Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 19 Oct 2021

Vol. 1012 No. 7

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cross-Border Co-operation

Brendan Smith


1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the shared island unit in his Department. [43771/21]

Thomas Gould


2. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the progress of the shared island unit. [44816/21]

Neale Richmond


3. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the shared island unit of his Department. [46323/21]

Alan Kelly


4. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the shared island unit in his Department. [47880/21]

Ruairí Ó Murchú


5. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the shared island unit of his Department. [47883/21]

Neale Richmond


6. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a schedule of upcoming public events under the shared island dialogue. [47950/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the shared island unit. [50785/21]

Paul Murphy


8. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the shared island unit. [50788/21]

Neale Richmond


9. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach the funding provided to the shared island unit of his Department under budget 2022. [50908/21]

Alan Farrell


10. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Taoiseach the status of the work of the shared island unit within his Department. [51086/21]

Bernard Durkan


11. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach the extent to which he sees the shared island initiative developing in the future. [51254/21]

Before we begin, the Taoiseach has three minutes to reply, there is one minute for each Teachta Dála and the Taoiseach will then have another three minutes to give a final reply.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, together.

The Government's shared island initiative is working to harness the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to enhance co-operation, connection and mutual understanding on our island, engaging with all communities and traditions to build consensus around a shared future. The shared island unit in my Department acts as a driver and co-ordinator of this whole-of-government initiative. On 4 October, as part of the revised national development plan, NDP, the Government announced significant additional funding and an increased level of ambition for collaborative cross-Border public investment. The shared island dimension of the NDP sets out our investment priorities for the decade ahead to work through all-island partnerships and build a more connected, prosperous and sustainable island for all.

Under the plan, total all-island investment through the extended shared island fund, the Project Ireland 2040 funds, the Government's annual funding for North-South co-operation and the PEACE PLUS programme, delivered with the EU, UK and Northern Ireland Executive, is more than €3.5 billion. Under the NDP, the Government has committed to allocate ring-fenced, multi-annual capital resourcing for all-island investment out to 2030, at least at the current level of the shared island fund. The Government is making allocations from the fund to deliver our commitments and objectives on a shared island. Progress so far this year includes funding to deliver phase 2 of the Ulster Canal and commence development work on phase 3, commencement of an all-island strategic rail review, shared island funding to progress the Narrow Water Bridge project to tender stage, and the launch and commencement of the new North-South research programme. The latter will see €40 million allocated from the shared island fund over five years to support the deepening of links between higher education institutions, researchers and research communities. As part of my visit to Belfast on 8 October, I heard from research leaders at Queen's University about the strong interest in, and beneficial all-island impacts we will see from, the programme. The Government will continue to develop investment and co-operation initiatives to enhance our shared island, implementing our objectives as set out in the programme for Government and the NDP.

To support the Government's agenda for deeper co-operation and connection on the island, the shared island unit in my Department has commissioned a comprehensive research programme, working with the Economic and Social Research Institute, the National Economic and Social Council, the Irish Research Council and other partners. Research will be published in the final quarter of this year and in 2022, focused on opportunities to deepen co-operation across a range of economic, social and environmental domains. At the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, in July, it was agreed to commence a work stream on shared island issues of interest for trade unions and employers within LEEF's remit of economic and employment issues relevant to the labour market.

I initiated the shared island dialogue series to foster inclusive civic dialogue on our shared future that engages all communities on the island. I addressed the first shared island dialogue with young people in November. Dialogues on climate and environment, civil society engagement, equality, economic recovery on the island, and health have been held this year, with participation by Ministers.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

On 1 October, a dialogue was held on the future of education on a shared island, with participation by the Minister for Education, the Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and more than 130 education and civil society stakeholders. The dialogues are bringing together more than 1,000 civic representatives this year in different sectors and across all regions, communities and traditions to discuss how we can better work together for a shared future. Further dialogues will be announced shortly and the series will continue next year.

