Ceisteanna - Questions

European Council Meetings

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he has asked for items to be included for discussion at the next European Council meeting or the informal meeting of the 27 leaders to be held alongside it on Brexit. [38619/16]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken or written to the Italian Prime Minister since the referendum result in Italy on 4 December 2016. [39412/16]

Joan Burton

Ceist:

3. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the contact he has had with the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Renzi, since he announced his intention to resign on 4 December 2016. [39708/16]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the items he has sought to have included on the agenda of the next meeting of the European Council or the next informal meeting of the EU 27 Heads of State and Government. [39816/16]

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

As I will be outlining in my statement to the House later this afternoon, the next meeting of the European Council will take place tomorrow when EU leaders will discuss migration, security, economic and social development, including youth, and external relations.

The discussions on migration will include an update on the EU-Turkey deal, signed in March, along with a consideration of the migration compacts with five African countries, the progress achieved on the European Fund for Sustainable Development, and the European Investment Bank, EIB, external lending mandate. There is also likely to be an exchange on the future common European asylum system.

On security, there will be review of a number of measures, including the passenger name record, PNR, directive, database checks, and the European travel information and authorisation system, ETIAS. We will also consider the implementation of the EU global strategy, the European defence action plan, and EU-NATO co-operation.

Under economic and social development and youth, we will discuss the legislative proposals to extend the European Fund for Strategic Investment which were agreed recently by finance Ministers.

On particular Irish interests, we have highlighted the importance of pressing ahead on key Single Market initiatives, particularly in the area of services and the digital Single Market. I am sending a letter to President Tusk on this matter and have co-ordinated the support of a number of other member states to ensure a sufficient level of ambition is maintained by the Commission in setting out its plans across these initiatives.

Under external relations, political developments in Syria and the appalling humanitarian situation there will be discussed, and there will also be an exchange on how best to address the outcome of the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine agreement.

The meeting of the European Council is expected to conclude in the early evening. Leaders of the 27 member states, that is, not including the UK, will then meet where there will be a discussion on the mechanics of the EU negotiations with the UK which will commence once Article 50 has been triggered. Under the close political guidance of the European Council, that is, Heads of State and Government, the Commission will lead the technical negotiations, with the European Parliament also playing an important role.

At the dinner tomorrow, there is also likely to be an exchange of views about the Bratislava process on the future of Europe and the meetings planned for Valletta and Rome in early 2017. I will, of course, provide further details on both meetings in my regular statement to the House this afternoon.

At this time, I have no specific plans for bilateral meetings at the European Council, although I will meet and engage with other EU leaders there. I wrote to the former Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, this week to wish him well as he leaves office following the Italian referendum on 4 December. I will send a note to his successor, Paolo Gentiloni, as soon as he takes on his new role.

I will call Members in the order in which they tabled their questions.

I asked the Taoiseach specifically whether he had tabled any matter to be put on either the agenda of the formal Council or the agenda of the informal discussion.

Yes, the digital Single Market.

Are the letters he has written agenda items? I am interested in the Taoiseach's view on the second of the proposed meetings, that is, the one without the United Kingdom. Court proceedings have begun in this jurisdiction challenging the legality of the exclusion of the United Kingdom from the Council. The UK is a full member of the European Union and pending at least the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the contention is - and it is a matter that will be determined by our courts - that there is no legal basis to exclude the United Kingdom from these considerations. The allegation in the stated case in the legal proceedings is that Ireland colluded with others to exclude the UK. Has the Taoiseach received legal advice on the legality of such a gathering, or is it an entirely informal arrangement?

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether he has a view on another issue, namely, once Article 50 is triggered or invoked, can it be revoked by a member state? Has he received legal advice in respect of this matter or has the EU Council Legal Service provided advice on it? There appears to be no clarity on that matter.

