Tosóimid i dtús báire mar sin leis an ráiteas ón Tánaiste. We begin with a statement from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney.
Covid-19 (Foreign Affairs and Trade): Statements
I welcome this opportunity to discuss my Department's role in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, including our immediate consular response to the crisis, our wider contribution to the whole-of-Government response, the impact on the passport service and our plans for the coming months.
The scale of the consular challenge caused by the Covid-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented number of Irish citizens stranded across the world. The Department quickly developed a comprehensive approach to the repatriation of citizens who wished to return home, prioritising those most vulnerable while taking account of the best interests of our citizens everywhere, including from a public health perspective. By the end of May, my Department had helped well over 6,000 citizens to return from 126 different countries, including many healthcare workers returning to assist in the Covid-19 response here at home.
From the outset, priority was given to helping those citizens who are normally resident in Ireland to return home safely on commercial flights wherever possible and, where that was not possible, on flights chartered by the EU or other partners, including the UK. In exceptional cases where these options were not available, the Department directly chartered flights to bring citizens home, notably from Peru, India and Nigeria. In arranging these flights, we worked in close co-operation with EU partners and were able to repatriate citizens from many other EU member states also. We made use for the first time ever of the EU Union Civil Protection Mechanism, UCPM, which reimburses countries required to repatriate citizens by chartering flights. The reimbursement is about 75% of the cost of the flights.
Once the gravity of the pandemic became apparent, my Department activated a dedicated Covid-19 phoneline to provide direct support and advice to Irish citizens abroad, as well as their families here at home. During the peak of the crisis, the Department handled up to 2,000 calls every day. I am glad to say the figure is now around 200 per day but it is still significant enough. Our latest information is that more than 1,000 of our citizens overseas still want to return. Some of these are located in remote regions with poor health infrastructure and in many instances severe travel restrictions remain in place. We continue to explore all solutions possible in close co-operation with our EU and international partners to assist these citizens in returning home.
My Department co-operated closely with the HSE to ensure that all Irish citizens were given appropriate advice for the protection of both their own health and public health on their return to Ireland. In mid-March, my Department issued a general advisory notice which remains in place for the public to avoid all non-essential travel overseas. The security status assigned to all countries was amended to reflect this general advice. It is worth noting for this House's knowledge that in the first four months of this year, we updated or changed our travel advice almost 1,400 times, which is an extraordinary figure. Normally, in a whole year that number would not be reached. It is a reminder of how quickly things were changing and the pace of the movement of information that we were trying to provide to people. This advice will remain under constant review as the situation evolves over the coming months. In providing this travel advice, the protection of public health has, of course, been to the fore at all times.
My Department has also contributed to the wider whole-of-Government response to the Covid-19 crisis in a number of different ways. Personnel from the Passport Office have been redeployed into other essential public service roles, such as Covid-19 contact tracing for the HSE and working with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to facilitate the processing of Covid-related benefits. We have a very large number of people who are normally involved in passport work. Passport applications virtually stopped because there was no travel, so it made a great deal of sense to get people who were used to dealing with people's queries on the phone to work with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the HSE in other areas that were under significant pressure.
Since the start of the crisis, more than 2,500 reports have been prepared by the diplomatic mission network on international responses to Covid-19. This information feeds directly into the policymaking process here and has helped shape Ireland's response, drawing from international best practice so that Ireland can learn in real time from what other countries are doing, both their successes and their mistakes.
Our missions in Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, Berlin and at headquarters have been working closely with the IDA, the HSE, and the Departments of Health and Transport, Tourism and Sport to secure essential equipment, including ventilators, test kits and personal protective equipment. I want to acknowledge the excellent co-operation of the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and German authorities, and of their embassies in Dublin.
I also want to pay tribute to Michael Hurley, who was the deputy ambassador in Beijing and who tragically passed away last week. Michael made an immense contribution to Ireland's response to this pandemic, helping many Irish citizens and saving Irish lives throughout his work, working, of course, alongside Eoin O'Leary, our ambassador in Beijing.
As the scale of the impact of the pandemic on our diaspora communities became clear, the Government established a dedicated Covid-19 response fund for Irish communities abroad. This supports projects for the elderly, mental health, bereavement counselling and innovative ways to provide services online and meet the needs of those made vulnerable by the crisis and respond to cases of hardship, in particular in the United States where many people remain undocumented and therefore are unable to access support services for Covid-19. Our networks there have done extraordinary work in cities like New York that have been under huge pressure. To date, 58 projects have been approved worldwide amounting to almost €1 million.
The Covid-19 pandemic knows no borders, and until each country has contained the virus, no country is safe in truth. At an EU level, Ireland has played an important part in shaping and delivering on a co-ordinated and ambitious EU collective response to the pandemic, and has so far allocated €86.8 million in fresh, reprogrammed and fast-tracked financial support for the Covid-19 response globally. Ireland is promoting a co-ordinated multilateral response in partnership with the United Nations, international financial institutions and others. We have contributed more than €17 million in direct funding to the UN's global humanitarian response plan to Covid-19, and our funding for the WHO this year has quadrupled.
In our response to Covid-19, we are keenly aware that we must consider the shared geography of the island of Ireland and the cross-Border mobility of people through close and ongoing contact North-South and east-west. The Government is engaged in co-operation with the Northern Ireland Executive and with the UK Government with the intention of delivering an effective response to the threat of Covid-19 on behalf of all of the people of this island. I have jointly chaired, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a number of conference calls with the First Minister and deputy First Minister, and the health Ministers, North and South, Robin Swann and Deputy Simon Harris, to discuss the ongoing response to Covid-19 to ensure as much co-ordination as possible, North and South.
I will now address the impact of the crisis on the passport service. Once the potential impact of Covid-19 became obvious, contingency planning commenced to minimise the impact of restrictions on the delivery of services. In particular, plans were put in place to ensure that we continued to provide an emergency service for the issuance of passports in cases of serious illness or death abroad. The passport service is also assisting those whose applications are regarded as urgent. While staff have been on site carrying out this necessary work, they have also produced approximately 6,000 additional passports during the time of this pandemic. These were all adult passport renewal applications received online which required minimum staff intervention. As these applications represent approximately 20% of all applicants currently in our system, this will reduce the work carried out when the full operations resume.
The Passport Office is at an advanced stage of planning for the return to full operation. This planning is in line with the wider Government plan to reopen in phases. From next week, processing non-essential online applications will start. The passport service has a great deal of experience in dealing with peaks in demand, and we believe that we are well-placed to ensure the online service will be meeting its usual turnaround times of approximately two weeks by phase 3 in July.
I encourage all applicants for passports to apply online if they want to get that kind of service. I am very proud of the dedication and commitment of colleagues across my Department-----
I thank the Minister.
I am almost finished.
We will be in trouble at the end. Sorry about that, but we really will be in trouble with the two-hour limit.
No problem. I can deal with it in questions.
Ag bog ar aghaidh go dtí Fianna Fáil. Cúig nóimead.
Recent events in the USA are very sad and very disturbing. Both I and my party condemn discrimination and racism of any kind. People must have the right to protest peacefully, and the use of violence and force must be condemned. Government at all times must act democratically and in the best interests of all its people.
I wish to take up the points the Tánaiste made concerning passport service. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs website, public offices dealing with provision of passport services are closed until further notice. Applicants can apply online, but applications will not be processed until normal services are resumed. The post office facility is not operational. The phonelines are closed, but the website states that genuine emergency cases can be dealt with using web chat services. The Tánaiste outlined when normal services will resume. Will there be a backlog of passport applications? Does he have any figures on how many passport applications are awaiting processing, and will additional resources be given to the passport service to deal with the inevitable backlog of passport applications?
I would also like to raise an EU matter at this point. I refer to the multi-annual financial framework 2021-2027, and the European Commission's proposals for a recovery package for the EU economy, a €750 billion fund, including €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans. Ireland is set to receive €1.9 billion from this package. The EU will be borrowing the money. This is an unprecedented response by the EU, but the borrowing will have to be paid back eventually, and suggestions for this include climate change taxes, plastic taxes and a digital sales tax. The latter of course would have implications for Google and Facebook. Is the package likely to be agreed by the European Council? What is the Irish position on it? Will we have to increase our contributions to the EU down the line to pay for it? What own resources would Ireland consider in this context? Is our corporate tax rate under threat in this regard?
I welcome what the Tánaiste had to say ion the repatriation of Irish citizens. I also want to pay tribute to our embassies and consulates overseas which have done Trojan work. I know from my experience in my constituency of the work they have done. I have a specific question on the Canary Islands. Are there many Irish citizens there trying to get home? I understand some of them are in poor health. I am interested because it is such a popular destination for Irish citizens.
Does the Deputy want the replies now?
I would like them now.
You are keeping your own time.
Five minutes maximum.
This is just to help me here.
I will come in at ten minutes.
I join the Deputy in condemning racism in all its forms and I am sure that is reflected across this House. Many of us are pretty disturbed and shocked by the images we are seeing coming out of the United States for what I think is the eighth day in a row. What everybody wants to ensure is that peaceful protest is part of any democracy, as is the need for robust and independent journalism.
Violence is not the way to bring about change. What is needed is leadership at both community and political level. The undercurrent of anger and discontent that has come from concerns around racism and discrimination has created a significant wave of protest, some of it violent, across US cities.