These dialogues are proving to be positive, practical, forward-looking discussions on the opportunities and challenges we face in striving for a more reconciled future on the island. They are also affirming the breadth of common ground, solidarity and readiness to work together there is in communities across this island, while not shying away from hard questions. Exciting projects are emerging from the dialogues, such as a newly established all-island women's forum, bringing together women leaders from across the island to address under-representation and further develop women's role in peacebuilding and civic society.

The Government will continue to prioritise and resource our shared island agenda for ambitious, practical co-operation, investment and civic engagement, focused on common concerns for the people of this island and building a shared future, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I welcome the substantial chapter on the shared island initiative in the national development plan.

Specific commitments are made there for cross-Border and all-Ireland projects, both in the area of infrastructural development and the delivery of services.

The NDP also references the fact that the economy of the central Border area is predominantly driven by small and medium enterprises. The last time we discussed the shared island unit during Taoiseach's Questions, I mentioned the needs of the central Border area, including Cavan, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Tyrone. There needs to be a particular focus to ensure we get a fair drawdown from the shared island fund. Those counties, both North and South, face particular challenges due to Brexit that are well documented in research and they also face challenges due to the pandemic that we have not seen the downside of yet. I am anxious that particular projects in the central Border area would be given priority and I am glad the NDP mentions the Cuilcagh lakelands UNESCO global geopark and the potential to develop such projects. Along with county councillors, I discussed the need to expand that particular park on the Cavan and Fermanagh border with the Taoiseach. It is that type of initiative that is essential if we are to grow the economy of the central Border area.

I thank the Taoiseach for that detailed update and I wholeheartedly agree with the comments made by Deputy Brendan Smith, particularly on the central Border region as he knows I have ties to the area as well. I would like to ask supplementary questions on two areas. The Taoiseach mentioned the shared island economic recovery dialogue. There is a great opportunity for the State to lead here based on the generous proposals of the European Commission last week on the Northern Irish protocol and the withdrawal agreement and to harness the true potential of the shared economic opportunities available to the entire island. That is crucially important. More practically, there is a political role to be played here due to the abdication of responsibility by certain parties in Northern Ireland towards the North-South Ministerial Council. This is somewhere that the shared island unit of the Department of the Taoiseach and the shared island initiative can play a particular role in harnessing the collective will for greater all-Ireland co-operation, particularly in the economic sphere.

I want to raise the issue of workers and trade union rights, North and South. In the South we are governed by the Industrial Relations Act 1990, which banned political strikes, solidarity actions, solidarity strikes and secondary picketing, and which restricted workers' rights to organise. In the North, workers and trade unionists face Thatcher era legislation with similar effect. The power to change these laws has been devolved to Stormont for more than 20 years but none of the parties in the Executive has attempted to change them. This is why People Before Profit MLA, Gerry Carroll, has introduced the trade union freedom Bill, which would scrap those restrictions and give power back to workers to organise. It would allow workers to take solidarity action, make it simpler for workers to take industrial action and give workers greater rights to organise in trade unions. It is mirrored by the similar Bill that People Before Profit has introduced on First Stage in the Dáil, the Trade Union Recognition Bill. That is the kind of shared island we need to see.

Like my colleague, Deputy Richmond, I would like to mention the wonderful opportunity the people of Northern Ireland have in the offer the European Union has made on the protocol. That has been welcomed in Northern Ireland and I hope it will be adopted in due course. My question on the shared island unit is on whether or not its continued operation will be damaged in any way by the lack of participation by certain parties in Northern Ireland in its stated goals. I ask the Taoiseach to make a comment on that.

Along with my colleagues, I want to congratulate the Taoiseach on the initiatives taken. Having regard to his discussions with the various leaders, community groups and academics in Northern Ireland, is it accepted that the potential for the concept is greater than was first anticipated? Can the Taoiseach see a situation where this particular initiative can take the place of encouraging others to come together in common cause for the economic and social benefit of this island, North and South?