We cannot deal with every issue but I wish to raise the appalling atrocities in Aleppo and the Russian involvement in that. The people of Syria wish to live in their own communities in peace and freedom, but what they have gone through in recent years has been unspeakable. It is, without question, the worst crisis for a population since the Second World War. It is extremely important that one sees a sense of urgency from the European leadership at the European Council meeting about the crisis and the role of Russia in Aleppo. What is taking place is incomprehensible. It is also instructive that Russia is seeking to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The sole reason, of course, is to avoid being accountable to the only international body capable of holding people responsible for war crimes. The blanket bombing of hospitals and humanitarian convoys and the extraordinary scenes this morning of children being brought out by their parents and families, one of the children with an intravenous, IV, drip still attached, are harrowing, and there is a sense that the world is turning a blind eye. There is a horrible sense of people not engaging with that reality, which will involve tough decisions.

There is pressure in Europe to lift the sanctions on Russia, and we must resist that. What Russia did in Ukraine was wrong and if we start a policy of appeasement, acceptance or acquiescence, the parallels with the 1930s will be very obvious. In recent years, Russia has placed a great deal of emphasis on destabilising or undermining democracies and public faith in democratic systems. I am not just talking about the American election. Russia has close ties to the neo-Nazi Jobbik party in Hungary, the Freedom Party of Austria and, even worse, the Golden Dawn party in Greece. It has provided an acknowledged loan of approximately €9 million to support the Front National party in France, and Nigel Farage has long played a starring role in the Russian state-controlled media. On the far left, there are people who are directly linked with Russia, including the communist parties in the European Parliament, such as in Sinn Féin's European Parliament group, while-----

How are they linked to Russia?

-----many more politicians are fellow travellers. What has been striking is the marked reluctance to condemn Russia for anything on the part of those on the far left, in this House and across Europe. There is an incredible double standard. There has been more condemnation of Donald Trump in this House than there has been of Russia-----

That is true.

-----for what is taking place in Aleppo, and the man has not even taken office yet. This provides an illustration of the situation.

At European level there is a need to be very clear about where we stand on war crimes, irrespective of who commits them, and on the annexation of territories and the violation of national sovereignty.

There are only six minutes left.

I have a question about the recent political changes in Italy and the European People's Party, EPP, the group in the European structures of which the Taoiseach is a prominent member. Does the Taoiseach regret the very hard line the EPP has pushed not just in countries such as Ireland but also in Italy? Italy is one of the largest economies in the European Union. The efforts of its previous government to create a situation where, for example, it could avail of Mr. Juncker's plan to have a public investment programme basically foundered on the rocks of EPP intransigence, and particularly the intransigent attitude of Chancellor Merkel and the German Minister of Finance, Mr. Schäuble. Now Italy, one of the core European countries, is facing an unknown future of populist politics. We have seen what happened with Mr. Trump in the United States and with other issues in different countries. The Taoiseach is a prominent member of the EPP and is one of the longest-surviving Prime Ministers in that group. However, the EPP appears to be hell-bent on destroying the concept of a European Union based on solidarity, economic progress and supporting countries when they encounter difficulties. Has he had discussions on the future of the three large and prominent Italian banks, which are now in dire circumstances? There are issues with the bail-in. Unlike the debates in this House previously, the slogan now from many of the ultras is to save the bondholders, particularly the junior bondholders, because so many of them are ordinary Italian savers. The Taoiseach will attend the summit tomorrow. Christmas is coming and most people feel reflective at this time of the year. Is the European Union going to survive what the leadership of the EPP has done to the Union in general?

I will be brief. Previously, I have raised with the Ceann Comhairle the way we do these questions. I will spend a moment on this, if I may.

Perhaps the Deputy should raise it after he puts his question to the Taoiseach. Is it about the method?

The Taoiseach will have two minutes to reply after the Deputy asks his question.

That is the point I am trying to make.

Four questions are being taken together. When the Taoiseach's contribution is included, it means that we have two minutes each. That does not work. I appreciate that this new way of doing business means we are dealing with topical issues but we do not have sufficient time to listen to the Taoiseach's response because he does not have sufficient time to deliver it or to elaborate on issues.

