Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements

Next week's meeting of the European Council was originally scheduled to be the first of 2014. However, as the House is aware, an extraordinary meeting of EU Heads of State and Government was called in Brussels last week to discuss the deeply worrying situation in Ukraine. For next week's European Council, therefore, there is an extensive and substantive agenda, including Ukraine. As is traditional for the spring European Council, the focus is on economic issues. The main agenda items are the European semester, the Europe 2020 strategy, industrial competitiveness, climate and energy, and external relations.

In Brussels next week, I also expect that we will review ongoing work on taxation issues, as well as progress in completing banking union. Negotiations are continuing and I remain optimistic that we can reach agreement within the next few weeks. Securing agreement on the single resolution mechanism is the next essential step in completing banking union. It remains a key priority.

I also look forward to having a good engagement next week on the key economic challenges facing Europe. As we start to see more signs of recovery, we need to discuss what we need to do to support and strengthen the fragile return to economic growth and job creation. The discussion on climate change and energy also addresses a central strategic challenge for the union. Before getting into detail, however, I wish to say a few words about Ukraine.

What is happening in Crimea has rightly been described as the worst crisis which Europe has faced since the end of the Cold War. The EU, the Irish Government and most of the international community have strongly condemned Russia's actions over the past 12 days and have called on it to immediately withdraw troops to their barracks. Russia's actions are in flagrant violation of international law and of its obligations to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It was against the backdrop of the deepening crisis in Ukraine that I attended last Thursday's informal meeting of Heads of State and Government in Brussels, convened by President Van Rompuy to formulate a clear and carefully calibrated EU response. Before our internal deliberations, the new Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, briefed the Council on the exceptionally difficult situation in his country and sought our assistance on a number of fronts. I was impressed by his measured and sophisticated approach, notwithstanding the intense pressure he is under. He came with three clear messages: talk to President Putin, press for the cancellation of Sunday's referendum in Crimea and urge Moscow to open direct talks with Kiev. As expected, he focused for the most part on the highly charged situation in Crimea, strongly condemning Russia's violation of existing treaties and also rejecting the resolution of the Crimean regional assembly regarding the referendum on leaving Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.

I strongly agree with the Prime Minister Yatsenyuk that the decision to hold the referendum this Sunday, coupled with the wording of the question on the voting paper regarding Crimea's possible reunification with Russia, is clearly a significant escalation of an already dangerous situation. Despite this provocation, it is worth recalling that the Ukrainian Government has shown restraint and not reacted militarily to Russia's illegal actions or declared martial law. In our statement after the meeting, EU leaders applauded the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people, as well as commending the measured response shown so far by the Government in Kiev.

I was encouraged by the Prime Minister's assurances that the Government's proposed language law, diminishing the status of Russian, which caused a great deal of unease, will not be signed into law and that a task force has been established to consider that issue. I welcome his commitment to reforms, including tackling corruption. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk argued that Ukraine is not anti-Russian and, indeed, views Russia as a friendly country, but that Ukraine will not be dominated or intimidated by Russia. He concluded there is no time to lose, and asked that the political chapters of the association agreement be signed immediately and that the EU expedite measures on visa liberalisation.

We adopted a number of measures which we believe can make a powerful contribution to the stabilisation of Ukraine's macroeconomic situation, as well as helping the new Government in a broader political sense. We endorsed the comprehensive assistance package prepared by the European Commission which has a value of approximately €11 billion. We tasked all relevant Council bodies to process this rapidly and we recalled the need to work with the IMF in order that assistance can be unlocked. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk pointed out that he needs €2.5 billion in cash now to pay for gas bills that are due. The immediate priority is to restore macroeconomic stability through sound fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies. At the same time, the Government must urgently launch an ambitious set of structural reforms, including the fight against corruption, and introduce greater transparency. The Council has also frozen the assets of persons identified as responsible for the misappropriation of state funds. The intention is to recover those assets and return them to the Ukrainian people. We also made clear that we are prepared to respond immediately to requests for humanitarian assistance.

On the broader political front, we reiterated the EU's commitment to signing the association agreement, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area, with the Ukrainian authorities. It is worth recalling that it was the announcement on 21 November last year by Ukraine's then President Yanukovych of his decision to postpone preparations for the signature of the association agreement at November's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius that triggered major protests in Ukraine. The initial protests were overwhelmingly peaceful yet were met just over a week later by heavy-handed police action which only served to inflame the situation. We agreed last week that, in the interim and as a mark of solidarity with Ukraine, we will shortly sign all the political chapters within the association agreement. I expect that to happen very soon. The European Union also intends to adopt unilateral measures which would allow Ukraine to benefit substantially from the advantages offered in the deep and comprehensive free trade area. These kinds of measures would entail an offer to apply provisions related to the import of goods by reducing tariffs and opening tariff rate quotas by so-called autonomous trade measures. Finally, we pledged to continue to work on the visa liberalisation process. These were the main demands of the Ukrainian Prime Minister.

There was a great deal of speculation in the lead-up to our meeting as to whether the EU would agree to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation, with much being made of the supposed divisions within the Union on this question. In the event, the statement delivered a clear and unequivocal message to Moscow, strongly condemning its unprovoked violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and setting out our collective response to the Russian Federation. We made clear that negotiations between the Governments of Ukraine and the Russian Federation need to start right away and need to produce results within a limited timeframe. In the absence of such results, the EU will decide on a second set of additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezing and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit, as well as broader economic issues that might be taken into account. EU Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday will consider the next steps and, of course, the European Council meeting next week will discuss the situation in the Ukraine and the EU's response.

I turn now to the economic agenda for next week, starting with the European semester. As the House is aware, following our successful exit from the EU-IMF programme in December, Ireland is a full participant in the 2014 process. This is the fourth European semester cycle, the third under the enhanced governance arrangements introduced by the six-pack and the first under the further enhancements introduced by the two-pack.

The discussion at next week's European Council takes place in the context of improving economic conditions across Europe. Last year saw GDP in both the EU and the eurozone area back in positive territory for the first time since late 2011. The most recent purchasing managers' data for February suggests that economic activity is now at its highest level in 32 months, while through the ECB's bank lending survey, we have seen some first signs of the easing of credit constraints for Europe's SMEs. Most importantly, there are now signs that this improvement in economic conditions is feeding through to the labour market. Many member states, including Ireland, have returned to net job creation. Our own employment growth rate of over 3% in 2013 is currently the strongest in the EU. However, unemployment remains unacceptably high at around 11% for the EU and 12% for the eurozone area. The rate in Ireland is also 12%. We must remain focused on the need to effectively tackle this. Job creation remains the priority.

