Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Ceisteanna (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone conversation with President Trump; the issues that were discussed; and if the undocumented Irish and a possible visit here by President Trump were discussed. [31012/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversation with the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump. [31173/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone conversation with President Trump on 27 June 2017. [31182/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversation with the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump, on 27 June 2017. [31190/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed climate change when he spoke with President Trump. [31382/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (47 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 7, inclusive, together.

I spoke to President Trump by telephone last week. It was a short call, similar to a number of calls I have had in recent days. The President asked about Brexit and its impact on Ireland, as well as the peace process and the ongoing efforts to reinstate power-sharing in Northern Ireland. I outlined the current situation, including our particular concerns in relation to Brexit and acknowledged the importance of continued close interest and support in Northern Ireland affairs from the US Administration. While we did not discuss a possible visit to Ireland by the President, he reissued the invitation to me, as Taoiseach, to attend the traditional functions in Washington for St. Patrick’s Day, including meeting him in the White House. I look forward to attending these events next March.

During our short conversation I raised a number of issues, including Ireland-US trade relations, migration, the scale of Irish investment in the United States and the importance of US foreign direct investment to Ireland and climate change. I indicated that I looked forward to having an opportunity to discuss these issues with him in more detail in due course. As I said in the House last week, I want to see our relations with the United States continue to develop based on the long-standing friendship between our two countries. As Taoiseach, I am committed to working productively with the US Administration to promote Ireland’s interests in the United States and further strengthen the economic, trade and investment links between Ireland and the United States to the mutual benefit of both countries. At the same time, I will ensure I promote the values of this country and the European values for which the Government stands.

The core of this question was answered last week. We have been treated to the highly unusual situation where there is film of what was said at the other end of the line. As I said last week, we must have a large dose of realism when discussing what Ireland can achieve in bilateral discussions with powerful countries. Equally, it remains clear that President Trump's knowledge of Ireland remains roughly on a par with that when he was welcomed to a Sinn Féin fundraiser by Deputy Gerry Adams. On that occasion, a couple of months before the Canary Wharf bombing, Deputy Gerry Adams spoke admiringly of Mr. Trump, even saying Sinn Féin was happy to play "the Trump card." It has been reported that when the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, managed to persuade Deputy John Deasy to talk to the Taoiseach again, the Taoiseach offered him the role of special envoy to the US Congress. Will the Taoiseach explain what is involved in this highly unusual role? Does it supersede that of Ministers who are supposed to be undertaking this task as part of their role and the role of the ambassador to Washington who has always been the touch point in relationships with Congress and Capitol Hill? The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or one of his Ministers of State normally has explicit responsibility for lobbying on the issue of undocumented immigrants, for instance, among other issues. Did the Taoiseach discuss this appointment with them? Are there costs involved in the appointment? Will the Taoiseach explain, apart from being a consolation prize for Deputy John Deasy, what is actually involved and what the Deputy will be doing in the role?

We will take questions one by one.

I am fascinated to hear that President Trump attended a Sinn Féin fundraiser.

It is new information for me and very curious. I can confirm that he has not attended any Fine Gael fundraiser, to my knowledge.

I have appointed Deputy John Deasy as a Government envoy to the US Congress, particularly to deal with issues around migration and the undocumented Irish. It does not supersede anyone else's role. It does not supersede the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or that of the ambassador. Of course, I agreed to it with the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, prior to making the appointment. Deputy John Deasy will report to me, but he will work under the umbrella of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and with the new ambassador, Mr. Dan Mulhall, who will travel there in September. The particular role relates to the US Congress because it is important that we have a greater presence on Capitol Hill. The Deputy worked there for a long period, 15 years, and has good connections and a good knowledge of how the US Congress works. It will be of particular value having somebody there, in addition to our staff who are already in Washington DC, lobbying individual Members of Congress to have changes made to legislation that would be to our benefit.

That is what the ambassador does.

It is an extra person.

That is what the ambassador does.

I asked the Taoiseach's predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, a question that gained a lot of publicity at the time. I asked if he thought the election manifesto and policy promises of Donald Trump were racist and dangerous and he agreed that they were. I ask the Taoiseach the same question now that Donald Trump is President. Are the policies he is pursuing racist and dangerous? If the answer is yes, will the Taoiseach state this clearly and publicly and what it means for the stance we adopt vis-à-vis those policies and his Administration? The Taoiseach has said he does not agree with the travel ban. Is it racist to impose a travel ban on people from six particular countries, tarring all people from these countries who happen to be Muslims as somehow being undesirable to enter the United States?

On the dangerous front, does the Taoiseach recognise that the policies being pursued by Donald Trump, particularly in the Middle East, of massively increasing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, supporting that brutal dictatorship and arming it to assist it in its vile actions in Yemen, the dangerous escalation of the conflict with Qatar which is also an escalation of the conflict with Iran, have dangerous implications for stability and peace in the region? Does the Taoiseach recognise that this is dangerous and that the President's talk at the the beginning of the year about sending an armada to North Korea was also a dangerous escalation? Notwithstanding the horrific nature of that regime and what it has done in the last few days, does the Taoiseach recognise that Donald Trump's policies are dangerous and racist and that something must be said about them?

I have answered those questions in the past. I did so in front of a television camera and what I said is there for anyone to see.

I do not wish to withdraw or repeat it because we have a relationship that we must build and maintain between our two countries. It is a very important relationship, one that will last longer than any President or Taoiseach or Administration or Government.

It is more important.

I said before and will say again that in meetings and engagements with the US Administration we will not hesitate to share our views with it on issues such as human rights and climate change and areas of foreign policy where we disagree. Countries that are friends - America is a friend of Ireland's - should be able to speak the truth to each other and we will do so.