It is most unsatisfactory to have to stop the Tánaiste, but I must do so because there are three more speakers for Fianna Fáil.
I am answering the question I was asked.
I understand that, but I must ensure that speakers stay within the time, unless the other Fianna Fáil speakers wish to give up their time.
I ask that written replies be issued to me in due course.
I ask for clarity on the rules.
I ask that the clock be stopped. There was a total of 15 minutes for the Fianna Fáil speakers.
I presume the distribution of the time is up to those asking the questions.
Deputy Fleming indicated that he wished to speak when there were ten minutes remaining. I asked for clarity on the distribution of the time but the Tánaiste was not aware of that.
There are ten minutes remaining for the Fianna Fáil Deputies.
Deputy Fleming indicated that he wished to come in with ten minutes remaining. I have tried to elicit the best way to do it. If the questioners do not leave enough time for the Tánaiste to reply, I will be forced to interrupt him mid-sentence. If I do not do so, other speakers will not have a chance to contribute. I will ensure that all speakers get their time.
I ask the Tánaiste to take note of my questions and issue written replies to me in due course.
Deputy Haughey already asked for that to be done. We will restart the clock. I ask the Deputies to provide clarity on how they wish to divide the remaining time.
The four remaining Fianna Fáil speakers will have two and a half minutes each, including time for the Tánaiste to respond. We may choose not to ask a question of him. He must complete any response within the two and a half minutes allotted to each speaker.
I will stop Deputy Fleming when there are seven and a half minutes remaining.
To be helpful, I will focus on trying to answer specific questions, rather than making general comments.
I appreciate the clarification by the Acting Chair and I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of foreign affairs. I wish to acknowledge and thank the Ceann Comhairle for organising a minute's silence in support of all those affected by racism. There will be a debate in the House on racism next week. We must all take a stand against racism in Ireland and abroad. The issue has been highlighted by the murder of George Floyd by US police. The rule of law and order applies to everybody. All those who participated in or were accomplices to this heinous act must be brought to justice. Nothing less will do. There have been many protests against racism. These are important and to be welcomed and should be allowed to take place. Black lives matter. The vast majority of the protests have been peaceful and respectful and should not be met with brutality.
On another matter relating to the Tánaiste's Department, I am sure he is fully aware of the serious consequences of Covid-19 in Ireland and abroad, particularly in the European Union. To date, it has impacted hardest on Europe. Nine of the ten countries with the highest death rates per capita are in Europe. Understandably, each country rightly looked after its own people first. It is clear that the European Union did not act in unison in the largest crisis to have faced Europe in recent generations. I reiterate that it is only right that governments looked after their own people first. It is obvious that although we were all in this together in Ireland, that was not the case at EU level. One of the big lessons to be learned for the Tánaiste's Department is the importance of ensuring that European institutions and countries work more closely together in the interests of all EU citizens in any similar crisis in the future. That did not happen on this occasion.
Yesterday, I welcomed on Twitter the general comments tweeted by the Taoiseach regarding racism. The Tánaiste repeated those comments today. He has condemned racism and I welcome that he has done so, but surely our Government has more to say about the appalling use of Tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas and brute force on streets in the United States. The paramilitary style of policing has been truly stomach-turning for any reasonable person watching it. Has the Government any comment to make on that issue? The Tánaiste did not specifically advert to it.
We are squeezed for time and I thank the Acting Chairman for managing it so well.
On a second and completely different issue, the Tánaiste mentioned that the travel advisory from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had to be updated and amended 1,400 times, which is a tribute to the staff and which I appreciate. More travel advice will be needed. A significant issue arises for constituents who have booked holidays abroad. They will have paid their deposit or, in some cases, paid for the holiday in full, the flights are booked, the flight carriers are still willing to carry them and the country of destination is still willing, in some cases, to welcome them and accommodate them, so long as they give details of their accommodation. Therefore, they need a travel advisory specifically in regard to when they return. Is a fortnight of quarantine essential for them? For example, will a normal working couple with a family or an individual who has used up some of his or her annual leave for holidays continue to be required to quarantine for a further two weeks when they return home from these holidays? What general and specific advice can the Tánaiste give to travellers? The Tánaiste has about half a minute to come back to me on those questions.
If I do not come back on all of the questions, I can try to supply written information by email to Members. On the EU institutions, I think there were some failings at the start but I also think there has been a lot of co-ordination since then. People talk about a recovery fund, which is a huge new approach by the EU and which is significant-----
The time is up. I cannot help it. These are the rules. Two speakers are indicating they wish to speak. They have made that decision. It is not the fault of the Tánaiste.
There is not much point asking questions if we cannot answer them.
Members will have to take that up afterwards. I am not wasting any more time. I call Deputy Robert Troy or Deputy James Browne, whoever wishes to go first.
Last week, we witnessed the brutal killing of George Floyd in the US. The response of President Trump's Administration to the subsequent rallies against racism is nothing short of appalling and certainly not action in keeping with the leader of a democratic country. What action is the Irish Government going to take to show that we stand in solidarity with those who demonstrate legitimately against racism?
Has the Tánaiste or his Department had any input into the 14-day quarantine that has been initiated by the Government for travellers coming into Ireland? Does he think it is right and proper that Ireland has introduced a 14-day quarantine at a time when the rest of Europe is opening up from a travel perspective? Spain will open up travel from 1 July; in Poland, it will be done on 21 June; in Greece, 4 June; in France,18 June; in Italy, 6 June; and in Germany, 21 June. The only country we seem to be absolving from the 14-day quarantine is the UK, which some might argue has the made the greatest hames of its reply to Covid-19. We seem to be out of sync. I would welcome the Tánaiste's opinion on that.
The Tánaiste has 30 seconds.
I would really like to answer because there are a lot of inaccuracies in that contribution, I am afraid. First, we require everybody who comes into Ireland, whether they are Irish people coming home, UK citizens coming from the UK or people coming from anywhere else across the EU or the world, to self-isolate for 14 days. That has been in place for quite some time and we are not just introducing it now. Spain today requires people to quarantine for 14 days, the same as Ireland does. People should deal with the facts.
It is changing on 1 July.
Yes. We have not yet made decisions on a post-July timescale.
Gabh mo leithscéal. The time is up.
Our position is as it has been, which is to advise people not to travel abroad.
Seo iad na rialacha. Gabh mo leithscéal. I call Deputy James Browne.
It is a nonsense if we cannot answer.
It is a nonsense we have so little time to ask the questions.
We are wasting time. Can we let the speaker speak?
The brutal killing of George Floyd by a US police force must be condemned. It and the brutal response to legitimate protests by some US police forces and state powers are clear evidence of the institutionalised nature of racism and hatred.
The violent attacks on members of the press who are reporting are shocking. Has the Tánaiste spoken to the US ambassador, Mr. Crawford, to condemn the violent response to legitimate protests, the acts of racism and the attacks on the press, and to express that Ireland too says that black lives matter?
The establishment of LGBT exclusion zones in Poland is horrific. The attempt to legitimise hatred and violence against LGBT communities is reminiscent of a darker European past. EU funding should be linked to upholding and protecting the rule of law. Does the Tánaiste support this call? When was the last time he communicated to the Polish ambassador on the disgraceful actions of the Polish Government?
The situation in Hong Kong has been described as the latter's last stand for freedom. In May, the Chinese Government passed a national security law that gives powers to the mainland to bypass Hong Kong democracy with security forces. There is a very real fear this is the end of free speech, assembly and freedom of the press. Does the Tánaiste lend his voice to the international outrage? Has he spoken to the Chinese ambassador about the attempts to usurp democracy in Hong Kong by its Government?
There are 45 seconds remaining for the three questions.
They are questions that require "Yes" or "No" answers from the Tánaiste .
I know that but the whole point of this debate is to answer questions on Covid-19 and what the Department is doing about it. I am happy to take all of these questions and I look forward to a time when we will be able to answer them in the appropriate timelines. I share the concerns the Deputy has outlined. We will have an opportunity to have a comprehensive debate on racism next week, and I hope I will be part of it. I share the concerns about Hong Kong. I have not spoken to the US ambassador, Mr. Crawford. This does not mean I will not do so but I have not yet. The EU view with regard to ensuring protection for the LGBT community is very clear.
The public health crisis has been tough on various sectors throughout the country, with many small businesses and those in tourism, hospitality and retail in my county particularly hard hit. Our inshore fishermen were struggling long before this crisis arose, with herring quotas and scientific quotas reduced and boats tied up. Our small fishermen were on their knees. I have been speaking to those working in inshore fishing in Donegal and they are crying out for help. It is not an exaggeration to state that many of them will not be fishing this time next year if the proper supports and protections are not forthcoming. I have been in correspondence with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, on this subject to let him know that the tie-up aid announced and the funding that is EU-backed will not even cover the monthly cost of insurance for many fishermen with smaller vessels, let alone cover the loans and other commitments they have. What further supports are expected from the EU in terms of funding for inshore fisheries should the current crisis continue? All of that to which I refer comes at a time when super-trawlers from other member states continue to fish in Irish waters and when there are rumblings of disagreement on fishing rights in the Brexit negotiations.