Can the Taoiseach give his view on whether the shared island unit can play a part in addressing domestic and gender-based violence on a cross-Border basis? The establishment of the all-Ireland women's forum is welcome, as is the diversity of its membership. The shared island unit could play a role in addressing what was described by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, as the scourge of domestic and gender-based violence, which is a particular issue for Border counties. There are purpose-built refuges for victims of domestic violence in Cavan or Monaghan, for example. Last week, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, conceded that he does not know if a refuge will be established next year in either county. Without a budget provision, we can be sure that it will not be delivered. Recognising that there are issues peculiar to counties on either side of the Border and that the shared island could create the space in which these issues could be addressed on a cross-Border basis, I would like to ask the Taoiseach whether he is open to such consideration.

I thank all the Deputies for their questions. The first question from Deputy Brendan Smith was on the central Border area and the need for the shared island fund to focus on that area. The Deputy has spoken to me about the geopark and I have asked my officials to investigate that and to engage with him. We are open to projects in the area of climate change and biodiversity and this project would add value to the dialogue series we have already had on those issues. It is in the arena of initiatives that have been undertaken by the unit, working with local interests in Cavan and Fermanagh and across that central Border area that the Deputy so consistently raises.

Deputy Richmond raised the economic recovery dialogue and the protocol. We have identified a potential partnership between Derry and Letterkenny in respect of city deals and enterprise parks on both sides of the Border that would be joined and that would have a common governance oversight which could create jobs and facilitate economic development in that area. The North West Strategic Growth Partnership is strong and it acts irrespective of politics across all divides and I met the group. Both county councils are on it and they are focused on an economic agenda in the north west. We are anxious to support them in any way we possibly can and one of those areas is the common enterprise park in that locality.

I refer to the protocol, and Deputy Alan Farrell also raised the lack of participation between the North and the South. The shared island unit is without prejudice to people's constitutional positions and, therefore, it has received a broad welcome. Some parties are cautious in their engagement but there is no such caution in civil society and those in business and industry are also engaging.

On industrial relations, the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, had a plenary meeting on 5 July. That is the forum for Government to engage with representatives from employers and trade unions. It has developed a work stream to look at shared island issues, labour market dynamics and deepening understanding of all-island labour market issues. These issues include: opportunities and impediments for firms; issues facing frontier workers such as remote work and related issues; further and higher education; training and skills; and so on. There is a healthy workers' agenda in place there.

On Deputy Durkan's point, I see huge potential. I met representatives of Queen's University Belfast last Friday week, which was interesting. It has an all-island tissue bank as well as the all-island cancer consortium and a whole range of research that has an all-island relevance. That means the more than €40 million funding we have allocated has an all-island benefit. It will knit together academics and researchers on the entire island, irrespective of geography, with a common pursuit to develop science for the benefit of all.

In terms of domestic and gender-based violence, which Deputy Carthy referenced, we have had some outcomes through the dialogue series. One of the existing projects that has emerged from the dialogue on women is the newly established all-island women's forum. That is bringing together women leaders from across the island to address under-representation and further develop women's role in peace building and civic society. I would like to think that there is an opportunity in this to look at the domestic and gender-based violence issue as well and come forward with proposals around it.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Seán Haughey


12. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Oxford to meet with the British-Irish Association, BIA. [43741/21]

Brendan Smith


13. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach the details of his recent address to the British-Irish Association. [43772/21]

Alan Kelly


14. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his address to the British-Irish Association. [48289/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, together.

I attended the British-Irish Association conference held in Pembroke College, Oxford, on Friday, 3 September. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Finance also attended. I delivered the opening address, the text of which is available on the merrionstreet.ie website. This was followed by a questions and answers session, moderated by the BIA chair, Mr. Hugo MacNeill. Discussion focused on the British-Irish relationship, developments in Northern Ireland, including the United Kingdom Government's proposals on legacy issues, and issues around the protocol. I also took the opportunity to outline progress on the Government's shared island initiative.

