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US Presidential Election

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 25 November 2020

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Ceisteanna (4, 5, 6, 7)

Alan Kelly


4. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the President-elect of the United States of America. [36601/20]

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Mary Lou McDonald


5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent phone call with the President-elect of the United States of America. [38194/20]

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Mick Barry


6. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the President-elect of the United States of America. [38330/20]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the President-elect of the United States of America. [38634/20]

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Freagraí ó Béal (12 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Question Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.

I spoke with President-elect Joe Biden by telephone in the afternoon of 10 November to offer my congratulations on his and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's recent success in the United States election. We spoke about his strong ties to Ireland, Mayo and Louth in particular, and his most recent visit here in 2016. He is proud of his roots, like so many of the Irish diaspora in America, and we are deeply proud of the contribution Irish people and people of Irish descent have made to life in the United States. I also acknowledged the huge significance of the election of Vice President-elect Harris - a leap forward for all of us who champion diversity and equality around the world.

President-elect Biden reaffirmed his full support for the Good Friday Agreement, and we discussed the importance of an outcome on Brexit that respected the agreement and ensured no return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. He supports the Good Friday Agreement because he believes in it and, as he told me, he wants to see it upheld in letter and in spirit in all circumstances.

I took the opportunity to extend an open invitation to President-elect Biden to visit Ireland once he has taken office, if circumstances permit, and he in turn assured me that he looks forward to maintaining the long-standing tradition of events in Washington DC for St. Patrick's Day.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply, particularly in the context of the opportunities he outlined with the new President who has such close Irish roots. I am sure we are all delighted he was elected. This may very well be the last opportunity we have where a person of such close Irish descent is elected President of America and is able to work with the Government on the many difficult issues we face.

In the past 24 hours, we have seen the support of the President-elect for Ireland in respect of the Good Friday Agreement and our relationship with Northern Ireland and Britain. Is it the intention of the Taoiseach to continue what previous Governments put forward, and which I and my party supported, namely, having an envoy to travel to and manage relationships with the United States in respect of those who are undocumented? If that is the case, it is something we would support. It is a worthy cause and something that is very pertinent to all of us across politics. The Taoiseach and Government need to utilise all of the various different relationships, connections and capacity on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, throughout all Irish communities and sectors, to be able to push this agenda given that there will be a very much Irish-oriented President in the White House. Will the Taoiseach consider doing that? If so, what are his timelines for appointing somebody?

I want to again congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on winning the US presidential election. I extend to him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris my best wishes in meeting the challenges that will face the new administration.

The President-elect is a long-standing friend of Ireland and has remained unequivocal in his support for the upholding of the Good Friday Agreement. He has consistently taken the position that the US will not allow an international agreement that brought peace to Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. This is a very important message that comes at a critical time for all of us. The President-elect restated his view that the reintroduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland cannot be countenanced as recently as last evening. He and both parties in Congress have made it clear that there will be no trade agreement with Britain unless the Good Friday Agreement is safeguarded in all of its parts. Like the Taoiseach, I look forward to working with the new President and his Administration to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is protected and its transformative potential fully realised.

I also hope that the new Administration will advance the cause of the undocumented Irish in America. While Brexit has dominated much of the public discourse in terms of Irish-US relations, it is important that we acknowledge the hope expressed by our fellow countrywomen and men living in the United States that their situation might finally be regularised in the years ahead.

The life of an undocumented person living without papers in another country is difficult at the best of times. It is hard to imagine how difficult it might be at a time of global pandemic. There are currently 11 million undocumented persons living without papers in the United States. I support their right to stay, irrespective of race, colour or background. Can the Taoiseach report to the House on plans to secure the position of up to 15,000 undocumented Irish people in the US under the new President?

It is important for us not to be hypocritical about these matters. Therefore, a Government striving to secure the position of the Irish undocumented in the US needs to secure the position of undocumented persons in this country. There may be as many as 26,000 undocumented persons in Ireland, more than four out of five of whom have lived here for more than five years. They pay tax but have no access to social welfare, healthcare, third level education, etc.

Does the Taoiseach agree that if we argue for security for the Irish undocumented in the US - I think we should push very hard for that - we must also provide it for the undocumented in our jurisdiction?

