1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his summit meeting with the Dutch and Danish Prime Ministers; and the agreements and proposals made for future engagements. [21873/17]
Vol. 950 No. 3
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his summit meeting with the Dutch and Danish Prime Ministers; and the agreements and proposals made for future engagements. [21873/17]
2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagement with the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and Denmark on 21 April 2017. [21876/17]
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has had any engagement with the President of the French Republic, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, since his recent election. [22965/17]
4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to President Emmanuel Macron since his election. [23331/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
I travelled to The Hague on 21 April 2017 for a meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister, Mr. Mark Rutte, and the Danish Prime Minister, Mr. Lars Løkke Rasmussen. Our discussions were largely focused on Brexit, but we also touched briefly on EU-US relations. The meeting took place in the context of the Government's ongoing programme of strategic engagement on Brexit and was the latest in a series of meetings with my EU counterparts. I also met recently my counterparts in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Spain and the Presidents of the EU institutions and the head of the Brexit task force who was in Dublin last week. I have written to congratulate Mr. Emmanuel Macron on his election as President of the Republic of France.
The meeting in The Hague provided an opportunity to share our views on the issues arising from Brexit ahead of the adoption of the European Union's negotiating guidelines by the European Council on 9 April. Ireland has much in common with the Netherlands and Denmark, not just in terms of geographic proximity and strong trade and export relations with the United Kingdom but also in terms of shared perspectives on the importance of a liberal EU trade policy. Although Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark are more likely than other partners to be negatively affected by the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union, we agreed on the importance of maintaining the EU27 unity that has marked our approach until now. I also took the opportunity at the meeting, as I do in all my bilateral engagements, to explain in some detail our unique concerns arising from Brexit, including protecting the peace process, avoiding a hard border and maintaining the common travel area with the United Kingdom. I outlined the particular implications for Ireland, North and South, and also described recent political developments in Northern Ireland. I am pleased that Ireland's unique concerns have been fully reflected in the guidelines that outline the European Union's approach to the withdrawal negotiations.
In this context, I am very grateful for the understanding and support of my Dutch and Danish counterparts, and all of my EU counterparts, as we progress work on these important and sensitive issues. It will be important to continue working with like-minded partners such as The Netherlands and Denmark and in the future to proactively defend our shared perspectives in the face of new voting majorities in the European Union. In the months and years ahead we are determined to protect and advance our interests, both within and through the European Union on the wider global stage.
We touched on this issue during statements on Brexit last week and the week before. It is clear to all of us in this House that with Britain leaving the European Union we need to forge deeper and new alliances, particularly with the small member states that share our view of the European Union. I warmly welcome the Taoiseach's contacts with the Dutch, the Danes, the Croatians and others and hope they will continue. In respect of his communication with Mr. Macron, subsequent to his election, which forms part of these questions and given Ireland's view of the next phase of EU developments, what is or will be the Taoiseach's view when he meets or speaks to him of his proposal that within the eurozone there should be a eurozone parliament, budget and finance Minister? This is the proposal he presented to the Chancellor, Dr. Merkel, in Berlin yesterday. Mr. Macron seems to be embarking on a two-tier Europe that would move the Eurozone closer towards federated states, with other member states being in a secondary position. He would have allies in holding that view.
I thank the Deputy for his comment on continuing connections with small states which is very important. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, has on several occasions been to all member states, particularly the small member states because of the implications of Brexit. As Deputy Brendan Howlin is aware, most of the economic reports indicate that the countries most adversely affected would be Ireland, The Netherlands and Denmark. I have already had a meeting with Prime Minister Michel of Belgium and we want to keep these contacts alive. I wrote to President Macron following his election and said we would be most affected by a hard Brexit and that we would appreciate and count on France's continued support in addressing the unique challenges we faced. I made the point that Ireland and France had always had a very warm relationship. France is a big buyer of food, services and so on from Ireland and we want to maintain that position. I do not favour having a federal Europe. Given how near the European Union has been to collapse in the recent period, the electorates in The Netherlands and France and in Austria with the election of its President appear to be refocusing on Europe. I see the same happening in the latest results in Germany which is moving towards a pro-European party. The Germans will make their choice in federal elections in September and I expect the Chancellor, Dr. Merkel, to be returned again. Given that there will more than likely be a very strong alliance between Germany and France and, as Deputy Brendan Howlin is aware, that the real reason for setting up the European Economic Community was to prevent the historic difficulties between France and Germany, it is important from the European Union point of view that there be strong countries which work with small countries for everybody's benefit.