I particularly welcomed the opportunity to engage in an informal setting with a wide range of representatives from across the islands, including Mr. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the First Minister, Mr. Paul Givan, with a brief discussion with Lord Frost at the end of the evening.

The Taoiseach's speech to the BIA conference in Oxford last month was a significant one. He dealt with a number of issues affecting British-Irish relations, including the Good Friday Agreement and the obligations of the two Governments, Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol, legacy issues and the shared island initiative.

On a personal level, I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland when he stated that everyone on the island had the right to make the case for the constitutional future he or she wished to see for Northern Ireland, be that person nationalist or unionist or someone who does not identify with either tradition. That is as it should be and it should be done in a way that takes into account the complex and comprehensive provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. I also welcome that the Taoiseach took the opportunity to promote the shared island initiative and the associated shared island dialogue to a wider audience.

I wish to ask two questions. With the UK now gone from the EU, what initiatives are being taken to re-examine the UK-Irish relationship and to put new structures in place to ensure that it can be further enhanced and developed? As the Taoiseach knows, the UK Government plans to introduce an amnesty for Troubles-related killings. He stated in his speech that he was clear that all bereaved families should have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of who the perpetrators were. Has he spoken to the British Prime Minister about this and what is the Taoiseach's assessment of the situation at this stage?

Like Deputy Haughey, I welcome the Taoiseach's comments at the association's conference. I wish to refer to the European Commission's proposals last week regarding the protocol. Naturally, the Taoiseach and his colleagues in government will have contributed to the discussions in order to remove as many obstacles as possible. When I engage with people in Northern Ireland, be they business people or community members, they want to see us getting on with the daily work of doing business, growing trade, creating and maintaining jobs, and protecting employment. What the European Commission has outlined can go a long way towards removing obstacles to trade. We welcome the development of more trade on a North-South and South-North basis. Any obstacle to that should be removed and I hope that the protocol issues can be resolved.

It is important that we as the Oireachtas continue to reject the British Government's proposals for an amnesty for people who committed horrific crimes, including the murder and maiming of people. Regardless of whether they were in state forces, paramilitary organisations or other criminal gangs, the perpetrators must not get away with what they did if possible. We all know many families who have lost loved ones. What they are seeking is the truth. It is not a vendetta. Under no circumstances should investigations be shut down. People are at least entitled to the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

I wrote to the Taoiseach requesting that he meet the family of Gavin McShane. In July, the Taoiseach responded to say that his officials would be in touch, but they have not been. Perhaps he could look into the matter.

I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks to the BIA where he indicated that everyone had the right to argue for constitutional change or the constitutional future that he or she would like to see. That is a welcome move away from the use of terms such as "divisive" in respect of those who advocate that we should be moving towards Irish unity. The Good Friday Agreement provides for that and discussions are already taking place across civic society. In this the centenary year of the absolute disaster that was partition, there is a particular onus. Will the Taoiseach allow for a citizens' assembly to take place that would allow people of all backgrounds and views to come together and discuss how we can capture the full potential that Irish unity presents?

First, I thank the Deputies again for their interest and for raising these issues. In respect of Deputy Haughey's points, every political party and movement has its aspirations in terms of the constitutional future of the island, including Northern Ireland, and that is as it should be. I have no issue at all in articulating that. Our party, which is the party that I lead, has a clear view in terms of the unity of the people of Ireland, and we have shared that on numerous occasions. Equally, we have been a party that has been to the forefront in advancing progress, particularly throughout the totality of relationships - the British-Irish relationship, the North-South relationship and the relationships between the different traditions on the island - and culminating in the Good Friday Agreement, which is an agreement that we still need to maximise the potential of on a whole range of fronts.

