Pre-European Council: Statements

A Cheann Comhairle, tá áthas orm labhairt libh inniu roimh Chomhairle na hEorpa an Deireadh Fómhair, a thionólfar sa Bhruiséil ar an Déardaoin agus ar an Aoine seo chugainn. Is é seo an dara uair a fhreastalóidh mé ar chruinniú foirmiúil de Chomhairle na hÉorpa ó cheapadh i mo Thaoiseach mé. Áirítear an Eoraip digiteach; cúrsaí slándála agus cosanta; an imirce; agus caidreamh eachtracha i gclár foirmiúil de chruinniú an Déardaoin. Ar an Aoine, pléifimid an Eoraip amach romhainn le linn an bhricfeasta roimh ár gcruinniú i bhformáid Alt 50 chun dul chun cinn idirbheartaíocht Bhrexit a phlé. Sula thosaím ag caint go mion ar na hábhair sin, ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin mhullach digiteach ar a d’fhreastail mé i dTaillinn ar an 29 Meán Fómhair seo caite.

Ireland is a strong supporter of prioritising digital issues because of the significant opportunities for innovation, growth, jobs and global competitiveness. The digital summit - an initiative of the Estonian Presidency - examined some of these centrally important issues and our discussions have informed the work which the European Council will engage in tomorrow. We also had a useful exchange of views, over dinner in Tallinn, about the future of Europe. I spoke with several of my EU counterparts in the margins of the meetings and had a formal bilateral meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, whom I invited to visit Dublin later this year.

The European Council will begin tomorrow with the usual exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament. The Estonian Presidency will then provide a short update on work done since our last meeting in June.

The first working session on migration will include an update from the Commission on developments over the past few months. It is worth saying that there has been a decrease in migration along the central Mediterranean route and in the number of deaths at sea.

There is likely to be some discussion of further support for the Trust Fund for Africa, to which Ireland is contributing €3 million, and the common European asylum system, where progress on reform has been slow.

Although Ireland is less directly affected by migration than other EU states, we have sought to play a constructive role. We voluntarily opted in to EU programmes on resettlement and relocation; we have provided humanitarian assistance, including over €93 million to those affected by the Syrian crisis since 2012; and we have provided a series of Naval vessels in the Mediterranean since May 2015. In addition to supporting front-line member states, we also want to build strong co-operation with countries of origin, transit and departure and deal with the root causes which force people to migrate.

One of the most important items on Thursday’s agenda from Ireland’s perspective is digital Europe. The House will recall that, together with a number of EU partners, I wrote to President Tusk in June calling for a high level of ambition in developing the digital Single Market. Much progress has been made, with the European Commission delivering in excess of 20 proposals, but the pace must be maintained, and this is why the European Council is again considering digital Europe. Ultimately, our success will be determined by delivering practical benefits for our citizens and businesses and ensuring our global competitiveness. The digital era of course brings challenges as well as opportunities, and we welcome and support the Commission’s cyber-security package and the strong and co-ordinated EU response which it reflects.

Once again, Ireland has been to the fore with a group of like-minded member states, pushing for ambitious language in the conclusions for this European Council on areas such as the free flow of data and a future-oriented regulatory framework. Some member states are keen to look at taxation in the context of the increasing digitalisation of business. Ireland is very clear that the work on taxation of digital companies must be global in nature, and we support the work being done at the OECD as the best way to advance this. We do not support any change within the EU to national sovereignty on tax issues. It is our policy that national budgets should be funded by national taxes.

There has been an increasing focus on security and defence issues within the EU, since the publication of the EU global strategy. The European Council will review some of this work. Initiatives under way include: EU capability development; capacity-building in fragile states; crisis management operations; greater support for the European defence and industrial and technological base; an EU-level co-ordinated annual review of defence; and permanent structured co-operation, or PESCO. The overall objective is to enhance EU capacity to support efforts to combat identified international security challenges, particularly those identified by the UN. The European Council will have a particular focus on permanent structured co-operation, or PESCO. The governance of PESCO has been discussed, and there is an intention to launch its first projects by December. The European defence and industrial development programme, the European defence fund, and the co-ordinated annual review on defence will also be noted, ahead of a fuller discussion and progress assessment in December. In the discussions, Ireland has maintained our full commitment to the EU common security and defence policy, which recognises the specific defence policies of individual member states. Ireland has taken a realistic and constructive approach to these discussions, while ensuring that current proposals pose no threat to our policy of military neutrality. We are, of course, not neutral on issues such as cyber-crime and terrorism. To that end, we have backed a number of initiatives under PESCO, which support UN-mandated peacekeeping operations.

External relations items will be discussed on Thursday evening. A wide-ranging exchange on Turkey is envisaged, while developments in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere may also be raised. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will speak about these in more detail in her remarks.

As I mentioned, President Tusk will lead a discussion on Friday morning about the future of Europe. Considerable momentum has been generated on this since the UK decision to leave the EU last June, including a series of informal summits in Bratislava, Valletta, Rome and, most recently, Tallinn. President Juncker and President Macron have also made useful contributions to the debate. I spoke with President Tusk last week, and outlined my views. I said that the EU should focus on improving citizens' lives in real and tangible ways, by properly implementing what has already been agreed. This means for example completing the Single Market, the digital Single Market and the banking union, all of which were highlighted by President Juncker in his state of the Union address. As I have said before, I believe that our relationship with Europe should be defined in a positive way, outlining what we favour and what we support in terms of greater integration and harmonisation, rather than the things we are going to oppose. This will be my approach to our discussion on Friday.

Turning to the Article 50 format meeting on Brexit, Michel Barnier will report on the fifth round of EU-UK negotiations, which concluded last week. While there have been some positive developments, particularly since Prime Minister May’s speech in Florence, it is evident that much more work still needs to be done on the issues in focus in this phase: EU citizens’ rights; the UK financial settlement; and issues relating to Ireland. I want to welcome the work which has advanced on some of these issues relating to the island of Ireland, including joint principles on the continuation of the common travel area and everything that flows from that. It has also been agreed that, based on the six guiding principles put forward by the EU, work will start on a common understanding of possible commitments and undertakings necessary to effectively protect the Good Friday Agreement, all its parts and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding any new barriers to trade or movement on our island. However, it seems very likely that we will not be in a position to decide that sufficient progress has been made in phase one, unless something changes dramatically today or tomorrow. I spoke with Prime Minister May for 40 minutes by phone on Monday and stated our concerns on Irish-specific issues, particularly trade between Britain and Ireland and the Border. It is still possible that the overall outcome of the negotiations is a trade and customs relationship so close to the status quo that a Border problem can be avoided, although that depends very much on the attitude and positions taken by the UK Government in the coming months. Should that not be possible, however, it will be necessary for the UK to commit to arrangements for Northern Ireland that reflect its unique circumstances and avoid reintroducing a customs border, North and South. I will be actively engaged at the European Council, particularly in stressing to leaders the importance of the issues at stake for our country.

I am interested to explore with others how we can ensure that the necessary progress is made ahead of the December European Council. As Ireland has consistently advocated, once sufficient progress is achieved, the EU should be ready to begin discussions on the future relationship and transitional arrangements with Britain. This will be important for an orderly withdrawal and providing certainty for our people and businesses. As Deputies are aware, Ireland has worked very closely with Michel Barnier and the Commission task force and will continue to do so. Maintaining absolute unity among the 27 is absolutely vital to our national interests, and due to the extensive work by the Government and our officials, there remains strong support for Ireland and the particular challenges we face. Ongoing political engagement with our EU partners is crucial, especially as negotiations on Brexit proceed. I continue to use every opportunity to ensure that member states and the EU institutions fully understand our particular concerns arising from Brexit, to enable the best possible outcome for this country.