It has been reported that Michel Barnier of the EU Commission's task force was prepared to accede to British demands on fisheries against the mandate given to him by member states in the interests of the Irish fishing sector. On 26 May, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated that Mr. Barnier had reiterated his commitment to the mandate he was given by the member states, including continued access to waters for Irish fishers. Uncertainty surrounds the position of the EU task force on fisheries and whether it plans to use fisheries as a bargaining chip in negotiations and whether it is prepared to accept Britain's quota grab to secure better terms in other sectors. What progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations to ensure that the livelihoods of small fishermen in Ireland are protected? What guarantees, if any, can the Tánaiste give to these fishermen? Is any leeway being considered on the easing of quotas for small fishermen to help sustain them during this crisis?
This time the Tánaiste has a full three minutes.
Three minutes. I could not have been more kind to the Tánaiste.
Deputy Doherty is always generous in the House. I understand the concerns in the fishery sector, particularly those linked to Brexit. Let me be very clear. Michel Barnier reiterated in advance of negotiations this week that he has a very clear mandate regarding the fisheries sector and that there will not be a trade deal between the EU and the UK without a deal on fishing and a level playing field. He also stated that there must be a governance model which ensures that said level playing field is monitored and enforced, with a dispute resolution infrastructure in place.
That has been the EU position from the outset of these negotiations and is also consistent with what the UK committed to in writing in the political declaration which was agreed in parallel with the withdrawal agreement. That is what we intend on holding both sides to in the negotiations. This does not mean that the outcome for fishing is predetermined; of course it is not. The UK position on fishing is very different from what the EU is looking for. That is why we need fishing negotiated in the context of a trade deal and all of the other issues that are part of that negotiation, as opposed to hiving off different negotiations independent of each other. That was never intended to be the approach and it is not going to be. In doing so, we are seeking to protect the interests of the Irish fleet in terms of both access and the quota share it currently enjoys in British waters.
I expect that the fisheries element of this negotiation is going to get very difficult. We need to keep our fishing fleet informed and, if necessary, supported with assistance packages as we await what we hope will be a fair outcome for all sides in terms of the fisheries element of a Brexit deal at some point in the autumn. I do not have a readout on how the negotiations have gone this week. This is the fourth round of negotiations on a future relationship. The first three rounds failed to make any progress. In fact, if anything, they went backwards because the two sides are looking for different outcomes from the negotiations, which makes it particularly difficult to make progress, including on fishing. That is the position. I keep in very close contact with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding the fisheries issue.
I received a communication from an Irish citizen who is living in Lanzarote. It is reflective of many Irish citizens in that area but also, I am told, of other Irish and EU citizens living in other parts of the EU. I will cite extracts from the letter, with the writer's permission:
My name is Joe Bracken. I am a 56 year old musician living on the island of Lanzarote. I am also an ex soldier, having served at home and abroad. As you may or may not be aware, we are currently in the 10th week of lockdown. [This was two weeks ago.] We have lost all our work, I have not worked since March 14th. When the lockdown was put in place, we were assured by the Spanish government that measures would be put in place to make sure nobody went without. They assured us that rent, mortgages, and bills would be put on hold during the state of alarm.
[...] After all the promises of the Spanish government, I myself after 8 weeks in lockdown, having no savings and completely penniless, received €129 for unemployment. Some of the workers out here [...] have received nothing at all and this is week 10.
[...] To summarize, we have been basically hung out to dry by the Spanish government. I state my case again here, I would like to know why the Irish government does not put pressure on the Spanish government to ensure that [Irish citizens receive] similar benefits to EU citizens of all nationalities residing in the EU country of Ireland. This is a crisis, folks, let there be no misinterpretation of this. Some people living on the island of Lanzarote and all the other tourists hotspots in Spain have been hung out to dry and are receiving little or no help. €17 a week, I ask you, "Could you live on that?" with the constant stress also of [when will we get or] will we get rent relief."
Is that citizen seeking to come back to Ireland? Is that the position, or is he looking to get social protection benefits in Spain?
The question is if the Minister will raise the matter directly with the Spanish Government at European Council level in order to ensure that citizens of EU countries are protected from destitution within the EU, in this case in Lanzarote. They want to stay there, they are Irish citizens and they are made destitute by the Spanish Government, which has not lived up to its promises.
If we can get that individual's details, I will make sure that our consular team talks to him. We are speaking on a daily basis to many Irish citizens abroad and trying to help them in any way we can. My understanding is that long-term residents in Spain and elsewhere receive supports that are available there, not the equivalent that would be delivered here. Within different countries people get different support levels in terms of social protection and so on.
We will certainly make contact in order to ensure that the individual the Deputy spoke about is getting all of the available supports he should be able to get from the Spanish Government.
I will pass the information on. The problem is not specific to that man alone. Many others have contacted me about this matter. He has been in contact with the Irish Embassy and it cut and pasted advice to him concurrent with what the Spanish authorities have already promised but have not delivered. The problem is that 12 weeks later, he and his wife combined have received a sum of €129. Others have received nothing. They are Irish citizens who are living off whatever savings they have and who are not in receipt of any other payments because their only income was work when the tourist season was up and running. That is gone and it is likely to be gone for a good while. The key action is to request that the Spanish authorities provide some kind of help, even if it is the help they have already promised. The argument is that there is too much bureaucracy and that is the problem these people face. They are musicians and they have raised hundreds of euro, even in the dire straits they are in, for those who are non-EU citizens, who are living in Lanzarote and who are penniless. This specific case relates to an Irish citizen. Many others like him are reaching out and asking us to put pressure on the Spanish Government to help them. They are not looking for the same supports that are available here, they are looking for what is available to Spanish citizens.
We will follow up on that matter.
I want to take these questions over and back and I beg forgiveness in respect of the first one. A place the Tánaiste might know well is the Border area around the Cooley Peninsula, particularly as he has attended many Brexit events in recent years. Unfortunately, this area has been hammered in recent days with fires in Annaloughan. A huge number of people in the Jenkinstown and Lordship areas are worried. The forests in the area are owned by Coillte, which has helicopters in the area. The problem is that Louth County Council submitted a request today for the Air Corps to assist but there was a technical difficulty which meant that it could not provide support. This area is first on the list but the Air Corps might not end up getting there until tomorrow. In fairness to Louth County Council, it has followed up on the issue and tried to get a commercial helicopter from the same company that Coillte uses. However, the people to whom I spoke were not too hopeful that the council would be able to get the helicopter when I was in contact with them.. The difficulty is that the fire is still burning and the other problem is that it is moving upwards. Therefore, helicopters are required. I commend the great work that has been done by the fire services. I have been kept updated on the matter by Councillor Antóin Watters. Can the Tánaiste make contact with the Minister of State with responsibility for defence in respect of what is happening? Can we have State resources brought to bear and a State response? That is what is needed because an awful lot of people are worried.
I presume Coillte has also asked for that. Has it done so?
Coillte has its own contract and its own helicopter so at least that is in play at the minute. However, Louth County Council has submitted a request to the Air Corps. There is a technical difficulty but I hope we can get the matter sorted as quickly as possible. It is probably something that needs to be looked at into the future so that this problem does not arise again.
I will follow up on that and check with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, as to what the delay is and we will see if we can fast-track the response.
I appreciate that. A number of Members have already asked the Tánaiste whether he has had contact with the US Embassy. Does the Government have plans to talk to the Trump Administration? Everybody was shocked and sickened by what happened to George Floyd. Ireland knows about the huge difficulty and anguish that can be caused for communities by the use of tear gas and rubber and plastic bullets. This is not something we want to see. I am sure everyone would be in agreement that there has been poor leadership, which has exacerbated this situation. Are there any plans to make contact with the Trump Administration? I am not saying that it will change tack but we should put on record where the Irish people stand on this matter.
I think it is pretty clear where the Irish people stand on this issue. I speak to the ambassador, Mr. Crawford, quite regularly. I do not have a scheduled call with him, but I would not be surprised if I were to speak to him in the next week or so. What Irish people want is an appropriate political response to the outrage on the back of this awful killing and the protests that have erupted since. However, they also want to see a country that historically has given a lot of global leadership on democratic values facilitating peaceful protest in an appropriate way. I recognise that managing the ferocity of some of the protests in US cities at the moment is putting authorities under huge pressure, but the-----
I accept that. I think it was-----
I ask Deputy Ó Murchú to let the Minister-----
I have not finished.
Is féidir leis an Teachta Ó Murchú suí síos.
The overriding message from the Irish Government, but also, I think, from Irish people, is a complete rejection of racism and a determination to combat it in all its forms. We need to focus on ourselves as well as looking critically at others.
We are back into Brexit deadlines. We have the withdrawal agreement, the Irish protocol and the difficulty with the June deadline, which will be followed up by the 31 December deadline. I think the belief is out there that the British Government is not willing to extend. An awful lot of the supports we had for businesses have now been repurposed for Brexit. While that was right, what are the plans into the future as to what can be done? Then we have the possibility again of a no deal. What is the Government willing to do to ensure no hard border?
I do not think the Minister will get to answer that in six seconds but-----
How long do I have? Six seconds?
I am on the record on Brexit. There will be no extension to transition, in our view, and we are planning accordingly.
I apologise but I will not allow the Minister to continue. Other speakers will not get in.
