Other Questions

Military Aircraft Landings

Clare Daly

Ceist:

86. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there is a new special arrangement in place regarding refuelling for Canadian military aircraft at Shannon; if sovereign immunity has been granted to them by the Irish Government; the international law or treaty under which this is being permitted and whether it should not be superseded by our neutrality and the UN Convention against Torture. [48803/13]

Clare Daly

Ceist:

115. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 727 of 5 November 2013, the basis for granting sovereign immunity; the law it is in accordance with; and the way this impacts on Ireland's responsiblity to uphold international treaties like the Geneva Convention, Hague Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture. [48925/13]

As the Tánaiste is aware, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Canadian military aircraft using Shannon Airport. In a written answer to my question last week the Tánaiste told me he was not in a position to provide any information about that. I want to know why that is the case. Does the Tánaiste not know, or does he know but does not want to tell us? Neither answer is acceptable in a country which claims to be neutral.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 115 together. I am not aware of any new special arrangement in place for the refuelling of Canadian military aircraft at Shannon Airport. In accordance with Article 29.3 of the Constitution, Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other states. Sovereign immunity, also known as State immunity, is a long-standing principle of customary international law. Sovereign immunity is recognised as applying in respect of foreign state or military aircraft. Sovereign immunity is not granted by any decision of the Government, but applies automatically as a matter of law. However, there are legal rules governing the entry of foreign state aircraft into Irish territory.

Under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952, all foreign military aircraft require the permission of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to overfly or land in the State. Permission is requested by the embassy of the country concerned. When overflight or landing permission is granted to foreign military aircraft, certain conditions are normally applied, such as that the aircraft are unarmed, are not carrying arms, ammunition or explosives, are not engaged in intelligence gathering and are not taking part in military exercises or operations. These conditions apply to all military aircraft landing at Shannon Airport.

The doctrine of sovereign immunity is recognised in Irish law, although there is no domestic legislation on the topic. This was acknowledged by the Supreme Court in the case of Canada v. Employment Appeals Tribunal, 1992. There is no incompatibility between Ireland’s respect for the principle of sovereign immunity and its traditional policy of neutrality, which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances. Similarly, as the doctrine of sovereign immunity is recognised by the international community, respect for the principle does not interfere with Ireland's fulfilling the obligations arising from the international treaties to which the State is a party.

I am not sure I am any the wiser following that response. What the Tánaiste seems to be saying is that there is sovereign immunity but that it is subservient to other aspects of international law, that it is not something that is sought. He goes on to say military aircraft landing at Shannon Airport require permission from him as Minister and that they are required to adhere to certain rules such as being unarmed and so on. Obviously, one aircraft was caught out as its arms were so visible they could not be ignored. However, how does the Tánaiste know aircraft landing there are not armed? How does he know they are not carrying military personnel if no checks are carried out? There seems to be a discrepancy between the role of the Garda and the Department. The Garda believes it has a role and takes on board complaints made about this matter. Members of the Judiciary have adjudicated on the issue and referred residents with complaints about searching aircraft to the Garda. However, the Tánaiste seems to think that is not necessary. I wonder why so many soldiers or passengers are being carried by military aircraft and landing at Shannon Airport if they are not engaged in military activity.

I have answered the two questions tabled by the Deputy on sovereign immunity and how it operates. As I said in my reply, sovereign immunity is not something that is conferred by the Government from time to time but a matter of international law. The position on military aircraft landing in this country is very clear and governed by statute. There is a requirement on any country wishing to land a military aircraft in Ireland or overfly Irish airspace to apply to me for permission. The conditions attaching to that permission are very clear. The aircraft must be unarmed and cannot be part of a military mission. These issues are decided on a case by case basis.

The problem is that they are not. Last week I asked the Tánaiste in a question tabled for written reply about a specific Hercules aircraft that had been at Shannon Airport on 6 November and whether it had been carrying passengers or cargo. We were led to believe it had been carrying passengers because of where it had landed. However, the Tánaiste's response to me was that he was not in a position to give that information. If he is not in a position to know whether it was carrying passengers or cargo, how does he know the criteria of international law which he has specified to the House today are being fulfilled? How does he know the criteria are being fulfilled in terms of treaties such as the Geneva and Hague conventions, the arms trade treaty, the UN convention against torture, all of which we have signed up to, and how does he know these military aircraft are not breaching these criteria? How does he know if the aircraft have not been searched? With aeroplanes that had not been searched, it had to be acknowledged that there were breaches when they were so obvious. How do we know other aircraft are not doing the same?