The European Council provides a framework for meeting our shared challenges at EU level. I look forward to engaging with other Heads of State and Government always keeping in mind the best interests of this country and Europe. I look forward to reporting back to the House next week on the outcome of the European Council.

The European Council is due to address a range of issues but the two core issues are the future of the EU and Brexit and I will address these in that order. As a result of various speeches and statements by President Macron, Chancellor Merkel, President Juncker and others, a substantive debate about the future direction and activities of the EU has finally begun. In the absence of broad agreement on starting principles, there is a great danger of falling into what was termed in "Yes Minister" as the "politician's syllogism", that is, "Something must be done, this is something, and, therefore, we must do this." The debate is already under way but it lacks shape or the sort of co-operative work that is essential to achieve anything across the Union. It is striking how so little evidence has been presented to show that specific proposed changes would address the identified deficits, particularly in terms of economic dynamism.

The most obvious example of this relates to tax harmonisation. Those pushing for it have failed to undertake the most basic work on showing how this is an answer to Europe's problems. They have also failed to show its impact on individual member states. It is not a proposal based on turning words about solidarity into actions which demonstrate solidarity. In truth, we believe it is the promotion of national agendas under the guise of quite disinterested reform. What is needed is for this important process to be inclusive, one capable of recognising the full balance of interests of all EU members. As our party leader has said on many occasions, the core promise of the European Union is that it offers all who participate a means of achieving and sustaining progress. It cannot survive if the answer to the destructive and intolerant rise of anti-European populism is driven by a small number of larger states. The agenda for the future of Europe is one which Fianna Fáil has addressed frequently and in great depth. In a series of speeches to the Institute for International and European Affairs and in our manifesto, position papers and statements in Brussels, we have argued for an ambitious reform agenda, including greater fiscal resources for the Union, a more ambitious banking union, an openness to more enhanced co-operation rather than the need for unity on all issues and an investment in the key drivers of long-term social and economic success.

We have also been calling on Government to produce a White Paper on Europe for four years yet the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have continued to follow the approach of their predecessors, which is to refuse to state a policy until it looks like that is what is going to happen anyway. No matter how many photo opportunities get set up or how many official resources are used to give the illusion of transparency, it would appear that the Government actually has no stated position on the core issues affecting Europe.

It is in this context that we warmly welcome the decision of President Tusk to propose a leadership agenda for the next two years. According to information from Brussels, he has told different leaders that we need an end to individual initiatives and we must start being both inclusive and systematic in tackling the reform agenda. He has proposed an unprecedented seven Council meetings next year and has set out a series of core topics. He has given prominence to issues concerning investment in people, which we warmly support, through education, training and advanced research. This is an initiative the Government should also support. It seems the only way of ensuring that Europe is not driven by dealing with whatever crisis it faces in any given month or year and that we have a mechanism where all countries have a role in shaping the European agenda.

Let me turn now to Brexit. As we saw yesterday during Leaders' Questions, the Taoiseach has adopted an approach of seeking out opportunities to make political jibes regarding Brexit. Instead of having the capacity to admit that he is changing policy or that he or his Government have withheld information, he appears to be bringing a new partisan edge to a topic where the approach has been largely consensual up to this point. In so doing, the Taoiseach is missing an opportunity to lead on what we all agree is one of the most important issues facing our country.

As the Taoiseach knows, Brexit is an issue Fianna Fáil has been talking about since David Cameron opted for an in-out referendum. At every stage, we have called for candid and constructive discussion and have set out various proposals. Very soon after the result, our leader outlined a core policy of protecting Ireland's overriding national interests in the EU, seeking a special economic status for Northern Ireland and minimising the disruption to east-west trade, which we all know could cost thousands upon thousands of jobs, particularly in rural Ireland and around Border regions. In addition, our party leader was the first to raise the issue of the 1.7 million people in Northern Ireland having a continued right to EU citizenship post-Brexit and he persuaded the Taoiseach's predecessor to raise this at European Council level. My colleagues and I have held consultations throughout the island with communities and businesses that are already feeling the hurt from Brexit and that rightly fear that much worse is on the way. In this context, the Taoiseach's partisan approach of recent weeks is not helping anybody, particularly as he is aware of the aggressively anti-EU approach of some elements in the Opposition. He is also aware that the special economic status Fianna Fáil is advocating would remove the necessity for a border while also respecting the constitutional settlement. What we said at the weekend was that the Taoiseach needs to reach out to constructive interests in the UK and begin setting a foundation for later work.

I recognise that this job is made more difficult for this Government in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly. It is staggering that the single biggest social and economic threat facing the people of Northern Ireland since the Troubles is happening in the absence of political leadership. We now have no nationalist political representation in Northern Ireland or Westminster. It is extraordinary that the future of Northern Ireland is being decided between the European Commission, the British Conservative Party and the DUP.

There is no reason to disagree with the Government's assessment that insufficient progress has been made to date and we support the Government's position in that recommendation to the Council meeting. Now that the Government has reversed its position of last week and stated publicly that different scenarios must be planned for, we call on it to ensure that all elements in this House are given proper briefings on what is being considered. As an example, the Taoiseach stated in response to Leaders' Questions recently that the leaked customs report was a 2015 report, it happened before Brexit and there was nothing to see. I received a physical copy of the report yesterday. On the front page, it said September 2016 so there are further questions to be answered there.

I would like to discuss adaptation funding and state aid because they are issues the Taoiseach and the Irish team in this European Council need to be all over. In his response to Deputy Michael McGrath a few minutes ago in this Chamber, the Taoiseach made the point that the Government has started discussions with the Directorate-General for Competition on state aid. My understanding is that those conversations started last autumn. The Taoiseach then went on to say that Brexit has not happened yet and that it is not possible to seek state aid exemptions for something that has not happened. This has been a metronymic call from the Taoiseach's party and Government - Brexit has not happened yet, we cannot put contingency plans in place because it has not happened yet and we cannot ask for state aid relaxation because Brexit has not happened. Brexit has happened. Irish firms lose competitiveness in the EU market at an exchange rate of about 90 cent to sterling. Over the past five years, the exchange rate has been at about 0.8, which means that the tens of thousands of Irish firms that trade with the UK can compete in the UK market. It jumped after the referendum from about 0.8 to 0.85.

It should be recalled that at a rate of 0.9, Ireland loses competitiveness. Since around May it has been trending upwards towards 0.9. When I checked before coming into the Chamber, the exchange rate was 89 cent and some significant analysts are forecasting that the euro will move towards parity.

Brexit has happened. State aid rules relaxation and adaptation funding are needed now. The Irish indigenous sector will need three to five years to achieve market share in the European Union. They do not need the Government to return to them in three years' time when they will be out of business to state it has got something for them in state aid. When the Taoiseach meets the Heads of State, I implore him to make the case that Brexit happened for Irish firms a year ago and that they need adaptation funding and state aid rules relaxation immediately.

Beidh mise agus an Teachta Seán Crowe ag caint.

