All-Island Civic Dialogue

Ceisteanna (61)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

61. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the fourth civic forum that was held in Dundalk on 30 April 2018. [18796/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The fourth plenary session of the All-Island Civic Dialogue took place on Monday 30 April, 2018, in Dundalk Institute of Technology. Over 400 representatives across industry and civic society attended the plenary session and were provided with updates on the main developments in the Brexit negotiations, with an emphasis on the all-island aspects as well as the Government’s preparations for Brexit.

Discussions during the day focused on how both businesses and communities can continue preparations for Brexit. A key focus of this plenary centred on how young people can respond to the challenges posed by the UK exit from the European Union, and it was encouraging to hear how well the views of young people across the island of Ireland were represented throughout the day. I was also particularly delighted to welcome Michel Barnier, Chief Negotiator on the EU’s Brexit task force, who addressed delegates in Dundalk.

This meeting of the Civic Dialogue followed three previous successful plenary sessions, the first of which took place in November 2016, and the following two in February and September of last year. There have also been a large number of sectoral dialogues in locations across the country, which have discussed the impact of Brexit on specific areas including Agrifood, Transport, Energy, Tourism and Hospitality, and Education.

The All-Island Civic Dialogue forms a core element of our stakeholder engagement on Brexit. It is an ongoing process, and one that I hope the public will continue to engage with as the Brexit negotiations continue.

As with previous Dialogues, a full report of the fourth plenary session will shortly be published online. The government hopes to convene a further plenary session of the All Island Civic Dialogue later in the year. In the meantime, we will continue to engage with all stakeholders and with civic society to ensure that our approach to Brexit continues to meet the needs of the Irish people.

Diplomatic Representation

Ceisteanna (62)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

62. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 81 of 2 May 2018, the evidence that was produced to support the briefings that led to the decision to expel the particular diplomat selected. [21128/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

On March 27, in light of the European Council conclusions on the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and based on an assessment of all relevant political, diplomatic and national security considerations, I took the decision to terminate the accreditation of a diplomatic staff member of the Russian Embassy.

It is longstanding policy not to comment on the detail of security briefings provided to the government and I do not propose to depart from this practice on this occasion.

Foreign Policy

Ceisteanna (63)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

63. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the re-election of Mr. Viktor Orbán in Hungary; his views on the threat to freedom and democracy in Hungary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21122/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The elections in Hungary resulted in a two thirds majority for the ruling party led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Engagement with all EU Member States is a key imperative for Ireland in advancing and protecting our interests in the EU. In that context, we raise not only issues of shared interest with our partners but also issues of concern.

The Irish Government will continue to work with Prime Minister Orban and his administration to ensure that the European Union is equipped for the collective challenges we face, not least in addressing the issues of greatest concerns to our citizens, including Brexit, the Union’s future finances and EMU.

Respect for the fundamental values on which the European Union is founded and which are set out in the Treaty, including respect for the rule of law and freedom of expression, are crucial underpinnings for all the EU Member States and this is a message we also convey.

There are concerns over the civic space available for NGOs to continue to operate in Hungary. The overall media environment in Hungary has also deteriorated further in recent weeks with the closure of a major independent newspaper.

The European Commission is, in the first instance, charged with ensuring the application of the treaties and is responsible for promoting the general interest of the Union.

Last December, the Commission announced that it was referring Hungary to the Court of Justice of the European Union in relation to inter alia, the laws on higher education (the “Lex CEU”) and on NGOs adopted in 2017. In the case of these two issues, Hungary is considered to have failed to address EU concerns about these laws or amend the legislation to bring it in line with EU standards. These cases are likely to be heard by the Court later this year.

Notwithstanding this, it is important that Hungary and the European Commission will engage on these issues and that, ultimately, a resolution may be achieved, if possible, without the need for formal Court direction.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (64, 75)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

64. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the next steps of the Brexit negotiations; if a contingency plan is being prepared for the possibility of negotiations not having been completed by March 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21056/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

75. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the contingency plans prepared by his Department in the event of a hard Brexit. [17881/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 75 together.