I thank the Tánaiste and his Department for their heroic efforts to return Irish citizens home safely as we prepared for lockdown. I have friends and former colleagues in Australia and Egypt and constituents in Peru and India who turned to me for help, and I could only help them because the Tánaiste and his staff helped me. I thank him and his team for ensuring they and thousands of others made it home safely to Ireland.
We have come a long way since then. We have gone from preparing for lockdown to preparing for reopening. People are following Government advice and staying at home, but many are eagerly awaiting their holidays abroad once restrictions are lifted. Holidays are always a special time of year, even more so this year. People have been locked up in their homes for months on end, only travelling 5 km from home. One thing is for sure: people have definitely earned their holidays this year.
However, many are now fearful they will miss out on this well-earned reward because their passports will expire before they are scheduled to leave or because their children need passports for the very first time. Despite applying in plenty of time, they have yet to receive their new passports because of backlogs in the Passport Office due to staff being redeployed to assist in contact tracing. I would welcome the Tánaiste's update on this. Will he clarify the plan to resume a full service in the Passport Office so people can enjoy their well-earned holidays?
Regarding well-earned holidays, the travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as of today is not to travel abroad, and I want to be very clear on that. Despite advertisements for flights to Italy, Spain and elsewhere that we hear on our radios, the travel advice today is that people should not be planning to go abroad. Those who go abroad, when they come back, will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. That is the travel advice and those are the restrictions being applied unless and until the Government decides to change them on the back of public health advice and consultation with our colleagues, friends and partners across the European Union.
Of course we are keeping that under review. Having said that, under the five-stage opening-up period, there will be an opportunity to take well-earned breaks and holidays, we hope, in late June and in August, or before then if it is safe to speed up the pace of the opening-up period. If people want to travel abroad, and the advice allows it, later on in the summer or later in the year, we have to ensure they have passports.
The truth is that because there was little or no demand for passports during the Covid-19 period, we have allocated staff to other essential jobs across the public sector. This is now changing and the demand is increasing. If people want to get a fast turnaround time from next week on, they should apply online. Even if an applicant has applied by post in recent weeks or months and has received no response, assuming he wants to get a quick turnaround time, he should reapply online. We will talk applicants through that process and reimburse them the cost of the paper application. It is far easier for us to turn around passports quicker with online applications. I hope that is clear. We are trying to be helpful. Later on in the summer we will get to resuming a normal process of postal applications, but if an applicant wants a fast turnaround time he should pick up the telephone and talk to us. We will talk the applicant through how an online application works. It is straightforward and we can get a far faster turnaround time from next week onwards.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to thank the Tánaiste, his Department and all the various Government elements on the Covid-19 response. I have had many telephone calls from parents, relations and even people in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Well in excess of 6,000 citizens have returned. I have no doubt that many of those 6,000 may not go back to where they came from. They will be the vanguard of a new Ireland. They could be the vanguard with their finances as well as their work and life experience. I believe they are the new vanguard post Covid-19. I look forward to seeing what will happen in ten years. I genuinely believe that.
There are 1,000 citizens overseas who want to return. Deputy Ó Snodaigh rightly said that many people in Lanzarote and other areas who are retired want to come back for medical examinations etc. I believe that much could be done there.
I pay tribute to Michael Hurley, who was deputy ambassador in Beijing. His contribution was incredible. I met him several times. I am keen to put on the record my thanks to him for the work he did and indeed my thanks to everyone in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Irish people are proud everywhere they go, whether to London, the United States, Germany or wherever. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade represents our country well. I know from talking to people in other embassies. They tell us how effective and efficient our representatives are as well as how they are able to work the network, including the diaspora of up to 40 million throughout the world. They have done that well indeed.
I thank the Tánaiste for the €17 million in direct funding to the global humanitarian response and for World Health Organization funding this year, which has quadrupled. That was a wonderful signal that Ireland is beginning to take its place as a leader for good in the world. When another leader decided he was not going to give his funding to the WHO, the Tánaiste stepped in. He had one or two detractors but to me it was significant. I was proud that we were able to stand up and be counted in this difficult time.
People talk about the Passport Office. We saw where 900,000 or 1 million passports were allocated last year. Many of the diaspora are availing of those passports. We saw with Brexit how people are proud of their Irish heritage and of their passports. What people do not realise is that the Irish passport is a powerful document.
It is probably the seventh most powerful passport in the world. One can get into 185 countries with it. People talk about their credit cards and mobile phones. Those can be replaced, but a passport is probably one of the most valuable documents that someone can have. In this country, however, we treat it like it is just a bit of paper. How do we get people to understand that it is probably one of the most important documents they can have? They can use it to travel hassle free around Europe and the rest of the world. How can we get people to realise that applying for or replacing a passport is not just like, for example, replacing a birth cert? When I travelled to Australia, New Zealand and around the world in the early 1980s, I had that ambivalence towards my Irish passport, but people told me that it was the most important document I could have. We need to highlight that even more.
An efficient and secure Passport Service is important. Our team does a good job. Last year, we saw an extraordinary increase in the number of applications. This year is a surreal one in many ways, but we will during the summer and into the autumn get back to dealing with significant numbers of people who need their passports renewed and others who are getting passports for the first time. We will have systems in place to do that.
Regarding WHO funding, I believe that the role of the WHO in the context of this pandemic is incredibly important globally. Less so perhaps for countries like Ireland that have good public health advice and, in relative terms, well-resourced public health systems and infrastructure, but in many parts of the world where we have development partnerships and the kind of health infrastructure that is necessary to respond to Covid-19 is non-existent, the input of and trust in the WHO are important. As such, I was concerned about and critical of the deliberate attempts to undermine the credibility of the WHO and the pulling of funding at this time. I remain so. Not because of that but because of our support of the WHO generally and the pressures of the pandemic-----
Go raibh maith agat, a Aire. Ní féidir-----
-----we agreed to quadruple our funding for the organisation this year.
We agreed to stick to time. Next is Deputy Matthews of An Comhaontas Glas.
I have a number of questions for the Tánaiste regarding the EU, foreign affairs, trade and Covid-19. Before that, I would like to mention the ongoing situation in the US and the societal implications of racism at home and abroad.
The Green Party stands in solidarity with all those who have experienced racism and oppression. The horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought into the light an ugly truth that people of colour know all too well, namely, that racism is alive and well in the world in which we live, not just in America, but at home here in Ireland.
In light of this terrible event and others like it, we must examine our own words and actions towards minority communities. We must not accept conditions for those in direct provision or members of the Traveller community that are less than those we would accept for our own families. Everyday casual racism has led to an othering of these communities, a dehumanisation that leads to violent incidents and, in some cases, killings just like that of George Floyd.
I thank the many groups across this country who have come forward with words of support and education, showing us how best to become allies to migrants and people of colour. It is not enough to pay lip-service. Where we see racism, we must call it out. Those in a position to effect change must do so.
I wish to ask about the EU and trade matters. Yesterday, a briefing from Mr. Andreas Schwarz of the Directorate-General for Budget outlined the agreement and direction for a substantial budget comprising a €540 billion package for pandemic support and €750 billion for crisis repair and recovery. Given the urgent liquidity needs of the SME sector throughout Ireland, the shutdown costs that have depleted capital in that sector and the need to support the more than 1 million people employed throughout, to what extent has Ireland availed of the EU pandemic support package and what is proposed to support SMEs during this crisis?
The sector needs urgent and decisive action on liquidity and solvency support. Has the Government assessed the scale of support needed to reflect the serious issues facing SMEs and their employees?
In the context of the €750 billion budget for the EU recovery plan, known as Next Generation EU, has the Government undertaken research into potential uses of this funding for large-scale projects that focus on decarbonising our society, the digital economy, transport, housing, health, research and development, and energy, which can create long-term sustainable jobs and offer superior economic characteristics? Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, sought to develop housing, promote climate action and respond to Brexit. Has the pandemic stabilisation and recovery fund compromised the achievement of these goals? Has Covid-19 expenditure had an impact on or depleted the Brexit-related financial supports for business?
The EU Commission announced recently that it will introduce legislation next year on mandatory human rights and environment due diligence in EU companies' global supply chains. How can we ensure that Ireland lives up to its obligations in this regard? In light of the recent discoveries of human rights abuses surrounding global supply chains, for example, in the manufacture of personal protective equipment, PPE, I ask the Minister to confirm that he is committed to exploring ways to ensure that businesses will carry out checks on international supply chains and commit to responsible and sustainable practices.
While the next issue I wish to raise is not directly related to Covid-19, it is related to oppression. Does the Minister agree that China's latest national security legislation threatens the autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong? Does he condemn this latest move by the Chinese Government? Has he in any way expressed concern to the Chinese authorities about how this legislation will undermine the one country, two systems framework, and will he make a statement on the matter?
That is a lot of questions for the Minister.
Yes, there are lots of questions there. I will start with the last one. How much time do I have?
The Minister has five and a half minutes.
On Hong Kong, what is developing there is very concerning. Many in the population see it in the same way as Deputy Matthews - compromising the independence of Hong Kong and the one country, two systems policy that had led to a lot of stability and had a lot of international support.
On human rights and international business, we have a business and human rights committee that is doing very good work. In fact, enhancing the work of that committee has been one of the topics for discussion in the programme for Government talks, Deputy Matthews will be glad to hear. On the question of ISIF and the role it plays in investing strategically to help to rebuild our economy in a post-Covid-19 environment, we are already using ISIF to make funding available for strategic investment in businesses. The Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and for Finance announced details in that regard a couple of weeks ago.