What is the Taoiseach's view of the Macron doctrine?
He made his comments in Germany. The Chancellor said some of these things could be considered, but we have always taken the view, as the Deputy did when he was President of the Council, that whatever views are put forward, Ireland is quite prepared to consider and talk about these things. However, we have very clear lines that we do not cross. On his first visit to Berlin as the new President, Mr. Macron set out several issues. We should wait and see how they are presented in more detail and then talk about them. We saw this happen before with the common consolidated corporate tax base and transaction taxes. Ireland has always had the capacity to say let us see what is on the line and talk about it. we then find out that other countries have similar views, for or against. That is how it works. I have never favoured having a federal Union.
In the course of giving his report on his engagement with the Prime Ministers of The Netherlands and Denmark the Taoiseach said he had told them that all of Ireland's concerns were contained in the negotiating guidelines. That brings us to the essential flaw in the Government's position. The Dáil supports special status for the North within the European Union, but that is not within the negotiating guidelines. A majority of Members of the Legislative Assembly, MLAs, in the North support that position, but that is not within the guidelines. The people of the North voted to remain within the European Union, but that is not within the guidelines. I believe - the Taoiseach may agree - that one of the big concerns for us all is the likely impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement. The British Government continues to make it clear that it will cut all ties with the European Court and the European Convention on Human Rights which are essential to the Good Friday Agreement. Last Friday the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, warned of the dire consequences of Brexit and acknowledged that the best way to deal with the North was to treat it as a special case. He also said, however, or is reported to have said that he thought the Good Friday Agreement would have to be amended. I suspect he may have misspoken. I certainly hope he did. Opening that Pandora's box would risk undermining the entire Agreement. Will the Taoiseach agree with me that there should be no tinkering with the Good Friday Agreement?
I do actually. The Good Friday Agreement predates the decision on Brexit by 19 years and we have been very much at pains to point out that the Brexit referendum result does not influence, tinker with, or change the Good Friday Agreement in any way. As the two Governments are co-guarantors of the Agreement, we want it to be implemented in full. Protecting the gains of the peace process in Northern Ireland is one of the Government's front-line priorities in dealing with the impact of Brexit. That hard won peace which was founded on the Good Friday Agreement cannot be compromised. The Government will continue to ensure the EU-UK negotiations will take full account of the all-island issues and Northern Ireland, including ensuring the Good Friday Agreement is fully respected and upheld and that an open border is maintained. That is our position. I agree that the Good Friday Agreement is an internationally binding agreement which was brought together after many years of troubles. Those who put it together were visionary in the way they set it out. It was not written to be influenced by Brexit and the Brexit referendum result does not impact on it. We have maintained that separation very clearly in our discussions at European level.
While Ireland is the member state most affected by Brexit, others have very real concerns. I know from my own discussions with the leaders of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, in The Netherlands and Denmark that they are supportive of Ireland's position and remain so, but they also expect us to understand their concerns.
They are supportive of Ireland's situation and remain so. They also expect, of course, that we would understand their particular concerns. It was a very worthwhile engagement by the Taoiseach with the Prime Ministers of both countries.