On Friday some 43 people died in clashes between militia in Libya; on Sunday some 22 people died in bomb attacks in Iraq and now in Helmand it is commonly expected that there will be a return to power of the Taliban. All of this is the result of uninvited military interventions to topple installed governments, all of which ended in disaster. Although Ireland claims to be a neutral country, we have played our part in this. We have helped to bring it about by facilitating the use of Shannon Airport by the US military authorities. We have facilitated military activity in these regions. When the Tánaiste was in opposition, he wanted aeroplanes to be inspected. We are not taking a neutral position. Why does the Tánaiste not want aeroplanes to be inspected now?

The scope of the question has been widened somewhat. The question tabled was about sovereign immunity. The position is clear in that there are conditions attached to the landing of any military aircraft at an Irish airport. The aircraft must have permission to land. The conditions attached are that they must be unarmed and they cannot be part of a military operation. On the specific case of Canada, it is the case that a small number of Canadian military aircraft land at Shannon Airport each year. Therefore, their presence is not particularly unusual.

The number is relatively small in comparison with the volume of US military aircraft which transit through the airport. I understand Canada is considering the possibility of increasing the number of aircraft which use the airport for refuelling purposes, but no special arrangements will apply to these aircraft. They will have to comply with the same conditions as all military aircraft landing at Shannon Airport.

With regard to the fixed-weapon aircraft which landed at Shannon Airport, the Tánaiste stated previously that it had been an administrative error. The difficulty is we do not know what is on board many of the aircraft. It is like Donald Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns. As we do not seem to carry out any inspection, it will continue to be unknown. The concern of workers and civilians using the airport is that we do not know what is on board. The Government has a responsibility in this regard and we would like it to inspect some of the aircraft. Are there plans to do so?

I have replied to parliamentary questions - another question has been tabled today - on the one occasion on which a US military aircraft did not comply with the conditions set down. This was reported to the Department through the Garda Síochána and the authorities at Shannon Airport. We brought in the US Chargé d'Affaires and made it very clear what the position was. We received an explanation for what had happened and assurances that steps were being taken to ensure it would not happen again.

Question No. 87 replied to with Written Answers.

Nuclear Proliferation

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

88. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether the current multi-country talks on Iran’s nuclear programme will achieve a positive outcome; if he has discussed the issue with his European counterparts taking part in the negotiations; and his views on whether it would be timely to organise a delegation of Irish parliamentarians to that country. [48956/13]

This question relates to the situation in Iran. There is huge potential for an agreement and we are closer now than ever to one. The mood music seems to be good. There have been recent difficulties as the French Government expressed negative reports in the media. Has the Government had discussions with its European counterparts on this issue? Is it possible that a delegation from Ireland will visit Iran?

The Government has consistently stressed Ireland’s firm support for the efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. I am very hopeful such a solution may now, at last, be within reach. Negotiators for the E3+3 and Iran met in Geneva from 8 to 10 November. High Representative Ashton led for the European Union and was joined later by US Secretary of State Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and the United Kingdom. All parties are wisely maintaining confidentiality as to the details of the negotiations. We should discount reports that have appeared attributing blame for the failure to reach agreement to one or other participant and which have been dismissed by those participating in the talks.

Unlike many previous occasions, the Iranian delegation came ready and authorised to negotiate. The E3+3 made a unified and comprehensive proposal on the way forward and concrete and intense negotiations then proceeded on these elements.

It should not surprise anyone that final agreement was not reached in one effort, but it is clear that real progress was made. The two sides are not yet at the stage of agreement on an interim deal, but they have substantially narrowed the gaps. Differences remain but are felt to be bridgeable if the real commitment evident in Geneva is maintained. The two sides have agreed to meet again tomorrow, 20 November.

This is a vital issue for international peace and security and there is an opportunity now to resolve it and turn a new page in our relations with Iran. We should allow the negotiations the time and space they need to succeed. What matters is a successful outcome with which all can live and that restores regional and international confidence in Iran’s activities. I commend all members of the E3+3 and the Government of Iran for their engagement on this issue.