In terms of the challenges for business from Brexit and Covid-19 combined, having a budget in place from last year that anticipated the worst possible outcome from Brexit, that is, a no-deal Brexit, was undoubtedly helpful in the context of what followed, which nobody could have predicted. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit and the economic fallout from that in some ways helped to prepare the Government in terms of the availability of resources for the extraordinary disruption to the Irish economy caused by Covid-19. That begs the question as to whether we would be ready to deal with a no-trade deal Brexit on top of the post-Covid-19 pressures in the Irish economy. That would be hugely challenging.
However, we have indicated that we think the appropriate form of economic management in the coming months and years is not to cut expenditure dramatically to close deficits but to borrow prudently to ensure we are investing in creating the stimulus necessary to re-ignite the Irish economy in a post-Covid environment and to ensure we have protections in place for vulnerable sectors should a worse-case scenario transpire, a no-trade deal Brexit and, therefore, the default position of trading to World Trade Organization rules for 2021 and beyond and the consequences that would flow from that. That said, we also need to be realistic about what is credible in terms of borrowing and deficits. I certainly believe that over time we need to show that through economic growth we can close deficits and ensure we bring our financial management back to equilibrium again and, ultimately, into surplus.
An enormous amount of work is going on with regard to how best to support SMEs from a policy and taxation perspective. An SME in Ireland that has been closed because of Covid-19 will have its rates waived for at least three months, the taxes it owes can be warehoused for the moment within Revenue, the rates it paid last year can be claimed back as a grant to re-open and there are multiple low-cost loan opportunities for it. If it is a larger company, it can seek that the State would take an equity stake in the company if that would help keep it alive. The State can pay 75% or up to 85% of the wages of the people employed by the SME. There are multiple supports there, which is hugely expensive for the State but absolutely justified. We will continue to support SMEs through this disruption and out the other side to try to ensure that as many businesses as possible survive and we keep the connection between employers and employees.
Regarding the EU pandemic support funds, we will look to see how we can access that funding in a strategic way. Having said that, I am glad to say that Ireland has the trust and faith of global financial markets. We can borrow money at very low interest rates so we will do that when it makes sense to do that and try to tap into EU support programmes when that is appropriate. This money does not come from nowhere and we will have to contribute to the raising of the funds as well as drawing them down.
Go raibh maith agat a Aire. Bogfaimid ar aghaidh. I call an Teachta Howlin.
As most people confine themselves to their homes or least to their home areas, major issues are unfolding across our world. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which was seen by all of us, seen by the world, opened up yet again the unresolved cancer of racism. I think we have all run out of words to express our dismay at the reaction of the US President to these events but we must find new words. We must also look to ourselves, our own nation and the inherent racism that exists here. I am not making equivalence but we cannot with a clear conscience criticise others if we do not resolve problems here, including the unresolved issue of direct provision. I believe we as a Parliament and as a people must be heard crystal clear on this issue. The obscene assault on peaceful protesters and the hijacking of symbols of religion for a photo-op demand that we respond to it. The Tánaiste said he does not have a scheduled conversation with the US ambassador, Edward Crawford. Will he schedule one?
I think I have said a number times today that I share the concerns and outrage in this House in the context of what has unfolded in recent days in the US.
I have also said that the most appropriate way for Ireland to respond to these issues is to look at itself and make sure that we are credible when we criticise internationally. We should be vocal internationally, but we do have to take a look at ourselves and seek to identify where racism is still an issue that marginalises people in Ireland. We must work hard to resolve issues that result in marginalisation and racism in our own country.
I was asked a straight question as to whether I had spoken to Ambassador Crawford and I gave a straight answer.
I have asked a straight question. Will the Tánaiste schedule a telephone call with him?
I do not have a scheduled telephone call with him but I said I would be surprised if I did not speak to him in the next few days. I have a very good relationship with him and these are issues that I think are likely to result in a conversation.
I think the Tánaiste should have that conversation.
I refer to the unfolding and seeming inevitability of a hard Brexit as a further crucial fourth round of talks begins this week and no progress made, as the Tánaiste has acknowledged to the House. To use the Tánaiste's words, "we have gone backwards". It has always been understood in the Brexit fora that I have attended that fisheries was to be an integrated part of the trade discussions, not a separate part of it. The Tánaiste has just reiterated this. The hardline taken by the United Kingdom in regard to fisheries is obviously for ideological reasons because fisheries is 0.1% of the UK economy. This is part of its rhetoric of taking back control, so it is ideological. I want to get a sense from the Tánaiste of where we are in terms of the discussions. The Tánaiste has indicated that there will be no extension. Mr. Michael Gove has told the House of Commons and House of Lords committees that even if the EU asks for an extension it will not be conceded by Britain. Where does the Tánaiste see these discussions going? The Financial Times headlines focus on the crunch talks between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, stating that UK negotiators are expecting no breakthrough in the Barnier discussions and that they are instead expecting this high level discussion to thrash out a way forward. Is it the Tánaiste's view that the impasse will not be resolved at the negotiating table with the mandate of the Barnier team but at some sort of high level forum?
I hope I have enough time to answer the questions on Brexit.
The Deputy would like an opportunity to put a further question.
There are essentially three different considerations for Ireland on Brexit, the first of which is the progress or non-progress on the future relationship. The first three rounds of negotiations got nowhere. This is hugely frustrating for Michel Barnier. I am sure it is equally frustrating for David Frost as well but when two sides are looking for different outcomes from the same negotiation it is hard to expect progress. As far as I can see, what the UK is looking for is something quite different from what it signed up to in the political declaration only a few months ago. That is the problem. Michel Barnier's mandate is very consistent with that political declaration. For example, in that political declaration there is a section entitled "level playing field", which goes through, in some detail, why an agreement on level playing field issues is required and a governance model to ensure that that functions in the future. The UK is now saying it cannot accept a level playing field at all. It will not even discuss using the term. There is a fundamental issue as to the UK's willingness to follow through on what it has already committed to doing. This is resulting in huge frustration across the European Union. That said, Ireland's only agenda is to try to get an outcome that is good for everybody - the UK, the EU and the island of Ireland as a whole. We want to be trading next year on the basis of new tariffs, no quotas, a fair fisheries agreement and equivalence in terms of standards, cost base and regulation.
That is unlikely to happen.
I do not think it is unlikely to happen.
That is my question.
I do not think we are going to get a breakthrough on this by mid summer, which was the hope, at the end of this month. I do not think there will be a request for an extension of the transition period.
As has previously been the case in Brexit negotiations, when decisions and leaps forward were made, we arrived at hugely pressurised crisis points and negotiators found a way through. It looks like we are going to see those kind of pressure points again in the future. I hope that this time we will able to find a way through, but I do not know if that will happen. I expect that progress will be made through Michel Barnier and his task force. Some use the negotiating strategy of taking the matter out of a task force and away from an agreed mandate and trying to get an agreement between heads of state, but I do not think that is the approach the EU will go for.
There is a view that the Johnson ideology is such that he wants to fold the crisis of a hard Brexit into the crisis of coronavirus and fudge the difference, but that is a different matter.
My final, brief question relates to quarantine. As the Minister explained, we are going to have a quarantine of 14 days for people coming into the country.
We already have that.
Many European countries are now talking about links, land bridges or air bridges. I heard the Portuguese foreign minister talk about that in relation to Britain today. Are we negotiating, either within the EU or outside it, for land bridges between bilateral countries where there is very limited Covid infection? Will that help to give some sort of allowance of internal or external movement?
That was a brief question. I ask the Minister to give a brief reply.
The Deputy's last comment about Brexit suggested that he does not believe that Boris Johnson and his Government want a deal and that they would essentially hide that in the-----
Look at the terms they have already agreed.
----fallout of Brexit. My view is that the British Government does want a deal, that it is committed to the protocol on Northern Ireland and that it wants a trade deal. Finding a way to get us there is going to be very difficult, but I believe both sides want a deal.
To be clear, we have had a requirement on people coming into Ireland to self-isolate for 14 days for some time, and that remains the case today. Of course, we are going to continue to assess that. Despite some people involved in the airline industry saying that every other country in the European Union is now moving away and opening up its borders and airports with no quarantine requirements, that is not true. Many countries require restricted movement in and out of airports or quarantine in some cases, but they are giving indications that they will change that approach later in the summer. Of course, we are keeping the matter under review. We speak to other EU countries all the time. For example, I spoke to two of the three ministers from the Baltic states, which have created a Baltic bubble to allow free travel between their three states. I have asked them what the threshold to join is if we wanted to do so, and I got a pretty clear answer. We would potentially qualify under that threshold, but-----
I am going to have to stop the Minister and his Baltic bubble now, because we have to move on. I am sorry, but the speaker chose not to allow enough time for an answer. I am moving on because-----
The Acting Chairman does not need to apologise.
-----other Deputies will be deprived. If they want answers, they must leave enough time for the Minister to answer. If they do not, that is okay too. I call Deputy Cian O'Callaghan.
I will leave plenty of time for answers. I welcome the Minister's statement that to combat racism we need to look at ourselves. I hope he will agree with me that one of the best ways we can tackle institutional racism in Ireland is to end the practice of direct provision, which is dehumanising for people.