I want to explore further the specifics of the role Deputy John Deasy has been given in order that we might understand it. Did the Taoiseach discuss his role with President Trump during their conversation and what specifically his role will be? I am unaware of any Member of this House having been appointed a Government envoy who was not a member of the Government.

Will Deputy John Deasy report back to the Taoiseach? Will he be supported by staff at our embassy in Washington or in the Taoiseach's Department? What will be his status in interactions? Will he speak authoritatively for the Government? How will it work and how will he co-ordinate his role with the formal role of our ambassador to Washington which we have always understood? Mr. Dan Mulhall who is about to take up the position is an extraordinarily experienced ambassador. Those of us who have been to Washington for decades will know the pivotal role played by our ambassador to Washington who has unique access to Capitol Hill. How will this be co-ordinated with somebody else? Is it envisaged that Deputy John Deasy will spend some part of the year in residence in Washington?

My second question relates to the Taoiseach's conversation with President Trump.

Did the Taoiseach and President Trump discuss his proposal for a border adjustment tax within the broader topic of free trade? Is there any indication that this proposal will be advanced by the Trump Administration?

We did not speak about the border adjustment tax specifically. It was a short call and we sketched an agenda for a meeting that we will most likely have in March. I mentioned Ireland's commitment to free trade and the fact that we are a country that believes in and is committed to continuing free trade. I took the opportunity to mention to President Trump that Ireland is the seventh biggest inward investor into the United States. People often think it is all one way with US companies setting up in Ireland and employing staff. I mentioned there are over 700 Irish companies that have invested in the United States and are a big inward investor into that country. I indicated that Irish companies employ Americans in all 50 states. We need to start talking a little more about that and reminding people in the United States who may be opposed to free trade that it is a two-way process and they benefit from it as well.

Deputy Deasy's appointment is an innovation and I am not sure if it has been done before in Ireland. It is not unusual in other countries for governments to appoint special representatives or special envoys.

How would it work within our legal framework?

In the United States there have been a number of special envoys appointed, including some to Ireland. Very often one meets people from Sweden who are government-appointed ambassadors for a particular matter, such as climate change or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights and so on.

Will he be an ambassador?

No. There is no legal status and it is an appointment I have made. He will report to me. He will of course be supported by the embassy staff in Washington DC and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is no remuneration for it aside from reasonable expenses.

Does he or the ambassador speak authoritatively?

The ambassador speaks for the Government.

Yes. For whom will Deputy Deasy speak?

The ambassador speaks for the Government but Deputy Deasy will speak as my representative and on my behalf in engagements in Washington DC. It should be seen as an extra pair of hands or boots on the ground.

Perhaps an extra chore on the ambassador, who will have to mind the Deputy.

It is a supplementary role and he is someone who knows how Congress works. Let us see how it pans out.

I thank the Taoiseach for his report on the conversation with President Trump. We are all familiar with the concerns on this side of the Atlantic about many of the policies and strategies being pursued by the Trump Administration. Immigration has been mentioned and we could speak about the partisan White House approach to Israel. Climate change is also on the long list. I should also say that Sinn Féin, unlike other political parties, has considerable party engagement in the United States.

Yes. It has been tried by others, including the Labour Party, which failed miserably. Mr. Trump is not a contributor to Sinn Féin and nor has he ever been. The Taoiseach can ask him about it on his next phone call.

There was the 1995 dinner. He was there. I can play the video if the Deputy likes.

Following the Taoiseach's conversation, is he any more hopeful about the attitude of the Trump Administration towards the 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the USA? Has there been a follow-up call with the Trump Administration since the Taoiseach spoke with the President? I have a concern and it is important for families here and people in the United States to know whether the undocumented citizens are now under greater threat of arrest and deportation. I take this opportunity to express my personal admiration for Ms Caitriona Perry and her professionalism when she found herself the focus of President Trump's attentions.

The Taoiseach spoke about envoys and it is not bad for an additional set of boots to be on the ground, as the Taoiseach put it, leading to additional engagement with Congress. The Trump Administration is the first since President Clinton not to appoint a special envoy to assist the peace process. Did the Taoiseach raise that matter with President Trump? When will our new ambassador take office? As the Taoiseach knows, Mr. Brian Burns recently withdrew his name from the process of becoming the next US ambassador to Ireland due to ill health. Is there a prospective US ambassador and did President Trump shed any light on the matter?

It occurs to me how much things change over time. In 1995, when President Trump was in Sinn Féin, Deputy McDonald was in Fianna Fáil. Things change and change again.

President Donald Trump might be rather alarmed to hear he was in Sinn Féin. The Taoiseach should not create a diplomatic incident as it might not be wise.

It was a $200 per plate dinner.

He was in their company.

He was in the company of Sinn Féin.

Deputy McDonald might go back.

The undocumented Irish in the United States remain a very high priority for the Government. The embassy in Washington DC is in ongoing contact with members of the community and politicians in that city. We understand immigration is of course a very politically sensitive matter and it will be difficult to separate the request of the Irish Government for regularisation of our citizens from similar requests from other countries. That creates a difficulty.

We should not separate it.

Perhaps we should not separate the request if circumstances are much the same. We are providing €1.4 million in funding through the emigrant support programme and some of that is being used to assist people with immigration law problems in the United States. For example, additional funding is now being made available to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers to produce a fact sheet to ensure citizens are accurately informed on recent changes to immigration law in America. The available support is being highlighted and much information is being given to people on legal advice they can get, particularly through the consulate and immigration centre.

May I correct the record of the Dáil? It relates to a matter raised by the Taoiseach.

Is it a personal statement?

No. For the record, President Donald Trump was in the Democratic Party, as opposed to Sinn Féin, in 1995. That should be noted.

That made it okay.