Against this broader background, the spring European Council will finalise guidance to member states on the preparation of national reform plans for 2014. This process began with the annual growth survey presented by the Commission in November last year and will conclude with the June European Council endorsing country-specific recommendations for member states. As part of this process, the Commission last week also published in-depth reports on macro-economic imbalances in 17 member states, including Ireland. We are, of course, studying the report on Ireland. It acknowledges that we have made significant progress in addressing imbalances which arose over the last decade. We have noted the remaining challenges highlighted by the Commission and we remain firmly committed to addressing these by building on the reform measures which we undertook during the EU-IMF programme. Work on the European semester is being led by my Department, working closely with the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, as well as other relevant Departments. The objective remains to submit our 2014 national reform plan to the European Commission in April.

As part of the European semester discussion, the European Council will also examine Europe 2020 - the EU's strategy to support smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is a ten-year plan, adopted in 2010, based around five headline targets in the areas of employment, innovation, climate and energy, education and social inclusion. These are translated into specific goals for each member state, with progress monitored within the framework of the European semester. The Commission's stocktaking exercise shows quite clearly that overall performance against these objectives is mixed. This is not surprising as, in many ways, implementation of the strategy has been overshadowed by crisis resolution in the euro area. Now, however, is the moment to properly re-engage with Europe's post-crisis growth strategy.

I expect that our exchanges at the spring European Council will be followed by a full public consultation on the strategy which will run until the autumn. The outcome of this public consultation will then be taken forward by the new European Commission. When Commission Secretary General Catherine Day met the Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs on 23 January, she emphasised the importance of strong stakeholder engagement with this renewal of the Europe 2020 strategy, including, of course, from national parliaments. The Commission's 2030 climate and energy framework proposals, to which I will return shortly, are likely to form an important strand of this wider process.

The spring European Council will also focus on industrial competitiveness. Exchanges here will be informed by the recent Commission communication "For a European Industrial Renaissance" and by discussions at the Competitiveness Council on 20 February. Ireland has been proactive in the preparatory discussions in this area as I believe that a competitive and innovative industrial sector will be an important element of Europe's recovery. The Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe, will expand on this in his contribution.

The European Council will also hold a first policy debate on the climate change and energy framework for 2030. Discussions will again be informed by a Commission communication issued in January and the debate will be followed closely at a wider international level in view of the importance of EU engagement and influence in the international climate process under the UN framework convention and the Kyoto Protocol.

I wanted to set out our initial thinking on the communication as we approach the European Council meeting. In the first place, the communication is a basis for a timely policy debate on the next phase towards the EU's objective of transition to a competitive, low-carbon European economy by 2050. We recognise the benefits of increasing the share of renewable energy in our fuel mix, both from the economic and the environmental perspectives. The issue requires careful consideration in terms of both the challenges and the opportunities of global transition to a low-carbon future. Both ambition and flexibility are important features of the package but we must also reach an outcome that is sustainable for the EU as well as for individual member states on environmental, economic and competitiveness grounds. We can only build momentum towards a low-carbon society if our vision is founded on a policy framework that is affordable, fair and transparent and takes account of member states' specific circumstances and capacities. The principles and objectives for the 2030 framework must be translated into concrete achievements. To do this, we must at an early stage reach a shared understanding of the assumptions underpinning the Commission's impact assessment.

Our own initial technical analysis of the communication has raised some issues of serious concern from a national perspective about the projected overall costs. We look forward to engaging constructively with the member states and the Commission to deepen understanding of the national implications of the proposals. We note the recognition in the communication that renewable energy has an important contribution to make to the 2030 framework. Effective transition to a low-carbon future requires that the 2030 framework provides for cost-effective implementation without placing a disproportionate burden on EU energy consumers or taxpayers and without undermining EU competitiveness. While the proposed 27% renewable energy target for 2030 for the EU can be welcomed, we hope that the EU as a whole can surpass 27% and that potential investors are convinced - beyond any doubt - of our collective commitment to an ambitious renewable energy future.

We are interested to hear the Commission's views on how the EU-wide renewable energy target post-2020 will be achieved and on how the export of renewable energy from areas of high resource to areas of high demand can play a role in achieving this target. We must send a clear message to industry that delivering the innovation needed to open up new renewable resources will be rewarded. Public acceptance of energy infrastructure and renewable energy development is crucial. We cannot underestimate the importance of placing the concerns of local communities at the heart of the transition to renewable energy. Citizens must perceive that such developments are being made primarily for their benefit and on an equitable and cost-effective basis.

Could I ask whether the House wishes to allow the Taoiseach time to complete his contribution? Is that agreed? Agreed.

With regard to energy efficiency, the absence of concrete proposals is noted, as is the Commission's intention to consider this element after the review of the energy efficiency directive in summer 2014. Improved energy efficiency remains the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, improve competitiveness and increase affordability, especially for low-income consumers and it will have a direct impact on the European jobs and growth agenda.

Finally, Ireland welcomes the proposal in the communication to examine and pursue the most appropriate climate policy approach to agriculture and land use. This is an important development from Ireland's perspective. We believe that a coherent and cost-effective approach to the parallel priorities of sustainable food production and climate change is fundamental to a realistic way forward at national, EU and wider international level under the UN convention. In anticipation of a new international climate treaty in 2015, we look forward to early development of this particular strand of the 2030 framework.

As mentioned earlier, the European Council will also review progress in completing banking union. EU finance ministers meeting yesterday had a long discussion on the single resolution mechanism. The outcome of those negotiations is that finance ministers have now provided the Presidency with a revised mandate which I am confident will allow for an overall agreement with the European Parliament in advance of the parliamentary recess in April. The single resolution mechanism is the natural complement to the establishment of the single supervisory mechanism. It will overcome the asymmetry between supervision at the European level under the single supervisory mechanism and resolution at national level. It will create a central body to apply the bank recovery and resolution directive toolkit to banks in the eurozone area and to banks of participating non-eurozone area member states. This central body will be known as the single resolution board and will have the power to restructure and wind down failing banks. The single resolution board will have access to a single resolution fund, the principle for which is established in the regulation. The fund will be paid for by contributions from the EU banking sector. The rules for the use of and contributions to the fund are set out in the single resolution mechanism regulation. The target level of the single resolution fund is approximately €55 million to €60 billion.