Firstly, in terms of next steps in the Article 50 negotiations, following on from the March European Council, the EU and UK agreed to five additional formal rounds of negotiations between April and the next European Council in June when progress on all issues will be assessed. These negotiations are focused on all outstanding issues in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as the future relationship.

In terms of the draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK has agreed that a backstop solution for the border will form part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December . The UK has also agreed that all the issues identified in the EU draft of the Protocol will be addressed to deliver a legally sound solution for the border. Prime Minister May confirmed this in her letter to President Tusk of 19 March. The focus is now narrowing the gaps between the two sides so that significant progress is made on agreeing the Protocol by the European Council on 28-29 June.

In relation to contingency planning, co-ordination of the whole-of-Government response to Brexit is being taken forward through the cross-Departmental coordination structures chaired by my Department.

Contingency planning for a no-deal or worst-case outcome, bringing together the detailed work being undertaken by individual Ministers and their Departments on issues within their policy remit, is now well advanced. Its focus is on the immediate regulatory and operational challenges which would result from such an outcome. It assumes a trading relationship based on the default WTO rules, but also examines the possible effects on many other areas of concern. This work is therefore providing baseline scenarios for the impact of Brexit across all sectors, which can then be adapted as appropriate in light of developments in the EU-UK negotiations, including in regard to transition arrangements and the future relationship. It also takes account of the planning being undertaken at EU level by the new Commission Preparedness Unit, which is issuing information notes aimed at different business sectors.

The Government is already acting in order to get Ireland Brexit ready. Dedicated measures were announced in Budget 2018, including a new €300m Brexit Loan Scheme for Business and a €25m Brexit Response Loan Scheme for the agrifood sector as well as additional supports for capital investment in the food industry and Bord Bia marketing and promotion activities, amounting to over €50m in total. Additional capital expenditure allocation of €4.3 bn over four years will also allow the State and its agencies to properly plan major infrastructure projects while ensuring that communities and businesses can plan ahead. There was also increased funding provided to my Department for the opening of six new diplomatic missions as part of Global Footprint 2025, which will contribute to helping our exporters find new markets. Our Government’s enterprise agencies continue to work with companies, helping them to deal with Brexit – making them more competitive, diversifying market exposure, and upskilling teams.

Longer-term economic strategies will also be critically important in addressing the challenges of Brexit, notably Ireland 2040 –the National Development Plan. The Enterprise Strategy 2025 Renewed was recently launched and we are in active discussions with the European Investment Bank on a potential increase in investment in the country.

Before the summer the Government will finalise a paper, building on that published in May 2017, on our approach to the negotiations and our latest assessment of the economic and sectoral challenges posed by Brexit and our responses to them.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (65)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

65. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if representations will be made at EU level regarding the human rights abuses in Libyan detention centres; and his views on the reports from various NGOs regarding the conditions there. [21106/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am deeply troubled by the abuses perpetrated against refugees and migrants in Libya, as reported by a number of NGOs and other sources. My EU colleagues and I have raised these concerns on a number of occasions at the Foreign Affairs Council, as did the Taoiseach at the European Council in October 2017. I will continue to raise these concerns when appropriate. I reiterate my call on the Libyan Government, and all parties, including those with de facto control of territory, to take steps to eliminate ill-treatment of migrants, and to facilitate access to detention centres by UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations.

The EU has increased its cooperation with UN agencies and the African Union to accelerate voluntary returns by migrants in Libya to their countries of origin, and to establish safe and legal pathways for resettlement of those in need of international protection. As a result of the EU-AU-UN cooperation which began in November 2017, the number of migrants in official Libyan detention centres fell from an estimated 20,000 people in October 2017 to 4,000 people in March 2018. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with the support of the EU and its Member States, is continuing to assist migrants inside Libyan detention centres, while increasing efforts to reach stranded migrants outside of detention. The EU is also actively supporting alternatives to the detention of migrants in Libya. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently opened a transit and departure facility in Tripoli to facilitate the transfer of vulnerable refugees to third countries.

