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EU Summits

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 28 September 2016

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Ceisteanna (3, 4, 5)

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the EU summit in Bratislava. [27032/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent EU summit in Bratislava. [27127/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joan Burton

Ceist:

5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the outcomes he achieved at the recent meeting of the EU Heads of Government in Bratislava. [27227/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (30 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together.

The Bratislava summit on 16 September was part of the process of political reflection launched at the meeting of 27 Heads of State and Government, together with President Tusk and President Juncker, that took place on 29 June after the European Council. The objective of the summit was to hold a broad debate on the key challenges and priorities for the European Union. A declaration was issued, along with a short work programme or roadmap, as set out by President Tusk, President Junker and the Slovak Presidency. Discussions covered migration; internal security; external security and defence; and economic and social development, including youth. I acknowledged the strong concerns our partners have on migration and security and assured them that Ireland will continue to contribute to the response to the migration crisis. I also stated we would engage in the further development of the Common Security and Defence Policy in support of international peace and security, as provided for in the EU treaties. I highlighted the priority that Ireland and many EU partners attach to economic issues, in particular the Single Market and digital single market, jobs, investment and trade, and noted that we need a balanced approach to the debate about the future of Europe.

There was also a short discussion and agreement at the summit on the question of ratification of the Paris climate change agreement. The European Union should be in a position to sign up to the agreement in Marrakesh in November without prejudice to the position of any member state concluding its own detailed responses to the individual country proposals.

There was no discussion of the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union, other than a report from President Tusk of his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, and a reaffirmation of the agreed principles that there can be no negotiations until the UK triggers Article 50, and that access to the Single Market requires acceptance of all four freedoms. In my discussions with other leaders, however, I reminded them again of Ireland’s specific concerns on this issue, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland, North-South relations, the common travel area and bilateral trade.

It was agreed at Bratislava that the process of reflection on the future of Europe should continue at the October and December European Council meetings. Another meeting of the 27 member states will take place in Malta in early 2017 before the process concludes in March to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Prior to the Bratislava summit, the French and German foreign Ministers called for a new European security contract and there was talk about establishing a European military headquarters and increased co-operation on military spending by EU states. After the summit, the German Chancellor and President of France claimed their plans for further defence co-operation had been well received and they would elaborate on the issue over the next few months. Will the Taoiseach provide some clarity on the French and German proposals? Will he assure the Dáil that no decisions will be taken and no agreements entered into by the Government that would in any way undermine our positive position of neutrality?

It is Sinn Féin's intention to introduce a Bill shortly which would insert the principle of neutrality in the Constitution. Will the Taoiseach indicate what will be the Government's attitude to such legislation? I would like to think it would support such a measure.

On the issue of refugees, I again commend the actions of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean and note that the LE James Joyce rescued more than 1,000 people in recent weeks. However, 3,498 people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, which is unimaginable. These events take place day in, day out before the eyes of the global community, in particular the European elites. Refugees, many of whom are children, are enduring terrible conditions in the camps.

I note the Government co-chaired a UN summit on refugees at which the Tánaiste admitted - she could do little else - that the Government had been slow in meeting its commitments to resettle Syrian migrants. Of the 4,000 Syrian refugees we committed to accept, fewer than 1,000 have been resettled. We also have the scandal of people being incarcerated in direct provision centres, which has been ongoing under successive Governments. The International Rescue Committee called on Ireland to accept 1,223 refugees per annum for the next five years. Will the Taoiseach indicate how many refugees the Government expects to be resettled in the next 12 months and when the State will reach its target?

On the issue of Palestine, the Government has failed to act on the Oireachtas decision to recognise the State of Palestine. I have raised this issue with the Taoiseach month in, month out for a long time and he dodges the issue time and again. Recognition could be achieved by a simple declaration. Will the Taoiseach state clearly that the Government will recognise the State of Palestine, which must not be contingent on negotiations? Palestine either has the right to statehood or it does not. My request is similar to asking someone to recognise the right of the Irish people to nationhood, which is above and beyond negotiation. The Palestinians have the same right and I ask the Taoiseach to be very clear on the issue and not to dodge it. Ireland must assume the leadership role people in the region want us to take, as opposed to shedding the crocodile tears we see week in, week out while the position in Palestine deteriorates.

The Taoiseach may be aware that in ancient Roman mythology and religion, Janus was a god with two faces, in other words, two people in one. I suggest to the Taoiseach that when it comes to his attitude towards EU announcements, people could be forgiven for believing we have two different taoisigh or two taoisigh in one body.

When it comes to the European Union telling us we should collect €13 billion in unpaid taxes from a tax evading company, Apple, the Taoiseach is the patriotic firebrand and eurocritic who is standing up for the nation and telling the EU not to interfere with the right of the Irish people to decide their own policies. However, when it comes to the EU telling us we must accept a regressive, unpopular, unwanted austerity tax in the form of water charges, he suddenly becomes a little puppy dog who rolls over in the most servile fashion and tells us we must obey every single diktat that comes from the EU, regardless of the fact the people of this country have clearly given their verdict on water charges and do not want them.

I want the Taoiseach to explain these two different taoisigh and these two utterly different attitudes to the EU. When it comes to standing up for ordinary working people and, indeed, democracy on an issue like water charges, he says that, no, we just have to do what the EU tells us-----

Deputy, you are going beyond the confines of the question.