In moving on to my questions, I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to be indulgent with me. We will be having pre-European Council meeting statements later. Like the Taoiseach, I want to raise a few issues at the next European Council meeting, the first of which is the case of Ibrahim Halawa. Yesterday was Mr. Halawa's 21st birthday. We should send very hearty belated birthday solidarity greetings to him, lá breithe shona duit. Yesterday was the 17th time his trial has been postponed. I know the Ceann Comhairle is leading a delegation, of which we will be a part, and we support that. However, I note the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has written to the Egyptian President to express his concern about the case. I ask the Taoiseach not only to raise it at the Council meeting but to seek in advance the support of other EU Heads of State to ensure Ibrahim's release.

The situation in Syria in general and in Aleppo is shameful. It is desperate to sit watching this on our television screens in our living rooms. The claim by the Russian envoy to the UN that no one is going to harm the civilians is incredible. It is unbelievable. This siege has been a shameful episode in international politics and we should be firm in our opposition to all the forces, the Russians, the French and the Americans. Any forces that are operating there should not be doing so. We need a political solution. I again ask the Taoiseach to raise this issue. There is an opportunity to do something positive in the middle of all the horror.

I agree with the Deputy that this is not satisfactory. The Taoiseach has half a minute to respond. It is a matter that perhaps the Deputy's representative and others could raise at the Business Committee-----

We have done that.

-----as we enter the new session. Can the Taoiseach condense his response to the Deputies into one minute?

Deputy Howlin raised the question of what is on the agenda of the Council meeting. I submitted the letter in respect of the digital single market, which has been going on now for 30 years, and with which we need to deal. On the question of whether the EU-27 member states can meet legally, it is not the European Council that is meeting, rather it is 27 members of the European Council. The 27 are meeting informally and not as the European Council of 28 members because Britain is still a full member until it leaves.

I agree with Deputy Micheál Martin that what is happening in Aleppo is savagery beyond contemplation. I am not sure, given all the discussions we have had at European Council meetings all over the world, in Geneva and everywhere else, whether the issue here relates to whether the United Nations, as a world body, should be reformed and perhaps given greater influence to intervene. This is a complex operation in the context of Russia being supported by Iran and Hezbollah supporting Assad. Aleppo has been the scene of humanitarian crimes and war crimes, and I strongly believe we should and will prosecute where possible in that regard.

Deputy Burton made an extraordinary assertion that because the European People's Party took a very strong line, Italy decided to vote against a referendum on the Senate. That was a constitutional issue, not a verdict on the European Union. While I am very much acquainted with the former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and supported him on many of his issues, clearly, there were other reasons the Italian electorate decided to vote down the referendum. Mr. Gentiloni comes from the same stock as Matteo Renzi and has set out to place a very steady hand on the tiller. I would point out to the Deputy that in Austria the people - at the second attempt - voted for an independent Green candidate, that the Government of the Netherlands lost a vote on a referendum on Ukraine, that Spain had two elections before it could form a government and that Britain has its own result on Brexit, which I respect. Therefore, the Deputy cannot say that the European People's Party is responsible for the demise of Italy. I would be the first to say that in terms of the recession that occurred in the European Union, the European Central Bank might have acted differently in the context of what happened in America. However, we have moved from that point to where we are now.

Deputy Adams commented on matters that I support in the context of the horrific scenes we have seen in Aleppo, with men, women and children being butchered in a savage fashion in 2016. It is appalling.

I thank the Taoiseach for his co-operation. We will move on to the next group of questions. I understand the Taoiseach is taking Questions Nos. 5 to 16, inclusive, together.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States of America. [38631/16]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his three-day visit to Silicon Valley, Palo Alto and New York and the issues raised. [38661/16]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the details of his trip to the USA on 30 November 2016; the companies he met; the details of the meetings at which an EU ruling on a company (details supplied) was discussed; and the actions that were taken. [38665/16]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he highlighted surrounding Brexit during his visit to and the meetings he held in the USA; and if he mentioned the future of TTIP at any of the meetings. [38667/16]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the United States of America; and if he met any representatives of the undocumented Irish. [38775/16]

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

10. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the USA. [38855/16]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed changes in USA policy on the way in which the undocumented are going to be treated at any meeting in the USA. [38668/16]

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

12. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent trip to the United States. [39817/16]

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcomes of his recent visit to Silicon Valley and meeting with a person (details supplied). [39828/16]

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

14. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with senior management of a company (details supplied) on his recent visit to the United States of America; and if he discussed Ireland's tax policy and the recent European Commission ruling on the company's tax liability. [39840/16]

Joan Burton

Ceist:

15. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States of America; and the discussions he had regarding a tax case (details supplied). [39937/16]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

16. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the European Commission finding against a company (details supplied) with any companies or public officials during his recent visit to the United States of America. [40021/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 16, inclusive, together.