At the European Council in October 2017, the Taoiseach announced a doubling of Ireland’s support to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), to help address the root causes of migration. In 2017, Ireland provided core funding to the UNHCR of €7.5 million, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of €9.5 million, funding which supports the work of these organisations in Libya. In 2015, Ireland earmarked €1 million in humanitarian funding specifically to support ICRC’s work in Libya, work which includes visiting detention centres to monitor the treatment of migrants.

Ultimately, bringing real improvements to the lives of Libyans and migrants will require restoration of political stability and an end to lawlessness, through the formation of a fully functioning government and a return to order throughout the country. Ireland supports both UN mediation and regional efforts in pursuit of stabilisation in Libya.

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Ceisteanna (66)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

66. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions he has taken to develop a roadmap to reach the 0.7% ODA-GNI target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21126/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland’s Overseas Development Assistance is an essential foreign policy tool, enabling Ireland to respond to complex human needs and humanitarian crises around the world. Along with a group of like-minded countries, including other EU partners, the Government remains committed to making incremental, sustainable progress towards achieving the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). The Programme for Government states that `we will continue to make progress towards achieving the UN target of 0.7% of gross national product for ODA, as resources allow’.

Progress towards achieving the UN target needs to be made in a sustainable and manageable way, with a critical focus on the delivery of quality interventions designed to achieve sustainable results. Ireland’s development cooperation programme has been recognised as among the best in the world from a quality perspective, including by the Brookings Institute and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.

The Tánaiste has committed to a new White Paper on international development policy during 2018. This White Paper requires careful planning and consultation with other Government Departments and stakeholders on how to make progress on the UN target. This preparatory phase is underway, and will set the scene for a public consultation in line with national guidelines.

The ambition in the White Paper will be to put in place the policies which will enable Ireland to continue to lead and deliver global aspirations for a better world, as reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A strong voice for Ireland in international development will extend our global footprint, underpin our support for a rules based international order, conflict prevention and peace building, contribute to the reduction of poverty and hunger, and assist in disaster alleviation, with a focus on the impacts of climate change.

The White Paper will also build on the independent work of the review of the Irish Aid programme recently completed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence (JCFATD).

Official Engagements

Ceisteanna (67)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

67. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there has been contact between his Department and United States authorities in relation to President Trump's visit to the United Kingdom; and if there are plans in place in the event of a visit here. [19858/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The arrangements around a visit by the President of the United States to the United Kingdom are a matter for the US and UK authorities and we would have no involvement in such discussions.

Given the exceptionally close relations between Ireland and the United States, and the generous hospitality extended to successive Taoisigh by US Presidents at the White House during St Patrick’s Day celebrations over many years, it would only be appropriate that we would reciprocate such hospitality.

In that regard, a standing invitation has been extended to President Trump to visit Ireland, as would have been the case with his recent predecessors in office.

However, we have received no indication that any such visit is being planned.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

Ceisteanna (68)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

68. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the outstanding requests with the British Government regarding inquiries into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20935/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

In the week of the 44th anniversary of the Dublin Monaghan bombings, which saw the biggest loss of life in a single day during the Troubles, I think it is important to acknowledge those across the House who work on a cross-party basis with the Government on this issue, and the tireless efforts of Justice for the Forgotten. The Government will be represented at the wreath-laying ceremony on 17 May to mark the anniversary of these tragic events by my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan T.D.

The Programme for a Partnership Government highlights the priority that the Government attaches to the implementation of the All-Party Dáil motions relating to the Dublin Monaghan bombings. I recently met with Justice for the Forgotten to hear their views and update them on the Government’s continuing engagement on legacy issues, including with the British Government on the Dáil motions.