Regarding the events in the United States, the Minister first told the House that we should not be surprised if he speaks to the US ambassador in the next week or so. He then revised that in his previous contribution to say it would be within the next few days. Given the urgency of the situation in the United States and the very forceful and shocking attacks on peaceful protests, democracy and the media, will the Minister give a commitment that he will urgently contact the US ambassador to give the view of this House and the Irish people that black lives matter?
I have answered that question a number of times and the US ambassador is in no doubt as to the Irish Government's position on this issue. I speak to him regularly and have a very good relationship with him.
I expect that I will speak to him in respect of these and other matters in the coming days. I would not like that to be confused with the view which some people may have that the US Administration does not understand the Government's position. The Government's position is very clear.
Has the Tánaiste made contact with the Polish ambassador regarding the views of the Government on the issue of LGBT exclusion zones in Poland?
I have not. If the Deputy wants to send me details of the concerns about that matter, he can do so. I speak to my Polish counterpart on a fairly regular basis about FAC meetings, although that has been somewhat limited in recent months because we have not been meeting in person. I know him very well. If there are LGBT exclusion zones in Poland, as the Deputy said, I expect that European institutions would have a real issue with that, as would we. I have not had a conversation with the Polish ambassador about that matter.
I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste has indicated that he will raise this issue. I will send him information on it. It is not a new development; it has been ongoing for some time. It is very serious from a human rights point of view. I welcome the fact that the Minister is willing to take information on it.
I refer to the proposed €750 billion stimulus package from the European Union and the measures relating thereto. What is the view of the Government on those proposals? Will we support them?
There will be a conversation about the multi-annual financial framework and the position the Government takes on it at Friday's Cabinet meeting. On the €750 stimulus fund, which has not yet been signed off on by EU leaders, Ireland was one of eight countries which advocated for the equivalent of a corona bond so that we could essentially create a collective borrowing strength across the EU in order to make funding available for countries that otherwise may struggle to be able to get competitive rates of borrowing to provide much needed stimuli in their economies, which have been devastated by Covid-19. We now have a proposal which is not a million miles away from that. The Government has welcomed it in principle. We think providing grant aid to countries is appropriate, but let us not forget that this is money that will be borrowed and all countries in the EU and its institutions will have to find a way of repaying it over time. We believe that the EU can service it quite comfortably and factor that into the EMF process over time. The barrier to that was, of course, a number of countries in the EU that did not want to create a collective borrowing responsibility and, therefore, increase their own exposure. We are going to get over that political obstacle, which is a good thing, and be able to provide significant grant aid to countries that desperately need significant injections of cash into their economies.
I thank the Tánaiste for that answer. I refer to the part of the proposals for new EU-wide taxes to cover the cost of servicing the borrowing, including a potential plastics tax, a digital tax on large tech multinationals, a tax on carbon-intensive industrial imports and levying larger companies which benefit from the Single Market. What is the view of the Government on those proposed taxes to fund what is envisaged?
As already stated, the Government will discuss the matter on Friday. I am not going to predetermine the outcome of that discussion. The view of the Government on digital taxation within the EU without getting an agreement on an approach to digital taxation globally is that it would be a mistake. We will consider any proposals that come forward with an open mind and try to be constructive. We believe that taxing the digital economy is something we should try to do across the developed world at the same time.
Otherwise we will create perverse incentives to relocate companies and investment potentially outside the EU which does not make sense.
Does the Tánaiste believe the €750 billion package is sufficient? State aid rules are being suspended with about €2 trillion going in from governments in state aid, and half of that - €1 trillion - going in from the German Government. This entire €750 billion spread across the EU would be less than the state aid by one country, Germany. Does the Tánaiste have concerns about how that affects economically weaker countries in the EU? In the Irish case compared with the €1 trillion in state aid that Germany is putting in, given the level of stimulus we need and the level of support we need to give small and larger businesses, is €2 billion from this fund sufficient?
Nobody should pretend that the €750 billion solves the problem for the EU. Every individual country needs to make decisions for itself. We have extraordinary challenges in the next couple of years to budget appropriately and get the balance right between managing deficits, providing stimulus, getting people back to work, and ensuring we retain the trust and faith of international markets from which we will be borrowing enormous sums of money in the next couple of years. EU-provided funding is part of the overall mix, but that is all it is. As a result of many of the difficult decisions we have taken over the past decade or so to rebuild our economy and strengthen it, unlike some other countries Ireland is in the fortunate position to be able to borrow a considerable amount of money at competitive interest rates and very low servicing costs. We will be using that.
We want to maintain the confidence of those markets so that we can continue to do it in the future if we need to. We will look to supplement the money we will borrow for ourselves with accessing the appropriate resources as they become available in different sectors from EU funds as well. Like the example the Deputy highlighted, countries need to make their own decisions to manage their own economies given the circumstances in which they find themselves. Unfortunately, some countries may not have the capacity we have and will rely more than we will on collective EU funds. Of course, we need to try to access funds that we have been part of raising.
I will be sharing my time with Deputy Paul Murphy. I and my party express sorrow over George Floyd's death and our solidarity with his family in the United States. Nobody had heard of George Floyd until a number of days ago. His name is now attached to brutality of racism in the United States. We also send our solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, which is confronting the poison of racism and the police brutality protesters are confronted with. Obviously, these protests are spreading across the world.
Today we rightly condemned oppression and racism that go on across the world. When it comes to racism and oppression in another part of the world, namely, Israel, we have a different tone to it. We criticise it, but there are no consequences for Israeli racism. The Israeli Government has said that in July it will annex a part of land it has already robbed, namely the Jordan Valley. The consequence of this could be the spread of serious disruption and violence across the Middle East. The Tánaiste can do something as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, through the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill.
He can send a message to the world and the EU, and to Israel, the purveyor of oppression and racism, that we will make a stand against that. Will the Tánaiste make provision in respect of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 in the new programme for Government?
No, I will not. I have explained many times in much detail why I do not believe we can do that. I explained it to Senator Frances Black, who brought the legislation forward and for whom I have much time. I understand what she wants to achieve with the legislation, but, from a legal perspective, I do not believe that we can do what she is asking us to do. My view on the issue is backed up by the Attorney General. I have explained my position on this many times.
It is also important for me to tell this House that I have probably spent more time on the Israeli-Palestinian Middle East peace process than virtually anything else outside of Northern Ireland and British-Irish relations since I became the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Even in the past few weeks, working with the foreign minister of Luxembourg, we got 25 of the 27 EU member states to agree a stated position regarding annexation at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. We have made it very clear that the EU would regard the extension of Israeli sovereignty over any Palestinian lands as an illegal act under international law. We would have to recognise it as that, and there are consequences that would have to flow as a result. The Government and I, as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, are doing all we can to try to impress on a new Israeli Government, with which we want to have a good relationship, that this would be a real mistake in the context of Israel's relationship with the EU and with the rest of the world. What we want to try to do instead is to encourage a dialogue that can get a peace process discussion back on track. I am of the view that Palestinians and Israelis want to see a peace settlement that is good for both sides in respect of security and nationhood. That is what I will continue to work for if I am privileged to continue to be in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for much longer.
As already stated, we have been responsible for bringing forward resolutions at UN level and multiple initiatives at EU level. I have visited the region many times in the past three years or so. We will continue to try to build relationships with key decision-makers in the Palestinian Authority, in the Israeli Government, in Washington, in Brussels and in countries such as Jordan and Egypt in order to try to find a way forward that protects a two-state solution as a possibility for Palestinians and for Israelis who want that as well.
George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Charlene Lyles, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo; I could recite the names of black men, women and children murdered by racist vigilantes and racist police in the United States for my full five minutes, and I could go on for much longer than that. I stand with those in the US and around the world rising up against systemic racism, and against racist policing in particular. In the US, protesters have been met with extremely violent and brutal repression. I refer to the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, cavalry charges, hit-and-run attacks, arbitrary arrests, protesters shot, journalists shot, medics gassed and brutalised and much more. At least two people have been killed, and more than 10,000 protesters have been arrested. People are being maimed by the police and many have lost eyes or more. Even children are being shot, gassed and pepper sprayed. Trump's authoritarianism is deepening by the hour.
He has declared that anti-fascists are terrorists and that he will deploy "heavily armed soldiers" against protesters. It is repression on a scale comparable to that under a dictatorship. He has invited white supremacists to respond to protests with violence, tweeting "when the looting starts, the shooting starts". A man responded to the tweet, pulling out a bow and arrow and aiming it at protesters before he was subdued by them.
We need a clear and unequivocal message to be sent to the Trump regime and those on the streets. Will the Tánaiste state that black lives matter and that we stand with the Black Lives Matter protests? Will he state that we stand against the violence and racism of the Trump regime and US capitalism? He has not even committed to discussing the issue with the US ambassador, Edward Crawford, by telephone. That is pathetic. Not only is it time to phone the ambassador and explain people's horror about what is happening, it is also time to inform him that for as long as the US police forces are brutalising protesters, he, as a representative of Donald Trump, is not welcome here. We need to send a clear signal internationally. What the Government says and does will be seen as indicating which side it is on; whether it is on the side of Trump, authoritarianism, racism, brutality and so on, or on the side of the majority of Americans, who support the protests, oppose what Trump is doing and are standing up against injustice and oppression. We need a strong stand to be taken and that involves sending a signal to the US Government, to the protesters and around the world.