I congratulate the American people on sacking Donald Trump. It is very gratifying to see his increasingly desperate and farcical attempts to deny reality. It reminds me a little bit of Chemical Ali trying to claim that Saddam Hussein was still in charge when the walls were shaking around him. It is amusing but people hope it will bring real change, not least given the absolutely disastrous manner in which Donald Trump dealt with Covid-19. The Taoiseach mentioned that and I want to ask him about it.

An issue that is emerging relates to the intellectual property rights of big pharma, which is heavily based in the United States and this country. Big pharma is using intellectual property rights, and essentially its desire to make a profit from vaccines, to prevent their adequate roll-out throughout the world, which is critical. Trump wanted to buy up all the vaccine for America and this is happening in Europe and so on. It would be a disastrous strategy because it would lead to many parts of the world not having the vaccine, resulting in the likelihood of mutations and the vaccine becoming effectively useless and ineffective for all of us. It is absolutely critical that intellectual property rights in respect of propriety technology and the means to produce vaccines once they are declared safe be waived. We need emergency measures - legislation, if necessary - to waive the normal intellectual property rules for the vaccine in order that we can end this pandemic and that profit will not get in the way of that.

To respond to Deputy Kelly, I want to put on record my view that successive ambassadors to the US have punched well above their weight. Our diplomatic performance in the US has continuously been at a very high level, and the current ambassador, Daniel Mulhall, has demonstrated great capacity on a number of fronts. Our diplomats have great experience and have developed significant contacts on both sides of the aisle, and we will continue to nurture those contacts.

Progress on the undocumented has been slow because of the changing composition of Congress and of the political circumstances in the United States. There has been the growth of the Latino power base, in particular, which has been proactive in monitoring any changes to the granting of visas to one ethnic group over another and, therefore, the challenge of getting consensus in the House of Representatives and the Senate, in particular, has been difficult. As far back as when I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, the position in respect of the progression of the E-3 visa was close, but not close enough. During Enda Kenny's time as Taoiseach, it came very close but lost by one vote, and that may have subsequently happened again. It has been very tight. I hope, in the first instance, that under the Biden presidency, a more humane approach will be taken to the undocumented generally, of all races and countries of origin, that sanctuary cities will be respected again, and that the sort of threat or the sense of impending intervention will not hang over the undocumented as much as it has in the past four years. As for the question of an envoy, I will keep the proposition under review as to whether it would add value to our diplomatic team. I will consider it and consult people about it.

Turning to Deputy McDonald's question, President-elect Biden has been a consistent supporter of the Good Friday Agreement and his comments in the past 24 hours bear witness to that. That is important. As I said earlier in response to Deputy Kelly, I believe there will be a more benign and humane Administration in respect of the migration issue, the undocumented and the progression of the E-3 visa issue. Our diplomatic team will work on this issue and engage with the new team appointed by President-elect Biden as soon as it takes office. We will engage with the team, as will I, and will continue to work with him on this issue. It is a very important issue for those who have been undocumented for quite a long time. The proposal being developed previously to link us to the Australian E-3 visa, was a good and innovative one and may yield results.

To respond to Deputy Barry, all countries have to have structured migration strategies and policies, and Ireland is no different. For those who have been undocumented long term, we have to find a solution and the programme for Government has commitments in respect of aspects of that. It is also important to be clear that, along with almost every country, there are a number of processes for migrating to Ireland and they have to continue and be managed in a humane and proper way. The current programme for Government, more than any other, is very committed to a radical reform of a range of provision in this area, from direct provision and minors who have come into the country unaccompanied to those who have been undocumented for quite a length of time.

As for Deputy Boyd Barrett's point about big pharma, governments throughout the world do not have the capacity to manufacture vaccines. People talk about big pharma, but the issue is that big pharma and pharmaceuticals in general are necessary. They need to be monitored, and there need to be proper health surveillance, authorisation and assessment of medicines by the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency, for example, at European level and the Food and Drug Administration in the US. Standing back, however, the capacity of companies to get to the stage where we now are, in terms of delivering vaccines-----

It is thanks to large orders that have come in from the United States.

-----is a major step forward. While the large orders that have come in from the US have played a role, capacity is important too. I recall, when I was Minister for Health during the severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, epidemic that the European capacity to deal with the vaccine issue was negligible. We have made a great deal of progress on making vaccines available to large numbers of people. Governments need to step up in terms of COVAX and greater resources-----

I am sorry for interrupting but we have to move on.

I just wanted to hear the end of the answer to my question.

I am sorry but the time is up.

Many emergency measures have been taken.