I do not know whether the Taoiseach is aware of today's ruling from the European Court of Justice in regard to the free trade deal with Singapore. It is quite interesting because it essentially means that any proper trade deal with the United Kingdom will have to be ratified by the parliaments of every member state, and maybe the regional parliaments as well, because the free trade agreement with Singapore cannot be agreed by the EU as an entity in itself. Rather, it must go back to the parliaments in member states. That relates to the jurisdiction of the investor class or the resolution of disputes, as well as non-directive foreign investment. It means we will have to get to specifics sooner rather than later and move away from the generalities on which we have been focused thus far.
I do not know whether the Taoiseach read Sunday's interview with Secretary David Davis. He raised a lot of red flags. First, he said the status of an EU citizen in the UK should be left until later in the process. He raised the possibility that such citizens would not have their current rights protected, which almost guarantees a veto at Council level. Second, he said that discussions on the Irish Border would have to wait until the new trade agreement is defined. This poses an enormous problem for us and dramatically increases the uncertainty.
Given all of this, can the Taoiseach outline very specifically the timetable and the process by which Ireland will table its proposals for how cross-Border relations will be handled? We know Ireland is a priority, but what does this mean in practice and how does it reconcile with what Secretary Davis has said?
I did not hear the remarks of Secretary Davis. I note the judgment of the European Court of Justice today in respect of Singapore. That means that the EU-Singapore free trade agreement is a mixed agreement and there are elements which are of national competence and require national ratification. The same applies to the CETA agreement with Canada, which is a mixed agreement and will require national ratification in due course. In that case, we favour provisional ratification in order to ensure the deal works which is the best way of demonstrating the practical benefits for consumers and SMEs.
Deputy Martin is correct when he said we have to have the details sooner. It means that all parliaments will have to have international trade committees so that they are not left without adequate information as negotiations on trade deals proceed. This matter has been raised in the House. Deputies have said they do not know what is in an agreement, despite the fact that the information might be on a website or have been published in book form. Such agreements can be very complicated, as the Deputy knows. If there has to be ratification by all of the parliaments, that will probably delay the process but may have a benefit in that parliaments would be informed on a rolling basis of what is being discussed so that their international free trade committees or whatever else would be very well-informed about the process.
We have dealt in considerable detail with our counterparts in London and Belfast in respect of the Border issues. Deputy Martin is aware that the three issues are the Border, modalities and liabilities about whatever contractual obligations the United Kingdom has from joining the European Union and rights and reciprocal rights for people who live in European countries. Since 1922, we have dealt on a bilateral basis with Britain via the common travel area, which does not involve just travel but also residency, the right to work and social protection and benefits. The British Government has agreed with what we have said, namely that there is no return to the Border of the past.
We still do not know what the future structure of trade will be or what is being proposed by the United Kingdom with the European Union. That is where the complexities will lie. We will not get to that issue until there is substantial progress on the first three priorities I outlined. We have a political imprimatur in respect of the Border. It is how we make that work after that which is the issue. There must be no return to what was there before. How can we do that when we still do not know whether there will be tariffs or a collapse at the end of 2019, which I hope there will not be, when the first phase of the withdrawal has finished?
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversation with the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, on 18 April 2017 following her announcement of a general election. [21952/17]
6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagements with the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland on the formation of a new power sharing Executive. [22091/17]
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when he last spoke to Prime Minister May and the issues that were discussed; and if the Assembly formation in Northern Ireland was discussed. [22097/17]
8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when he last spoke to Prime Minister May; the issues that were discussed; and if the Assembly formation in Northern Ireland was discussed. [23020/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together. I spoke to Prime Minister May by phone on 18 April following the announcement of her plans to hold a general election in the UK. We discussed the upcoming Brexit negotiations and I reiterated our commitment to ensuring the best possible outcome for Ireland while negotiating as an integral part of the EU 27 team. We also discussed the need to recognise the close trading links between our intertwined economies and re-affirmed our commitment to an open Border and the retention of the common travel area.