The question of a parliamentary visit is one for the Oireachtas. However, I think it would be important to keep the timing and substance of any such visit entirely separate from the nuclear issue so as not to send any confusing signal.

I accept what the Minister of State said about a parliamentary visit. However, foreign affairs Ministers and parliamentary delegations from other countries have visited Iran. There is a need to create an atmosphere of openness and to promote the idea that the West wants to work with Iran in order to solve issues relating to it and other countries in the wider region. Governments and parliamentarians in many other European countries have been encouraged to take action in respect of this matter and this seems to be having a positive effect within Iran. During the summer, the former British Foreign Secretary Mr. Jack Straw referred to the real potential for a deal, but he also referred to difficulties relating to the Bush Administration in the US during his period in office. The Government of France appears to have a number of difficulties with the talks process at present. Has the Tánaiste discussed these difficulties with the French authorities?

The Minister has had discussions with the French authorities on this matter. The possibility of a parliamentary visit is a matter on which the Oireachtas must decide. A high-level group from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament has visited Iran. If the Deputy wishes to seek informal advice from my Department on this matter, the officials there will certainly offer it to him.

I am not overly fixated on the idea of the visit itself. However, our small country should do whatever it can to assist in respect of this matter. As already stated, other countries have sent delegations. The most important step we can take is to encourage everyone involved in the discussions at present. The most important thing is that people continue to talk. A solution to this problem, which is having a huge effect on the region, will hopefully emerge from those discussions.

The Minister had a bilateral meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr. Zarif, at the United Nations General Assembly on 26 September last. They discussed a range of matters including the nuclear issue, sanctions, Syria, human rights and bilateral relations. The good news for Ireland is that Iran has agreed to remove the long-standing restrictions on beef exports from Ireland. This opens the way to a resumption of trade in beef between the two countries.

Ministerial Meetings

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

89. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the action he has taken in response to the demand by Germany’s Social Democratic Party that Ireland raise its corporation tax rate; if he has raised this issue with his foreign affairs counterpart in Germany; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48973/13]

There has been considerable coverage of the decision by Germany's Social Democratic Party, SDP, to place Ireland's corporation tax rate and its opposition to an EU financial transaction tax on the agenda of discussions being held in Berlin on the formation of a new coalition government. Corporation tax is a national competence and cannot be decided at EU level. This competence was clearly reaffirmed in both the Lisbon treaty and the fiscal treaty. The Tánaiste should deliver a clear message to the SPD that its posturing on the future of Ireland's corporation tax regime is unacceptable and should stop. He should reiterate in very strong terms that there will be no change in this regard.

Lucinda Creighton

Ceist:

108. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the exact number of meetings he has had, either in person or by telephone, with Peer Steinbrueck, Martin Schulz and Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party, SPD, of Germany in the past 12 months; if he is concerned that the positions they are adopting on behalf of the SPD in German coalition negotiations are hurting Ireland's interests in allowing the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, to directly recapitalise banks in the future or retrospectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48971/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 and 108 together.

Since assuming office, the Government has engaged extensively and continuously with governments and key political actors across the EU and beyond. This is very much the case with Germany and its political leadership on all sides. My Department and our embassy in Berlin, in particular, maintain ongoing and regular contacts, including with the SPD. In conjunction with official contacts I have had with the outgoing German Administration, I and colleagues maintain regular personal contact with the SPD, including through our parties' shared membership of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

Group members regularly meet ahead of Council meetings in Brussels. As the House is aware, I also worked very closely with SPD member and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, MEP, during Ireland’s Presidency earlier this year. In addition, I met Peer Steinbrück, a former German Finance Minister and the party’s candidate for Chancellor in the recent German elections, in Dublin in February.

I spoke very recently with the SPD leader, Sigmar Gabriel, to discuss post-election political developments in Germany, update him on developments in the Irish economy and underline the importance of fully concluding the banking union, including with regard to the role of the ESM. I stressed that the success of Ireland’s recovery efforts and our forthcoming exit from the EU-IMF programme were very important for both Ireland and the EU as a whole.

German coalition negotiations are ongoing and indications are that a new government may be formed in mid-December, at which point its exact policy programme will be known. The SPD party has included sustainable growth in the European Union and a focus on youth unemployment among its top policy priorities in these negotiations, something that is consistent with Ireland’s priorities.