Michel Barnier's determination that the Brexit negotiations could not move to the next stage was inevitable, given the lack of willingness of the British Government to engage substantially on three key issues. The Tories repeat the same platitudes and language about the Good Friday Agreement and the Border that they have used for the past year, but they say one thing and do the exact opposite. The threat to the Good Friday Agreement is real and one to which the Government must face up. It is sleepwalking into an even greater crisis in Anglo-Irish relations if it does not respond robustly to the threat presented by the British Government to return to direct rule. British rule in Ireland had failed; it had failed on this part of the island and in the North. We need to see the Good Friday Agreement being implemented fully. The current crisis has been caused by broken agreements. Any return to direct rule would be in direct breach of the St. Andrews Agreement and in addition to the other breaches. Rather than peddling false information on the state of the talks process, the Taoiseach needs to advise the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, that the Irish Government is absolutely opposed to a return to direct rule and that he expects the British Government, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to fulfil and hold to its obligations under agreements, of which the Irish Government is co-guarantor. The threat to the Good Friday Agreement posed by the Brexit debate could be averted if the Agreement was incorporated in full as an annex to the withdrawal agreement. Caithfidh an Rialtas é sin a bhrú ar Rialtas na Breataine chun aon phlean ceart a chur ar aghaidh.

The Taoiseach has said many times - I agree with him - that the British Government's proposals will cost jobs, undermine our economies, subvert sectors on both parts of the island and undermine the process of peace and political dialogue. It is disappointing that the Irish Government's position appears to have changed from recognising the need for special arrangements for the North to there being a lack of clarity. The Government needs to be relentless in its opposition to a return to an economic border. That needs to be said repeatedly and also acted on. Ba chéim siar aon teorainn a bheith ann ar an oileáin seo. Ba dhroch-rud é do ghnó, d'fheirmeoirí agus do shaoránaigh ó Thuaidh agus ó Theas.

The issue of the Border requires a political solution, not one that is technical or electronic. That is recognised by the European Commission and the European Parliament, but, apparently, not by the leader of Fianna Fáil, who appears to have a different position. Deputy Mícheál Martin wants the Government to look at options for Border controls. He is looking for an electronic solution to a political problem, but there is none. The solution lies in the entire island remaining in the customs union and the Single Market.

In a broadcast on BBC last night the Taoiseach said there was a willingness within the European Union to be flexible and bend the rules for the North. He also said people should not see it as a threat to the constitutional settlement or the union. That is something Sinn Féin has stated all along and I am glad that the Taoiseach has now come to that position. What he needs to do now is to push for designated special status for the North within the European Union and continue to engage with unionists. The commitment to bring the civic dialogue to the North needs to be acted on.

I refer to the ongoing plight of Ibrahim Halawa. I hope the Taoiseach will raise at the European Council meeting the matter of his continued incarceration. I expressed my concern to the Taoiseach on 4 October that Ibrahim Halawa had been denied visits by officials from the Irish embassy in Cairo. The Taoiseach replied that he did not know if that was the case but that he would come back to me on the matter. It took him a full week to do so. I do not know if other party leaders have this problem, but there appears to be some fault line, given that Sinn Féin is having trouble in securing speedy responses from the Taoiseach on these important issues. I know that his concern about Ibrahim Halawa's continued detention is heartfelt, but I appeal to him again. Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted and is being held for no reason I can understand. We must respect other countries' right to operate their own judicial systems, but the release of Ibrahim Halawa should be secured as soon as possible. I ask the Taoiseach to raise the matter in the upcoming talks.

On the ongoing political crisis in Catalonia, the only way to end any dispute is through inclusive dialogue and mediation. Two weeks ago I spoke to the Catalan President on the telephone when he assured me that his government was ready for talks and that that was his priority. The Taoiseach has said he supports dialogue, but he needs to act. I look to him to lead the imperative for dialogue. The jailing of two civic society activists by the Spanish High Court two days ago flies in the face of this imperative. We look to the Taoiseach to ask the European Union to intervene directly to ensure there will be dialogue and mediation.

I pay my respects to the more than 300 people who were killed in the bomb attack in Mogadishu on Saturday. The attack was largely ignored in the news outlets here, but it is only right and fitting that we extend our sincere condolences to the families of all those who were killed and injured.

I had intended to refer to the matter of Catalonia, but my colleague, Deputy Gerry Adams, has already done so. We ask the Taoiseach to raise the issue with the Spanish Prime Minister as we all want to see a de-escalation of the crisis. We have seen the arrest of two civic society leaders who have failed to get bail and face prison sentences of 15 years. No one wants to see the crisis deteriorate. We have a different view on how the problem might be solved. The Catalans, as well as many others, have suggested international dialogue and mediation as a way to find a way out of the crisis facing not only the Catalan people but also the Spanish. I ask the Taoiseach to raise the issue at the European Council and suggest the Spanish Government take up the offer of mediation.

One issue on the agenda for the European Council meeting is migration. With others, I have been briefed by Médecins sans Frontières. In the past year it has provided medical care for those who have been detained within a number of official migrant detention centres in Tripoli. It has spoken about the conditions in which migrants are being kept, which are evident in photographs I have seen. We were told about the dire and direct consequences of the European Union's current policy on Libya. Many of the official Libyan centres treat refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as a commodity and keep them in conditions in which one would not be allowed to keep an animal here. There are no sanitation facilities and women are being raped and men are being tortured, yet the European Union is working with the Libyan authorities and the coast guard to hand people back to be kept in these detention centres.

They are run by various militias and run privately by individuals, and the people are kept like a commodity in dark filthy rooms with no ventilation or sanitation. We should be speaking about EU member states, including Ireland, actively enforcing these policies of containment and feeding this business of suffering. I do not think anyone would want to be identified with that, yet we seem to be looking at it, and possibly replicating it in the future. By supporting the capability of the Libyan coast guard Ireland and EU members are building its capacity to return migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean to Libya and not to any safe port or jurisdiction. Will the Taoiseach speak out against this policy? Will he urgently respond to MSF? It has asked to meet the Taoiseach and perhaps he and his officials can consider this.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was Malta's best-known investigative journalist, was killed by a bomb placed under her car on Monday. There are concerns about what happened to her and we need to speak about the importance of the safety of investigative journalists. Other states are possibly implicated in this and it is a concern that Ireland should raise at the meeting.

When we last discussed this issue in June, I flagged, as did others, the need for appropriate briefing material to be circulated to all of us in advance of the Council and afterwards. I do not think this has happened. I said in June it would be worthwhile and constructive to be informed before the meeting of the agenda, and particularly of the positions and attitudes to be put forward by Ireland, along with a note afterwards on the outcomes. That is what we understood the process was to be. It says a lot about how seriously this assembly is considered that the time for these statements was only added to the Order Paper yesterday. It was an afterthought. This cannot continue to be the way. In future, and I am particularly thinking of the next Council meeting in December, which we all know will be critical for the Brexit talks, party and group leaders should be given the courtesy of detailed briefings in advance by the Taoiseach's Department. Doing so would allow us a much more detailed and informed discussion here rather than set piece contributions, to which, bluntly, one often wonders whether anybody is listening at all. That would be a much more useful use of all our time.