I am unsure that what is needed now is to link US capitalism with the protests taking place across America. What is needed is for political and community leadership to stand up against racism and reassure those who feel they are victims of it that things will change for them. As I stated, I have a very good relationship with the US ambassador. We have the kind of relationship whereby we can speak very bluntly to each other. I also stated that, in my view, the US Government is in no doubt as to the position of the Irish Government. The Taoiseach made that clear yesterday in his statement. This is not about trying to demonise people, although that is the kind of language the Deputy seems to be using. Rather, it needs to be about clarity of comment regarding racism and repression such that we can move on as well as learning lessons from many of the very unfortunate images we have seen coming out of the United States in recent days.
I wish to start by expressing revulsion on behalf of the Regional Independents Group at the death of George Floyd as a result of police brutality. I agree with the Tánaiste's comments to the effect that we must look at our record of racism in this country.
I thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our ambassador to the United States, Mr. Dan Mulhall, for their assistance with my representations on behalf of Mr. Peter Smyth, a Waterford graduate who was repatriated two weeks ago after several weeks in isolation on a cruise ship in Florida. It was wonderful to welcome him home. He spent 46 days in isolation, 26 of them without reprieve while confined to a cabin.
The previous Independent Deputy who represented Waterford took a tremendous interest in world affairs while in the House. I have more modest interests, regarding our place in Europe. It goes without saying that Europe matters enormously to our well-being and future. Being part of the European Union has lifted Ireland out of poverty. We are the most pro-European nation but we are rarely at the centre of things in Europe. The European Union was forged in crises, but our relationship with it must be more than a series of tactics for solving such crises. From the euro crisis to the migration crisis, the Brexit crisis and now the Covid crisis, we have not shown any meitheal.
It tends to be the begging bowl or tactical NIMBYism. We are now a net contributor to Europe. In so many ways, we are an example of the positive influence of Europe - a small, open trading economy, engaged in the world, with an unbroken historic record of peacekeeping and an instinct for giving, for empathy and for charity.
We have European dilemmas coming at us and we want to be on the front foot in these family discussions. The common corporation tax lurks, threatening our multinational subsidiaries. We have let the misapprehension go unchecked that these are not real and substantial Irish businesses, with deep roots. Pfizer bought a field in Cork in 1969 to become one of our largest pharma companies, Steve Jobs set up in 1980 and games maker Cartamundi, formerly Hasbro and Milton Bradley, has been based in Waterford since 1978. These companies employ thousands of people and are the hard dogs for the long road. They are not brass plate operations.
We expect robust defence of European and Irish interests in Brexit negotiations on fishing, tourism and trade. We recognise the unflinching support of our Commissioner, Phil Hogan, and Michel Barnier in these discussions. Indeed, our Commissioner is to be supported in reaching for a greater impact in dealing with trade matters. A matter for attention in regard to fisheries is that of currently registered, foreign owned trawlers in the UK being allowed to re-register as European post-Brexit and, therefore, continuing to access Irish fishing waters and Irish stocks. This goes against the principles of fair trade.
Europe is changing under our feet, no longer held back by the UK. We have lost our greatest European ally at the European Council. We are unsure now if we are southerners or northerners. Ireland needs to find its feet so we can be at the centre of this ongoing change. The stakes are massive for us. My concern is that Brexit has taken up so much bandwidth that we are not tending to the other parts of the European relationship. When our MEPs head off to Europe, it is difficult for them to be heard from again. We have a tiny handful of Irish journalists working the European beat - only two, as far I know, Naomi O’Leary for The Irish Times and Tony Connelly for RTÉ. They are both doing a tremendous job but they need reinforcements. Many of our embassies - I hate to say this - are not fit for an ambassador's reception. Internships in the EU for bright students during and after college are very low profile and are largely a closed shop for those in the know.
This House, and those of us privileged to sit in it, need to develop a deeper engagement with EU politics and policy. More connections need to be made, although we have good points to reflect on. We note that Phillip Lane sits on the ECB, Emily O’Reilly holds the position of European Ombudsman and the Tánaiste's party colleague, Mairead McGuinness, MEP, retains the position of Vice-President of the European Parliament. We need more of that. As a country, we punch above our weight but we need to bulk up. We need more connection, more engagement and more influence. We need to be, and we must place ourselves, at the centre of things. Europe was not an election issue on the doorsteps when I was campaigning, nor in the debates, yet a defining issue for the next Government is how Ireland moves to the centre of Europe. If we take the future seriously, we need to get serious about resourcing a deeper institutional engagement.
We also need to round out the infrastructure piece. Ferry connections from Rosslare and Cork are an imperative for regional and national economic development. The welcome launch of Irish Ferries' Brexit-busting ships, supported by EIB loans, actually weakened the ferry schedules from Rosslare, resulting in services being withdrawn. Once the Covid crisis clears, airports will still be needed. Investment in Waterford Airport, a commitment in the last programme for Government, remains unactioned. We need to press on with that and the other developments that aid national and regional connectivity. These are strategic priorities. I encourage the Minister to address the core challenge of bringing Ireland to the centre of Europe in a bold and expansionary way in his Department and in the politics of this new Dáil. We must press our case resolutely and with purpose because we know that, for Ireland and its people, failure is not an option.
I thank the Deputy for the compliments in regard to repatriation, particularly through our embassy in Washington, which got involved in a huge number of cases.
With regard to his comments on the EU, the Deputy is right. While at election time we do not often get asked detailed EU institutional questions the truth is that many decisions that impact the lives of people in Ireland, whether fishermen, farmers or business people, are taken in Brussels as well as here. We need to have people in positions of influence and a Government that is connected and resourced to build relationships and alliances to ensure we win the arguments in the key policy forming debates that shape the European Union and its future. We are investing in this.
The EU without Britain will be a very different European Union for Ireland. We have created new alliances, particularly with the Nordic and Baltic states, reinforced many of the traditional alliances with France, Germany, the Mediterranean states and the Benelux countries as well as developed new relationships with some of the newer member states of the European Union. I assure the Deputy we are absolutely doing this. We are also investing in our physical diplomatic footprint. We have an embassy in every EU capital. We have opened up a new series of consulates throughout the European Union. For example, we have opened one in Frankfurt. We have done a strategic review of our relationship with Germany and France to invest in a more targeted way to ensure our systems are fit for purpose.
I reassure the House that we have been planning not only to get a good outcome on Brexit but also for Ireland's place in the European Union post Brexit, without the UK at the negotiating table with us doing some of the heavy lifting in some of the areas that are very important for Ireland, particularly taxation. I reassure people on this.
We need to be careful not to try to label ourselves with northern Europe or southern Europe. We have strategic interests in alliances with countries in various parts of Europe on various policy areas. For example, we have a very strong relationship with France on agriculture. We have a very strong relationship with a number of countries on fishing interests. We have a very similar approach to a group of countries on economic management, financial management, banking and taxation. This, of course, is a crucial debate from an Irish perspective. I reassure the House that medium-term planning for Ireland's place at the heart of the European Union is very much under way.
I will begin by commending the work of all of the employees of the passport offices who have been redeployed to assist in public service delivery during this health crisis. As I understand it, the number of passport applications in Ireland has fallen by more than 150,000 in the past three months. Figures released to the Irish Examiner by the Department showed that in April only 13,820 applications were received for new and renewed passports. This is just 13% of the 103,482 applications received in April last year. In light of this, I do not understand why our post offices are still not accepting applications made via the Passport Express system during this time. It is vital that post office services are not curtailed any further than they have been over the past number of years. This is an issue of real concern to many rural communities. I would like some assurance that once this crisis is over local post offices will be allowed to resume the Passport Express service and that it will be retained in the online and postal format. As the Minister is no doubt aware, last year An Post announced the closure of 159 post offices as part of a restructuring plan. This has had a significant impact, especially in remote areas where access to services is already extremely limited. It damages the local economy and makes it more difficult for businesses, as opposed to having a post office that operates a financial service. This is a proposal I have put forward in the House. The Kiwibank system or another community banking system should be looked at.
I believe there is a lot there. I would like a response specifically to the Passport Express issue.
In terms of travel restrictions, I would like some clarification on the number of those who have entered the State through our ports or airports but have refused to sign the legal documentation around the self-isolation procedures. It is now law that those who arrive in Ireland from any other country will need to fill in a form called the Covid-19 passenger locator form. They will also be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Will the Tánaiste provide details or an update on the effectiveness of the monitoring of this process? As I understand it, we already have a wide-ranging and enhanced customs infrastructure that was initially put in place to deal with the post-Brexit customs checks at Rosslare Europort. This has involved Revenue appointing more than 400 additional staff nationally to customs and related roles for Brexit, with 30 of these additional 400 staff assigned to Rosslare Europort. Have any of those staff and that customs check infrastructure been reopened or repurposed to ensure that people entering the State through our ports are here for reasons of absolute necessity? There is a growing sense among many people that the rules are being applied more heavily to some while they are not being applied at all to others in terms of travel restrictions. I would appreciate the Tánaiste's response to those questions, including a written response to any he cannot answer this evening.