The intergovernmental agreement will allow for the transfer of funds from national compartments during the transitional phase to the single fund.

Once a final agreement is reached between with the European Parliament, this will deliver the next essential step in creating the banking union for Europe and thus help meet the objective set by the Heads of State and Government of the euro area in June 2012 of breaking the link between the sovereign and the banking sector. Negotiations with the Parliament continue and while there are a number of differences between the co-legislators, I am confident that the deadline set by the European Council will be respected.

The March European Council is also expected to touch on taxation, particularly the savings tax directive, the parent-subsidiarity directive and ongoing work in the area of digital taxation. The parent-subsidiary directive flows from Ireland's Presidency last year, during which we prioritised work on aggressive international tax planning and achieved significant progress. We fully support measures to eliminate double non-taxation. We also support the proposed changes to the savings tax directive, which will expand its scope, make it more effective and create a stronger and more co-ordinated approach to tackling tax evasion. In my view, it is time to adopt this proposal now.

Ireland has, in addition, welcomed the establishment of the European Commission's expert group on digital economy taxation last November. We hope that this group will be able to assist the EU in tackling this difficult and complex issue. Of course, due to the global nature of the problem, we continue to believe that the OECD is the most effective forum for further work. It has become very clear in recent months that the issue of international tax planning by companies is neither limited to any one country nor limited to any sector of the economy. It is a global issue involving a wide variety of jurisdictions and companies and it requires a global co-ordinated response.

Finally, under the external relations agenda item, as previously mentioned, we will return to the situation in Ukraine. The European Council will also discuss preparations for next month's EU-Africa Summit. The theme of the summit will be investing in people, prosperity and peace. I will attend the summit and intend to meet a number of African leaders there. I see these meetings as a valuable opportunity to reinforce the aims of the Africa strategy, launched by the Tánaiste in 2011. The Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe, will say a little more on this in his contribution.

As I said at the outset, there is a very substantial and substantive agenda for our meeting next week, but I look forward to constructive and productive discussions and will come back to the House on the outcome of next week's European Council in due course. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Members of the House for giving me the extra few minutes to read all of that.

By the time the European Council meets late next week, there will probably have been new and significant developments in Ukraine, including the results of the one-sided and clearly illegitimate referendum about Crimea becoming a part of the Russian Federation. Ukraine will quite rightly dominate the summit. As we do not know the exact context in which the summit will hold its discussions, it is difficult for us to make specific proposals. However, there is much that will not change and there are core principles that must be upheld.

There has been an ongoing attempt by Russia to throw up a cloud of distractions about Ukraine in the past three months, but it is clear that what we are dealing with is a former imperial power that is acting with aggression against a sovereign state. This crisis has been directly created by the mindset that Russia has the right to control the destiny of a state that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. Russia hopes that the strength of its verbal and commercial counter-attacks will prevent the democratic world from standing up to it.

It is the wish of the strong majority of Ukrainian people to be part of the European, democratic mainstream. This has led to Russia's reaction. First there was the threat to crush the Ukrainian economy if an association agreement was signed with the EU. Now there is the operation to take Ukrainian territory.

Let there be no mistake about this - every single element of Russia's story for the annexation of Crimea is illegitimate. First, there is the story that it is acting to defend Russian civilians from being suppressed by Kiev. The fact is that the only people who have been beaten off the streets in the past two weeks are Russians protesting against their Government in Moscow and Ukrainians supporting their Government in Sevastopol. No evidence whatsoever of the mistreatment of the Russian minority has been produced. The initial claims of more than 500,000 people fleeing to Russia were so transparently bogus that Moscow has dropped them from its narrative. The only fleeing populations have been Ukrainians and Tartars from Crimea.

Second, there is the statement that no Russian troops are involved. Russia seems to believe that, by taking markings off uniforms, it has the right to sell this nonsense. All of the vehicles being used to control Crimea have Russian military number plates. These vehicles include light and heavy armour. The weapons available to the pro-annexation troops are standard issue for Russian troops. Most conclusively, the warships blockading the Ukrainian fleet are Russian. Unless Moscow expects us to accept that replica warships to ones in its fleets have appeared and are under the control of local militias, the evidence is absolutely conclusive – Russian troops have invaded and taken control of Ukrainian territory.

Third, there is the idea that Viktor Yanukovych is still the legitimate Head of State in Kiev and he has asked Russia for help. Mr. Yanukovych is responsible for killing demonstrators on the streets of Kiev. It was he who refused to implement agreements to resolve the crisis and it was he who fled the country. The evidence of the kleptocracy he ran is now so overwhelming that no one is asking for his restoration to office.

Finally, there is the claim that there is nothing to hide. If that is the case, why are extraordinary steps being taken to prevent any external agency from getting a presence on the ground? The OSCE is directly charged with being able to monitor these situations quickly. It has groups on constant standby, ready to go into areas of unrest or conflict and create the basis for a unified international reaction. However, the OSCE monitoring team has repeatedly been refused access to Crimea by Russian forces. This has included an incident where an OSCE monitoring team, including a colonel of the Irish Army, had warning shots fired at it. In addition, a United Nations representative has been subjected to mob intimidation while Russian troops looked on.

There is no point in engaging with the Russian position in detail because it is transparent nonsense. It is about trying to engage the international community in a diplomatic dance while Russia gets on with creating facts on the ground.

One does not need to be an historian to see the uncanny comparison with the tactics of Germany in the late 1930s. Were the Baltic states and other former communist states not now members of the EU and NATO, the logic being used by Russia to threaten Ukraine would apply to them as well. Russia is not Nazi Germany, but it is an increasingly authoritarian state and a consistent opponent of basic democratic norms and the right of the international community to promote those norms. Its support of the Assad regime in Syria has helped the latter to survive and create a humanitarian catastrophe.

For those who assert that this is none of our business and that we should, in fact, only be concerned with business and trade, I could not disagree more. We cannot charge around the world insisting that every nation we talk and trade with become a western European liberal democracy. That would be naive and foolish. However, if we genuinely believe in the rule of law in international relations and if we believe in basic human rights, there are times when we must speak up and be willing to act with others.