The additional agenda includes a number of serious topics, including migration, digital Europe, defence and external relations. I will focus on these, but the topic all of Europe will be focused on is Brexit. The Taoiseach said this is actually not the case and that the Baltic states would be looking to Russia and the Mediterranean states more to migration, but from our perspective Brexit is our focus. The sad reality is that without significant movement on a financial settlement by the UK, and on the other two key issues, the talks are not set to advance. Prime Minister May knows she will have to pledge more than the €20 billion proposed to make progress, but by doing so she also knows she will be denounced at home, so she is in a catch-22 situation. The Florence speech was important, but it has detracted from the three central issues to be addressed in phase 1. It will be to the December Council meeting we will look to open the next phase, and meanwhile the three extra rounds of Brexit divorce talks can take place.

The EU 27 meeting will make clear that not enough progress is being made to move past those three issues, namely, the rights of EU and UK citizens, Ireland and the peace process and the bill the UK should morally meet. It is my firm belief that if Irish concerns are not dealt with upfront it would be too easy for them to be forgotten about later. This seems to be the tactic in which the British Government is now engaged, to state it will deal with the Irish issue at the end. That puts us in very great danger.

There was a late effort by Prime Minister May on Monday to allow discussions on trade to advance. I understand the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister had a 40-minute phone call in which the Taoiseach's views and the British views on how these things could move forward were outlined. The Taoiseach might outline to us what specifically he said to the Prime Minister on her quite overt lobbying on this matter. This move has been resisted by the EU 27, but it is concerning that much of the public reasoning has been a lack of progress on the bill to be paid by the United Kingdom. In other words, if that matter was addressed, Germany and France could be satisfied that they might be able to advance to the next round of talks. This would put Ireland in a very difficult position.

There has been some progress in how the common travel area might be continued but, as we know, anything short of keeping the United Kingdom in the Single Market and within either the existing customs union or something analogous to it will result in a real border on this island. As we have seen in recent weeks, the danger of a hard Brexit is ever present and is not receding, due to the toxic politics that are now so clearly evident in the British Tory Party. I think the British Labour Party could play a much more proactive role in this. I have done my best to talk to as many senior officials and senior elected members of the British Labour Party as I can. We need all parties in the House to do the same. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have links to conservative and liberal democratic parties throughout Europe. Those links need to be fully exploited.

Going back to the three key conditions for Brexit talks to advance, there was an interesting Bloomberg report yesterday, which suggested the Irish Government is considering pushing for guarantees that no border will be reimposed on our island as the price for allowing Brexit talks to advance. Will the Taoiseach advise us on whether this is now the official Irish position and if he has enunciated that position to the British Prime Minister in their telephone conversation? Is he planning to seek a concrete commitment on the Border? It has also been reported that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, is delighted at the very strong language on Ireland in the draft conclusions of the Council. What is the Irish position now? Have we demanded a roadmap from the British on preventing a return to any border on the island of Ireland? I have no doubt the British Prime Minister will make her case to the Council, but it is imperative that we here in Dáil Éireann are informed of what the Irish Government is, in very clear and concrete terms, seeking and what the Taoiseach will say at the Council in our name.

As I raised yesterday with the Taoiseach, today the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission are due to agree the interinstitutional proclamation on the European pillar of social rights. Yesterday, the Taoiseach mentioned that he will travel to the event in Gothenburg to participate in this formal signing. Since he will attend the publication of the proclamation, and given that I asked him about it yesterday, I hope he has had some time to find out exactly about the matters I raised yesterday. I am concerned at some of what I have heard from participants in the process about Ireland's role. From European contacts, I am told Ireland appears to be on the side of those seeking to restrict social rights, aligning ourselves with countries such as Hungary, hardly noted, as I said yesterday, as champions of social rights. In particular, I believe we are demanding changes to the preamble. We have apparently led the charge in seeking to add text that would water down any obligation on states to give real meaning to the social pillar. I believe the Minister of State is due to speak later and she might address this issue.

As Deputies know, the social pillar is built around three principles, namely, equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. The purpose of the proclamation is to have a clear agreement between the Parliament, the Commission and all of the member states on how we will deliver on the 20 areas outlined in the social pillar.

From what I have heard, Ireland's efforts have been focused on watering down our obligations, and those of other member states, to move towards the delivery of these rights. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, to be very clear, when making her contribution, on the language we try to include in the preamble and on our position.

After the last Council meeting, I highlighted the need for a debate in this Chamber on the decisions on defence co-operation. In September, the French President gave a speech on the future of Europe. At the heart of it was the issue of security co-operation and defence, including the creation of a European rapid response force. In effect, he is calling for an EU army and a shared defence budget. Once one creates a military intervention force, one is on the path of a very different EU from the one we signed up to. Again, we need to know specifically what Ireland's response to this has been to date and what it will be in the future.

On migration, the Council will call for progress on the reform of the common European asylum system. I ask the Taoiseach or Minister of State to outline Ireland's position on this in concrete terms. Are we committed again to taking another tranche of refugees? What are our future plans for the coming years?

I ask the Taoiseach to outline his input on the leaders' agenda. We probably need to have a specific, long debate in this House on our shared view on the evolution of the EU, including on its future direction and structure after Brexit.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about the crisis in Catalonia and Spain. I travelled to Catalonia to observe the independence referendum held on 1 October. I was invited by the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia and I was one of 33 European parliamentarians who were there as visitors. On the day of the vote, the Spanish state police went on the rampage. They fired plastic and rubber bullets at people queuing to vote, and they beat old people and women with batons. They injured more than 900. This was savage repression. It was probably worse than anything else of its kind seen in a western European country in more than 30 years. It stirred up memories of the era of the Franco dictatorship. It was overseen by the Rajoy Government in Madrid. It oversaw the drafting into Catalonia of 16,000 Spanish state police. It oversaw 75% of Spain's riot police being sent to Catalonia in the run-up to the vote. They made no effort to check the violence on the day. The Rajoy Government is a right-wing Government. I believe Mr. Rajoy's party, Partido Popular, is Fine Gael's sister party in the European People's Party in the European Parliament.

In the aftermath of the police rampage, the Taoiseach said he was distressed by what he saw. I was a bit distressed by his use of language. He did not say what occurred was shocking, disgraceful or unacceptable, and he did not condemn it. He should have done so. I put it to the Minister of State that the Taoiseach pulled his punches. What he said was that Ireland would not recognise the referendum result and would respect the territorial unity of Spain. In other words, he will oppose Catalonia's right to decide. He and the Minister of State must answer the question as to how one keeps a nation imprisoned within a state when a majority of its people – I believe it is a majority at this stage – wish for independence.

I have another question. At the start of the week, we saw the jailing of two civil society leaders "pending investigation". That sounds like internment to me. These are political prisoners now. For what were they imprisoned? It was for calling demonstrations. Barcelona's mayor, Ms Ada Colau, has said the imprisonment is a threat to everyone's rights and freedoms. Therefore, I must ask the Minister of State a straight question: does she agree with that statement of the mayor? I call for the immediate release of the men. Is the Minister of State prepared to do so? What will she do concretely to raise this issue at the European Council?

Attempts have been made by some, particularly Sinn Féin Deputies, to draw a direct parallel between the Catalan independence referendum and an Irish Border poll under the Good Friday Agreement. It is not a comparison that I accept. An Irish Border poll would be guaranteed to divide ordinary people in Northern Ireland along sectarian lines. The Catalan independence issue, on the other hand, has the potential to unite ordinary people against the political establishment to achieve both national rights and social change. More than 80% of people living in Catalonia supported Catalonia's right to decide and to call a referendum. The people I met in the course of my visit, including many I spoke to on the day of the general strike, when more than 1 million people came out onto the streets of Barcelona, wanted a different Catalonia, not a Catalonia of austerity, a Catalonia of mass unemployment for the youth or a Catalonia of evictions. Barcelona is the evictions capital of Europe. All these policies have been supported by the Puigdemont Government, which is a right-wing Government.