The main point, which Deputy Haughey referenced in his question, that I wanted to get across was the need for an absence of unilateralism in terms of any one party's approach to legacy issues or, indeed, the protocol. I made that point specifically to the British Government during that speech and through the medium of that speech. There cannot be unilateralism in respect of legacy issues because there was agreement between all parties and Governments in respect of legacy issues.

In respect of the protocol, there is a facility within the withdrawal agreement for that to be resolved through joint committees and so on. We have worked hard. Vice President Šefčovič of the Commission has worked very hard and has come forward with what I think is a very imaginative set of proposals that has the potential to unblock the issues around the operation of the protocol. I think it is in the best interests of all in Northern Ireland that the talks be progressed now in a proactive and constructive way to make sure that we can get the best outcome for the people in Northern Ireland in respect of the operation of the protocol. That means continued access to the Single Market of the European Union, which is a huge prize for everyone living on the island. North-South trade is very important and has continued to grow in the aftermath of the protocol. Equally, businesses in Northern Ireland should have access to the UK and the European Union.

In respect of amnesties, I agree with what has been said by Deputy Brendan Smith. The perpetrators of violence, particularly those who were engaged in the murder and maiming of people, cannot get away with it and they must know that they will be subject to investigation. Some of these cases are still being pursued and people can still bring forward information that would lead to a resolution of these cases. I would urge people to come forward with information in respect of a lot of the unsolved cases where the families of victims, including the families who have lost loved ones, eagerly seek closure. Different models are being discussed. The British-Irish Council discussed this. People have mentioned Operation Kenova. I met all the parties last week, and some of them were instancing that as a useful model, but what is important is that whatever emerges be done in agreement between all parties and the two Governments without any unilateral move.

In terms of the issues Deputy Carthy raised, I will come back to him. I do not know why my officials have not been in touch, but I will follow that up. Regarding the idea of a citizens' assembly, these questions relate to the British-Irish Association and I have had a long engagement with the association since I was a backbench Deputy many years ago.

I have spoken on many occasions of my experience at Corrymeela, for example, meeting with politicians from different traditions. The citizens' assembly is a representative forum, in respect of which a particular number of people from different strata of society are selected by poll. That is not how we will resolve Northern Ireland's issues. I mean that genuinely. We need constant, consistent engagement with people to work out issues. A citizens' assembly, on its own, will not achieve this. We need a constant interaction between Parliaments, community groups and political parties to get these issues resolved. I genuinely believe that.

That is happening already. We have to look to the next step.

A citizens' assembly does not achieve that. On the British-Irish Association, I do not know if Deputy Carthy has ever attended it, but I have done so, on and off, for 30 years. I missed ten years of it because as I was in government and I did not get the opportunity to attend. During that time, even one weekend in Oxford, I would have met more people and professionals who had different perspectives and different experiences on the North. That educated and informed me. It gave me a broader breadth of experience and expertise. I do not think anything can replace that. If anything, as a Parliament, we should intensify our engagement on those fronts. We should put all of the ideologies to one side and meet people and try to prove to people that we can achieve an awful lot more together that we can divided.

Cabinet Committees

Seán Haughey


15. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [43742/21]

Matt Carthy


16. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [44754/21]

Mary Lou McDonald


17. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [45167/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


18. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [46801/21]

Paul Murphy


19. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [46804/21]

Alan Kelly


20. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe last met and will next meet. [47881/21]

Mick Barry


21. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [47971/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


22. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [50786/21]

Paul Murphy


23. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [50789/21]

Mick Barry


24. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [50874/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 to 24, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on Europe oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments in relation to the European Union and related issues. It generally meets in advance of a meeting of the European Council. It last met on 14 October 2021 in advance of this week's meeting of the European Council on 21 and 22 October. The next meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Europe is expected to take place in advance of the next scheduled European Council meeting in Brussels on 16 and 17 December 2021.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about the so-called strategic compass which is due to be published in November by the European Commission. It is a roadmap for European security and defence capabilities. The initiative can be seen against the backdrop of recent global developments, including the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, the cyberattack on the HSE, the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Belarus and ongoing Russian activities generally. What will be Ireland's approach to the strategic compass, having regard to our traditional policy of military neutrality?

