and human rights of all people within its territory. Does the Taoiseach plan to raise this issue at the European Council meeting? Does he have any plans to take action to prevent such tragedies in the future, including measures that address their root causes and that place the vulnerability and human rights of migrants at the centre of any response?

The next speaking slot will be shared by Deputies Ross, Boyd Barrett and Wallace who will each have five minutes.

If Angela Merkel was reading the Taoiseach's speech, or got a copy of it early, she would be a pretty happy Chancellor. The speech that was delivered here today is a confirmation that the Irish Government has been sucked into a swamp of complacency every time its representatives go to Europe. It is a great pity the Taoiseach delivered a speech which, as the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party described it, was one of satisfaction and self-congratulation. That speech is certainly acceptable in Europe and would please the powers that be in Europe. That sort of self-congratulation in saying "all is going well" is fine but I would like to hear the Taoiseach say something else. I would like him to go to Europe tomorrow and deliver a speech outlining what is happening in Ireland and what the effect of Mrs. Merkel's budget is in Ireland. It is all very well to stand up and say we are going to deliver for Europe and for Ireland. I want him to deliver for Ireland first and for Europe second and not in equal proportions. I want him to tell Mrs. Merkel what happened on the streets outside this House yesterday and what was the effect of her budget and what she dictated to us here.

The Irish people are not happy with the sort of message they are getting from Europe, that all is going well and that their budgets and diktats are acceptable. They are not happy with Mr. Schäuble saying Ireland is okay, it does not need any more recapitalisation. That is not acceptable. We are not in the sort of situation that speech gives the impression we are in. That is planet Europe but this is planet Dublin and planet Ireland. Ours are an unhappy people, unhappy because of what is happening over there. The least we can expect is for the Taoiseach to deliver that message when he goes over there and not a message of how successful we are and the successful Europeans that we are.

There is a lesson for us in what is happening in Greece. I am not suggesting we should have the same sort of activity but there is a lesson for us in the fact that the Greeks have got a better deal than we have got because they are prepared, and it is beginning to happen here, to show some sort of resistance to the sort of austerity which is continually coming from Brussels and Berlin.

I would like to have heard something else from the Taoiseach. He will be aware of the very important and critical controversy which broke out two weeks ago in The Wall Street Journal and in the press throughout Europe, although it did not receive a huge amount of press coverage here but it is accepted and is absolutely authoritative, regarding the discussions that are going on between the CSU, Mrs. Merkel's party, and her putative coalition partners. What is top of the agenda there? Ireland is top of agenda in those discussions. Ireland is being threatened by the putative partners of Mrs. Merkel with our corporate tax rate, recapitalisation and credit line being in the melting pot again. What we want to hear is that we do not have to pay a price in corporate tax. Regarding the recapitalisation that was supposedly promised, and I remind the Taoiseach I was the first person on 29 June 2012 to congratulate him on achieving it, I notice an ominous paragraph in his speech which states: "As I have consistently said, it is vital to the Union's credibility that decisions taken by leaders are implemented in full".

I assume he was referring to the 29 June pledge that he brought back to this House. Does it mean that he is now acknowledging that it is not only delayed but will not be implemented?

That is the demand of those currently negotiating with Mrs. Merkel to form a government. What we want is a message from him, or whoever replies on his behalf if he is not here, and I thank him for staying to hear my speech, that we will not accept any negotiation that threatens Ireland's corporate tax, recapitalisation and credit line. We will not pay any such price that is demanded and delivered by Mrs. Merkel, the German Chancellor because she does not care. She does not have some sort of emotional attachment to Ireland. As she said when she was re-elected, "Ireland is doing very well". I do not wish Ireland to be doing well by European standards, Ireland should be doing well by the demands of Irish citizens.

The Taoiseach's Government has again and again talked about the objective of exiting the bailout and has tried to lure the public and the media discussion into a belief in the idea that if we exit the bailout things are going well, the Government is a success and that we are on the road to recovery but what is clearly apparent now, as the Minister, Deputy Noonan, goes scurrying around meeting IMF, EU and ECB officials to discuss the conditionality around any future funding support or backstop for the Irish economy after we exit the bailout, is that the exit of the bailout is a complete mirage. There is no exit of it, there is only a technical exit of it. We will go out of the frying pan of troika control into the fire of more troika control under a different guise. Even if it is not set out in these arrangements that are now being discussed for some sort of funding line from the IMF or the troika, we have the fiscal treaty, which will also bind us in with all the same constraints. I would like a straight answer from the Government on this issue which was raised during the fiscal treaty debate, namely, when does the conditionality and the requirements of the fiscal treaty start to kick in after we exit the bailout? As I understand the treaty, we have to pay down our debt at 5% over a 20-year period. That is a massive pay down of an enormous debt that has been loaded onto the backs of the people of this country. As I recall the provisions of the treaty, there is a transition period of a few years before we have to stick strictly to that timeline but according to the treaty we have to start to move towards it immediately. We have to begin to move in that direction. Why does the Taoiseach not come clean and tell the people that we are now tied into a situation where we will have to enforce even more austerity for decades to come to pay down this enormous mountain of debt that has been loaded onto their backs?