We discussed the political situation in Northern Ireland and noted that the election would have a direct impact on the timing of the ongoing talks process. I expressed the hope that the talks could continue to a successful conclusion and I emphasised to the Prime Minister that a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland could not be contemplated.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, had a range of contacts with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties regarding the merits of continuing structured talks in the context of an election campaign. There was a widespread view that, given the demands and constraints of the election campaign, the best course was to pause the current talks until after the general election takes place on 8 June.
The new legislative deadline for forming the Executive is 29 June. There will, therefore, be sufficient opportunity after 8 June for talks to resume and for the parties, with the appropriate support and involvement of the two Governments, to re-engage on the urgent task of forming a new Executive and taking forward the implementation of outstanding commitments from previous agreements.
It is critically important to see devolved government restored and working effectively in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, in particular in the context of Brexit. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government is determined to uphold its principles and protect its institutions. We will continue to work to this end with the British Government to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to reach agreement.
If Members are amenable, we will take Deputies Adams and Howlin, followed by Deputies Martin and Burton. That might speed up the process.
I welcome the Taoiseach's assertion to the British Prime Minister that there should be no return to British direct rule in the North. He is very conscious of the reason why the political institutions fell. They fell on the back of the RHI scandal, an issue that, at the very least, is one of misgovernance. All of the others issues which have not been resolved have become part of the very necessary process of getting the institutions back in place. I look to the Government to assert its authority in this regard, in particular with the British Prime Minister.
The Taoiseach will also be aware that the families of 11 civilians killed by the British army in Ballymurphy 36 years ago had a significant breakthrough when they were told they would have a date for a full inquest in September. This brings us to the core of one of the issues that needs to be sorted out in terms of the institutions being put back in place. The Taoiseach has met these families and knows their stories. He has met victims of the IRA and loyalists acting in collusion with British state forces.
He knows that the commitments on legacy issues in the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements are still not in place because the British Government refuses to act on its commitments. Tomorrow, we will have a reminder of this for the families of the 33 civilians and one unborn child who were killed in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings who will gather in Talbot Street to remember the victims.
Has this issue been raised by the Taoiseach? It is a matter between the two Governments. I have discussed this and our team has met the British 17 times about this issue, but the British Government refuses to act on its obligations. Can the Taoiseach give us assurances that he will do so and that those who have become victims or who were injured in the conflict will have whatever they want out of all of that in terms of justice and truth?
I am sure it is a disappointment to the Taoiseach that he is likely, which word I underscore, to leave office with a political vacuum in Northern Ireland on foot of the post-election failure to form an Executive. Efforts to form an Executive are now in abeyance until after the UK general election and a new deadline of 29 June, the fourth such deadline, has now been set. The Taoiseach has asserted that a return to direct rule cannot be contemplated, which sounds like the strong rhetoric that there cannot be a Border. That is well and good, but what does the Taoiseach see happening in the event that no Executive is formed on the expiration of the three-week gap following the conclusion of the UK general election and the reaching of the fourth and, we are told, final deadline for the formation of such an Executive? What is the position? Given the Taoiseach's assertion that direct rule cannot be contemplated, what, then, is contemplated?
In reply to Deputy Adams's opening question, I note that the date for the inquest in respect of the ten civilians killed in Ballymurphy is September of next year. I commend everyone who was so committed through their tragedy to seeing that a date would be fixed for the commencement of an inquest. The Dáil adopted an all-party motion in 2015 in support of the Ballymurphy families who continue to seek an effective inquiry into the incident in which those 11 people died. It is one of the 56 legacy inquest cases from the Troubles which are still waiting to proceed in Northern Ireland and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, continues to raise the matter. I hope that in the new situation here and given the fact that we had Fresh Start in Stormont, I genuinely believe that contains the opportunity in its own way to deal with these legacy issues, sensitive and raw though they may be and will be when these things come to light. The timely holding of inquests is an effective part of the right to life as set out in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. At least, a commencement date has been fixed and is known, which is an important element.