I travelled to the United States on Wednesday, 30 November, for a three-day programme of engagement with key business leaders in Silicon Valley and New York. The primary focus of the visit was to emphasise and promote Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for investment and trade and to communicate Ireland’s priorities in the context of Brexit and other recent significant international developments.

In Palo Alto, I spoke at a reception attended by approximately 250 Enterprise Ireland clients and representatives from the west coast business community. I used that opportunity to promote Ireland as a source for world leading information technology products and services, referencing the success of many Irish companies both in the Silicon Valley region and across the United States. I emphasised Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for US firms and delivered key messages about Ireland’s economic progress and the importance of immigration reform. I also met representatives of a number of Enterprise Ireland clients who were exhibiting their products at the event.

I also met that afternoon with George and Jackie Donohoe, whose daughter, Ashley, and niece, Olivia, lost their lives in the Berkeley tragedy in June 2015. Also present was Celine Kennelly, executive director of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center. In advance of my first visit to the region since the tragedy occurred, I also met the Irish-based families of those who were killed and injured in the tragedy, including some of the injured themselves, in Government Buildings on 24 November. In renewing my condolences, I expressed my admiration for the work the family had done in driving Senate Bill 465. I assured them that the Government would continue to do what it could to support improvements in US building regulations in order to prevent such a tragedy ever occurring again. I paid particular tribute to consul general Philip Grant for the way he conducted his business on behalf of our country arising from that tragedy in Berkeley.

On Thursday, 1 December, I visited Apple Headquarters where I met Tim Cook, the chief executive officer, along with a number of other senior Apple executives. We discussed the company’s substantial investment in Ireland. Mr. Cook highlighted Apple's ongoing commitment to Ireland, including the company's current expansion plans, noting that it is on target to create 1,000 additional jobs here. We had a brief discussion regarding the European Commission’s decision on the Apple state aid investigation. I noted that Ireland had already submitted a very strong appeal to the General Court of the European Union. Mr. Cook noted the company’s intention to lodge its own appeal in due course. The remainder of our discussion focused on global political developments and policy challenges, including Brexit.

Following this, I addressed the San Francisco Bay Area Economic Council, an influential group of leading Bay Area companies, which was hosted by Facebook at its headquarters. I used this opportunity to underline the strength of both Ireland-US relations and Ireland-California relations. I updated the council on Ireland’s economic progress, reiterated Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for investment, highlighted our highly skilled workforce and our focus on innovation and our strong commitment to EU membership. While at Facebook I also took the opportunity to meet some of Facebook’s many Irish staff working there.

I travelled to New York where on Friday, 2 December I had a series of business engagements, including individual meetings with existing and potential investors in Ireland. Once again, I used these opportunities to promote Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for foreign direct investment and emphasised our firm commitment to EU membership.

I had a series of engagements at Bloomberg, including a meeting with Bloomberg chairman, Peter Grauer, and a number of their client companies, a live broadcast interview and a meeting with the chief executive officer, Mike Bloomberg. Discussions covered a wide range of topics, including Brexit, the future of the EU, the implications of the US election, international taxation, globalisation, the rise of populism and Northern Ireland.

I also attended a Partnership for New York City event where I met and spoke to a group of approximately 30 leading New York business people on broadly similar topics to those covered at the Bloomberg events earlier, including Brexit, the US election, the future of the EU, corporation tax, the investment climate and foreign direct investment opportunities in Ireland.

Later that day, I was also glad to participate in the announcement of a strategic partnership between Enterprise Ireland and Northwell Healthcare, one of the leading health care providers on the east coast of America.

This partnership is expected to result in significant opportunities for Irish companies in the US health care sector.

