Ceisteanna - Questions

Official Engagements

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach to report on his recent contacts with the Government of the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18143/16]

Mick Barry

Ceist:

2. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach to report on his meeting with the Vice President of the United States of America, Mr. Joe Biden; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18070/16]

Jim Daly

Ceist:

3. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Taoiseach the discussions he had with the American Vice President, Mr. Joe Biden, during his visit here in relation to progressing the proposed Cork to Boston Norwegian Air flight route. [19090/16]

Jim Daly

Ceist:

4. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Taoiseach if he will make direct contact with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama, to stress the importance of the progression of the proposed Cork to Boston Norwegian Air flight route; and to ensure any political obstacles in the United States of America are adequately addressed. [19091/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

I have previously reported to the House on my visit to the United States in March for the St. Patrick's Day programme, which included a number of political meetings, including with President Obama. I have also already reported to the House on my visit to Washington in May for events to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

On Tuesday, 21 June, I met US Vice President Joe Biden in Government Buildings. This was the first engagement of his six-day programme in Ireland. We had a cordial and productive discussion on a range of issues of mutual interest to our two nations, including the strong bilateral economic and trade relationship between Ireland and the United States.

In this context, I recalled that I had raised the issue of the licensing of Norwegian Air International with President Obama and Vice President Biden when we met in March. I welcomed the subsequent progress that the US authorities have made with their tentative decision on 15 April to grant a foreign air carrier permit to Norwegian Air International. I emphasised to the Vice President that we look forward to this decision being confirmed as soon as possible so that Norwegian Air International can launch new services between the US and Ireland, including a route from Cork. The Vice President expressed his hope that the issue could be resolved as soon as possible.

The Vice President and I also discussed a range of international and European matters, including the British referendum on EU membership, which was due later that week, and the Northern Ireland peace process. We also discussed the issue of US immigration reform.

The Vice President commended the Irish Government on its ongoing advocacy for immigration reform and expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on the issue in the United States. Deputies will be aware of the latest disappointing development where the US Supreme Court is evenly split on President Obama's executive action, so the lower court decision blocking President Obama's executive action remains in place.

During our meeting, we spoke about the recent mass shooting in Orlando. I had previously written to President Obama to convey the condolences of the Government and the Irish people following this atrocity and I took the opportunity to express our condolences in person to the Vice President.

Our meeting concluded with us looking forward to the remainder of the Vice President's visit, which included a meeting the following morning with President Higgins. Reflecting the Vice President's interest in exploring his Irish heritage, the programme included events in counties Mayo and Louth as well as in Dublin. The Vice President was also accompanied by a number of close family members. Before his departure for Washington on Sunday, 26 June, I hosted a lunch at Farmleigh House for the Vice President and his family, which was also attended by Government Ministers, the Ceann Comhairle, representatives of the main Opposition parties, business representatives, the State agencies and Irish American interests.

The Vice President's visit was a great success and, I believe, has contributed to further strengthening the deep friendship between Ireland and the United States.

Before his departure for Washington on Sunday 26 June, I hosted a lunch at Farmleigh House for the Vice President and his family, which was also attended by other Government Ministers, the Ceann Comhairle, representatives of the main Opposition parties, business representatives, the State Agencies and Irish-American interests. The Vice President's visit was a great success and, I believe, has contributed to further strengthening the deep friendship between Ireland and the United States.

I agree with the Taoiseach that the visit by Vice President Joe Biden and his clan was a great success. Like the Taoiseach and others here, I have met many who have travelled back home to their ancestral home place. It is always emotional and that was very obvious in the way Joe Biden and his family were met, not least in the Taoiseach's county of Mayo. Along with Deputy Munster, I attended the event in Carlingford in County Louth and the farewell luncheon in Farmleigh House. I thank the Taoiseach for the invitation to that event. Vice President Biden was entirely at home in the beautiful Cooley Peninsula, particularly in the lovely village of Carlingford looking out across the lough towards the Mourne Mountains with Slieve Foy at our back.

I am also pleased that the Taoiseach had the opportunity to discuss immigration reform. Vice President Biden is a long-standing supporter of the peace process, so it was good that the Taoiseach was able to talk to him about that as well. I know that Vice President Biden is very conscious of the difficulties faced by the 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens in the US.