That is the reality. It is going to kill our economy for decades because the Taoiseach never asked for a write-down of a debt that is not ours. Instead he continues to pedal the message here and in Europe that everything is fine, we are not defaulters, we are the good boys and girls of Europe who will do whatever we are told no matter how painful and unjust it is for the population of this country. The evidence that the Taoiseach is not succeeding in any meaningful sense of the word "success" was the mobilisation of our pensioners yesterday who finally spoke out about the truth of what the Taoiseach's Government is doing in imposing measures the impact of which are cruel and cause suffering and anxiety for some of the most vulnerable sectors of our society.

As Deputy Healy said during Leaders' Questions, in that process it is doing enormous damage to the legitimacy of the political institutions of this State as exposed in the quotes given in the House earlier, and I believe on television yesterday, by the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, and the Taoiseach in opposition when they railed against even the suggestion that this would be done to pensioners but who are now doing exactly the measure they railed against. Does the Tánaiste not understand how damaging that is to the credibility of politics?

We should consider the frightening situation developing in places like Greece where such is the level of discrediting of political institutions that there is the rise of fascist and far-right organisations exploiting people's misery and despair and turning it in the most obnoxious directions. The Government is playing with fire. I ask the Tánaiste, as others have asked him, to stand up for the people and for the vulnerable and stop toeing the line of these corporate lackeys in the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the troika.

The Irish people have been very positive in their attitude to Europe for many years. It is good, given that we are an island community, that we had been happy to look beyond our shores, but the Irish people would never have guessed that so many decisions that affect their lives directly would be made by people who do not live here. That is very disconcerting for them in our current situation.

Ever since the referendum on the fiscal compact in 2012, carried by 30% of the electorate under dire threats of harsher budget cuts if the people delivered the wrong answer, we have effectively seen our sovereignty complete its migration to Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin, and for what? A pat on the head or, in the words of one German official, the accolade of being a model bailout student, and what a good student we have been.

The Government has not erred from the terms of the troika's memorandum of understanding, and we are well on our way with its demands to amalgamate schools, the closure of public services like post offices and Garda stations, further erosion of democracy at local government level, chopping our health spending or cutting wages. In the words of Susan Watkins, the editor of the New Left Review, "Elected legislators in the target countries [of the European Financial Stability Facility] are reduced to clerks." Watkins makes a special note in the case of Ireland when she writes that "Irish TDs have so far internalized their subaltern status that a debate on designating June 16, Bloomsday, a public holiday, to celebrate the country's 'great literary tradition', was brought to a halt by a ministerial reminder that the troika's permission would need to be sought first."

Could the words of Angela Merkel in November 2012 have been any more to the point when she said that there is no such thing any more as domestic policy-making? Instead of national sovereignty, or anything resembling a democracy, we have a collection of neoliberal clerks working on behalf of the markets, committed first and foremost to protecting investors, demanding austerity and deficit reduction, with scant regard for the dangers these policies pose to the economy, society and the environment.

The party Whip system is used to keep everyone sitting on the Government benches firmly in line as it rams through Bill after Bill designed to reinforce our status as a model bailout student. Any Deputy who loses the Whip or disobeys the order of the day is treated with a severity of punishment that would have any aspiring Mafia organisation taking detailed notes.

How can the Government even pretend to be interested in investing local communities with the powers of democratic decision-making regarding their own affairs, a charade the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, is currently playing out, when nothing of the sort exists within its own ranks? To paraphrase Nancy Fraser, one of the world's foremost political philosophers, in her analysis of the hollowing out of democracy, with the advent of globalisation, the international discussion that took place from the end of the Second World War until the 1970s over what should count as a just ordering of social relations within society has been distorted, and to a certain extent disregarded, as the goalposts have been moved. The social processes shaping our lives now routinely overflow territorial borders. Nations are faced with a new vulnerability to transnational forces and supranational and international organisations, both governmental and non-governmental. Under this new way of thinking, people the world over find themselves struggling against despotic local and national authorities, transnational corporate greed and global neoliberalism, and the new governance structures of the global economy have vastly strengthened the ability of large corporations and investors to escape the regulatory and taxation powers of territorial states.

This is a sorry state of affairs and one in which the Government is complicit. It either lacks the capacity to think clearly about the implications of this movement or it does not have either the will or the integrity to do anything to counteract it. In short, we desperately need to restore sovereignty and democracy to this country, and the Tánaiste's Government manifestly has no intention of doing so.

The market is corroding our communities, our infrastructure and our environment, and the members of this Government are its humble servants. Only yesterday John Major, a former Conservative Minister, called on large excess profits of companies to be taxed in a windfall tax to help the millions of people in Britain who have to face a choice between eating or heating their homes this winter. The Government might consider the same for our people caught facing the same challenges.