That evening I attended a reception attended by approximately 300 Irish-American political, business and community leaders, including immigration reform bodies, hosted by the Consul General, Barbara Jones, at the Irish Consulate in New York. In my address, I spoke about Ireland’s economic progress, Ireland-US relations, the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit, the Government’s ongoing commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process and immigration reform. I also spoke about Ireland’s successful programme of 1916 commemorations. I emphasised the Government’s commitment to culture and heritage and was pleased to announce an additional €1 million in funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for the Irish Arts Center and $265,000 from the immigrant support programme for the Irish Repertory Theatre. I was also pleased to be able to announce the granting by the US Department of Transportation of a permit to Norwegian Air, which will facilitate new direct flights between Ireland and the USA.

As the focus of my trip was engagement with business leaders, I did not have detailed political discussions on immigration reform or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, during this visit. However, as I previously indicated, I raised immigration reform and our economic and trading interests with both President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence during my phone calls with them following the US elections.

I believe my visit was successful in further developing the strong links between Ireland and the United States as well as promoting Ireland’s priorities in the context of Brexit and other global developments.

There are eight minutes left to this question and five Members offering. To ensure the Taoiseach has an opportunity to reply and I comply with the times allotted, will each Member take one minute which will allow a few minutes for the Taoiseach?

That was a comprehensive presentation of a comprehensive itinerary, covering industry, immigration issues and the Berkeley tragedy. I welcome the fact the Taoiseach met the families involved in the Berkeley tragedy. They have done much work to effect a change in law in what was an appalling tragedy which destroyed so many young lives.

Will the Taoiseach give further clarification on where we are now with the undocumented Irish after the success of President-designate Trump and his perspective on migration generally? Over the past two years, the US President, Barack Obama, liberalised the context for the undocumented, although he did not go the full distance by any means. Nonetheless, people felt a bit freer going around the place. Now, there is more fear and anxiety as a result of what has been said by President-designate Trump.

Do we expect a full ruling from the European Commission on Apple? I am hearing rumours it will be out this week. It is important to get some channel of communication on that.

Will the Taoiseach give me a report on the ongoing progress with the Irish Arts Center? I was involved in that when Minister for Foreign Affairs some years ago and I would like to see where we are in that regard.

The next Deputy in the order of questions as tabled is Deputy Gerry Adams.

I also welcome the Taoiseach's meeting with the Berkeley tragedy families. I commend them on their great courage and commitment in ensuring such an accident will not happen again.

When I was in New York recently, I noted there are concerns within Irish America, among the undocumented and with some of the political leadership about the plight of the undocumented. I know the Taoiseach has raised this issue many times, but we should be conscious people are quite frightened by some of the remarks made by President-elect Trump.

There are also concerns about the need for the White House to continue its active support for the peace process here. There are issues about the past - we have had a lot of controversy here, as well as in this House - but the deal done two years ago, to which this Government has signed up, has still not been enacted. It is being blocked by the British Government. People in the States who are active on these issues know that. The British Government is also blocking the Bill of Rights. This Government has not brought in a charter of rights which it is obliged to do. The Acht na Gaeilge is still being blocked. These are all issues which the US Administration has quietly in the past been able to encourage. I note Gary Hart is in Ireland today. I commend and thank him for his work. He is meeting the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

I welcome the Government’s support for the Irish Arts Center and the Irish Repertory Theatre. These are good investments. I commend the chairperson of the Irish Arts Center, Gerrard Boyle, and particularly the board member, Cel Donaghy, a Carrickmore, County Tyrone man, who has been a great champion of the arts for a long time. We now need to give these people the vote.

There will be no time for a response.

The Taoiseach spoke about his meeting with Mr. Tim Cook of Apple. I understand he was reassured by the Taoiseach that Ireland's tax regime would remain at 12.5% for global corporations, despite incoming US President Trump’s intention of reducing the US corporation tax rate to 15%. I understand Apple indicated to the Taoiseach that if it should have to pay the €13 billion ruled against it by the EU, it would do so from an offshore cash pile of €125 billion.