The Taoiseach alluded to talking about other international issues. He may know that, unusually, the US Administration has strongly criticised Israeli plans to illegally build hundreds of new homes in existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. The US State Department has described this as the latest step in a systematic process of land seizures and the UN Secretary General has said that he is deeply disappointed. Half a million Israeli settlers have been living in more than 100 illegal settlements since the 1967 occupation. Did the Taoiseach raise this issue with Vice President Biden? Clearly, it is a good thing that the US Government is criticising this action. I think our Government can give a lead. The Taoiseach knows about the programme for Government commitment to recognise the state of Palestine and that in 2014, the Oireachtas voted in support of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Will the Taoiseach consider formally recognising the Palestinian state, upgrading the Palestinian mission and adding this State's support to the political movement needed to re-establish the peace process in the Middle East?

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I have spoken with him on a number of previous occasions about the importance of this route for Cork to connect the entire southern region of Ireland to the US. While for the US this is clearly a football they want to kick around politically, for us in Cork it is far more important than that. What interests those who are trying to promote the region as a tourist destination is the footfall that would result from this connectivity. We have many hidden gems of excellence throughout the region that we want to showcase to the US, so this is a vital link that we need to see progressed.

I thank the Taoiseach for raising the issue with Vice President Biden. I asked the Taoiseach whether he would be willing to go back to President Obama, because I understand that the US authorities will sit on this until after the election, so it will be towards the end of the year before they make any decision. That is a lot of time and a lot of lost opportunities for the southern region. It is not just a Cork issue. I think the Taoiseach is aware that it has a knock-on effect on his constituency and the airport in Knock. Indeed, I think it will have an impact on the entire country and our economy. In the aftermath of the Brexit debate, it is important that we look after our strategic interests and ensure this is followed up.

I would appreciate if the Taoiseach would confirm that he will go back to President Obama and ask him. The Taoiseach said Vice President Biden said he hopes it will be resolved, but I hope he will do more than just hope and that he will take out the finger and ensures it happens because it is on his desk.

To follow on from the question that has been raised by Deputy Jim Daly, I am interested in the conversations the Taoiseach had with Vice President Biden in a general sense but particularly on the issue of the Cork-Boston flights. It is fair to say that in Cork city and county there is a strong mood for connectivity and flights connecting ourselves with Boston and New York at a later point. Cork city and county also form an area with a strong tradition when it comes to standing up for and respecting workers' rights. The issue of workers' rights is in the mix of the debate about these flights. We have had reports that Norwegian Air is talking about using agency workers who would be sourced from outside the US and the EU, perhaps with cabin crew and pilots taken on from south-east Asia. There has been talk of wages being paid of $500 a month, and with the race to the bottom, that is something that would concern people. In this country, the Irish Airline Pilots Association, IALPA, has raised those concerns and in the US they have been raised by various trade unions and members of Vice President Biden's party, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. I am interested in information and an update on flights and connectivity. I am also wondering if the Vice President, whose Department of Transportation is looking into this, has any further update or information about the workers' rights issue here.

I extended an invitation to Vice President Biden to come here quite a number of years ago and I was very glad that during his last year in office he was able to come to Ireland on a semi-formal visit. I agree with Deputy Adams that he was really pleased to explore the roots of his forefathers in Carlingford and Ballina, County Mayo. I found Vice President Biden to be really interested in people, his Irishness and his roots. He was accompanied by his sister, daughter, sister-in-law, grandchildren and other members of his family. He was making a real effort to have them understand the extent of the connections between Ireland and the United States. His visit was an outstanding success.

While we did not discuss the question of Israel with him, the acquisition of further lands by Israel for the purpose of building apartments or houses is one I deplore. It is of great concern to the general, fragile efforts being made to bring about a two-state solution. This will not help the situation. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is working on the question of Palestine, having moved some way in this direction, and there are still some matters to be considered.