The Government’s position on key policies such as our corporation tax rate has not changed and will not change, a position of which the entire political system in Germany is well aware. We will continue to emphasise the need to deliver on EU-wide commitments on stabilising its banking system and ensuring sustainable recovery, including in Ireland.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. He stated there would be no change to our corporate taxation rate, which has been the policy of successive Governments and a necessary part of our economic and industrial policies. Is he not concerned that two senior figures in the SPD - namely, the party's budget spokesperson and general secretary - have described our corporation tax rate as too low? While the Tánaiste referred to a number of issues he raised with senior members of the SPD, he did not indicate whether he specifically raised the issue of corporation tax or reiterated the strong message that the Irish corporation tax rate will not change and that taxation is a matter of national rather than European Union competence.

I have made it very clear in all of the discussions I have had with colleagues in the SPD that our rate of corporation tax stands and will not be changed by the Government, that our corporation tax rate has been a long-term part of our industrial strategy and that corporation tax is a matter of national competence. I spoke with the leader of the SPD, on a party-to-party basis, about the discussions that are taking place on the formation of a new government in Germany and wished him well in those discussions. The ten-point priority list that has been presented by the SPD as part of the discussions does not include a specific reference to Ireland's rate of corporation tax.

I thank the Minister for his initial response. The concern in this regard is that a strategic and structured diplomatic offensive appears to be lacking in response to alarming statements that have emerged from Berlin in recent weeks and months. As the Tánaiste is aware, Chancellor Merkel and the Taoiseach made a clear statement some months ago in which the Chancellor reiterated her view that Ireland is a special case, enjoys special status and is distinct from the other programme countries. This is critical as we pursue our agenda of ensuring debt sustainability.

Mr. Joachim Poß, the SPD finance spokesman, made the following statement in the past two months: "The SPD's position is very clear: we do not support direct ESM aid for banks." If the SPD does not support direct ESM recapitalisation for banks, the chances of retrospective bank recapitalisation are even slimmer. Throughout the negotiations, the party has repeatedly and consistently, rather than in a few vague statements, raised the prospect of forcing the introduction of a financial transaction tax and a common consolidated corporate tax base, CCCTB, which would be an assault on our corporate tax regime.

Ireland has been mentioned repeatedly. It is small solace that the Tánaiste met Mr. Peer Steinbrück in February last in Dublin. We need to see a much more comprehensive and strategic approach.

We will not re-fight the German election here in the Chamber.

That is not the point.

The position is that the political parties in Germany, including the SPD, know our position on corporation tax, banking union and the ESM. I am satisfied from the discussions that I have had on a party-to-party basis with the leadership of the SPD that it is supportive of Ireland and that if the negotiations for the formation of a new government in Germany are successful, if anything, our position as a country in our relations with Germany will be enhanced. I say this because the new coalition arrangement, if it is a coalition of Chancellor Merkel's party and the SPD, will reflect the political composition of the Government here and will enable us to have political contact with both of the parties in government, and that would be very much to our advantage.

Deputy Creighton wants to ask another question. I must ask the Members who tabled the questions. Deputy Clare Daly wants to come in, as do Deputies Wallace and Mathews. I will call them in due course.

I suppose there is an additional element to this. I am not convinced by the Tánaiste's response that, simply because of the political composition of government reflecting the political composition in this country, it will somehow miraculously turn out to be a better arrangement for us given the commitments that were made clearly by the previous German Government and the contradictory statements which have been repeatedly made by the SPD.

Since I put down this parliamentary question, there has been a further development. Last week the Government deliberately put out the line that the SPD was demanding a hike in corporate tax in exchange for a precautionary credit line and this has fed into the narrative over the past number of days as to why the Government did not seek a precautionary credit line. Mr. Derek Scally, in The Irish Times last week, put paid to that notion and made it clear that such is not the case. No approach was made to the future German Government on the question of a credit line and no negotiations were opened. It would be helpful if the Tánaiste could clarify to the House that there was no risk to our corporate tax rate on the basis of a credit line. In fact, Mr. Scally, in his article last week, quoted senior sources in government and senior sources in the socialist party in Germany stating that they were quite concerned that we had not sought a precautionary credit line.