The All-Party motion on the 1974 Dublin Monaghan bombings that was adopted by the Dáil on 25 May 2016 has, like those adopted in 2008 and 2011, been conveyed to the British Government. These motions call on the British Government to allow access by an independent, international judicial figure to all original documents relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk and the murder of Seamus Ludlow.

The Government is committed to actively pursuing the implementation of these all-Party Dáil motions, and has consistently raised the issue with the British Government.

I am actively engaged with the British Government on an ongoing basis on this issue, as are officials from my Department. I recently raised the issue directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley on 16 April last and my officials were in touch with the British counterparts as recently as last week.

I have consistently underlined to the British Government that the Dáil motions represent the consensus political view in Ireland that an independent, international judicial review of all the relevant documents is required to establish the full facts of the Dublin-Monaghan atrocities. I have also advised that the absence of a response from the British Government is of deep concern to the Government and indeed this House, and I have emphasised the urgent need for such a response.

The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on the request in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and pursue all possible avenues that could achieve progress on this issue, consistent with the request made by this House.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (69, 77)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

69. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his recent engagements with leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland. [17879/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

77. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions he had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the need to have the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21054/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 69 and 77 together.

Over the course of many months, the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, have worked tirelessly to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to form an Executive.

The devolved, power-sharing institutions are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and are the best means for achieving accountable, representative decision-making for all the people of Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, to date, it has not proved possible to reach an agreement on the formation of an Executive, despite intensive engagement. In light of this, the Government has been working with the British Government to consider means by which we can support the political process, in accordance with the Agreement, in the period ahead.

The Taoiseach has spoken with Prime Minister May and emphasised the Government’s full commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, and our continuing determination to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.

I am in very regular contact with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, as we seek a way beyond the current impasse. I met most recently with Secretary of State Bradley on 3 May and we spoke further by phone last week, on 9 May.

Over the last few weeks, the Secretary of State and I have each been conducting a round of contacts with the Northern Ireland political parties, to hear their views on how at this stage the two Governments can support the political process, in accordance with the Agreement.

All parties have re-affirmed their commitment to operating the devolved institutions and provided views on their key concerns and issues to be addressed in seeking a way forward.

In light of these consultations, the Secretary of State and I will consider how best the two Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, can chart a way forward that will give the best prospects for getting the devolved institutions operating again without delay.

I will continue to engage intensively, working with Secretary of State Bradley and the leaders of all of the political parties, until that is achieved.

The Good Friday Agreement is the indispensable framework for providing stable, inclusive, power-sharing government for all the people of Northern Ireland and for sustaining our interlocking relationships – within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (70)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

70. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he continues to emphasise the fundamental importance of the Good Friday Agreement in the context of discussions between the EU and UK in relation to Brexit with particular reference to the need to retain the status quo in respect of the island of Ireland with unimpeded access to traditional markets and recognition of the need to ensure that Ireland remains at the centre of Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21087/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process is at the forefront of the Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. This includes the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts and the gains of the peace process, maintaining EU support for the Peace Process, supporting continued North South cooperation and ensuring there is no border infrastructure of any kind on the island of Ireland.

In this regard, Ireland’s interest is in trying to achieve as close as possible to the status quo on the island. Ideally, this would be achieved through the wider EU-UK future relationship agreement, but in relation to the border, we need to have a backstop in case that proves not to be possible and that backstop needs to be clearly defined as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Work on drafting the Withdrawal Agreement has been a key focus since December. Published on 28 February, the draft Withdrawal Agreement contains a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the Agreement.

The UK has accepted that a legally operative version of the ‘backstop’ for the border will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December, and that all the issues identified in the draft Protocol reflect those that must be addressed. These were important steps forward.

At this point it is clear that while there are areas in the Protocol where shared policy objectives have been identified, there are some fundamental issues that have yet to be resolved.

The current schedule of negotiations now under way between the EU and the UK is being taken forward with a view to continuing efforts to narrow the remaining gaps on the draft Protocol. The overall aim is to maintain full alignment with those rules of the Single Market and Customs Union that are necessary to protect North South cooperation and the all-island economy as well as to avoid a hard border.