Deputy Daly raised the question of Cork Airport and Norwegian Air, as did Deputy Barry. Deputy Martin has also raised it on many occasions. When I raised it with President Obama in the White House, while it is not directly within his remit, he was very supportive of the matter being dealt with quickly. Shortly after that came the approval of a foreign air licence to Norwegian Air International from the secretary for aviation. That was on the basis of it being compliant with the open skies agreement with the EU. The matters Deputy Barry raised in respect of the employment of pilots have all been sorted out.

Vice President Biden was well aware of this and gave his support strongly for a quick conclusion. It should be noted that, were this to be in operation now, Norwegian Air International would do for long-haul flights what Ryanair has done for short-haul flights, which would increase footfall through to the country generally in huge numbers either way across the Atlantic. As I understand it, it is fully compliant with the European Union open skies policy and is backed by the European Commission. This is not an administrative hold-up. There were quite a number of objections from unions in the United States, which feared the employment of pilots from the Far East. As I understand it, that matter has been resolved. I hope this can become a reality quite quickly.

Deputy Daly asked me to confirm that I would go back to speak to President Obama. We can communicate with him anyway. We will certainly do that because the Vice President undertook, after I spoke to him in Government Buildings, to speak to President Obama about this. Obviously, we have given a report of the discussion that we had on that matter.

European Council Meetings

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach to report on the recent meetings of the European Council that he has attended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18144/16]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his contribution at the European Council meeting on 28 June 2016 following the Brexit referendum result; and the response from member states to same. [19355/16]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach to report on the European Council meeting; and his agenda for European Council discussions in terms of the Government's strategy for dealing with the vote to exit the European Union by the electorate of the United Kingdom. [19375/16]

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

8. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach to report on the two-day summit he attended in Brussels following the result of the referendum in the United Kingdom. [19475/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.

I attended the European Council on 28 June and the informal meeting of 27 Heads of State and Government on 29 June. The focus of both meetings was on the outcome of the UK referendum which took place on 23 June. The European Council also considered, relatively briefly, a number of other issues, including migration, the Single Market, investment, economic and monetary union, taxation, agriculture, Libya, the EU global strategy on foreign and security policy, EU-NATO co-operation, and the association agreement with Ukraine. In an exchange on trade, I stressed that the Commission should continue to work towards agreeing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, deal with the United States. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, attended the meeting on Tuesday, where all member states expressed regret at the outcome of the referendum but respect for the democratic decision of the UK electorate.

At the meeting of the 27 leaders, it was agreed that there could be no negotiations until Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union was triggered, and that, while this will not happen immediately, it should take place as soon as possible. The negotiations are likely to take at least two years and, in the meantime, the UK remains a full member of the Union.

On the separate question of the future relationship between the UK and the EU, the UK side has yet to clarify what it wants. There will be many complex and technical issues to consider. British politics are in a turbulent phase and we will have to await the election of a new Prime Minister before the UK approach becomes clearer. The 27 leaders clarified that the European Council would direct the process, but the Commission and the European Parliament will also play important roles.

At the meeting, I spoke about our long history with the UK, including the Northern Ireland peace process and our common entry to the EU in 1973. I outlined our specific interests, including Northern Ireland, the common travel area and trade. We have been emphasising these points to our EU partners for some time and they are widely understood.

Our overall interests lie in a stable, prosperous and outward-looking UK. The closer its future relationship is with the EU, the better from our perspective. We will need to ensure in due course that the negotiating mandate - which has to be given by the member states, including Ireland - will reflect our specific concerns.

Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Taoiseach. Everybody is now well aware of the real risks to the well-being of our people as a result of the Brexit vote. Yesterday, in his post-Council statement, the Taoiseach acknowledged that too lengthy a gap in the process of negotiation might prolong uncertainty, with negative consequences for businesses and consumer confidence. Yesterday he spoke of the need for exploratory work to begin with the British Government. The Taoiseach stated last week that the British Prime Minister wanted early bilateral engagements at senior official level and he went on to state that senior British officials met officials from the Department of the Taoiseach. Can we get some sense of what issues were discussed, what progress, if any, was made, and when the next meetings will occur? Could the Taoiseach also clarify the status of these engagements?

The Taoiseach has stated that he wants the Government represented at any EU-British negotiations in order to protect the interests of this State. What has been the response to that? Has the Taoiseach put that issue, and how has the EU - and, for that matter, the British Government - responded? The Taoiseach rehearsed the issues which he quite rightly brought up at the Council meeting. Can he give us some sense of how his concerns have been responded to?