I thank first all the Deputies who contributed to this debate. It will help to inform the Irish position at this week’s European Council.

When I spoke last week on the budget, I said it would copper-fasten the stability that has been so hard-won here in Ireland. I also said that as a country, we had been through too much to put that stability and our ongoing recovery at risk. It is precisely those same principles – securing stability and recovery – that will guide the Government’s approach in Brussels tomorrow and on Friday. It is in Ireland’s interest and in all of Europe’s interest that there is no momentum lost on the Union’s jobs and growth agenda.

Throughout the first half of this year, the Irish EU Presidency succeeded in moving the European Union from pure crisis management to focusing on real measures which make a real difference to people, backed by real resources. When the last European Council took place in late June, the Taoiseach and I had at that stage just reached agreement with the European Parliament on an investment budget of almost €1 trillion from 2014 to 2020. We led a relentless drive for an EU-wide response to the scourge of youth unemployment, with real results in the form of a youth guarantee recommendation and an €8 billion youth employment initiative focused on those most affected. We delivered the results we aimed for on banking union, from the single supervisory mechanism to capital requirements rules, including limits on bankers’ bonuses. We secured a mandate for an eventual EU-US trade agreement as a key driver for growth, and we put momentum behind Europe’s digital agenda, including through hosting a major digital assembly in Dublin Castle towards the end of our Presidency.

If anyone needed proof of the effect of these results and the momentum they created, they would just have to look at the agenda of this week’s European Council meeting: the digital economy; innovation and services; combating youth unemployment; SME financing; better monitoring of social developments in economic policy co-ordination; and the next steps towards completing a banking union - an issue for this European Council and all European Councils. In response to Deputy Ross, we will insist that every decision taken fully delivers on the euro area leaders' solemn commitment of June 2012 to break the vicious circle between sovereigns and banks.

Stability, jobs and growth formed the lens through which we examined and advanced the Union’s priorities in the first half of 2013, but it is no less relevant now as a test for our work at national and EU levels. Economic, social and financial issues continue to be the ones most closely affecting our people, and so are the issues on which EU leaders must continue to focus.

There are many important issues of national interest on the agenda for this week’s European Council, but we particularly want tomorrow’s meeting to give real impetus and real support to the digital sector. At European level, the digital sector is an enormous source of growth and we must exploit its full potential. Nationally, we have a substantial industrial presence in this sector - multinational and also indigenous - but most important of all is the potential of this sector to create the growth and employment we need and jobs in particular for young people.

We know there are current and potential vacancies in ICT companies that are not being filled because of skills shortages. ICT education, vocational training in ICT and retraining all have the potential to create new job prospects and new hope for this generation, a generation disproportionately affected by the economic and financial crisis.

At EU level, we need to get the right regulatory framework in place to enable and encourage growth in the digital sector.

We were pleased the Irish Presidency was able to progress work on key digital and innovation files, including collective rights management, e-identification, data protection and cyber security. However, work here must continue apace. The European Council should underline our determination to complete the digital single market by 2015. At the same time, we must ensure the impact of Horizon 2020 is maximised to provide research funding.

We will approach the entire European Council with considerable experience on each item, both from our Presidency and our national experience in recent years. Above all, we will push for the momentum to be maintained and, indeed, ramped up so that the Union's fragile recovery can be fully stabilised and then grown, just as we are doing here at home. Ireland needs the EU as a whole to achieve this, just as the Union has needed Ireland to emerge from its programme, which we will do in less than two months time.

I refer to the agenda items on eastern partnership, migration and some foreign policy issues likely to arise. The inclusion of the eastern partnership item is an initiative of our successors as EU President, Lithuania. They are perfectly positioned to drive this particular agenda and the Vilnius summit next month will mark an important step forward in the Union's relationship with its eastern neighbourhood. I saw at first hand during Ireland's OSCE chairmanship in 2012 the great potential of this relationship and political backing from the European Council will be most welcome.

On migration and, in particular, the recent events in the Mediterranean, it is entirely correct that this tragic event is discussed at the European Council. Work has begun already on this. The Justice and Home Affairs Ministers held a detailed discussion on 3 October. The events at Lampedusa were the latest in a series of similar tragic incidents in the Mediterranean in recent years and there was a consensus at the JHA Council on the need for a more focused and concerted Union effort to tackle the problem.

To this end, the discussion concluded with an agreement to establish a joint task force for the Mediterranean, with the participation of the Commission, member states and relevant Union agencies. The task force will be charged with developing an action plan aimed at providing a cohesive response to the problem by combining and, where possible, strengthening the various tools at the Union's disposal. The task force will meet for the first time tomorrow as the European Council concludes and is to submit its first report to the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 5-6 December, ahead of the next European Council of 19-20 December.

Again, I thank Deputies for contributions. We will be back to report on the outcome of the Council in two weeks time.