Significant progress is needed between now and the June European Council. At this stage in the negotiations, it is more important than ever that the UK provides more detailed and realistic proposals to the EU. We must have certainty in all scenarios on the commitments made on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Coordinators have agreed that negotiations will continue on a regular basis and Ireland will continue its close co-operation with Michel Barnier’s team. This includes our involvement in discussions, where appropriate, while respecting the negotiation structures that have been mandated by the European Council.

Ireland’s future is at the heart of the European Union. It is a home which we have helped to build and continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union is a core element of our economic strategy. This is not an either/or choice between the UK and our membership of the EU. We want the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as close and positive as possible. We will work hard with all parties to achieve that over the coming months.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (71)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

71. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of negotiations particularly those relating to the Border region of counties Cavan and Monaghan in view of Brexit and the possible reintroduction of a hard Border. [20913/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

We are in another crucial stage in the Brexit negotiations. Work on drafting the Withdrawal Agreement has been a key focus since December. Published on 28 February, it contains a draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the Agreement.

The UK has accepted that a legally operative version of the ‘backstop’ for the border will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December, and that all the issues identified in the draft Protocol reflect those that must be addressed. These were important steps forward.

Following on from the adoption by the European Council at its meeting on 23 March of additional guidelines, a schedule of negotiations is underway between the EU and the UK leading up to the European Council in June. These negotiations are focused on all outstanding issues in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland with a view to continuing efforts to narrow the remaining gaps on the draft Protocol, as well as the future relationship.

Our preference has always been to resolve the Irish-specific issues through the wider future relationship agreement, but in relation to the border, we need to have a backstop in case that proves not to be possible and that backstop needs to be clearly defined as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Significant progress is needed between now and the June European Council. At this stage in the negotiations, it is more important than ever that the UK provides more detailed and realistic proposals to the EU.

The importance of avoiding a hard border to people living in all the border counties, including Cavan and Monaghan, cannot be underestimated and the Government is acutely conscious of this. The North South cooperation we enjoy today brings tangible benefits to the daily lives of people in the border region and contributes to economic opportunity and development. It is also a very practical outworking of the peace process which allows for the normalisation of relationships between people across the island, to mutual benefit. It is for these reasons that there cannot be a return to border infrastructure of any kind on this island.

Coordinators have agreed that negotiations will continue on a regular basis and Ireland will continue its close cooperation with Michel Barnier’s team. This includes our involvement in discussions, where appropriate, while respecting the negotiation structures that have been mandated by the European Council.

Middle East Issues

Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 47.

Ceisteanna (72)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

72. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that an Israeli soldier (details supplied) convicted of manslaughter for killing an injured Palestinian was freed from prison on 8 May 2018; and his views on whether the original 18-month sentence was not appropriate and their early release demonstrates that there is immunity for Israeli soldiers that extrajudicially kill Palestinian civilians. [21082/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

In the case referred to, I am aware there was considerable pressure from within the Israeli political system against this soldier being tried at all, so it was significant that he was tried, convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The apparent disparity between the sentence passed, and the sentences regularly imposed on Palestinians for much less serious actions, has been widely commented upon.

I do not wish to comment further on this specific case, or the appropriateness of the sentence. I did not hear the trial and cannot assess the evidence, and nor is that my role. I will say that this case, and others, do raise serious questions about the unequal treatment of Israelis and Palestinians under the law. This includes the different laws applicable to Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, the differing protections available to defendants, and the punishments imposed.

I have stated regularly, including to the Israeli authorities, that Palestinians living under Israeli control should enjoy all the same protections under the law as Israel considers appropriate to its own citizens. It is clear that this is not currently the case. In particular, over many years, scrutiny of cases where deadly force is used against Palestinians has progressively diminished, and this is a matter of the most serious concern.

Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 47.

Brexit Negotiations

Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 64.

Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 47.

Question No. 77 answered with Question No. 69.