I will go back, if I may, to this issue of a national forum. The Taoiseach stated it had merit and that it was a good idea. Three of the Opposition leaders here have supported the proposition. Will the Taoiseach meet these three leaders and others, if they want to be there, to discuss how we can advance this idea? I also would argue strongly for, and welcome, an all-island framework and a whole-of-Government contingency framework as described by the Taoiseach. That is appropriate because a partitionist approach to the development of strategy and policy in negotiation structures would put at risk, in particular, the gains that have been made for citizens since the Good Friday Agreement was achieved.

I want to raise one specific issue. There is an ongoing effort to achieve the building of the Narrow Water bridge project. I recently visited the site with the Northern Minister for Finance. Brexit strengthens the argument for proceeding with the project with all speed. It does not weaken the argument. A report was noted at the North-South ministerial meeting, but this is a project to enhance the tourist and economic potential of the Border region - both sides of the Border. I ask the Taoiseach if he would be prepared to take an initiative on that matter.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach mentioned, both in his speech and in his reply, that the Council would lead the negotiations.

The European Council will oversee the process.

I put it to the Taoiseach that there is a view abroad that not only should the Council lead the process but it should appoint the negotiators on behalf of the Council to engage with the British Government on negotiating the Brexit situation, both the exiting process and the parallel process of building a new relationship with the United Kingdom. Ideally, such a relationship would be something along the lines of the European Economic Area, particularly in view of the deal that was done for Norway, because Britain's access to the Single Market would benefit immeasurably the island of Ireland. Anything short of that will cause difficulties. These are issues for the incoming British Prime Minister, because they will have to swallow hard at the end of the day if the four pillars are to be observed in facilitating access to the Single Market. This is important, because there has been some disquiet about the performance of the President of the European Commission, Mr. Juncker, and some of his commentary.

In the immediate aftermath of the result, we needed cool heads. First, one should always accept the democratic wishes of a people. Whether one likes it or not and whether one agrees or disagrees, there should be respect for the will of the people as articulated in the ballot box. That is the starting point in such a situation. We all have made our contributions in terms of how it all happened, but the key point is that this is the starting point. The Commission has, to a certain extent, compromised itself even before we start. There has been a sense of getting even, or "Let us move on quickly and move them on." That kind of approach is not sane or sensible in the longer term.

Looking at the longer term with regard to European Union coherence, the bottom line is that there needs to be a positive and constructive trading relationship with the United Kingdom. Over time, that relationship needs to be built on proper values such as human rights. Governments and democracies change, and therefore one must create a framework that can be adaptable over time to a changing political situation in the United Kingdom, which can certainly happen.

In terms of these negotiations, will the Taoiseach indicate if he has sought for Ireland to be represented on a negotiating team, given our unique and special trading, economic and social relationship with the UK? We have a case to make that we should be on a negotiating team or have a representative on that team. We have a unique contribution to make to the all-island dimension. Europe has been an important backdrop to peace in Northern Ireland, including the PEACE fund and the other various funding mechanisms. At this stage we should be working on a process that might seek to retain European Union supports for PEACE fund initiatives, reconciliation within the North and North-South engagement, interaction and projects. We should put that proposition to the European Union, notwithstanding the UK wanting to exit.

We should also put the proposition that there is a special issue with Northern Ireland. I do not know how the United Kingdom would react to this but we should push the idea that under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the consent of the people in Northern Ireland is explicitly called for in terms of a united Ireland and the future of Northern Ireland. Now, against the will of a majority of people in Northern Ireland, it will be taken out of the European Union. There is an issue in terms of the future of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland that is worth pursuing with the European Union. It relates to the island economy and its political dispensation, and it is not something that can be glossed over as this issue unfolds. The more people begin to realise the impact of Brexit - it is becoming more immediate by the day with real and hard impact on the streets and farms - the more people may begin to consider this in a different way, both within the North and across the United Kingdom.