The Russian Government is working on the basis that business means too much to European governments for them to do anything meaningful. The Prime Minister of Poland, Mr. Donald Tusk, stated on Monday that he feared that the reliance of Germany on Russian gas and trade was such that it compromised European sovereignty. If a European country can be torn apart in such an aggressive and dishonest way without real consequences, then we should consider repealing all of the founding declarations about the Union's commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Unfortunately, the EU's response so far has been extremely weak. Strong words at press conferences have been followed by active work to weaken all proposed actions. It is primarily because of the work of foreign Ministers Mr. Carl Bildt of Sweden, Mr. Radoslaw, or Radek, Sikorski of Poland and the three Baltic member states that Europe has not yet disgraced itself. In particular, I commend Mr. Sikorski on his work. From my time serving with him on the Foreign Affairs Council, I know that he is a passionate believer in building a prosperous and democratic Europe. He is also someone who remembers how Europe standing up for its values helped societies suffering under totalitarian regimes in the past.

It is not clear what, if anything, our Government supports. The words of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in condemning Russia's actions have been strong and welcome. I support them in that regard. What is unknown is what is meant by the "severe actions" to which they referred.

Are we supporting the minimalist approach of Germany and some other major trading partners of Russia or are we supporting the much tougher approach of others? Perhaps we are waiting for something to be agreed and whatever that is we will support it?

The current European position is to suspend future actions but leave everything else in place. This is not good enough. At a minimum, we should match the measures announced by President Obama. In addition, we should make it a genuine priority to lift the reliance of many states on Russian gas. This gas has been and will be used to support other Russian political objectives. There comes a point where letting things drift must stop. Instead of adopting the current innocuous draft conclusions on energy, the summit should adopt more radical ones about liberating Europe from potential energy blackmail. Given the current situation, it is inappropriate for the Irish Government to proceed with any direct government-to-government activities in Moscow for St Patrick's Day. Surely, we cannot hold social receptions with people we are simultaneously proposing to sanction. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, has a busy portfolio. Given the significant challenges facing his free GP care and compulsory health insurance proposals, it would be understood if he were to remain in Dublin. I ask the Taoiseach to consider that approach to the engagement on St. Patrick's Day in Moscow.

On the new Government in Ukraine, we should not forget that the people of that country experienced a false dawn ten years ago. The Orange Revolution did not deliver for the people. There was no real attempt to show respect for civil society and end the rule of wealthy elites. The European Union should condition its support on the implementation of a programme, which the EU should fund, to increase the role of civil society and bodies which promote transparency and accountability. We should also insist that financial aid to Ukraine sets it on a realistic path to growth. If this requires the restructuring of the debt amassed under the last regime, so be it. Ukraine needs investment and hope, neither of which it can obtain if it spends years desperately managing these debts.

The summit will formally sign off the latest fiscal and economic oversight documents. This is not a success. The European semester leaves in place every element of existing economic orthodoxy. Most importantly, it is following the policy of austerity for all which has undermined the positions of all European economies. Many member states do not have the opportunity to implement significant extra investment. While the idea that all austerity has been avoidable is populist nonsense, there are economies which are certainly strong enough to follow a more growth-oriented approach which would benefit them and the whole of Europe. European recovery remains weak. Growth rates are significantly lower than forecast this time last year. This summit will again sign off on a policy of leaving policy unchanged. Thankfully, ECB President, Mario Draghi, has not followed the policy of doing as little as possible as late as possible. I welcome his statement that he is willing to implement new measures if he feels deflation is a rising threat. The various decisions of Mario Draghi in his two years as ECB President have been absolutely central to any progress in Europe. They have been far more significant in helping Ireland than any decision of our Government. This must explain why the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and their parties have ignored him in the lengthy and still ongoing speeches of self-praise the Dáil has been hearing for the last week and more.

The annotated draft agenda for the summit states that issues around the single resolution mechanism may be discussed, but not as a priority item. The existing proposal for the SRM is wholly inadequate and goes nowhere near breaking the link between sovereign and banking debt. The entire package for a watered-down banking union is also delayed. Reports are appearing again about difficulties in Belgium and other members states. While the Taoiseach and his EPP party colleagues engaged in an extended backslapping session about banking union last week, the reality is very different. The essential bank resolution fund, to which the Taoiseach signed up, will take ten years to build up its funds. After a decade, it will have €55 billion available to it. This has been estimated at only 0.2% of the total asset base of the covered banks.

The Taoiseach and his staff have once again been briefing journalists that they have everything in hand on banking debt but only the most gullible could take any of this at face value. The Government has never said what it is looking for in terms of either the type or level of funding. It is now well over a year and a half since the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Finance, Deputies Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan, respectively, gave a giggling press conference at which they indulged the idea that €68 billion would be on the way after they had, I quote, "changed the game". After 19 months, the game has not been changed. The figures that were talked about then are in excess of the entire fund available from the European Union for past, present and future recapitalisation of the entire European financial system. There is also the problem of the June 2012 communiqué, which the Taoiseach likes to tell journalists gave a specific commitment to sort out Ireland. It did nothing of the sort. The exact text, which is more referred to than read, states that "The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme".

It is over three months since the Taoiseach declared the adjustment programme over. He also declared that he and his Ministers had already delivered debt sustainability and growth for the economy. There is no commitment whatsoever in that to transfer to Europe Ireland's bank-related debt. It may be that we can sell them some bank shares but, as we have seen in the last week, this is not a problem. It is simply not true that we agreed to wait until the banking union was up and running before looking for debt relief. What has emerged is a permanent campaign to refuse to be straight with the people and to constantly change the briefings about what was agreed. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, said, by way of reference to the fair at Glynn, that he would not reveal his bottom line. That is fine, but more than a year and a half later the public has a right to at least hear the opening bid.

The Commission's work on taxation may also be raised. There is nothing in the EU treaties to prevent member states from setting different tax rates. Enough time has been wasted trying to construct a case to get involved in the corporate taxation issue. The idea that the German or French economies are suffering because of how Ireland taxes business profits is ridiculous. There are much more important issues which should be taking up the time of leaders at this summit. I welcome the fact that the summit will review the area of climate and energy policy. The influence of climate change deniers is thankfully receding rapidly. Unfortunately, this is being driven by the increasingly severe evidence of man-caused climate change. Ireland should support the reinvigoration and not the watering down of action on climate change. The area of competitiveness will also be covered but it appears that there is nothing new on the agenda. A real competitiveness agenda would include a proper investment programme.

The people of Ukraine, who went onto the streets to demand a European future for their country, deserve our support. Some of them paid for their dreams with their lives. The country as a whole is facing an aggressive invasion from its powerful neighbour. If the Taoiseach returns from the summit having done only one thing, it must have been to stand with the people of Ukraine through supporting concrete action to develop their country and rebuff the Russian aggression. The Taoiseach has had his photo opportunities with Yulia Timoshenko and Vitali Klitschko. It is time for some concrete action.