Did it occur to the Taoiseach at any time to discuss with Mr. Cook, or some of the other nice people he met, how tax avoidance and tax dodging in this manner hurts the poor across the globe? Did he discuss how it hurts the developing world most harshly, as was seen recently in an Oxfam report which showed the developing world is being deprived by tax avoidance of twice as much as it receives in aid? Should the developing world receive €100 billion in aid to which it is entitled, this could eliminate world hunger twice over, educate 124 million children not in school and fund health care to save the lives of 6 million children. These nice people the Taoiseach met are answerable for these mortal sins.

I also remind the Taoiseach that yesterday 541 people lay on hospital trolleys.

I am anxious the Taoiseach can give a reply.

These figures are higher than they were in January last year. Even if we get a portion of the Apple tax back, surely it could be used to alleviate the hospital trolley crisis.

This is about a trip to the United States. I am anxious all Members get an answer but we now have only two minutes left.

I have a simple question for the Taoiseach. When he met Tim Cook, did he tell him anything about the housing and homelessness crisis in our country? Did he tell him anything about the people who are on hospital trolleys or on hospital waiting lists? Did the Taoiseach tell him anything about the children who go to schools with bad conditions such as prefabs, etc.? Did the Taoiseach tell Tim Cook how the €13 billion plus interest that he owes the people of Ireland could transform the situation for their lives? Did the Taoiseach say any of this or did he reassure him, as the Taoiseach of the sixth worst tax haven in the world, not to worry as we will spend public money to make sure he does not pay us what he owes us?

I thank Deputy Paul Murphy for his brevity.

I am glad the Taoiseach had the opportunity to meet so many investors into Ireland. The country is not a tax haven. The jobs, especially with the company in question on the north side of Cork city, are important to the thousands of people working in these companies and the families who depend on those jobs. It is correct to be balanced. Ireland is entitled to have foreign direct investment and be competitive in that respect.

When does the Taoiseach expect the full decision and detailed elements of it on Apple to be published by the European Commissioner? Will he update us on the work being done on this case by the Revenue Commissioners and their legal advisers? I understand there are extensive teams of legal advisers working on this tax case.

I also want to raise an issue in the context of the report from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, in respect of ECOFIN in November.

The Taoiseach objected to my suggestion that the European People's Party, EPP - the Taoiseach's own party in the European Union - was not really helping Europe to recover. What does the Taoiseach think the EPP is likely to do in regard to the development of the consolidated tax base? Does he agree with prominent Irish economist, Seamus Coffey, who said yesterday that the development of the common consolidated tax base, as proposed by the European Union, constitutes a very significant threat to the Irish corporate tax base?

Time has expired but perhaps I could take two minutes from Deputy Howlin's next question to give the Taoiseach an opportunity to reply.

Deputy Martin raised the question of Apple. I expect the Commission will publish the ruling before Christmas or very close to Christmas. It will be formally published then and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, informed us of that yesterday.

The arts centre in New York is the result of very close relations between Ireland and America which have existed for a long time. The centre will serve to rebuild the reputation, showcase a whole new generation of Irish creative talent and build a long-term US market share. It will expand the reach of Irish culture to new audiences. The budget for the arts centre is $62.75 million for the 11th Avenue facility and $2.6 million for renovation. Pledges have been secured in the amount of $53 million from the state of New York, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade emigrant support programme, foundations and private donors. The Government here has contributed €4.3 million over the past seven years to the arts centre, €3.3 million from the emigrant support programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the €1 million announced recently from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase Ireland right in the centre of New York.

The announcement was made in respect of a further extension of the J1 visa programme for graduates. The issue of the J1 in the short term has not been dealt with yet but it seems as if the issue is confined to protecting borders and to those with criminal records who are in the States illegally. What is the definition of a criminal record? We do not know that. Does it mean a very minor issue of a speeding ticket? Irish people in the New York centre for immigrants are very concerned. I spoke to Brian O'Dwyer last week and he said the number of people expressing their concern has increased considerably. We need to look at this carefully. We are working with the ambassador and Consul General on the issue of President-elect Trump and his appointee in this area.

I do not remember Deputy Bríd Smith being at the meeting with Tim Cook. Let me assure her there was no mention anywhere of a cash pile of €125 billion.