I doubt water charges was an issue on the agenda at Bratislava. Your question concerns a report on what transpired at Bratislava.

I would say the Apple ruling was a very explicit reason for the meeting in Bratislava, as were the reasons why Britain had left and why there was widespread disillusionment with the EU. I put it to the Taoiseach that widespread disillusion flows precisely from these double standards that seem to characterise our approach to the EU and its policies on a whole range of issues. People are utterly bemused by these double standards and, very specifically, by the Taoiseach’s double standards. I ask very seriously how the Taoiseach explains these two absolutely contrasting approaches to the EU. Would the real Taoiseach please stand up?

When I, as Tánaiste, had the honour to work with the Taoiseach, he and I reached a widely publicised agreement that Ireland would accept 4,000 migrants over a period of time in the context of people fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Syria and other areas. If he recalls, we spoke specifically about prioritising the situation of families with children in camps in countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are close to Syria. We spoke about the situation of unaccompanied minors who are in various different countries and at significant risk in terms of what may happen to them. We spoke also about family reunification in regard to people who would be settled here but who would have other family members - possibly spouses, children and siblings - in other jurisdictions and who would wish to join their family member who had been settled here. All of this was based on well-established practice in humanitarian aid situations.

I know the Taoiseach is genuinely concerned about this. What is the possible explanation for the number accepted and processed so far by Ireland being so poor? Was there detailed discussion at the Bratislava meeting of the obstacles involved? This is not just a matter for Ireland but, obviously, given we are discussing it here in the Irish Parliament, what are the bottlenecks in regard to Ireland taking what Irish people in communities right around the country have genuinely agreed to? While we know this is a very difficult issue in other countries, Irish people have been genuinely welcoming. We have some of the best international humanitarian relief organisations in the world, as well as many people throughout the health service who are ready to volunteer and to go to help when called on under very long-standing arrangements. Will the Taoiseach give us a rational explanation of the problem and what discussions he has had with his fellows Heads of State and Government?

There were discussions in regard to the views of some countries of the 27 around potential higher levels of military co-operation post-Brexit. As the Taoiseach of a proudly neutral country, was Deputy Kenny part of those discussions? Were those discussions just among the like-minded countries or general to all 27 member states? We know the British were not present because of the Brexit vote-----

Excuse me. As there is only a short time remaining, I call the Taoiseach to respond.

Let me confirm for Deputy Adams that there will be no change in our situation in so far as neutrality is concerned. We participate in European common security and defence issues within the European treaties and the constraints upon us. We have always contributed in that sense and there will be no movement in that regard.

Deputies Adams and Burton referred to refugees, which I will deal with shortly.

I mentioned the recognition of Palestine.

I will come back to the Deputy on that. I met Prime Minister Netanyahu some time ago and said to him I would like to go to Israel and Palestine. He said he would be very happy to welcome me to do both. If I get the opportunity, I would like to do that.

Would the Taoiseach go to Gaza?

I hope the gods the Deputy mentioned are with us on Saturday when we take the field against the Dubs.

Deputy Boyd Barrett talked about patriotic firebrands, and I like the way the Deputy articulates his views here. We defend our right in respect of our competence on corporate tax. It is written into the European treaties that this is a national competence and we will stand up for ourselves in that regard, irrespective of any comment from Europe or European commentators. It is enshrined in the European treaties and we defend and will always defend it.

He defends the corporations.

The issue of state aid is a matter for the Commission. We believe Commissioner Vestager made a major mistake here, and we appeal this on the basis of getting legal clarification from the European courts on this matter.

I would also say to Deputy Boyd Barrett that we have always had a philosophy in Ireland of paying for what we get. I do know how he can assume that one should not make a contribution for water that is treated.

We do. Who pays for it? It is not somebody from outer space.

In this city, there was less than a 2% tolerance for years but it is now 15%. I believe very strongly in the issue of having a national utility for the procurement and provision of water services. I believe very strongly in conservation measures, which can only come through measuring, which comes through metering.

The Taoiseach is in a minority. It does not matter what he thinks.

If Deputies do not appreciate the scale of the wars that will happen in time about water, they should reflect on some of those gods. I believe there has to be a fair and affordable contribution for the water we use.

So it is not a national competence for us to decide how we pay for water.

In respect of-----

Could we have order please? We have exceeded the time.

Could I have 30 seconds to conclude?

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will deal with questions in respect of refugees later this afternoon. We did say we would take 4,000 refugees from resettlement programmes, which is from outside the EU, and relocation programmes, which is from inside the EU. A total of 486 refugees have arrived out of a commitment of 520 for resettlement here. In the relocation category the commitment is 2,622 and only 69 have arrived. It is the same problem with other countries. Sixty-nine have relocated in total from Greece, of which 33 are children, with the latest arrivals on 8 September. A further 40 have been assessed and are cleared for arrival. Arrangements for their travel to the State are currently being made. Ireland has indicated to Italy that we have 20 places immediately available for relocation from Italy. Progress has stalled due to delays relating to the implementation of security assessments. It is not the Minister's fault and not ours. We have places and the ability to take people but the problem has been at the other end.

In the Taoiseach's view, whose fault is it?

Between 2012 and 2015, we allocated €42 million for Syrian aid. The Minister will deal with those issues in greater detail on Question Time.

The question is to the Taoiseach.

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