In reply to Deputy Howlin, he knows what the options are. Either there is an election-----
-----direct rule, or an Executive is formed. I hope the parties will now focus on the fact that they will be sitting down again a day or two after the result of a British general election in which it is estimated the Prime Minister will receive a very much enhanced majority over the one delivered in the last election. For that to happen, the parties have to want it to happen. That means, in particular, that the DUP and Sinn Féin must have a belief that they can put an Executive together. Of course, there are different political opinions and differences of emphasis in a whole range of areas, but that is no reason the parties cannot create an Executive to look at the question of distribution of finances for people to get on about their business. There is the whole issue of Brexit here, as well as those of the agrisector, trade unions and businesses. The people from Northern Ireland who voiced their opinions at the all-island civic forum on two occasions must be represented. They need an Executive to add to the voice of Government here in dealing with the outcome of Brexit when the negotiations start. I hope the two main parties will decide, irrespective of the differences they have, that it is imperative to put an Executive in place. I hope, and I have to believe, that will happen before the end of June.
In the past, Dublin and London have had a very close relationship and consulted actively with each other. Over time, personal relations have remained strong but the evidence of London consulting with Dublin has declined. The evidence of active engagement on Northern Ireland between the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach has all but disappeared. Incredibly, it is nearly five months since the Executive collapsed, yet the Taoiseach and Prime Minister have failed to hold a single consultation with the parties. At a critical moment in the Brexit process, Northern Ireland has been without a voice at the table and has been pushed into an ongoing cycle of electioneering. The Taoiseach knows my view that the Executive was collapsed deliberately and that it should not have been. Brexit is far too serious an issue and it demanded a coherent voice from Northern Ireland, which it is not now getting.
As we heard last week, the European Union wants to listen, but Northern Ireland is saying nothing because the anti-Brexit majority in the assembly is not at work. Two months ago, the House was told that the re-establishment of the institutions was an urgent priority for the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister. Is a phone call of a couple of minutes duration real proof of that priority? Can the Taoiseach explain what is intended to ensure that this kind of drift ends quickly after the British general election? What efforts does the Taoiseach see being made to re-establish the Executive and, indeed, the assembly?
Will provision be made for bilateral meetings between the UK and Ireland on those issues of greatest concern and greatest experience to both countries in the context of Brexit? I suspect Brexit will have a very significant influence on whether an Executive is put together in the North. As a result of the dangers the North faces in relation to it, it is difficult to imagine the parties will stand aside and refuse to be involved in an Executive.
I congratulate the Taoiseach on his involvement on organising Mr. Barnier's very welcome visit here last week. Notwithstanding his Gallic charm and the pains he took to point out that he will do the best he can, his best did not include any certainty on customs arrangements. Has the Taoiseach seen the recent publication by chartered accountants which referred to the preservation of the common transit area to enable goods to be shipped from Ireland to mainland Europe via the UK without customs penalties? There is a lot of detail on VAT. If we have to revert to free trade rules, the tariffs imposed could range from 2% up to 50%.
In terms of the North and various proposals on a separate strand that we in the Labour Party and others have made for the island of Ireland, where is it going to be at? Notwithstanding the fact that we are part of the EU 26, how is this going to happen without bilateral talks between the British and Irish, who actually understand this stuff in great detail?
Deputy Martin raised a very important point about the very good relations, with a few notable exceptions, between Ireland and Downing Street. Those have been very strong in the last number of years. I must note, also, that there is regular engagement at the very highest official level between here and Downing Street on all of these issues. I am sorry the Executive was collapsed and that a replacement was not created. Irrespective of how good or strong it was, it is better to have one than not. The only other options for the Secretary of State are to have more elections or to have direct rule.