I would also like to ask the Taoiseach about rule of law issues, particularly following the rejection of Poland's constitutional court of the supremacy of EU law. This is certainly a threat to the European Union given that EU law has primacy over national law, including constitutional provisions. What can be done about this? For example, can Covid recovery funds be withheld from Poland? In my view, it would not be in the interests of the EU were Poland to leave the European Union. Will this issue be addressed at the forthcoming European Council meeting and what is Ireland's view on these developments?

On the Taoiseach's attendance at the summit in Slovenia dealing with the western Balkans and the question of the enlargement of the EU, the admission of the various countries from the western Balkans requires the unanimous support of all 27 member states, but what is Ireland's view on the admission of these countries? Does the Taoiseach believe their admission would promote peace and stability in the region and, also, democratic values generally?

The Taoiseach will be aware, I hope, that a very important motion was passed in the Assembly yesterday which welcomed Vice-President Šefčovič's support for formal dialogue between the Assembly and the EU. That was very significant. The motion set out where the democratic majority in the North stands when it comes to these matters. The motion, as adopted, acknowledged the support of MLAs for the inclusion of the views of the North's elected representatives and stakeholders' views on matters relating to the protocol and the broader peace process.

Following on from the Taoiseach's previous response to me, one of the issues Sinn Féin has been consistently raising is the need for Northern voices to be heard throughout the Brexit process. The Taoiseach will recall that in the post-Brexit scenario we argued for political representation in the European Parliament for the North. Unfortunately, this was rejected by the previous Government. We have made a number of practical proposals for the here and now, such as securing observer status for MEPs from the North, representation at the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee, the ability of Executive members to participate in meetings of the Council of Ministers as part of the Irish delegation and the ability of civil servants from the North to participate in Council working groups where there are very clear all-Ireland dimensions. The European Commission proposals for a more structured dialogue with the North and its political leaders is very welcome. It is my hope that the Taoiseach and his Ministers will endorse this and actively progress enhanced representation for the citizens of the North at EU level.

I raise with the Taoiseach the question of the homophobic and transphobic attacks being carried out by the ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice. Like the Hungarian regime, it has engaged in continuous attacks on LGBTQI+ people. The Polish President has described homosexuality as a foreign ideology that is "worse than communism". The Archbishop of Krakow has described it as "a rainbow plague that is worse than Bolshevism". There is a certain trend in terms of analogies. At a national level, there have been restrictions on the right of LGBTQ people to adopt, but the latest is a series of attacks at a regional level, whereby regional councils, overwhelmingly including the ruling party, Law and Justice, have passed resolutions declaring themselves so-called LGBT ideology-free zones. In reality, they mean LGBT-free zones, which means that for LGBTQI+ people who are inevitably still there and present, being out would represent a serious danger to their health and their lives, that danger effectively being State-sanctioned violence.

I want to send People Before Profit solidarity to LGBTQ+ activists in Poland and to socialists who are fighting against these attacks.

The next speaker is Deputy Alan Kelly.

I am most definitely not Deputy Alan Kelly.

My apologies; Deputy Kelly was next on the list.

I just want to put that on the record. When will the European Council set aside time to discuss an action plan to combat femicide? In Ireland, the death toll mounts. I refer to Nadine Lott, Anne Colomines and many others, including Katrina Rainey who was burned alive in her car in Derry last week. In Europe, in just 20 countries more than 1,000 femicides took place in 2018. There is a shadow pandemic of violence against women. How many femicides will Europe count when 2021 is done? Action is being taken, but it is taking place from below. Last Thursday, workers at a Mercedes plant in the Basque Country took strike action to protest the murder of their work colleague, Erika Tavares. This was an inspiring act of worker solidarity. I hope it provides an example for others to follow. What action is the European Union establishment taking? If 1,000 Europeans were killed in a terrorist act, a natural disaster or a pandemic, it would surely act. Why the lack of action when every year more than 1,000 women are being killed in Europe?