I did not say the Taoiseach mentioned it. I asked the Taoiseach if he asked about it.

The Deputy said it was reported Apple would pay it from a cash pile of that sum. We discussed the case-----

It was reported but perhaps not to the Taoiseach.

-----and informed Mr. Cook that we had lodged our formal appeal. Apple is lodging its appeal. We discussed the question of an escrow account because the finding and ruling is legally binding. Where the Deputy got her information about this figure is beyond me. It was never mentioned at the meeting and I was there.

Deputy Murphy raised the question of the expansion and proposition by Apple to invest over €1 billion in Athenry. That is the subject of a judicial review. I talked to him about the unprecedented scale of the house building programme being introduced by the Government and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, with particular reference to Cork where there will be an expansion of up to 1,000 jobs.

Deputy Burton agrees we are not a tax haven. The EPP does not have 15 prime ministers anymore. It has about seven now. It is not a case of the EPP prime ministers making decisions at the European Council. That is a matter we put on the agenda. The Deputy will recall in the first six months of 2013 we allowed it to be discussed and debated at the European Council and it did not get anywhere. From my understanding, there are very serious objections to it now. It is not the EPP. Whatever focus the Deputy has on the EPP at the moment, she can leave aside. It is the European Council that will make a decision.

The EPP is ruling Europe at the moment. That is the point.

The report will be published very shortly.

We must move on. The next question is from Deputy Howlin.

EU Meetings

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

17. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Malta on 28 November 2016; and if the issue of a company (details supplied) was raised. [38663/16]

I welcomed Prime Minister Muscat of Malta to Government Buildings on Monday 28 November. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, were also present. The visit to Dublin was part of a series of visits to EU capitals in advance of Malta's first ever EU presidency in January 2017. The meeting was friendly and constructive. We discussed a range of issues including Malta's presidency, its priorities, the migration crisis, Brexit, Turkey, Libya, tax and the future of Europe.

Prime Minister Muscat, who was accompanied by his Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for European Affairs, thanked Ireland for our assistance in advance of its presidency.

The Maltese presidency will have six priorities. They are migration, security, the Single Market, social inclusion, Europe's neighbourhood and maritime affairs. I confirmed that Ireland would support Malta in its efforts to progress work on the Single Market and digital single market strategies in particular.

On the migration crisis, where Malta has particular concerns, Prime Minister Muscat thanked Ireland for the naval vessel we contributed last year as well as our voluntary offer to accept 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers as part of the EU response. We agreed that the EU-Turkey statement had led to a reduction in the numbers of people travelling the Western Balkans route but that other routes, including from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, are of concern.

As I do in all my meetings with European Union counterparts, I outlined and explained Ireland's main concerns arising from Brexit, including our economy and trade, Northern Ireland, the common travel area and the future of the EU. We discussed the complex process ahead including the negotiations on withdrawal and on the future of the EU-UK relationship.

On tax, I outlined the Government's initiatives, such as the knowledge development box. I also informed the Prime Minister that Ireland had appealed the Commission's ruling on Apple. There was no discussion of any other company in this context.

We agreed to stay in close contact and to continue to work closely together over the coming period. I have had many meetings with Prime Minister Muscat over the last number of years.

Is Deputy Howlin giving some of his time to Deputy Murphy?

We can all share the time. We have five minutes left so I will be very brief.

We can all come in after.

I will be very brief. I am conscious of time because of the overlap of the last question. In terms of the discussions with Prime Minister Muscat, the Syrian situation, which has now worsened, is an unfolding human tragedy that is now becoming indescribable even for people who are there. Malta is in the heart of the migration crisis, although many of the people who are coming across the Mediterranean are actually not from the Syrian crisis. They are coming mainly from the horn of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. These are real issues we need to address. I am interested to hear the Maltese perspective on the ongoing catastrophe in the Mediterranean. It is conservatively estimated that 4,000 people have died. Anybody who saw the RTE programme "The Crossing" could not but be extraordinarily moved and proud of Óglaigh na hÉireann. I note that Óglaigh na hÉireann won the European of the Year award which the Taoiseach presented on Monday.