The Executive is the best option of those. As I said to Deputy Howlin, if the DUP and Sinn Féin do not want to have an Executive then it cannot be formed. They have got to accept their political responsibility. They are elected to an Assembly, the purpose of which under the Good Friday Agreement is to have an Executive to direct affairs for Northern Ireland. As the Deputy knows, this means the North-South Ministerial Council, all of the different councils that can come from it, the issues that will arise because of cross-Border organisations and the administration that entails. Look at Brexit now. We will have to deal with the road to Derry and other cross-Border activities. The Government has opened a European Investment Bank office with a view to having major infrastructural projects which have streams of income to pay off those loans. That will involve, if we want to operate on a cross-Border basis, consultation with somebody. I would prefer to have an Executive of whatever shape or form that at least we could engage with properly and formally.
Deputy Martin raises a central issue here. The Executive is gone. It was collapsed and has not been restored. I hope in the two or three days after the British election that Deputy Adams will instruct his leader in the North, Ms O'Neill, and the DUP to get together, as these two parties are in a position to form an Executive in the interests of the peoples of Northern Ireland.
The answer to Deputy Burton's question is "Yes". We must have opportunities for engagement, as Deputy Martin pointed out, at official level but also at bilateral level. There will be issues that will have to be teased out, as the Deputy well knows from long experience. Ireland will be with the EU 26 in the formal negotiations being conducted by Michelle Barnier. In the course of the discussions there will, of course, be issues that arise that are best understood by the British and Irish because we have been dealing with them for very many years, and we will have to have the opportunity to engage bilaterally. Mr. Barnier will understand this as a complement or as a supplement to the formal negotiations he will lead on behalf of the European Union. The Deputy is right when she says there will be issues that will arise that may be specific and complicated and that will need to be teased out to arrive at a compromise between the Irish and English, so the answer to the question is "Yes".
9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has made particular suggestions to the EU Council on the way the Government views the manner in which the EU should reform in the short, medium and long term. [21844/17]
10. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the EU 27 Council meeting on 29 April 2017. [21871/17]
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meeting of European Union Heads of State and Government held on 29 April 2017. [21877/17]
12. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the next EU Council meeting will take place. [23278/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 12, inclusive, together.
As I outlined last week in my statement to the House, I attended the meeting of the European Council on 29 April. This was the first meeting since Prime Minister May formally notified the European Union of the UK's intention to leave, thereby triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, and it was, therefore, a meeting of the 27 remaining member states.
We adopted the EU negotiating guidelines, and had a broad-ranging discussion about the process ahead. Presidents Tusk and Juncker also outlined the process and timelines around the relocation of the two EU agencies currently located in the UK.
I was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, including the overall EU approach to the withdrawal negotiations, and the acknowledgement of the need to address Ireland's unique concerns, as set out in the guidelines. I was also very pleased with the declaration which was agreed by the European Council, which provides reassurance that no provision of the Good Friday Agreement, including the provision relating to unity, will be undermined by the UK departure from the EU.
It was by no means a given that Ireland’s position would be seen as a priority for the negotiations but, thanks to our strategic, persistent and patient work, and the understanding and support of our European partners, Ireland's specific concerns were fully acknowledged in the guidelines. Supporting and protecting the achievements, benefits and commitments of the peace process; avoiding a hard border; and protecting the common travel area will now be addressed as priorities in the exit negotiations.
There was no discussion about the future of the EU at this April meeting of the European Council, but it has been considered and discussed at a number of meetings, including informal meetings of the European Council in Bratislava, in Brussels, in Malta and in Rome. In my discussions at these meetings, in my bilateral engagements with EU counterparts, and here in the House, I have consistently emphasised the need for the EU to focus on delivering for its citizens in areas where it can add real value. I have cautioned against pursuing deeper integration at this time and have instead recommended that we focus on where the EU is most effective, for example, in relation to the Single Market, the digital single market, jobs, growth and investment.
I did not have any bilateral meetings at the European Council on 29 April, although I did of course engage with my counterparts at the meeting and informally on the margins.
We have only seven minutes left. Is it agreed that Deputies ask questions and give the Taoiseach an opportunity to answer? Agreed.
That is because some of the replies have been very lengthy. This is part of the problem today I have noticed.