Is the Taoiseach's team in the Department looking at creating new structures for civil society dialogue, which has been underdeveloped in the North? The parties were not enthusiastic about the civil society dialogue element of the Good Friday Agreement and it has been allowed to wither. It never got off the ground. Even politicians have said to us over the years that it is not something they want to entertain. They were not too enthusiastic about it, truth be told. Now, it is to be regretted, and I urge the Taoiseach to develop mechanisms for a robust civil society dialogue involving trade unions, farmers and business elements, as well as people in general. We should get a dialogue going both North and South about the Brexit issue.

In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the Taoiseach provided a useful briefing for all leaders in Government Buildings. Both the verbal and written presentation set out the strategic issues that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. What is less clear to me since is the end game. What is Ireland's objective, now we have had a chance for reflection?

The Taoiseach stated yesterday that senior officials from the United Kingdom engaged with senior officials from the Irish Government in recent days. What exactly was the framework in which that engagement happened? Did the Irish team specify the desired outcome of the new position and whether the United Kingdom and Ireland could work in common effort to achieve those objectives?

What is the Taoiseach's view on the timing of the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty? As Deputy Martin stated, there are various signals coming from leaders in Europe and those we look to for leadership. In short, the attitude of European Commission President Juncker is, "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?" The attitude of my socialist colleague, Mr. Martin Schulz, in the European Parliament was not an awful lot better, initially at least. There was a little more measured response from President Tusk. We need a specific attitude from Ireland as the strategic issues are so important for this country and the people of this entire island. We must know what our objective will be and how we will work towards it. From an Irish perspective, when would be the optimal invocation of Article 50? This is entirely a matter for the United Kingdom but we should have a view with respect to our interaction with good friends in the United Kingdom as to when Article 50 should be invoked.

As I indicated yesterday, should we in the interim work on a bilateral strategy between Ireland and the UK before we engage in a trilateral way between Ireland, the UK and the European Union to see what is the best common outcome for the people of Britain and Ireland? I have not got external legal advice on this matter but my reading of Article 50 is that the framework for negotiations will be set by the Council. It indicates the negotiations will be conducted by the Union and I am not sure what that means. It has been said it is overseen by the Council but who does the negotiations? Is that clear yet? What inputs can we have as of right into those negotiations because our strategic interest is so much greater than virtually everybody else's, aside from the United Kingdom itself?

The interim arrangements were touched on again by Deputy Martin. The negotiations are ongoing on planning the expenditure of the INTERREG moneys that we negotiated in government. I negotiated the PEACE IV moneys as there was no great enthusiasm from the British to have a new programme. During the negotiations for the multi-annual financial framework, Britain wanted to reduce expenditure and did not want to be seen to advocate additional expenditure in any area. The Taoiseach did much work on this and he knows the British attitude was that while they would not obstruct work on PEACE IV, they would not be overt advocates for it. What is the state of the projects now? Deputy Adams would be familiar with many of them. It was expected they would be funded over the next seven years, but will that now happen? Is there any interim arrangement or is it all on hold until the Brexit negotiations conclude?

The 15 minutes allocated for this block of questions has elapsed. I take it Members are amenable to eating into the time allocated for the third tranche of questions.

What is in the third tranche?

They concern somewhat similar matters.

We have heard much today about respecting the ballot box and yet I have heard people condemning the outcome of the referendum and the people who took a decision with the ballot box as being right wing and racist. Was there any serious discussion at the European Council about why people took the Brexit decision and how the EU should respond? It seems there is an increasing mood across Europe against the EU. There is an article in The Daily Telegraph, for example, suggesting a tsunami of referendums that might take place across Europe, as there is potential for 33 referendums to be called by different states. Not all the people calling for those referendums are right wing and racist - far from it - and in one poll, nearly half of voters in eight big European states wanted to be able to vote on whether they should be a member of the European Union. In France, for example, there is a major strike ongoing against French and EU austerity, emanating from the EU neoliberal agenda. A poll indicates 38% of people in France had a favourable attitude to the EU and 62% had a negative attitude.

President Tusk, in writing about Brexit's outcome, indicates that it is clear that too many people in Europe are unhappy with the current state of affairs, on the national or European level, and they "expect us to do better".

There must be more serious discussion among the ruling elite in Europe as to why the fifth largest economy in the world has taken this decision.

