Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

1. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with President Mattarella of Italy on 14 February 2018. [8394/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of Italy, Mr. Sergio Mattarella. [8470/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with President Mattarella of Italy. [8576/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of Italy. [9536/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagement with the President of Italy, Mr. Sergio Mattarella on 14 February 2018. [9666/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (45 contributions) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

I met the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, during his State visit on Wednesday, 14 February. The President was accompanied by a delegation that included the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Angelino Alfano. We had a very friendly and constructive exchange which covered bilateral relations, Brexit, migration and, more broadly, the debate on the future of Europe.

Ireland and Italy have strong bilateral relations, with long-standing economic, cultural, sporting and tourism ties. President Mattarella and I exchanged views about the future strengthening of this relationship in the years ahead. We discussed the European Union’s many achievements and agreed on the need for a positive, ambitious vision for the future based on our shared values and principles. I noted Ireland’s ongoing commitment to membership of the European Union. I thanked President Mattarella for Italy’s continued solidarity and support in our particular concerns arising from Brexit. We exchanged views on the negotiations to date and outlined our shared ambition for a close and comprehensive future relationship with the UK. I acknowledged the challenges Italy faces in migration and expressed our appreciation for the work of the Italian Government, local authorities and NGOs in dealing humanely with large numbers of migrants. I also noted the importance of solidarity here and the need to assist front-line member states. President Mattarella expressed appreciation for our support, including our decision to opt in to the EU relocation and resettlement measures agreed in 2015 and our provision of a series of fully crewed naval vessels to assist Italian authorities with search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean.

On an earlier point, I heard the Minister for Health say he has formally withdrawn the proposal about the name Phoenix Hospital for Children. I suggest to the Taoiseach that this hospital be called after Dr. Kathleen Lynn, a veteran of 1913, 1916 and also the founder of the first infants hospital, St. Ultan's in Charlemont Street. There are no women who were involved in the revolutionary period commemorated in any public buildings in the State that I am aware of. I make that suggestion because I think it would be accepted-----

In relation to-----

In fairness-----

I am being helpful.

I think the Deputy wants to ask the Taoiseach whether he consulted the President of Italy on that.

I have just taken the Chair and I understand this question is about a meeting with the President of Italy.

Well I am sure the Taoiseach was talking about culture with the President of Italy; how women participate and are named and publicly honoured is a really important part of culture.

It is not that relevant.

As the Taoiseach is, I am sure, aware Italy has quite a good record in that respect.

Even by all stretches of the imagination-----

What aspects of immigration did the Taoiseach discuss with the President of Italy? Did he discuss in any detail the issues surrounding politics and the extremes of politics in Italy at the moment, including the far right and neo-fascist participation in the elections being fought there?

Unfortunately, I think it was the Taoiseach's decision not to have statements before or after last week's summit. Having told us last year how eager he was to have a much greater public engagement on European Union issues this reluctance to engage with the House is surprising and somewhat disappointing. It is also surprising that he is not willing to have any discussion on the European Union's budget. I have tabled a question on that for later. He was not willing to discuss institutional reform or any other issue before setting out Ireland's position at the summit. Given that he briefed the media that they were important discussions he is not in a position to say that only minor issues were on the agenda.

The budget is part of the third group of questions. On reform, it is my understanding that the majority at the summit disagreed with the Taoiseach's willingness to sign up for the Spitzenkandidat system and the introduction of transnational Members of the European Parliament, MEPs. These proposals significantly marginalise small countries and undermine the fair balance of powers and accountability within the European Union structure. We need to discuss this seriously in the House.

Can the Taoiseach confirm that he has agreed to reject the insistence of the European Parliament that the groups decide on the Commission president? This process in 2014 had close to no impact on citizens but denied a proper debate between countries about the leadership of the Commission. I note the Taoiseach has expressed his concern about the failure of the media to give enough coverage to his speech last year launching a so-called national dialogue on Europe. It is important that we have a decent debate on these issues to do with institutional reform in this House.

If the Taoiseach is going to maintain the position he adopted in Strasbourg he will at the very least seek some legitimacy and submit it to the Dáil for a vote. The Spitzenkandidat process effectively removes the ability of Ireland and other countries to have a say in deciding on critical issues. The Taoiseach should acknowledge the right of the Dáil to have its say before agreeing to such a move.