The upcoming European Council meeting is heavily focused on economic matters. Once again, the European semester will be debated and the Council will take stock of how it has worked so far. Many across Europe see the semester as simply another tool to reduce the economic sovereignty of member states. Its main function is to give the European Commission, which is an unelected body, the power to decide the make-up of member states' annual budgets. It is being forced into place to ensure that member states are locked into the same right-wing economic policies which have ruined this economy and continue to place the needs of big business over struggling and hardworking ordinary citizens. While there was much hype and spin by the Government over exiting the bailout, the harsh reality is that Ireland will remain under extra surveillance until 2032 as our loan profiles currently stand. Even then the Commission can prolong the surveillance. During that period, the Council can impose whatever measures it deems fit for us. The EU controls our future and economic decision-making more than ever.

Last week, we had the EPP Congress in Dublin involving a collection of conservative parties from across the European Union. As was signalled, they praised Ireland. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, described Ireland as an economic success. Unsurprisingly, she did not focus on the €666 million the Government has taken out of the health care budget or the huge housing crisis affecting Dublin.

The Chancellor did not speak about youth unemployment, the high level of emigration or retrospective recapitalisation. It was not surprising either that she did not refer to Irish taxpayers paying unsecured German bondholders.

Even the President of the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, got in on the act by thanking Irish people for their courage, noting the leadership shown by the Government and describing the past decade as "ten very challenging, very exciting years". While they may have been exciting or even risqué years for Mr. Barroso, the word "exciting" does not reflect the nightmare journey taken by families faced with the prospect of losing their homes and jobs or the possibility of losing their children to emigration. Again, Mr. Barroso failed to make reference to Irish taxpayers being strong-armed into bailing out unsecured bondholders for billions of euro. He also neglected to focus on the fallout and legacy of the troika's presence in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, namely, mass unemployment, emigration, increased poverty and the devastation of communities and public services. His intervention was an attempt to rewrite the narrative and pat little Ireland on the back for bailing out gamblers and speculators and devastating public finances in order that millionaires and billionaires would not have to take a hit on their unsecured bets.

Mr. Barroso also made no reference to a write-down or retrospective recapitalisation. Has the Government given up on this goal? Is it satisfied to receive thanks and plaudits for lumping this heavy burden of debt on its citizens? Is it content to continue to erode economic sovereignty by handing it to the European Commission through the European semester?

This week, a key anti-austerity leader of the Syriza party in Greece visited Dublin and spoke of his country's serious social and economic problems. I was struck by the similarities between the journeys Greece and Ireland must take. The main message we must send to the European Council meeting is to emphasise the importance of working together to produce alternatives that improve the lives of ordinary citizens across the European Union.

I note the European Council will discuss industrial competitiveness. Recently, one of Ireland's leading economists, Professor Morgan Kelly, warned that the recovery is masking underlying problems with the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Professor Kelly is held in high regard in the economic field for forecasting the scale of the housing market crisis. He believes that when the European Central Bank inspects Irish banks, it will find that a significant number of small and medium-sized enterprises have mounting debts. According to Professor Kelly, these enterprises could be wiped out when the ECB tries to clean up Irish banks.

The Government's focus recently has been on job creation and it is keen to spin the message that recent figures demonstrate jobs growth. While all jobs are welcome and the figures show that unemployment has decreased in the past 12 months, these data must be treated with caution. The Central Statistics Office has been cautious about the figures given changes in the way in which the numbers of self-employed persons and persons employed in agriculture are measured. Recent research has shown that 60% of emigrants were in employment before leaving Ireland but chose to move abroad because of low pay, an insufficient number of hours and the lack of career opportunities. If the 127,000 persons of working age who left the country since 2009 had stayed, the unemployment rate would be 19.7%

The domestic economy is still in dire straits and there is evidence that jobs growth is being polarised, with little growth in high paid sectors and the greatest gains being made in low paid sectors. The economy is still much too dependent on multinational companies. Last week, it was revealed that Apple paid only $36 million in tax on profits of more than $7 billion from its Irish registered operations. It appears the Government does not have any interest in challenging multinational companies which are abusing loopholes in our tax law. Its response to the ongoing revelations has been a mixture of denial, embarrassment and silence. If Ireland is not at fault, I ask the Taoiseach to raise the continued abuse of tax loopholes at the European Council meeting and seek EU-wide action to prevent multinational companies worth billions of euro from neglecting their tax responsibilities. Will he also raise the concerns expressed by Professor Morgan Kelly?

What proposals will the Taoiseach bring to the European Council meeting to try to improve the industrial competitiveness of Irish firms and the domestic economy? One of the many concerns of small and medium-sized enterprises is the high cost of energy. What action will the Government take to tackle this problem?

As an island, we have high and fluctuating transport costs. The proposed levy for heavy goods vehicles using British roads will significantly increase costs for small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly in Border areas. The measure flies in the face of the EU concept of free movement of goods and services. I ask the Taoiseach to raise this issue inside and outside the formal Council meetings. Does he agree that this provides a further reason for creating and developing an all-Ireland economy?

The Taoiseach stated that climate change will also be discussed at the forthcoming European Council meeting. Recent storms and floods demonstrated the devastating impact weather can have on businesses and communities. Ireland needs to work with European Union institutions and international partners to help slow the process of climate change and prepare defences to battle against its effects. Will the Taoiseach seek funding from the European Investment Bank to help build new and better flood defences?

Ireland has one of the highest rates of winter deaths in Europe and fuel poverty is one of the main issues affecting households here and across Europe. Retrofit schemes are one way of reducing fuel poverty. They save energy, make economic sense and, more important, have a major impact on homes and families. Will the meeting focus on this issue in the context of the discussion on climate change?

Rising fuel prices are an issue across Europe and need to be tackled on a Europe-wide basis. This can be done through the provision of supports and long-term investment in the development of renewable and green energy sources across Europe. Biofuels have become a major issue in Europe and across the globe, especially in Africa. I hope the EU-Africa summit will focus on biofuels and the practice of substituting them for food crops. Europe must review its policies to take account of climate change and examine the spread of biofuel crops. Ireland must raise its voice on this key area of concern.