I thank the Deputy. They are all good questions. On passports, we essentially have not had the Passport Express system working. Decisions were made on the basis of a significant reduction in applications and because we needed to ensure the protection of our own staff in passport offices. That is why the focus has been on getting the online process back up and running. If somebody has put in an application under Passport Express and if they want to get their passport back quickly, they should apply online. From next week on they will get a response very quickly. We are going to put the Passport Express service in place again in time but it is going to take a little bit longer because of the staffing challenges, social distancing requirements and so on. We will get back to normal on passports in the coming weeks and months, but from next week on, we should have fast turnaround times again on the online applications. For those who have made an application through Passport Express, the way to get their passports done quickly is to apply now online and we will reimburse the money they have put into Passport Express.
The rest will have to be replied to in writing. I call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.
I want to put on the record of the House my gratitude to the Tánaiste and his Department officials for their assistance with very serious issues over the past weeks and months. As always, the Tánaiste was very proactive and work-person-like in carrying out his duties.
I also want to raise the issue of post offices. I want to declare an interest in this as I am a postmaster of a very small post office in a rural area. I wish to highlight the fact that it is detrimental to those post offices that our transactions have been further cut by not being able to process passports. I remind the Tánaiste that people are getting their payments for two weeks in the one payment, while post offices are paid on a per transaction basis. As the Tánaiste knows, post offices were struggling enough already before any of this ever happened. It was difficult enough for them to make ends meet. Now they are after losing half their business. For example, if a pensioner was collecting the pension every week, the post office was getting paid on that transaction every week. Now that is halved because they are getting paid for one transaction per fortnight, as there are two payments in the one week. Post offices have seen a massive decline in the revenue that they are getting. They have their costs to meet and wages to pay. It is very difficult at present.
I do not just want to see passport processing being given back to the post offices through Passport Express.
We must also try to enhance the services we already have and allow for further business to be channelled through our post offices. This can be done. Every post office is set up with computers and there are excellent staff working in every post office up and down the length and breadth of this country. It is not just rural offices that are affected. Urban post offices are also affected. I know of post offices in built up areas that are struggling to earn a week's wages. I want to put my shoulder to the wheel on that.
I refer to the emergency passport service, which was always excellent, was never misused and was used only by people who had urgent accidents, personal issues or deaths abroad where people found themselves without a passport. The people in the Passport Office out the back of Merrion Square could not be praised or complimented enough for the excellent service they provided when people were genuinely in urgent need of a passport. I also want to see that service opened up as soon as possible in compliance with all regulations and when it is safe to do so.
We need to get our legs under ourselves again with the matter of travel. The song "Flight of Earls" says: "Those big aeroplanes go both ways" and I am talking about people being able to come to Ireland and to leave Ireland in order to get the economy moving, to get people moving and to get money spent again as soon as possible. We need to give clear direction on that. I raised the issue of the Black Lives Matter campaign earlier on. That is such an important issue and it is important for the Tánaiste, the Government and all of us to be able to say loudly and clearly that we are shocked and horrified at what happened in America. Things are happening at protests that should not happen. There is an awful difference between protesting and rioting and using the situation as an opportunity but that is not what the majority of people are doing. The majority of people are genuinely driven to come out and protest and as I said earlier, to do so in a safe fashion. I want the Government to support that campaign because it is so important.
I am going to stop the Tánaiste in 15 seconds. I am sorry.
We will do everything we can to support the post offices.
I am sharing time with Deputy Harkin and we will have five minutes each. I want to ask a question and I would like the Tánaiste to respond before Deputy Harkin takes over.
I want to talk about the murder of George Floyd, which has been mentioned already by a number of Members. It is a serious situation that has struck an awful lot of people, as the Tánaiste knows and as has been seen in recent days. George Floyd was one of more than 1,000 people who were killed by police in America since 2015. It is not an isolated situation either, unfortunately. The Irish people want to hear the Government's view on this. While the Irish ambassador to the USA in Washington DC is well aware of what it is and maybe the US Administration is aware of what it is, the Irish people would like to know and that is vitally important. In saying that, I was looking for a statement from the Government on all the Government websites etc. and I could not find anything but I should have looked in the place where probably everybody gets their news now, namely on Twitter. I saw that the Taoiseach tweeted on Monday that he is against racism and so on. Perhaps that is the platform where it will be seen by the President of America, who is well used to using Twitter as well. He might see that message there so it might sink in. However, it is important that the Taoiseach comes into the House and puts across the views of the Irish Government on that.
I want to link this matter through.
The emails I have been getting about what has happened in America and the killing of George Floyd are from Irish people who have been linking it back to things that have happened in Ireland, such as direct provision, which has been mentioned, and the use of Shannon Airport by the American military to go on expeditions around the world carrying out the military equivalent of the killing of George Floyd in nations around the world. How does this Government look on the use of Shannon by the US military and the fact that the airport is now open only for US military usage? What is the Government's view on this arrangement and its continuation?
The arrangement regarding Shannon Airport has been in place for decades between both countries. It operates to a pretty clear protocol in terms of the conditions of the use of the airport. The Government does not have any proposals to change that.
Regarding racism, the Taoiseach made comments yesterday and I made comments today. We will have an opportunity to have what I hope will be quite a lengthy debate on the matter next week in the House. I hope I will be able to speak to make very clear the Irish Government's position, which I think will mirror the position of the vast majority of Irish people, who have been shocked by the images they have seen coming out of the US in recent days. These are dangerous times and they have been triggered by the brutal killing of an unarmed individual, an image that has, I think, shocked many people, not just in the US but in other parts of the world as well. That is why we will, I hope, provide clarity in political leadership terms as to how we should be responding as a country. We should take a look at ourselves and make sure we are credible in how we respond to issues of racism and marginalisation in Ireland. We should also be clear and blunt in our criticism of what is happening in the US. I do not think Deputy Pringle will find any problem getting clarity from the Taoiseach or me on these issues.
The unspeakable murder of George Floyd has, I think, shocked us but it must not shock us into silence because racism unchallenged is racism encouraged. We as a State have to make sure that our words, our public statements, challenge and condemn racism and all who perpetrate it. Otherwise, our silence is encouragement. While I recognise the matter is delicate and there can be a fine line, nonetheless, as a sovereign State, we have a responsibility to make our position crystal clear because the words we use speak not only to the world but also to ourselves.
I wish to take the opportunity many Deputies have taken today to thank the Minister and his Department for their genuine and, as far as I know, successful efforts to bring home all those who were stranded due to the Covid-19 crisis. I am happy to say that it has been my experience over many years when I was in the European Parliament that Irish embassies, consulates and staff here in Dublin and various Ministers worked tirelessly to help Irish citizens abroad. Sometimes I do not think that is fully recognised here and I would just like to put it on the record.
I have two questions. The first concerns passports. I think the Minister said earlier that online applications will resume next week. I just want to check something with the Minister. I note the case of two people, a couple, who put in online applications at the same time. One of the passports has been delivered; the application process for the other is finished but the passport sits in the Passport Office. From next week can one expect that that passport will be sent to the applicant?
The Minister spoke earlier of Brexit and the huge challenge of a no-deal Brexit.
Today we heard about our €6 billion overall deficit and 750,000 people unemployed. Major challenges face us, but in the context of Brexit there is a real possibility - I will not go stronger than that - that we may default to World Trade Organization trading rules. Perhaps the most vulnerable sector is agriculture. What forward planning is in preparation at national and European level to protect agriculture from the shocks of WTO rules? The Tánaiste may be unable to answer me today. Perhaps he might also tell me what differences there would be between east-west trade and cross-border trade in the event of WTO rules applying.
Finally, the European Commission has relaxed rules around state aid. This has the possibility of benefiting larger countries and larger companies disproportionately. Has the Tánaiste any concerns around that?
Several questions were raised there. There is a minute and a half.
The state aid issue is a probing and good question in terms of how states use new flexibility around state aid. Some countries have far more available resources than others to spend in the absence of strict state aid rules. Therefore, they could potentially create competitive advantage within the Single Market. That is a concern and something we need to watch closely.
I can give Deputy Harkin a quick answer on the passport question. From next week on we should have the online passport application process working as normal and people should be getting passports back within two or three days. If there is an application stuck in the system, it should be released from next week on.
Deputy Harkin asked about no-deal planning. We are of course planning for a worst-case scenario. We will be putting in place a new communications strategy to reach out to businesses as we did before. The truth is that we have to do this in a clever way. This is because many businesses are so caught up with focusing on Covid-19 and post Covid-19 as well as trying to survive and reopen in the coming months that Brexit is not even on their minds. We have to find a way of getting that conversation going again, even though many people do not want to hear it, to ensure that our economy as a whole is as Brexit-ready as it possibly can be for all scenarios, including a no trade deal Brexit. We will be as ready as we can be. That does not mean it is not going to be difficult. It will be very difficult for some sectors. In the agrifood sector alone under WTO rules in excess of €1 billion in tariffs would apply to the beef and dairy trade between these two islands, which is highly significant. We will do everything we can to avoid that eventuality through negotiation.
That concludes the statement by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in respect of the Covid-19 crisis, especially in respect of travel and passports, and questions and answers. Sorry for cutting across you, Tánaiste.
That is fine. You were right to do it, Acting Chairman.