What the Taoiseach has said essentially is he does not have any proposal for reform of the European Union. He has not tabled any and he does not believe essentially there is any need for reform, other than to make the existing treaties work. The substantial majority of the Irish people would have welcomed the election of President Macron. One part of this is that he defeated the anti-European Union and nationalist agendas of the extreme left and the extreme right. He was unapologetically pro-European Union, which is a lesson to be learned, and it worked. His election is an opportunity for moving ahead with some reforms of the European Union, and Deputy Howlin mentioned some of this earlier. It may have to be done in parallel with the Brexit negotiations. Essentially Europe has to be made more relevant to the citizen, but that will require some reforms.
President Macron and Chancellor Merkel yesterday seemed to indicate the possibility of future treaty changes in the years ahead. This is very important for Ireland because, in our view, there is no realistic way to achieve special status for Northern Ireland and the Border region without some form of treaty change. In the Government document on Brexit, the point about our national interest in a strong European Union is repeated, but it is accompanied by no new ideas for strengthening the European Union, and that is required because the lesson from Brexit and other elections is a significant proportion of people are becoming disconnected from the European Union. Has the Taoiseach made any proposals, and I take it from his reply that he has not, concerning treaty changes? Has he conducted any analysis of what the current treaties allow and what they exclude in terms of a final Brexit deal? I have been pursuing this for some time. Will the Taoiseach explain why so far, nothing has been published on the constraints which may be imposed by limiting a deal to the current EU legal order and legislation? The deal has to be limited to the current EU legal order and legislation. What does this mean in constraint terms?
Whatever the attitudes of Ireland to treaty change, and I will be interested to hear the Taoiseach's view on it, I presume he has not offered any proposals that would lead to the requirement for another EU referendum in this jurisdiction. It is clear the new French President has gone to Germany to reform a Franco-German axis to bring about fundamental change in the structure of the European Union but most especially in the eurozone. I am concerned, because the Franco-German axis has always been the driver for real change, that there would be an agenda now for a two-tier Europe and that there would be new eurozone parliament, finance minister and bespoke budget, and other, non-eurozone, member states would be in a secondary position. We need to have detailed proposals and plans on all this because one of the things in the past that has concerned Irish citizens is that matters have been foisted upon them at the end and they have said "No" to that sort of suggestion. My judgment is what it is needed now is a refocusing on a social Europe, which identifies the needs of citizens, and on European solidarity, rather than any fundamental political restructuring of the Union.
I am sure the Taoiseach has been briefed on the remarks at the weekend by David Davis, MP, the British Minister with responsibility for negotiating Brexit. He said that Britain would not accept any rulings of the European Court of Justice.
He dismissed the Irish Government role in the EU Council's negotiating sequence as laid out in the Brexit guidelines and by Michel Barnier last week in the Oireachtas. He made it clear that he does not accept that the first items to be resolved are the Border and the divorce Bill for Britain. He described the sequencing for the negotiations as "wholly illogical and wrong", and he predicted the row of the summer if the EU persisted with addressing the Border and the divorce Bill first. He was especially disparaging towards any suggestion that a deal on the Border could be agreed before the issue of the Single Market, the customs union and a future free trade deal between the EU and Britain. The Taoiseach often says in response to questions that it is difficult to know how things will work out, that we do not know what the British will do and so on. This is their chief negotiating Minister. He has set out his position. It is not a new position. Will the Taoiseach set out the Government's response to these remarks?
All of us who share European values welcome the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic. He is a voice for tolerance in these difficult times. President Macron met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, yesterday. The Franco-German relationship is very much back on track and at the centre of Europe in the context of the discussion we are having now about the future of Europe. As Deputy Howlin said, there is talk by President Macron of reform of the eurozone. Following that summit yesterday I heard words such as "further integration", "federalism" and so on. That would be of concern to Irish citizens in particular who see the European Union as a partnership of member states. There is a possibility again of a multi-speed, in or out or first or second class citizens Europe. I asked the Taoiseach about that previously and he said that we have a multi-speed Europe currently, with some countries opting in and others opting out on various provisions, the eurozone and so forth but we need to be very cautious about this development. There is a new dynamic at the centre of the European Union now and Ireland needs to know where it stands in that regard.