Recent problems in Ukraine stem from the European Union and United States, on one side, and Russia, on the other, playing a zero-sum geopolitical game with that country. Ukraine was essentially offered an opportunity to place all of its eggs in the EU basket on the off-chance that it may at some stage become a member of the European Union. The alternative was to put all of its eggs in Russia's basket and remain under Russian influence, while being surrounded by countries which have taken the European Union route. All the while, Ukraine was practically bankrupt, socioeconomically regressing, rife with corruption and in the depths of winter. Rather than trying to force Ukraine down one route, the European Union and Russia should have worked together to create mutually beneficial, non-exclusive economic, political and social relationships with the country.

Given it borders these big powers co-operation would have made sense and would have benefited the ordinary Ukrainian and Russia and Europe. However, again the zero gain process was chosen.

The situation is Crimea is continuing to worsen, with a lack of adequate stability and security. I look forward to hearing what the Russian Ambassador has to say today at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade about his country's negative involvement in this area. The local government in Crimea has called for a referendum to be held on 16 March in regard to its remaining part of Ukraine or joining the Russian Federation. While everybody has the right to self-determination and to decide democratically their country's future by way of free and fair vote, given the crisis situation in Ukraine I believe this referendum has been hastily called and comes at the wrong time. The focus now needs to be on de-escalating the crisis. Once peace and security has returned, decisions of this magnitude can be debated and decided by the citizens. Any referendum needs to be free and fair. It also needs to be free of any foreign influence. These conditions cannot be guaranteed in Crimea at this time. The decision to hold a referendum on 16 March was made on 6 March. Ten days is far too short of a lead-in time for a referendum on such an important issue. All voters need to be given time to make up their minds and political parties and civil society groups need time to formulate campaigns to support or oppose referendum questions. Ten days is far too little time and does not follow democratic best practice.

Yesterday the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, rejected an offer of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, until such time as Russia engages with US proposals on Ukraine's crisis. I believe this is counterproductive and that both sides need to sit down and talk. Does the Taoiseach believe that this meeting should have gone ahead and what will be the Government’s response if the Crimea referendum goes ahead?

The European Council will also discuss the upcoming EU-Africa summit. I understand that topics for discussion include education and training, women and youth, legal and illegal migrant flows between both continents, ways to stimulate growth and create jobs, investing in peace and ways to enhance EU support for African capacities to manage security on the continent.

As with all developing countries the EU must focus on mutually beneficial and fair trade. Will the tax evasion and avoidance of EU based MNCs be discussed? The actions of these huge corporations have cost African countries billions in tax revenues. The amount is many multiples of what it receives in aid. Until these MNCs and their actions are held to account the fight against poverty and underdevelopment will continue to be undercut and held back.

I wish the Taoiseach well in the discussions on what is happening in Crimea and Ukraine and other important issues such as climate change the direction in which Europe is going.

I wish to share time with Deputies Mick Wallace and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

Is the time being shared equally?

I often wonder about the value of the debates which we have prior to European summits in terms of the pattern which they follow, namely, the Taoiseach commences with a reasonably bland speech about what may or may not happen, he then receives a certain amount of criticism from the Opposition and, sometimes, constructive suggestions, as happened today in the context of the Crimean situation, and he then goes to Europe where he is applauded by the European Heads of Government on the wonderful work he is doing in Ireland. There may be a pattern developing which, hopefully, is not a replica of that we witnessed previously in the context of former Taoisigh, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, going to Europe and being hailed as the great pioneers of the Celtic tiger because we all know what happened after that. Currently when the Taoiseach goes to Europe he is hailed as the great pioneer of a great economic recovery. Let us hope that is the case and that he is not entering into an unrealistic world whereby the assurance he is getting in Europe is not reflecting reality.

I agree with Deputy Crowe that the Taoiseach, instead of taking his Department's portfolio with him, should take with him a copy of Professor Morgan Kelly's speech to UCD a couple of days ago. I am not suggesting that Professor Kelly is necessarily right - he may or may not be - but he tells an alternative story which is one that they should hear in Europe. As everybody knows, Professor Kelly was right before. He was a voice crying in the wilderness when he warned about what would happen in the property market. He warned those who were riding the crest of a false prosperity that it would all end in tears. I am not suggesting what is happening now is all going to end in tears but there is an alternative view which is not heard very often. It is certainly not heard in Europe and is also rarely heard in this House.

It would be in the Taoiseach's interest to inform Europe that there is an alternative view of the Irish economy, although not one shared by Europe. As so eloquently articulated by Professor Kelly in the past few days all is not necessarily well here and there is an elephant in the room, namely, the banking sector. Europe does not want to hear that. I note the Taoiseach's speech contained only a few lines in relation to the banking sector. Europe wants to hear the consensus interpretation that we are on an unobstructable road to recovery. The message from Professor Kelly is that the SMEs are highly borrowed, and to an extent that is not recognised here or has not been properly addressed. On top of this, the economy is dependent on the SMEs, in particular in terms of employment. I have not heard that issue properly addressed by anybody here, with the exception of the Minister for Finance who said the matter should be referred to the Central Bank and that Professor Kelly should be listened to, which is a way of saying that the matter should be diverted, dismissed and sent for further critical review.

As stated by Professor Kelly the stress tests are forthcoming. They may or may not be bad for Ireland. Nobody really knows how they will be done. However, there is little doubt that the banks, which we recognise as still having problems, are an enormous sword of Damocles hanging over the economy and, if the stress tests identify the real debt not only in terms of mortgage arrears, about which we speak as the most prominent problem, but in the context of borrowings by the SMEs, then the banks will at the very least have to be recapitalised. There is a state of denial in this country about this, which is particularly noteworthy on the part of the Government. When Ministers are asked they tell us not to worry, the banks will not have to be recapitalised but that statement is not based on fact, evidence or principles. This is doubly important now in light of the what the Taoiseach had to say about legacy debt. Legacy debt is another area which is not recognised in terms of what happened in June 2012. In other words, we are still pretending that somehow the banks will be recognised by legacy debt. That is not the message coming from Europe. The message coming from Europe is, "You're on your own: we think you're doing extraordinarily well and we're going to ignore the bad things."

I have no time for Mr. Putin. I find him as obnoxious as his US counterpart. They behave similarly. For the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to say that in the 21st century one does not invade a country on a completely trumped up pretext is bordering on the ridiculous.

This from a country which launched the greatest act of unprovoked aggression in modern history - on a trumped-up pretext – against Iraq in the form of an illegal war now estimated to have killed 500,000, along with the invasion of Afghanistan, the bloody regime change in Libya and the killing of thousands in drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all without UN authorisation. It is absurd that the Americans are carrying on as they are at present and it is extremely difficult to listen to what they have to say.