Was there any discussion about the growing militarisation in Europe? The image we had of the EU in this Chamber is of a benevolent and progressive institution, but the image many people on the ground have is of an increasingly undemocratic institution, which is racist in the way that it is disgracefully corralled. The poorest people in the world, who are trying to escape war and poverty, much of the war generated by the EU, and trying to reach freedom, are being penned in in Turkey by the deal the EU has done. It congratulated itself on that deal, saying it has made its borders secure, by keeping out some of the poorest people in the world. It is an incredible state of affairs.

Finally, in respect of events in Britain, does the Taoiseach have a response to the Chilcot report? The Chilcot report has been released in the past hour and it essentially finds that the British Government of the time, and Tony Blair in particular, chose to join the invasion of Iraq before all other peaceful options had been exhausted. It is now becoming crystal clear how the British Civil Service and the British Government duped others into believing there was a serious threat, regarding weapons of mass destruction and 45 minutes. I read in an article that the EU summit agreed with that decision. This was two days after millions of ordinary people across Europe marched against the threat of war. We had one of the biggest marches in this country on that issue. Two days after that, the EU met in Brussels and agreed a resolution that expressly approved that war - it approved it as a last resort, but nonetheless it approved it - and condemned Saddam Hussein, etc. The impression is being given that the EU is a wonderful institution, which is neutral, benevolent, or whatever.

I made this point yesterday, and I wonder if the Taoiseach would agree, that actually there have been some very good developments in Britain since the Brexit result. David Cameron is gone, Boris Johnson is gone, and Nigel Farage is gone. Within the British Labour Party we have a battle for the leadership of the party, with the Blairite pro-war people who duped everybody and who have blood on their hands trying to oust Jeremy Corbyn. I am hoping the Taoiseach will send a message of support to Jeremy Corbyn following the Chilcot report for being on the right side of history on that occasion, because I think he should be sent that message. There will be a battle, but I think the membership will win and there could be a left-wing trend in the British Labour Party. There will be a general election and possibly a left Labour Party, so it is not all bad, actually. In terms of ordinary people across Europe, the people who feel the effects of the decisions of the elite and the austerity that is imposed, it could be a beacon for others to follow.

Deputy Adams raised the leaders' meeting. I think we should do that again next week and I will give everybody the most up-to-date information we have. There have been bilateral arrangements, which I mentioned already. When I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron after he rang me to say he was intending to stand down as a result of the referendum, and again in Brussels, I said we should have the meetings we had arranged following the memorandum I signed with him a couple of years ago, whereby senior officials at the highest level meet once or twice a year, and that we should continue that now. They actually met in Dublin on 30 June to engage bilaterally at a very early stage following the referendum. The issues they discussed were ones I had referred to the Prime Minister: the common travel area, border and customs, Northern Ireland, North-South issues and bilateral security co-operation. I understand that a number of officials from here have been over in London, so we will keep that at a very active level, but we will also intensify the engagement of officials from Northern Ireland with the permanent representation we have in Brussels, so that they will know what is happening there.

Has a senior point person been appointed?

Yes, there is a senior point person.

The person is in the Department. I will supply Deputy Howlin with the name later. The Secretary General's equivalent was here. We have a person who is the lead person in the Department. In any event, I have to restructure the numbers in the Department of the Taoiseach, between there and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we are looking at how we might expand those numbers, maybe even from other Departments. I recall that previously there were people contracted in who had experience and expertise in particular areas that would help the general environment in those kind of discussions, but I will advise Members of that.

It was agreed further that detailed work on a number of areas will be required in the coming weeks and months and these will be co-ordinated through mechanisms like the common travel area forum, the Belfast or Good Friday Agreements, and the engagement between the UK permanent secretaries and the Irish Secretaries General under the joint statement we had back in 2012. I will keep Members informed and we will have a meeting next week, when it is appropriate.

Deputies Howlin and Adams mentioned infrastructure. I referred to this yesterday. If, in theory, when Britain has left, and there were to be no PEACE funds or no INTERREG funds, then many of these projects would obviously fall, because many of them are predicated on money being put up front by us and by Northern Ireland and being recompensed later from a European point of view. A Minister might be asked to put money up front for a project that might not be recompensed later on, or that might fail. This is a stalled process now as we are, so we need to have our North-South bodies in such a position that they can continue to plan for projects. That is an issue.