There is also a discussion on treaty change. Any treaty change needs to be clearly thought out and debated with the Irish people because it will involve a referendum. However, if it comes to that would the Taoiseach agree that the Irish situation in regard to Brexit can be discussed in the context of treaty change if that is what transpires in due course?
The Taoiseach is almost out of time so I will allow him two minutes.
We have been consistent on that. The European agenda should not stop with Brexit. It has to go beyond that and the completion of the digital Single Market, capital markets and the EMU, is the agenda for the creation of millions of jobs both in Europe and beyond. That agenda is in place and has been followed, although not to completion because it contains a number of challenges that need to be dealt with. We participate very strongly on that and as the Deputy knows, the last Eurobarometer poll showed that 88% of Irish people supported the concept of European membership and Ireland continuing to be a member of the European Union. That is where we stay.
I was glad to see the election of a French President who is clearly very much in favour of the continuation of the European Union because if that election had gone wrong and Marine Le Pen had been elected as President, withdrawing from the euro and from the European Union and dealing with the closing of borders would have created a fundamental collapse of the European Union itself.
There is a retrenchment here in terms of what the European Union actually means now and I have to say that for the first time since I began to attend European Council meetings, and the first meeting was in Malta, people began to realise just what was at stake. Do they want to hold on to a European Union and a Single Market or do they not? The point made by Mr. Barnier last week was that it comes to a point where people begin to say, "You have got 400 million or 500 million in a Single Market, freedom of movement of people, capital, services and all of that and do you want to throw it away for the sake of hundreds of thousands of jobs in small businesses?" Obviously, that is not the case.
We are very strongly in favour of the European Union and no other country, with respect to them, has the same solidarity as we have here because as the Leas Cheann-Comhairle will recall, in the middle of the recession we had to have a referendum on the fiscal stability treaty, which Deputy Howlin raised last week in terms of the fiscal rules. The people here could have given the Government a real kicking at the time but they decided that their place was with the euro, the eurozone and the European Union and they voted 60-40 in favour of that. Nobody here is in favour of treaties but sometimes if sovereignty is transferred in part to the European Union the Attorney General of the day makes a recommendation on whether a referendum is required.
Mr. Barnier pointed out last week that if we have a situation where Britain withdraws from the Union and there is a €12 billion hole in the budget every year, the countries that are paying do not want to pay any more while the countries that are receiving do not want to receive any less, so what do we do? Do we force countries to pay more or do we force countries to cut programmes? We can imagine what could happen in a country like Ireland with the CAP and all the different schemes available for farmers, from the uplands down to the lowlands and the tillage schemes.
I agree with Deputy Howlin because I believe there will be more emphasis on social Europe in the time ahead but we cannot have these ghettos or banlieues in Paris and other places where people are left for 20 years without engagement from Government or Government listening to them. We cannot expect model citizens to come out of these areas at all times. That is where the difference of opinion, be it religious, political or whatever, arises. It is where people get driven right and left because of fear, frustration and vexation. I believe Governments will start to listen now to all the voices, discordant and otherwise, and deal with these issues.
Deputy Haughey raised the Franco-German relationship. I believe that will be very strong. Clearly, two big countries with big economies will get their way in the vast majority of cases and therefore relationships between small countries and the likes of France and Germany will be of particular importance. It was always my view that the European Union thrived when big countries worked with small countries in the interests of everybody. If we are all equal as citizens in the European Union and if everybody is to have the same opportunity, small countries need that opportunity. Deputy Haughey is right that there will be a cementing of that relationship and in that sense we will have to face change, but we should face it with courage. It does not always mean that there will be treaties but we should never be afraid to talk about the issues on the table because we might find we have many allies in small countries who would say this would not be in anybody's interest.