I thank the Deputies for the many issues raised. Deputy Haughey raised a range of issues in respect of the strategic compass, Afghanistan, cybersecurity and Slovenia and the western Balkans, which reflects his deep interest in European affairs.

On the strategic compass, security and defence issues are still under consideration. Deputy Haughey is correct to identify those issues as having caused significant debate at European level. Indeed, at the dinner in Slovenia, the entire debate was about the role of Europe in international affairs. The sudden pull-out from Afghanistan and the lack of proper dialogue with partners was one subject matter. The AUKUS decision on nuclear submarines involving France, the US and the UK was another issue. Therefore, there is a growing sense within some European Union member states of the need - France in particular advocates this - to develop a greater self-reliance within Europe. That is not agreed. Other member states, especially on the eastern European side, are very conscious of the benefits of NATO to their security given their history with Russia and so on. They have NATO troops on the ground and were very clear in their articulation of the importance of that. A discussion of a draft of the strategic compass is scheduled for a meeting of foreign and defence ministers in November. It is expected to be on the agenda of the European Council in March 2022.

On the security and defence policy more broadly, it provides the EU with the capacity to conduct peacekeeping and conflict prevention missions and to strengthen international security in accordance with the principles of UN Charter. We have participated in and will only participate in Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, projects, for example, that contribute to the enhancement of capabilities for UN mandated missions engaged in peacekeeping, conflict prevention or the strengthening of international security in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Ireland is currently participating in one PESCO project, the Greek-led upgrade of maritime surveillance, and we have confirmed observer status on a further nine projects, including military mobility, cyber threats and incident response information sharing platforms. We will keep that under ongoing review.

As the Deputy knows, we have a legally binding Irish protocol to the Lisbon treaty which states the treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. That continues to be our policy but that does not mean we should not or cannot take a position in the face of, for example, cyberattacks, terrorism or extremism. We need to share knowledge and expertise on those threats and so we must work in co-operation with EU partners in that context.

On the rule of law issue Deputy Haughey and others have raised, it is a very serious issue that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that aspects of Articles 1 and 19 of the Treaty of the European Union are incompatible with the Polish Constitution. The Union is a union of law and values. Acceptance of the primacy of European Union law is an essential criterion for membership of the EU and the existence and prosperity of our Single Market and upholding of our common values are both predicated on respect for this core principle. It is important for the EU to have the necessary tools to monitor the rule of law across member states and respond effectively to challenges where they arise.

The multi-annual financial framework, MFF, Next Generation EU recovery fund package finalised last December requires member states allocated funding from the EU budget to respect the rule of law. We have consistently expressed the view the conditionality regulation to protect the EU budget is fair, proportionate and serves a legitimate, important purpose. We respect the decision of Poland and Hungary to request the Court of Justice review the conditionality mechanism's compatibility with EU law but we do not share their view on this. We believe the regulation was adopted on a correct legal basis and achieves necessary balance between fairness to member states and installing a more rigorous regime for proper disbursement of the EU's budget. Ireland is one of ten EU states to have made an intervention in the case in favour of the regulation's validity. The point is that this is the mechanism by which we can get some traction on adherence to the rule of law within the European Union.

Proceedings in relation to Hungary and Poland under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union are ongoing and there have been a number of hearing at the General Affairs Council. Ireland supports the continuation of Article 7 proceedings. We hope discussions at Council level can continue towards a constructive resolution. I believe this will come up at this week's meeting. It would be improbable that it would not. That will be an issue for our agenda.