The US and European powers openly sponsored the protests to oust the corrupt but elected Government of Yanukovych, which were triggered by controversy over an all-or-nothing EU agreement that would have excluded economic association with Russia. At present, fascist gangs are patrolling the streets of Ukraine. However, their members are also in Kiev's corridors of power. The far right Svoboda party, whose leader has denounced the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry" and which has been condemned by the European Parliament for its racist and anti-Semitic views, has five ministerial posts in the new Government, including those of Deputy Prime Minister and Prosecutor General. The leader of the even more extreme Right Sector, which was at the heart of the street violence, is now Ukraine's deputy national security chief. Neo-Nazis in office is a first in post-war Europe. However, this is the unelected Government now backed by the US and EU. In a contemptuous rebuff to ordinary Ukrainians who protested against corruption and hoped for real change, the new Administration has appointed two billionaire oligarchs – one of whom runs his business from Switzerland – to be the new governors of the eastern cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, the IMF is preparing an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment.

It beggars belief that Ireland could adopt the position it has taken in respect of this matter. Yesterday I read a pamphlet produced by a Ukrainian female writer who has no sympathy for either side but who is saddened by her people's fate. Her wish is that the Russians, the EU and the US should leave Ukraine alone. What is being done in Ukraine is simply another economic carve-up. The Ukrainians are the only ones who are going to suffer as a result of it. Those in government here and across the EU want to be able to pick sides and to decide who are the "goodies" and who are the "baddies". Two groups of oligarchs are fighting for control of Ukraine and Russia, the EU and the US have all become involved and are making matters worse. Ukraine is in for a hard time from those on both sides.

The European People's Party held a forum in Dublin last week at which Yulia Tymoshenko was present. That one is as big a gangster as Yanukovych. She was arrested in 1995 for currency smuggling.

We cannot have defamatory comments.

No, we could not have that. She was arrested again in 2001 and would have been arrested in 2009, when she signed an illegal deal with Russia, but for the fact that she was in power at the time. In the previous week, Clinton visited Ireland. One would swear these individuals were the good guys as they are led around the place by the hand. Have people forgotten that in the late 1990s Clinton was responsible for substantial increasing arms sales to Turkey, which led to probably the worst incident of ethnic cleansing - in respect of the Kurdish people - of that period? When it was pointed out to the American establishment that it was contributing to the ethnic cleansing of Kurds by arming Turkey, it replied that helping the Kurds would have interfered with US power interests. The Americans were probably right in that regard. One of Clinton's last acts prior to leaving office was to provide only $75 million in foreign aid for the world's poorest countries. Even then, this amount was regarded as a shameful pittance. Simultaneously, he provided $1.3 billion for the Colombian army which was involved in a so-called drugs war. In so doing, he facilitated what was nothing short of state terror. For a period, some 3,000 political prisoners died in Colombia each year and more than 300,000 refugees fled the country annually. This was all the result of a US Government policy financed by our friend Clinton. Those in our Government have funny friends.

I will be echoing many of the sentiments expressed by the previous two speakers. It is stomach-churning to listen to the authorities in the United States of America and the Taoiseach refer to the sovereignty of states and talk about how borders should be respected. One does not need to be a genius to realise that this is hypocrisy of the highest order. The people who are preaching to us about what we should do are actually guilty of massive crimes. One can extend this argument to the North, into which warmongers such as Richard Haass have been brought to inform citizens about how not to kill people. What is happening is remarkable but I suppose it takes all sorts.

Russia could definitely learn something from the EU in the context of ignoring the sovereignty of countries. The EU is somewhat more subtle when it comes to taking over countries. It does not move in with tanks, for example, or with soldiers which it claims are not from within its borders but who actually are, as has possibly been the case in Crimea. The EU operates in the same way as heroin dealers, namely, the first fix is free and after that one will pay the price until the day one dies. The EU has been removing our sovereignty bit by bit. It got the first part for free and ever since farmers here have been obliged to dance the dance to meet the criteria for obtaining funding to which they have become used. If they disagree, they are basically threatened with starvation and with being run off their land. It is funny that our Government is so concerned about Ukraine's independence when it does not give the slightest damn about ours.

It might be stated that referenda are held here to decide whether Ireland should immerse itself further in the EU. The strange thing is that if we do not vote "Yes" in such referenda, those in government tell us we have to vote again. That is not democracy, rather it is a case of "We will keep asking the question until we get what we are looking for". The EU really outdid itself on the most recent occasion on which it proved necessary to hold a referendum here by deliberately naming the relevant instrument the "stability treaty". If anyone stated that they were opposed to the latter, those in government could say they were against stability. That is not democracy. The title "Vote against this treaty and we will shoot all your kids" might as well have applied in that instance. People could then have been told that they could not be opposed to the treaty because if they were, it would mean that they wanted the Government to shoot all of their children. The threat relating to the stability treaty was that if we did not vote in favour of it, we would not get retrospective recapitalisation in respect of our banks. We are still waiting for the latter to happen.

Jim Higgins, MEP, announced on a local radio station in my county in the past two weeks - he probably thought no one was listening - that retrospective recapitalisation is going to happen before the next general election. However, I am of the view that the game is up and that we are not going to get back any of the money involved. One of the reasons for this recalls to mind the story of the lad in the dance hall who never got to dance because he never asked anyone to dance. In the same vein, the Government never asked for retrospective recapitalisation. Even if it did ask for the latter, the EU would be right to refuse to provide it because the Government is obsessed with spinning the fact that we have turned the corner.

The Government has convinced the EU that things are going well.

It must be noted that between the third quarter of 2011 - when unemployment, in absolute numbers, was at its highest - and the fourth quarter in 2013, the numbers in unemployment fell by 75,000. However, the number of working age people emigrating was 116,000, while the number on labour activation schemes - training, education, etc. - increased by 29,000. In reality, the numbers have increased. The Government needs to tell the people the truth in respect of this matter. It must also deal with the fact that our economy is dwarfed by debt. We are dealing with a slow motion reality check in respect of this matter. In one sense, what Professor Morgan Kelly stated recently is remarkable because it is terrifying. It was also remarkable in another sense, namely, that he was stating the bleeding obvious. We have always known that there is no way our economy can repay our national debt, private debt or commercial debt, whether it be large-scale in nature or relating to SMEs. If the Government wants to get back the money to which I refer, it should tell those in the EU the truth and stop kissing their arses.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. I will respond to the points they made, in turn, in the context of the agenda for next week's Council meeting.