The Government made a decision last week to exit the bailout without seeking a precautionary credit line. We did so because we believe that the time was right to make that decision. A precautionary credit line would last probably for a year. The State is fully funded for well beyond a year. The issue of what would happen this time next year would arise. The response to the Government decision, by the institutions, by other member states, including Germany, and by the markets, confirms clearly that the correct decision was made.

In the middle of negotiations for the formation of a government, in Germany or anywhere else, of course, there will always be issues that will be speculated on. The SPD has set down its priorities in terms of those negotiations. They have ten priorities that all relate to domestic German issues. As it happens, they are largely issues with which the Irish Labour Party and the Irish Government would find significant degree of comfort.

The Tánaiste will be aware that Ireland has one of the lowest corporation tax rates in Europe. In fact, our effective tax rate is even lower. Does he see a certain irony in the fact that he, as somebody who claims to be a socialist, would staunchly defend that low rate yet he does not show any shame in attacking elderly citizens, etc.? Should he be agreeing with his socialist colleagues in Europe that Ireland's corporation tax is far too low and companies could pay substantially more than they do?

I understand the Europeans told us we should cut medical cards for pensioners. It would be strange if they could not tell us how to handle our taxes. Does the Tánaiste agree that, with some healthy thinking in Europe, the Europeans are eventually going to realise low corporation tax rates represent a race to the bottom and are unsustainable in the long term?

Deputy Clare Daly is absolutely wrong on the issue of corporation tax. Our 12.5% rate is one of the measures we have in place to attract investment into the country and create jobs. I would have thought the creation of employment was one of the first priorities for any socialist, no matter where he or she might be on the political spectrum. In regard to the idea that if we increase corporation tax we will somehow raise more revenue, we might in theory, but how many jobs would we drive out of the country? How many more people would end up out of work and how many potential jobs would we keep from being created through lack of investment? Let us be clear: our rate of corporation tax has been established for quite some time. It is 12.5%, transparent and based on statute.

That is not the effective rate.

The Deputy is wrong.

Go on, Deputy Mathews, give him some welly.

The effective rate of taxation is close to the headline rate. It is one of the features of the economy which is successful in attracting overseas companies to invest here to create employment and grow the economy. The Government will stand over the rate of corporation tax. We do not intend to change it and will not be subject to outside influence or persuasion from anywhere.

Unless it needs emergency funding.

In light of the discussion thus far, I ask the Tánaiste to remember several issues and place them high on the agenda in negotiations with the European Union and Germany. Ireland's needs come first and should be articulated robustly. Creditors should be told the €28 billion in long-term bonds that replaced the pro-notes is misplaced and odious. Arrangements should be put in place to eliminate the bonds. Wolfgang Schäuble has stated everything in Ireland is fine. That seems to echo what was said last week when a stand-by line of credit was not considered necessary. Even the strongest companies in the world of free markets and capitalism organise stand-by lines of credit not just with one bank but with syndicated banks. We definitely need a stand-by line of credit. In March 2011 the prudential capital assessment review of the banks indicated further capitalisation. That was carried out in July 2011 and €16 billion of the National Pensions Reserve Fund disappeared. We have €20 billion in cash and do not know what is around the corner. The way we will create jobs in the economy is by strengthening underlying growth through a rebalancing of the combination of taxation and cuts in order to distribute income and restart the economy.

Why do some Members of the House keep clutching at every second-hand, dúirt bean liom, statement made by somebody somewhere to do us down?

It is because the information is not forthcoming.

The Taoiseach was an expert at it in the past.

The fact of the matter is that the Government decided last week, rightly, to exit the programme without recourse to a precautionary line of credit.

The NTMA has been very silent on the issue.

It is disappointing that some Members, instead of supporting and welcoming that decision as an opportunity for the country to recover, are grasping at every possible opportunity to do it down.

The Tánaiste sounds like Bertie Ahern.

What is wrong with having a safety net?

We made a decision.

As Members of Parliament, we are entitled to express our concerns.

It was the right decision. It will ensure the country will recover. On employment creation, we have established a good track record of creating 3,000 new jobs per month which we obviously need to increase. We want to see more people back at work and a reduction in the rate of unemployment. We are going to do this. It is disappointing that some Members-----

The Government is taking a gamble in cutting us off from funding.

We are not cut off. Stop making it up.

I am not making it up.

The Deputy is making it up.

That is an outrageous statement about a former colleague who stood by the Tánaiste in difficult times.