I stand not merely for a Catalan republic but for a socialist republic of Catalonia that would guarantee all rights for all minorities, including the Spanish-speaking Castilian minority, and join with working-class people throughout the whole Spanish state to challenge not only the Partido Popular Government but also the capitalist system it defends.

I will conclude with my questions. Why is there no stronger condemnation from the Irish Minister? Does the Irish Government support the immediate release of those jailed or interned at the start of the week? What will it do concretely at the European Council to further that aim? How can the Government defend a nation being imprisoned within a state when a majority of its people - I believe it is now a majority - wish for independence?

The deafening silence or, worse, tacit complicity of the EU and Irish Government regarding what is now a dangerous and escalating situation in Catalonia is really quite shocking. The Rajoy Government is threatening to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which has never been invoked before, to disband the regional government and impose direct rule on Catalonia, against a background of vicious repression of a completely peaceful and extraordinarily moderate movement seeking self-determination that sought to do nothing but put ballot papers into a ballot box. It was faced with vicious repression, involving the dragging of people around the streets. They were prevented from going to vote at the ballot box. This week saw the arrest of civil society leaders who did nothing more than organise peaceful pro-independence protests. Raids were organised of offices of political parties that are in favour of independence.

Deputy Gino Kenny and other Deputies were in Catalonia the weekend before last. The plan was to have public representatives from Ireland and elsewhere sleeping in the houses of Members of Parliament from Catalonia to observe events in the likelihood of the latter being arrested, which is a very real prospect. What are the Irish Government and EU saying when this affair could escalate out of control tomorrow? They are saying nothing. There is no condemnation and no assertion of the right to self-determination, on which, by any definition, the people of Catalonia have a right to air their view, as set down by the UN Charter. They tick all the boxes: they have a language, culture and history. One does not have to agree with their demand for independence but one has to agree with their right to exercise self-determination. It is quite extraordinary that the EU, including the Irish State, and states around the world that are signed up to the UN Charter and, consequently, the principle of self-determination do not do so. It is even more extraordinary that a state such as Ireland, which had to fight for its right to self-determination, is not supporting the right of the Catalan people simply to make the decision and the right not to have to face vicious repression, and not calling for the release of civil society activists who are being arrested just for organising peaceful protests. There is nothing but silence, and worse, complicity and tacit endorsement of Mr. Rajoy's repression, thereby suggesting he has a right to impose his will on the Catalan people.

It is absolutely shocking and disgraceful. The EU is covering itself in shame when it parades itself as some sort of progressive entity on the world stage and says nothing about the denial of national self-determination as set out even in the UN.

I wish to give another example of that, namely, what is happening in Turkey. I just met a delegation of human rights defenders from Amnesty International, the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly and other civil society and human rights defender groups in Turkey where 11 of their leading figures, including the director and chairman of Amnesty Turkey, were arrested in a raid on an open workshop in Istanbul in July of this year by Erdogan's police and are now facing trumped up charges of association with terrorism. This is against a background where 50,000 people are now in prison - teachers, MPs, journalists, civil servants, members of the military - and 150,000 are being investigated in what is an absolutely ruthless crackdown on everybody who utters even the slightest opposition to the Turkish regime. What is the European Union saying about that? Nothing. What is the Irish Government saying about it? Nothing. I appeal to the Minister of State with a very concrete ask. Next Wednesday in Istanbul those human rights defenders will have their first hearing in court. Could the Irish Embassy send observers to the show trial that is taking place, to observe what is being done to Amnesty International activists, front-line human rights defenders, by the Turkish Government, to speak out against that, and to insist that the European Union tries to exercise some pressure and influence and condemn what the Turkish regime is doing?

If the European Union is trying to present itself as some progressive force in the world that believes in human rights and ignores what is happening in Catalonia and Turkey it is digging its own political grave.

I wish to share time with Deputy Wallace.

We recently had an exchange on Priority Questions about Libya and the detention centres there. I acknowledge the contribution made by the Minister of State at the European General Affairs Council in Luxembourg where she followed up on those concerns and spoke about the concern about human rights abuses in the centres in Libya. It is unfortunate that on 11 October an Italian naval ship helped the Libyan coast guard as it headed off some 228 migrants in the central Mediterranean, returning them to the so-called reception centres in Libya but we know they are detention centres.

I wish to focus on a particular issue, which Deputy Boyd Barrett raised, namely, the Turkish situation and the group that visited today. As the Taoiseach said before he left, this will be discussed at the next meeting and I hope that it can be addressed. Those people who criticise, question and challenge the Government and who voice different opinions are the ones who are being penalised in Turkey. Asking questions, criticising, having a free press and a free media are rights we all have in Ireland and that are shared by all European citizens. The targets in Turkey are those who are working in the media such as journalists, members of the judiciary, teachers, trade unionists, public servants and also members of parliament. As has been said, there was a five-day human rights workshop in Turkey in July this year. It came out of a previous meeting in April, so it was very transparent. Everybody knew about it. It came from the Human Rights Joint Platform in Turkey. Its goals are collaborative work and solidarity among civil society organisations who work on human rights. It also wants access for all of those groups to knowledge on human rights and it is also about strengthening an environment in Turkey that would be supportive of democracy and the rule of law. It has also worked with Government agencies and civil society. Some of the work it has been doing has been on gender equality, children's rights, justice and protection of human rights defenders. Everybody - the EU, the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe - accepts the role of human rights defenders and how they have to be protected in order to do that work.

Four of the group that were arrested at the workshop were women and six of them were men. Since their detention more of their rights have been violated. There was no presumption of innocence. What happened in the Turkish media was a deliberate smear campaign and a hate campaign which begs the question of whether they will even get a fair trial when the case is heard next week. Limited access to them has been provided to their lawyers and very little opportunity has been provided to their supporters to have space in the media to point out the distortions that have been happening. They are also enduring human rights violations in prison and some have been in solitary confinement for over a month. Two of the group do not speak Turkish so they are at a particular disadvantage and their health problems are going unattended. I hope that our embassy and consular service can attend at the trial next week in Istanbul.

I also draw attention to a Council of Europe report on the violation of women's rights in Turkey. Of the 100,000 or so public employees who have lost their jobs, 23% of them are women belonging to a particular trade union. A number of women's associations have been closed down. Events to celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and International Women's Day have been prevented from happening. Female judges and prosecutors have been dismissed also and there have been accounts of torture and ill treatment of those women while they were in custody. We know also that Kurdish women are facing very particular problems. This is a violation of human rights. Again, it is important that the EU voice is there. We are aware of EU-Turkish relationships. Is the EU choosing to turn a blind eye to those violations of human rights because of the arrangements it has with Turkey on migrants?

World MPs have condemned the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya community in Myanmar, the violence and the forced displacement and the movement of 1 million into Bangladesh but a number of them are still displaced within Burma. The resolution recommends creating temporary safe zones inside Myanmar under UN supervision so there is respect for everybody regardless of ethnicity or religion. I hope we can support that resolution.