Deputy Martin mentioned the oversight of this by the European Council. There are three institutions, as Deputies are aware: the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council. Obviously the Parliament has grown in importance over the past number of years. The theory here was that the European Commission has always had the expertise in and the experience of dealing with negotiations from countries that wanted to join the European Union. Equally, that experience is there in this first instance in which a country wishes to leave the European Union, but there was a very strong feeling around the table that it is the European Council, that is, the elected Heads of State or Government, that should oversee this politically. It is a matter for the European Council to give a mandate to the Commission in the nature of any negotiations to be conducted. I would assume - I would make this case very strongly, because we are the country that is most affected by the Brexit decision - that we would be in there at those negotiations as part of the European Council oversight of the work being done by the Commission.

Does that mean as part of the 27?

It is not finalised yet, but it is the European Council, that is, the leaders of the different countries, that will oversee the political process, so we will have to see to it that this is not left just to the Commission, which has the expertise. It has to be overseen and monitored and have people involved from the European Council. From our point of view, it would be very important that, as Ireland is at the apex of the journey towards the UK and the EU, we are central to these negotiations and we will have to put a facility in place for that.

We mentioned the PEACE funds. We are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. I like to think that, irrespective of what negotiations take place, the European Union itself is a peace process, which was founded after the Second World War, as Deputies are aware, but it is very important to understand that leaders are well aware of the importance of the peace process and they are well aware of the importance of the moneys put up by Europe for PEACE IV, negotiated by Deputy Howlin, and the INTERREG funds that were put in place during our own EU Presidency. I would like to think that, because of its importance, we would be able to keep those funds in place.

Deputy Martin mentioned a civil society dialogue. I think some form of that is necessary. That is what I had in mind about having conversations, North and South.

As I said, I do not have a mandate to negotiate for Northern Ireland but I have a duty and a responsibility to understand the common challenges that our people face. If we are to be in a negotiating situation it is important to know this.

If and when Britain removes itself from the European Council, whoever the Taoiseach is at the time will be the only representative of the British Isles at the European Council table. It is important that we understand the many challenges we will face. We want Britain to have access to the Single Market but in so doing we also want it to accept the four fundamental principles of the European Union and that will be a challenge for whoever is elected as the new Prime Minister. If that person decides that he or she wants to limit immigration and migration it will be very strongly resisted by the European Council, where freedom of movement is a fundamental principle. We do not know who will be elected but Theresa May or whoever it is will have to set out his or her stall.

People asked about the triggering of Article 50. Nothing can happen until that happens. I have said that I think it important that the new Prime Minister be elected first, and that will happen by 9 September. He or she should then have some time to reflect on the strategies, objectives and intentions. What does Britain want? Does it want a mechanism like Norway? Does it want a mechanism like Switzerland, or Canada, or Singapore? Maybe it wants something new, something British. From our point of view, the common travel area, the Border, the peace process and access to our trading links are all important so the nearer Britain is to the Single Market, the better for us. We will not know its strategy until the new Prime Minister is elected.

The framework is set by Article 50 but the Council will oversee it.

Deputy Coppinger asked about the seriousness of the discussions which take place at the European Council. They are serious but the discussion on Wednesday morning took place in a vacuum because we did not have a new British Prime Minister so there was no one to set out what he or she intended to do. The clock will start ticking when Article 50 is triggered but we need to know the objective and the strategy of the British Government and the new Prime Minister will outline that in due course.

It was then asked who would oversee the negotiations and the answer was that it would be the European Council. It will be necessary to have bilateral or parallel arrangements while the British trigger Article 50 and the discussions take place on Britain exiting the European Union. It is only afterwards that a new framework can be put in place setting out the relationship between the UK and the European Union and, as a consequence, that of ourselves, Northern Ireland and the UK. When the exit is completed, the new framework will be known and will be a reality, rather than a theory to be introduced at a later stage.

This will be very complicated and will take a great deal of time. We will see to it that we give everybody in this House full and up-to-date information so that we can make a decision as to where we want to be in the future.