Ceisteanna (74)

Danny Healy-Rae

Ceist:

74. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the preparation his Department is making in anticipation of either a hard or soft border. [20509/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process is at the forefront of the Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. This includes the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts and the gains of the peace process, maintaining EU support for the Peace Process, supporting continued North South cooperation and ensuring there is no border infrastructure of any kind on the island of Ireland.

In the December Joint Report of EU and UK negotiators, the UK committed to ensuring there would be no border infrastructure of any kind or associated checks and controls on the island of Ireland. This commitment must now be given legal effect in the Withdrawal Agreement

Work on drafting the Withdrawal Agreement has been a key focus since December. Published on 28 February, it contains a draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the Agreement.

The UK has accepted that a legally operative version of the ‘backstop’ for the border will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December, and that all the issues identified in the draft Protocol reflect those that must be addressed. These were important steps forward.

The current schedule of negotiations now underway between the EU and the UK is being taken forward with a view to continuing efforts to narrow the remaining gaps on the draft Protocol, among other issues.

Significant progress is needed between now and the June European Council. At this stage in the negotiations, it is more important than ever that the UK provides more detailed and realistic proposals to the EU.

Ireland’s interest is in trying to achieve an outcome as close as possible to the status quo on the island.

Ideally, this would be achieved through the wider EU-UK future relationship agreement. Such an agreement would also minimise or eliminate any new frictions in East/West trade - this would also be strongly in our interests.

But we need to have a backstop in case that proves not to be possible, and that backstop needs to be clearly defined as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

All sides have been clear since the start that the unique and special situation on the island of Ireland requires unique solutions. This was confirmed in the EU-UK Joint Progress report of last December and this is our present focus in the negotiations.

The importance of avoiding a hard border cannot be underestimated and the Government is acutely conscious of this. The North South cooperation we enjoy today brings tangible benefits to the daily lives of people north and south and contributes to economic opportunity and development. It is also a very practical outworking of the peace process which allows for the normalisation of relationships between people across the island, to mutual benefit. It is for these reasons that there cannot be a return to border infrastructure of any kind on this island.

Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 64.
Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 47.
Question No. 77 answered with Question No. 69.

Brexit Staff

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 51.

Ceisteanna (78)

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

78. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the division of responsibilities between his Department and the Department of the Taoiseach in respect of Brexit negotiations. [20957/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

As Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for Brexit, I have responsibility for coordinating the whole-of-Government approach to the EU-UK negotiations and to preparations for Brexit, with a view to securing the best possible outcome for Ireland. I work closely with the Taoiseach, who as a member of the European Council, provides strategic direction for our approach to the negotiations.

The European Union Division in my Department is headed by a Second Secretary General with a particular focus on Brexit issues, who works closely with the Director General of the European Union Division, at Assistant Secretary level. The Second Secretary General oversees a dedicated eight-person unit on the EU-UK negotiations in the Division, which analyses developments in the negotiations, prepares policy papers and briefing, and co-ordinates the work of our EU Missions on Brexit. This unit is also the lead unit on contingency planning and Brexit preparedness. The EU Division works closely with the Department’s Ireland, UK and Americas Division, Legal Division and Trade Division, which also deal with aspects of Brexit. There is daily coordination with the Permanent Representation in Brussels. There is also very close contact with the Department of the Taoiseach, which serves the Taoiseach as a member of the European Council. The most senior official dealing with Brexit in the Department of the Taoiseach is the lead negotiator in the preparation of the European Council.

Maintaining frequent contact with EU partners, including the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been a priority for Ireland throughout the Article 50 negotiations process and, as such, the Taoiseach and I both liaise with Mr. Barnier on a regular basis, as appropriate. The Taoiseach also maintains contact with the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council.

I normally represent Ireland at the General Affairs Council (Art. 50), as I did yesterday, when I also met with Mr. Barnier. The GAC (Art. 50) has a key role in providing political oversight of the Article 50 negotiations and in preparing the work of the European Council (Art. 50), where Ireland is represented by the Taoiseach.

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 51.