We often hear in here how the EU fiscal rules have prevented us from borrowing money at less than 1% of market rate to invest in infrastructure. If that is the case then it is long past time for the Government to challenge it. If the Government has not raised the housing crisis in Europe, I wonder why that is the case because our failure to address it properly is nothing short of shameful.

Seamus Coffey said the fiscal rules do not prevent spending on social housing. The choice of how our €70 million Government budget is used is a political choice, as are the choices around taxation, which increase or decrease that amount. The German research group, the IFO Institute say that between 1999 and 2015 there have been 165 instances where EU member states have violated the 3% hurdle for budget deficits. In only 51 cases was that permissible because the respective EU member states were in recession. However, in 114 cases it was not permissible. In none of the 114 cases were fiscal sanctions imposed on member states who broke the fiscal rules. It is very difficult to listen to anyone who comes in here and hides behind the fiscal rules rather than investing directly in the provision of social and affordable housing.

Yesterday, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice launched its latest document on housing. It said that Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, relies far too heavily on market-based solutions to the problems facing Irish housing and that the plan will therefore fail in its stated objective of developing a housing system that is affordable, stable and sustainable. When in God's name will the Government wake up and smell the coffee? The Government is going in the wrong direction in how it is dealing with housing. If the Government needs to challenge the fiscal rules in Europe then it should do so.

There was a recession in 1987 and we built 6,900 social houses. There was a recession in 2007 and we built 7,800 at the time. There was no recession in 2015, we were told. Indeed, we were told that the recovery had arrived at the election in 2016. There were 75 units built at the time. In 2016, there were 600 units built. Where in God's name are we going? We have allowed NAMA sell land and units for a fraction of the real value. NAMA sold 3,800 sites in Cherrywood for €27,000 and they are now worth over €100,000 each. The agency sold 440 apartments in Tallaght in January 2016 for €100,000 each. It now costs €430,000 for a new-build three-bedroom in Dublin. Where in God's name is the logic coming from?

NAMA still has land. It is funding developers to provide unaffordable housing. When is the Government going to decide to ring-fence State land for social and affordable housing?

On a point of order-----

Sorry. Only two minutes are remaining. It is on topic.

It does not make any sense. It is ridiculous. NAMA is selling units and land to vulture funds.

You have to take a point of order, Acting Chairman. The comments are not relevant.

The Chair will decide what is relevant.

NAMA is giving money to developers and vulture funds.

You are taking a very liberal view of what is relevant, Acting Chairman.

NAMA is giving money to developers and vulture funds to provide unaffordable housing. How in God's name can we continue with this?

This is unprecedented.

When are we ever going to wake up and deal with our housing crisis?

Let us go back to the Jesuits and listen. We are not talking about a mad left-wing think tank. The Jesuit social policy officer, Margaret Burns, said only yesterday that we need to recognise that housing deprivation is one of the most serious forms of poverty in the Ireland of today and that in recent years the housing system has become the locus of some of the deepest inequality evident in our society.

Why is it not the number one priority of this Government to tackle one of the most shameful episodes that we can remember in how we run this State? If the Government needs permission from the Europeans to deal with it properly, such that we can borrow money at 1% to provide social and affordable housing to the people who need it, then I appeal to the Government to do it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. I note from the invitation letter of President Donald Tusk that members will be updated on where the EU stands in terms of a political discussion on the external aspects of migration, with a specific focus on the financial measures necessary to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Africa.

That is vital but we are late to the table and it is only now that we are really trying to deal with stemming the flow. We have been silent. There has been deafening silence on the genocide that has been taking place in the Middle East. I have said this before and I will say it again: those countries, including Syria, Iraq and many others, were safer and better places for different ethnic and religious beliefs. They were better for people to practise their religion and they could do it with impunity. Since we went in there with all guns blazing - I am referring to the Americans, the British and everyone else - it has become a hell on earth. The persecution and genocide towards different sects, including Christian and minority Muslim sects and Yazidis as well as others, has been horrific, but we are ignoring it. Donald Tusk might say that we need a specific focus on the financial requirements necessary to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Africa. However, we can never cure a problem or a symptom by going to the doctor without finding the cause. We could go to the doctor on a weekly basis or to any other medical practitioner either, but to no effect. The cause is obvious: we are reluctant to talk about that or engage or deal with that to any major extent. I believe that we are codding ourselves unless we deal with that and face up to the challenges. We must face down the big powers of Saudi Arabia and others, or else we are going nowhere.

President Macron's presentation about trade negotiations is on the agenda as well. The UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, will share her reflections about the current status of the Brexit talks. I imagine that will be interesting.

I have recently come back from two days in Liverpool at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I do not see any softening of attitudes. Actually, I was rather shocked at how happy the British are with their decision and how adamant they are that it is going ahead. They do not want to delay it with talks of two years or three years. There is talk of an easy soft landing and seamless borders. They are not bothered. They are talking up their trade and trade deals with many new countries. We are in a perilous situation here because of our direct exports and trade with the United Kingdom. They do not seem to be too bothered about here. I suppose they never were bothered back in the old colonial times, but we have built up a good relationship. It is vital.

It was frightening to hear the address yesterday morning from the President of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. The body wants us to be positive and to talk it up. However, when something is staring us starkly in the face, it is difficult to be positive. It is difficult to be positive about something as calamitous as what may happen or what will happen. This will affect people right across the sectors from agriculture to health to people's rights and so on. We are going to have to start bouncing above our buck, as we often said we did in Europe. Now we are becoming innocent bystanders. A phoney war is going on between the big powers, including President Macron, Donald Tusk and such people in Europe, who cared little about us when we met our own crisis. When we needed friends, we found out that with friends like them, we did not need any enemies.

The Council will also include discussions on the relocation of the UK-based agencies. We plan to be quiet and cúramach, trying to slip in tenders as we get them to Dublin. I am unsure where we are going to house them or those who take the jobs that come with them, unless we build camps out in Howth, in the sea or unless we bring in some tug boats to house them. We do not even have the capacity to house the people we have at the moment. I am all for the relocation of industry that we can get here, but where are we going to house them? We are codding ourselves. We cannot house them. It is obvious.

The last speaker is right. Deputy Haughey might interrupt me as well. A point of order is a point of order and I accept the right to make one, but the Chair is in charge, thank God. It is an abject failure of our housing policies. Deputy Wallace mentioned that we are going in the wrong direction. We are going in no direction. It is like the calm after the hurricane. We are stopped, stationary. We are talking about it. We have reports. We have Rebuilding Ireland and imaginative supply. We are going here, there and yonder. We are filling up the archives with reports but we are not building any houses. What we are building is not worth talking about. Rebuilding Ireland is an example. We could not build a little town in Connemara with the number of houses the Government has planned to build, to be fair. That is Rebuilding Ireland. I warned the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, about it. I am on the housing committee. It is frustrating to be talking and talking. If talk could build houses, my God, we could export them. However, nothing is happening; there are only reports. It is stating the obvious. We should listen to the Jesuits or any other group that produces independent reports from the coalface. They are telling us the same thing: nothing is happening in that area.

We talked about the EU fiscal rules. Other countries have broken them with impunity. We are suffering because of the way we had to obey them. Now is our chance to borrow that money at 1% to try to do something about building houses. We need to invest because without money it is not possible to build, buy anything or go to the sweet shop to give a child a present for communion. If we do not have the money - airgead in the póca - then we can forget it. We do not have the money to do it. We can give all the reports back to the councils and blame the county councils. They say they do not have the money that the Government says it gave them. There is talk of so many millions and then the figure is reported and changed.