I will begin by addressing some of the questions Deputy Crowe asked in respect of the EU-Africa summit coming up and what will take place there. The Deputy raised several concerns relating to bioethanol and the role of the European Union. These summits are important in determining the policy between the European Union and Africa for 2014 to 2017. That is why the Taoiseach will be there as well as participating in other meetings with prime ministers from African states. At the moment considerable work is being undertaken to determine the exact agenda for the meeting, but the key themes likely to emerge are: peace and security; democracy, governance and human rights; human development; and sustainable and inclusive growth. The agenda the Government has developed in conjunction with Irish Aid and through the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will feed into the summit agenda and will reflect the views we will take at the summit and which the Taoiseach will articulate. We have built up considerable expertise and knowledge in development policy as a result of our relationship with African states and because of that we will be participating in the summit. We will be able to update Deputy Crowe nearer the point as well as afterwards in respect of the agenda and the points made.

Deputies Martin and Ross raised issues relating to industrial competitiveness and the content of what will be agreed at the meeting. Of the 6 million jobs lost in Europe during the crisis, a little under 4 million have been in manufacturing, 3.8 million to be precise. There is recognition among the governments of the need for Europe-wide action to respond to this and the conclusions of the summit will reflect this. Three areas of price competitiveness are being focused on at the moment, including what has happened in productivity; the fact people in work do not have the support, skills or investment needed to deliver what they want or what many of our competitors are doing; and the further steps that need to be taken to support the supply of credit to small and medium-sized enterprises in Ireland and throughout Europe.

This leads to a point made on the economy and the view the Government takes on the economy. We have said that overall some progress has been made and the figures bear this out. I listened to the points and figures raised by Deputy 'Ming' Flanagan. In the same vein, the figure which should be highlighted is that 61,000 jobs were created last year. There are now a little over 1.9 million people at work within the economy. We have not had such a figure for those at work in our economy since 2009. I fully realise that hundreds of thousands of people are keen to work but cannot. I am as much in contact with the misery and stress that this causes as Deputy Flanagan because I deal with these people in my community and in my work throughout the country. While it is welcome and it is a fact that unemployment and the live register have come down for 21 months in a row, we must ensure job creation plays a far more important role in taking down these figures, although this has been the case in recent months and in the past two years. Too many people are still leaving our country. The areas the Government has prioritised in our domestic economy in this regard are construction, agriculture and tourism.

Ukraine was raised by everyone in their contributions. I listened with interest, particularly to the point Deputy Wallace made. He described the singularly complicated and difficult situation within Ukraine. However, the question I have for Deputy Wallace is: what would he actually do? His analysis may well be strong and there may well be dimensions of it which reflect what is happening there. In the context of a country facing the type of pressure Ukraine is facing at the moment, what should we do now?

It is absolutely not true to say that the European Union played any role in pressurising a government to take any stance in respect of signing an agreement with us. An agreement was put on the table and we negotiated with the Government that was in place in Ukraine at the time. It decided not to sign the agreement while Georgia and Moldova signed. It is our responsibility not only to analyse the situation but, as Deputy Wallace might put it, to respond to it. What we are now doing through our membership of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, one of the few organisations which has all these countries as members, is supporting the monitoring mission that was due to go to Crimea. However, it has not secured the type of access it should have, as Deputy Wallace is aware. There is an Irish member on the mission. We are a member of the Council of Europe, through which an adviser has been appointed to work with the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament to try to develop a system of parliament and changes in the Ukrainian Administration to deal with some of the complexities to which Deputy Wallace referred.

I emphasise that the main theme of the European Union throughout the crisis has been to emphasise that it is up to the people of Ukraine to decide their future. What we want and what we are pushing and advocating for is fair elections within the country, an inclusive political arrangement and a constitution that reflects all the cultures in the country. I welcome the fact that as a consequence, for example, the law in respect of changing the status of the Russian language within Ukraine was not signed. This has been the approach of the European Union throughout.

When the trouble started first a deal was signed between Russia, the United States and the Ukrainians. However, it was broken. The snipers, who happened to kill people on both sides, escalated the situation. They were part of an extreme right-wing group and they wanted the other crowd out. Sadly, the European Union has played a role that has not been altogether positive.

The Minister of State asked what we should do now. If the EU, the US and Russia were genuinely interested in helping Ukraine, then they would sit down together with both sides and work in the interests of Ukraine without giving top priority to their own selfish motives. Russia, the EU and the US have economic ambitions for Ukraine and they are putting these before the interests of the ordinary Ukrainian people. Ukraine is a difficult country and it is coming from a difficult point. It would be great if the country got help from both sides to structure a proper normal society and the country is struggling for this at the moment.

I was keen for Deputy Wallace to come in because I asked him a question and he has responded to it. I will conclude on this point, if I can.

Thank you, Minister of State, for asking the question. Thank you, Deputy Wallace, for suggesting an answer. Could you conclude now, Minister of State, because we are running out of time?

The Acting Chairman will thank me for finishing up soon. I wish to respond to the point. We have been trying to put in place inclusive political arrangements. This is why European Union Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers and Heads of State have been trying to engage directly with Russia. They have tried to put in place arrangements and elections that reflect the complexity of the situation there. I emphasise that the European Union was dealing in good faith and did not try to coerce anyone to sign the association and stabilisation agreement.

I wish to respond to something Deputy Flanagan said. His description of Richard Haass as a warmonger is an absolutely obnoxious description to put on the record of the Dáil. He is a person who has invested a considerable amount of time to try to defuse and deal with difficult situations in the North. He sat down with all the political parties there and worked co-operatively with them and the Government to try to deal with issues which we all have a direct interest in seeing resolved. Seeing his voluntary commitment to peace in Northern Ireland merited or rewarded by Deputy Flanagan standing up and describing him as a warmonger does not take any account of the work he has done in the North or the leadership or commitment he has displayed. If Deputy Flanagan wants proof, he need only consider the willingness of all the political parties in the North as well as the two Governments to engage directly with him to try to ensure the difficulties and violence of the past are not repeated in future.

Let us de-escalate the natural emotions that arise in such a potential conflict.

Will we bring the warmonger in to do it?

We ended on a nice note of conversation. Let us leave it at that.

Sitting suspended at 2.10 p.m. and resumed at 3.10 p.m.