In the Taoiseach's discussions with Prime Minister Muscat, did the issue of Setanta Insurance arise, which was a Maltese registered insurance company that sold insurance exclusively in this jurisdiction before it collapsed in 2014, leaving thousands of Irish policyholders high and dry? Was the practice of a European Union country being used as a base exclusively for a company in another European Union country discussed with the Prime Minister?

The impact of the Setanta Insurance Company affair was very severe on many people. It highlighted significant gaps and loopholes in monitoring, compliance, etc. It would seem strange if it were not raised during the meeting or if, in preparation for the meeting, the issue were not identified as one that would merit discussion between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister. The Taoiseach might clarify the position.

Can the Taoiseach give any indication on Malta's perspective on Brexit and how it sees it impacting on its economy and trade? Is there a sense of the uniqueness of the Irish situation, particularly that of Northern Ireland and the status of EU citizens living there?

I am also surprised that Setanta Insurance was not raised. It is interesting that Mr. Muscat, in a recent BBC interview, said the issue of the Border, in the context of Brexit, is of crucial importance. He said:

There will be issues relating to borders, especially the Irish issue, which I think is one of the most politically sensitive issues. I think there is a political willingness from everyone to have it resolved.

The latter points up this leader as a potential ally in terms of getting the North special designated status within the EU. Did the Taoiseach raise the matter in his meeting with Prime Minister Muscat?

I want to recognise a person who was in the Gallery a moment ago when we were discussing the US. He is Jack Kilroy, a champion of human rights. He was here with Senator Frances Black. This shows the interconnectedness between us and the US and the need to give these citizens a vote in our presidential elections.

Would the Taoiseach agree that there is a need for a European decision so a company such as Setanta, which is registered in Malta but has never traded there, can gain access to the European Union without any record?

A brass plate.

Would the Taoiseach agree that there should be an immediate amendment to provide that companies must be trading in the country in which they are registered before they are allowed to trade in other European countries?

I do not know whether the Taoiseach saw the recent television programme on the Irish Naval Service. It covered the exercise in the Mediterranean Sea in which the Irish Naval Service saved the lives of 15,500 people. We should recognise the wonderful work it is doing.

Yes, I recognise the work of the Irish Naval Service and that is why it was awarded the European of the Year award. It was the first time the award was ever given to an organisation. As Deputy Seán Barrett knows, we have only one Óglaigh na hÉireann, and it has been outstanding in its professionalism, sensitivity and the way it went about its business. The award was presented by the European Movement Ireland. I have often made the point that this is in the Irish because of the thousands of people we lost to the Atlantic in coffin ships off Grosse Île and Ellis Island. It is a remarkable feature of our nation that in 2016 our three vessels, on a rota basis, have saved 15,600 men, women and children from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

I agree with the point on Setanta Insurance. I did not discuss Setanta with Prime Minister Muscat. He came here on a very short visit specifically in preparation for his country's Presidency. Malta is a small country and will take a small agenda to, hopefully, move through. I will take the point the Deputies raised in a different forum.

Deputy Brendan Howlin raised the question of sub-Saharan Africa. Prime Minister Muscat is very well acquainted with it and is grateful for the vessel we sent to assist them in the work they are doing. People from Egypt are beginning to cross the Mediterranean, which is also a source of serious concern in addition to the people coming from Mali, the Horn of Africa and Libya. Europe is working with five African countries on compacts. The aim is to work with them to give people an opportunity to have a life, a career and economic opportunities. If the population of Africa doubles over the next 25 years, the explosion in migration could be very serious. Europe, working with countries in their home place, may have a better impact than having to deal with serious numbers of migrants later.

I hope the explanation I gave to Prime Minister Muscat and others results in their being fully au fait with the circumstances that apply in Ireland regarding the Border, the peace process, which everyone supports, and what we need for it in the future. I am not sure whether the interview was before or after that. I have spoken to him on a number of occasions about our particular circumstances. As everybody will understand, if people explain to us the situation in Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic or Estonia, it is difficult to understand all the details unless one sees the graphics and understands the geography and particular situation that applies. He understands Ireland and will be a supporter of us in the time ahead.