However, I suppose the Brexit issue will most immediately impact us in the short to medium term. What is becoming ever clearer is the limited value of the European Council meetings. We can see that. The Minister of State has to go and do her best. I wish her well - turas maith.

We seem to be lurching from one chaotic negotiation to another without any outcomes. Things are getting worse on the migration and Brexit issues and on the many other issues of member states. Let us consider what is happening in Spain and elsewhere.

What are we going there for? It is only a glorified talking shop that comes at enormous expense. The EU and the United Kingdom are facing each other across the table. Each is waiting for the other to blink, with political egos on full display - that is without doubt. Any independent or media observer will say as much. It is a case of who will blink first. Are we all going to fall off a cliff into the Irish Sea before someone blinks and then wake up and smell the coffee?

What does it do to break the current impasse? The answer is nothing and I am sorry to say we are not doing anything either. The gravity of the situation is increasing on a weekly basis. The uncertainty and confusion have not been diminished, only exaggerated. The Minister of State should listen and talk to her colleagues who were at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, including some who are in the House such as Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh. She should listen to the deep distrust - I will not say arrogance because that would be the wrong word - of the European Union and the belief the United Kingdom made the right decision to leave, that its economy is the one to worry about, not ours or anybody else's. One cannot blame them for that. They are MPs and Lords from all parts of the United Kingdom, including Wales and Scotland, and spoke in unison, with the exception of a few.

The Guardian has reported that the British Government will be forced to delay bringing the EU withdrawal Bill back to the House of Commons for a second time as it struggles to respond to hundreds of hostile amendments. We are used to filibustering here also, but it is only bandaging, delaying and letting the patient get more sick, after which there will be a bigger problem to deal with. We also read that this could mean the withdrawal of the Bill, which would not be brought back to the House of Commons until after the week-long recess early next month. The clock is ticking and time is not in our favour or on our side. With the budget in the United Kingdom due to be announced on 22 November, the British Government may struggle to fit in the necessary eight days of debate before Christmas. The Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, said the fresh delay called into question the Prime Minister's ability to press ahead with Brexit. I hope it does, but the uncertainty is frightening and very dangerous. He is quoted as saying, "This is further proof that the Government's Brexit strategy is in paralysis. The negotiations are in deadlock and now a crucial piece of legislation is facing further delay” and subject to filibustering. This is profoundly alarming.

I know that the Taoiseach has already commented on this, but in an interview on the BBC's "Spotlight" programme he is reported to have said the ambiguity surrounding the current situation meant the other 27 nations in the European Union were struggling to grasp what the United Kingdom wanted from the negotiations. We are all struggling with it. The Taoiseach has his €5 million investment in a new, all-powerful spin team, but he is going to need many millions and spinners to get us out of this one. Spin is no good; what we need is substance. I appeal to the Minister of State to implore the Taoiseach to stand up for the country to find our rightful place and try to get clarity and support from the other 26 countries. They need to support us because we have always been such good Europeans. When asked to jump, we asked how high. Now it is time for other EU member states to jump over to us and give us some moral support.

I welcome the opportunity to comment in advance of the European Council meeting. I will deal, first, with the future of the European Union. I agree with what the Taoiseach said, that we should be setting out our positive agenda, not just what we are opposed to, but in truth, listening to his statement and trying to parse what the positive agenda was, he referred to the development of the Single Market, the digital Single Market in particular, and banking union. They are beneficial, but, while I accused the Taoiseach earlier of having an economic strategy something similar to that of Fianna Fáil in the 1990s, the European strategy seems to be something similar to that of the Tory Party in concentrating on the market, liberalisation and securing economic benefits. However, there was no real strong commentary on or analysis of the social agenda, the environmental agenda or even how we could progress the concept of subsidiarity or other developments in the European Union.

The Taoiseach is going to have to say more than just that we want to have a digital Single Market if he is going to stave off what I think is, as mentioned by other speakers, a slightly too-ambitious French and Commission proposal for rapid European integration. I thought President Juncker's state of the union speech was remarkable in how it pushed that agenda, including having a single European Finance Minister, a single bonds market, effectively a single budget and a real connected Europe on steroids. It was matched by what President Macron was saying. It seems that would not be in our immediate interests, but we cannot just counter it by saying we want to go back to the old idea of the market knows best. As a country we cannot just be seen as representing the large American multinationals, which is how we are seen elsewhere in Europe. Increasingly, because of what we have done in taxation and because we are seen as having given excessively generous terms to the American multinationals - the tax rate is not 12.5% but 1% or 2% - the rest of Europe states it has had enough of these companies getting away without paying a €1 trillion tax bill. We have to be careful, therefore, that this is not just seen as the country playing that game in which we want all of the benefits of the digital Single Market, without taking responsibility for other developments.

I was particularly interested in what the Taoiseach said about the French proposal for an Internet tax and the view of it as a measure to fund journalism, the media and other things. His response was that we were opposed to it. He listed countries such as Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic and indicated that we did not think Europe was big enough to regulate the Internet, that one would have to do it through the OECD for fear that we would give Japan or other countries an advantage. I do not agree with him because one of the successes, benefits and purposes of the European Union is that it has the scale to regulate global capitalism on its own and iron out some of the inequities within the system. We should not be afraid or just abdicate that power and say the European Union is not big enough on its own to do it and that we will have to get the OECD to agree. To my mind, in that way lies paralysis that benefits very large companies that do not want regulation, but it is just not right and does not reflect reality. The reality of what is happening in Europe is that the European Court of Justice, in the absence of political leadership or proper regulations from the Commission or the European Council, effectively regulates the digital Single Market in its judgments on privacy, data-sharing, data retention and so on. Whether the Taoiseach likes it, it is a mistake for us to want so much to be a representative for American multinational capitalism because we underplay the powers we have.

To tie it in, even in an obscure way, I will move on to my view on the Brexit talks. I am deeply worried - obviously everyone is - that on our neighbouring island, in particular, there seems to be a complete political mess. The ruling Tory Party seems to be riven down the middle. The Prime Minister does not have any authority. The British Parliament, as mentioned, has just delayed the debate on its own withdrawal Bill because it cannot get political agreement. Amendments could bring down the British Government at any time because neither side will be able to command the numbers, even with the DUP, to get the Bill through. The Irish Government took the right approach over the summer in stepping back and stating it was not going to design the Border on Ireland for Britain. We did not quite cut off diplomatic relations, but we sent a very strong signal to the British administrative system that we would not co-operate in that approach and that was the right signal to send.

I am concerned that in just standing back we risk ending up with a crash-out hard border, which is a real possibility. Some, including Britain's Minister, Mr. David Davis, recently raised the prospect of a crash-out Brexit being the end outcome. Some in the European Union may also see that as a desirable outcome to teach the British a lesson and to let them hang themselves since it is their fault. Even if two sides of the argument might want a crash-out Brexit, it would not serve our interests. It behoves the Government, therefore, to up the game diplomatically rather than just taking a step back and stating Brexit has nothing to do with it, that it is not going to do, say or act on anything and that it is up to the British Government to come forward with proposals.