On the western Balkans, we agree on the accession programme. It has gone on for too long and too slowly. We have benefited from the European Union journey. We formally joined the EU in 1973 and we have benefited enormously from it. We believe the western Balkan countries deserve the same. I had bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia. Both are very frustrated or disappointed that the summit did not open the way for accession talks with their countries to begin. There is an issue between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. We hope that can get resolved before Christmas. The electoral cycle might have had an impact there.

We are a long-standing supporter of an EU pathway for the western Balkan countries. I agree with the Deputy that it would be transformative for stability and peace in the region and also transformative for the countries concerned. We were unequivocal in our articulation of that at the meeting in Slovenia, which was held last week or the week before. The weeks are coming fast. That is what we did in relation to that.

I appreciate Deputy Carthy's providing information on the Assembly. Vice-President Šefčovič's proposals are very generous and imaginative. He listened to people on the ground. He also has provision in his proposals for greater stakeholder involvement and engagement in relation to the protocol issue into the future so that people can have access to Europe and European institutions so that people can hear the on-the-ground concerns people have, particularly in relation to the operation of the protocol itself.

Brexit was a mistake in our view. We respect the decision of the United Kingdom to secede from the European Union but we think the repercussions were not fully thought through and have had damaging consequences. Potentially, in respect of the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, Brexit has created difficulties and challenges. In that respect, we need to resolve this issue and then, in the aftermath of resolving it, we need to develop a sensible post-Brexit relationship and a framework for that bilateral relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom. That is an objective of ours. It is important we get the protocol issue resolved and then move on from that. I appeal to the UK Government and the EU to do everything they possibly can to get this resolved.

I thank the Taoiseach. That concludes Taoiseach's Questions. Deputy Tóibín raised a question with me on which I want clarification before moving to the next business.

I am informed that the appropriate time to raise the issue is tomorrow morning's Order of Business unless the Deputy has already acquainted the Taoiseach of the nature of his-----

I am happy to do that. The Taoiseach mentioned earlier on-----

I do not propose to allow discussion of this------

-----that I was anti-mask. That is not true.

I am sorry. I cannot allow the discussion-----

I did not say that.

-----unless the Deputy has acquainted the Taoiseach beforehand.

I have just done so. I have just said to the Taoiseach what the Acting Chairman asked.

What is that?

I have fulfilled the criteria.

Deputy, you are a very clever and astute politician, but not that astute. You can only proceed if you have previously acquainted the Taoiseach as to the nature of what you are about to raise.

That box is ticked.

That box is not ticked. I do not know what you are-----

It is not sufficient to stand up in the House to do it. I am sorry.

Can you show me where in Standing Orders it says it is not sufficient?

Can you show me where it says it is not sufficient to stand up in the Dáil and say that?

I am absolutely certain of the way to proceed. I have just ruled on it. Please resume your seat, Deputy. You can raise the matter tomorrow morning.

This would take a number of minutes. The Taoiseach made a statement in the Dáil today that was incorrect.

I am sorry. It will not take any minutes.

He stated I was anti-mask and that Aontú was anti-mask. That is not the case.

You cannot stand up in the House and decide to have a debate.

He said we were opposed to the use of masks.

I never said that.

He did. I have a recording here and I will show it to him if he likes.

It was the vaccination certificates.

It is an attempt to slur people who have different views than the Government on the lack of antigen use in this country.

Deputy, you are ignoring the Chair-----

It is doing serious damage to this country not to use antigen testing.

-----and bringing the House into disrepute.

All I am asking to do-----

This is not the way to proceed. Please resume your seat.

I did not bring the House into disrepute. The Taoiseach said something which is not true. I am only asking that he withdraw that statement.

Resume your seat now. You are not going to disrupt the House in that fashion.

All I am asking is that he withdraw that statement.

Resume your seat. You have nobody else to blame.

I have fulfilled your request to tell the Taoiseach in advance.

You can raise the question tomorrow morning on the Order of Business.