Can the Taoiseach tell me the current status of the digital taxation discussion? Will he publish any additional information or impact assessments of it before next month's summit?

I know it is tangential to the point but I want to voice my support for Deputy Burton's suggestion on the naming of the national children's hospital. I cannot think of a more appropriate figure to name this facility after than Dr. Kathleen Lynn. We could dispense with a very elaborate and long process if we could have agreement on that point. The suggestion has been made quite widely and by many figures.

I have made it loads of times.

I raised the now draft withdrawal agreement earlier with the Taoiseach. The initial responses from some are perhaps predictable but they are regrettable nonetheless. It now seems that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, are rejecting this draft agreement as wholly unacceptable, constitutionally dubious and something that they are not prepared to tolerate. Those are their words. There is a job of work to be done in defending the interests of this island in its totality, in insisting on respect for the mandate of the people in the North to remain within the European Union. Will our Italian friend, Sergio Mattarella, be an ally in this regard?

If dialogue on the future of all aspects of Europe is to be successful it has to be genuine. Very often we try to dress up something to do with European affairs as a debate but the insistence of the political establishment is that there is only one orthodoxy, one correct way to approach Europe and anybody who is in any way critical or questioning is "anti-European" or a "bad European". If there is to be any kind of fruitful dialogue and it is absolutely essential at this juncture we have to dispense with that. It is clear that we need a change of direction. The direction of travel which suits corporate interests and the political establishment is one that has been deeply alienating for citizens on the ground and for people who care about Europe and who are proud to be Europeans, as I am, that is very worrying. That has been the direction of travel for quite some time but it is brought into very sharp focus by Brexit, by developments in Europe and other member states where the far right and ultra-right has a very destructive grip on the political dynamic. We need to address this collectively and honestly.

For the information of Deputy Burton there is at least one public building in the State named after a woman involved in the Rising, 100 years ago. There may be others but there is certainly at least one, Elizabeth O'Farrell House, a new building for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. That was a decision I took as Minister for Social Protection.

I am talking about a major public building, the national children's hospital.

The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

I took the decision to ensure that public building was named after a woman. I was honoured to have Sabina Higgins, the wife of the President, come along to open the building for us. The Minister for Health has indicated that there will be a process used to consult the public on what the new name for the children's hospital should be. I would prefer that it not be named after a politician, whether Sinn Féin or not-----

Kathleen Lynn was not a politician.

The Taoiseach does not interrupt.

-----socialist or non-socialist.

We are on European issues.

Yes it is about Brexit.

Deputy Burton was indulged by going off topic and I think it is only fair that I should be.

For goodness' sake we either take this seriously or we do not.

Deputy Martin should not interrupt. As the Taoiseach knows well, two wrongs do not make a right.

I know but I would hope and trust that the Chair would be consistent in his adjudication.

I am fairly consistent.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle's adjudication is that we are to stick to the topic in these questions and the topic is the visit to the President of Italy.

The Taoiseach has an opinion of me, which is that I know in advance what someone is going to say. It is great he thinks that but it does not reflect reality. Let us be realistic.

I will be realistic. In the absence of clear ruling, I will speak to the topic of the questions.

I will rule from here on in. The Taoiseach has three minutes.

I did not discuss party politics with the President of Italy. His role is similar to that of President Higgins and it would not be appropriate for him to speak about party politics in this country. As a result, I did not engage him on that. I am very happy to engage with Members of the House on issues. I am here for two or three hours twice a week but I do not think the way we do it is meaningful, quite frankly. I thought what we witnessed in the context of Questions on Promised Legislation was a bit of a circus. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will ask Deputy Mac Sharry to withdraw the remarks he made earlier. I am not sensitive about these things.

We are not discussing that now.

I would like to discuss it at some stage.

There will be an appropriate time but not now.

I asked a question and made a few points. I think it is a reasonable expectation, in terms of institutional reform-----

The Taoiseach should stick to the point.

I will stick to the point but I would just mention that neither Deputy Micheál Martin nor Deputy Burton stuck to the point when I-----

Let us grow up and be adults for a change.

I will stick to the point in any event. In the meeting with President Mattarella, we did not discuss nationalism and the Spitzenkandidat process. However, we did discuss Brexit. President Mattarella's view was very supportive. His view was that if there was a hard border, there should no withdrawal agreement.