On the two areas of digital and energy market reform we could look to seek engagement with the British and with our European colleagues because both areas are not typically within the same customs union and trade and WTO agreements. It will be necessary for Britain to be able to manage or develop its ongoing digital service sector. It will effectively have to accept ECJ jurisdiction because the digital rules will be set in Europe and the likes of Google and Facebook will not want a separate judicial system for the UK. The UK is not big enough, even at the size it is, and even as it is an impressive and capable digital country in a range of different ways. In the end it will have to accept ECJ regulation. Europe is so much bigger that it has that power to set digital rules. It is the same in the energy market.

We have a particular interest in these two areas - one for a security reason and the other for economic development reasons. On the security reason, we need to secure an energy agreement. Regardless of what happens in the crash-out trade arrangements or even on the cross-Border issues here on the island, we need to know we will be able to get access to gas from the UK. We need to know we will be able to share power, through the interconnectors we already have let alone new interconnection. In that regard also, the management of that system involves acceptance in the UK of the authority of the ECJ because ultimately the final agreement on all those trading arrangements has to rest with a certain court and the ECJ is the only obvious viable court. My argument is that the Government should be engaging on that digital issue in terms of regulatory matters and on the likes of the energy issue, and should use that to maintain contact with the UK Government, a government that seems to be losing its reason. It makes sense for us to be engaging in as many diplomatic ways as we can to avoid that crash-out Brexit. We should also not want to undermine the European Union position in terms of 27 countries stating they will not proceed to the trade negotiations in advance of the first three items being agreed. However, we can and should be working on other issues as part of being seen as a responsible, proper player.

I was talking to some officials on this and asking what implications it has for the North-South energy arrangements because we have a difficult situation here in terms of how we maintain an all-island energy market. Off the record the officials stated we have every prospect of reaching agreement but the one problem is we have no Assembly in the North and in the absence of the Assembly we can do nothing. I urge my colleagues in Sinn Féin who are involved in sensitive negotiations the details of which I will not go into here to consider that the absence of an Administration and an Assembly in the North is a real threat to both future island energy co-operation and having an all-island energy market which is, I would have thought, in the interests of that party. I am told by officials that it is in danger of going out the window because we do not have a Northern Administration. That needs to be resolved.

As the Taoiseach indicated, I will focus my remarks on the external relations issues for discussion at the European Council. Then I will touch on some of the issues that were raised by the Deputies.

A wide-ranging exchange on Turkey is expected on Thursday evening, while non-proliferation, specifically in regard to North Korea and Iran, will also arise. Other international relations issues may also be raised by member states. It is a fact that Turkey's relationship with the EU has been under considerable strain since the attempted coup in July 2016, particularly in light of measures taken under the state of emergency, now in place for over a year. Foreign Ministers, on Monday, considered these developments, and the importance of the EU's strategic relationship with Turkey, given its key role in the region. It is important to recall that Turkey has been the victim of frequent, horrific terrorist attacks. Along with our European partners, Ireland rejects terrorism in all its forms and we stand in solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism.

We support a democratic and stable Turkey. However, along with our European partners, we continue to be gravely concerned about developments which undermine democracy, human rights, the rights of minorities, including the Kurdish minority, freedom of expression, including media freedom, and the rule of law in Turkey. These are core European principles and must be respected. The fact that Turkey retains its EU candidate status does not mean that our concerns about fundamental freedoms are any less; quite the contrary. It is highly regrettable that Turkish Government decrees continue to target public servants, educators and those in the security services. The arrests of human rights defenders, including Amnesty International representatives, during the summer marked a new low. We believe that some of the measures taken under the state of emergency have been disproportionate and we would urge the Turkish authorities to consider carefully the restrictions, and recall that the basic freedoms and human rights of all citizens must be respected.

We do not believe that the EU should withdraw candidate status from Turkey but all benchmarks and criteria must be met in full, especially on fundamental rights. Unfortunately, Turkey is moving further away from meeting these crucial standards. However, a policy of engagement remains in the best interests of the EU and the people of Turkey. It is important to keep the long-term rights and interests of all of the people of Turkey in mind in our discussion on EU-Turkey relations.

The EU-Turkey statement, agreed in March 2016, which focused on migration, remains in place. Turkey is a front-line state in the migration crisis. It is host to approximately 3 million Syrian refugees, and the EU assists in this considerable challenge. While the EU-Turkey statement is not a perfect arrangement, it has led to a very real reduction in numbers of lives lost at sea, and should therefore continue.

Turning to the other external relations items, Ireland has always had a distinctive voice in disarmament and non-proliferation. This dates from our role in the non-proliferation treaty, right up to this year's Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The continuing deterioration of the situation on the Korean peninsula since the beginning of 2016 is of grave concern. The pace at which North Korea has progressed its nuclear and missile programmes presents a real threat to peace and security, in the entire north-east Asia region and beyond. Ireland believes that the EU's policy of critical engagement with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea should remain the cornerstone of our approach.

We fully support the international sanctions regime against North Korea. Our position is that North Korea must comply fully with international obligations, and cease all nuclear testing. A lasting and stable peaceful settlement in the region will be possible only if it abandons its programme of nuclear weapons development and engages in meaningful dialogue with other stakeholders.

The European Council is also likely to consider Iran in light of President Trump's decision not to certify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Deputies will be aware of how hard our fellow member states and the High Representative, Ms Federica Mogherini, worked with the support of the entire EU to bring that deal about. It is the culmination of 12 years of patient diplomacy, and the EU is committed to the full and effective implementation of all parts of the JCPOA. It is expected that a measured approach is the best one for the EU to take in the period ahead, taking account of Iranian perspectives and the concerns of all sides. The EU believes that the nuclear agreement is delivering, and that all parties should fully implement it.

With regard to some of the issues raised around the future of Europe, there have been a number of speeches. Since then there has been the publication of White Papers and an outlining of possible scenarios. However, none of these are conclusive, nor are they exhaustive. We believe that they are a sounding board and a platform for discussions.

This is something that we want not only Members here in the Dáil but everybody to be involved in, and so in the coming weeks I will begin a consultation on the future of Europe. The consultation will be clear, open and transparent and it will allow all citizens to have the opportunity to have their say on what kind of a future they want in certain areas. The former Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has left the Chamber but it will not only focus on financial issues. The completion of the Single Market, the banking union, and, specifically, the digital Single Market, where we have a key focus at present, will be addressed but issues such as migration, security and defence, terrorism, environmental issues and, of course, the social issues must be addressed in that manner as well.

With regard to Brexit, having come from the General Affairs Council meeting yesterday, as the Taoiseach has pointed out, it looks as though we will not be in a position to report sufficient progress has been achieved. There had been an expectation that there would be further progress on the citizens' rights. However, that was not the case. While it is disappointing, it is perhaps not surprising. What is important now, as Michel Barnier clearly stated, is that we need to use this week's Council meeting as a sounding board towards progress for December.

There was a question around the language and why Ireland perhaps was happy with it. Section 2 of the draft conclusions states:

The European Council ... acknowledges that, as regards Ireland, there has been some progress on convergence on principles and objectives regarding protection of the Good Friday Agreement and maintenance of the Common Travel Area, and invites the Union negotiator to pursue further refinement of these principles, taking into account the major challenge that the UK's withdrawal represents, including as regards avoidance of a hard border, and therefore expecting the UK to present and commit to flexible and imaginative solutions called for by the unique situation of Ireland.

Michel Barnier very much acknowledged Ireland's constant support and communication on these issues.

We are supporting Michel Barnier and his task force in continuing with the mandate they have been given to move things forward and obviously we are hoping for a conclusion at December's Council meeting.