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Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 7 December 2021

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Ceisteanna (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

10. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent discussions with the President of the United States. [57662/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

11. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on his recent meeting with the President of the United States. [57663/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversation with the President of the United States. [59969/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

13. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions with the President of the United States. [60076/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent discussions with the President of the United States. [60201/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

15. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent discussions with the President of the United States. [60204/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (26 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 15, inclusive, together.

The relationship between Ireland and the United States is deep and of long standing. It is important to the country in many ways, not least politically and economically, and it is one to which I attach the highest value. I have had a number of recent contacts with the President of the United States. I most recently spoke to him by phone on 14 November, when he congratulated Ireland on defeating the All Blacks in that wonderful rugby international. I also had the opportunity to speak to him in person on the margins of the world leaders' summit at COP26, when he vigorously reaffirmed his full commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and I expressed my deep appreciation for the strong position he has taken in that regard.

On 21 September I participated remotely in a global vaccine summit hosted by President Biden, at an event around the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. I will also participate in a further virtual summit on democracy to be hosted by the US President on 9 December.

I look forward to continuing to work co-operatively and closely with the Biden Administration, as well as representatives of both parties in Congress to deepen Irish-American relations, strengthen EU-US relations, co-operate on global challenges and support the many Irish people who have made a home in the United States.

As a country, we welcome President Biden's strong interest in our country, particularly his ongoing and unequivocal support for the Good Friday Agreement. He has taken every opportunity to outline the importance of this international agreement and its significance, not just to our country, Britain and Europe but also to the United States. President Biden and other senior political figures have continually given a message to the British Government that Brexit must not damage any aspect of the Good Friday Agreement or its workings. Congress has passed motions in both Houses clearly stating their concerns about Brexit and particular interest in the Good Friday Agreement.

In the past very eminent personnel such as Senator George Mitchell held the post of US special envoy to Northern Ireland. Has the Taoiseach raised this issue with President Biden? The appointment of a special envoy would demonstrate the continued US commitment to Northern Ireland. Such an envoy would also act as an additional conduit for bilateral relations on a political, economic, social and trade basis.

As Deputy Smith said, it is clear that President Joe Biden is very proud of his Irish roots. He proclaims his Irish heritage whenever he can. The most recent example of this was when he called the men's Irish rugby team to congratulate them on their historic victory over New Zealand. I understand that he also contacted the Taoiseach to pass on his congratulations to the people of Ireland on that victory. It is also clear that the Taoiseach has struck up a good personal relationship with the new President. All of us who believe in multilateral diplomacy and a rules-based international order and who want to see effective measures to tackle climate change, for example, will welcome the change in tone of the US Administration since last year. Has the Taoiseach invited President Biden to make an official visit to Ireland? If so, when is he likely to come here?

Separately, it is clear that President Biden, as well as the EU, has concerns that Russia is planning a possible major military offensive in Ukraine. There are reports that Russia is ready to deploy up to 175,000 troops along the Ukrainian border. President Biden is reported to be considering new measures to deal with this threat and a video call with President Putin is scheduled. How concerned is the Taoiseach about these reports? Is this something that the European Council will consider at its meeting later this month?

President Biden's absolute and, to use the Taoiseach's word, vigorous commitment in respect of the Good Friday Agreement is very reassuring indeed. It goes beyond the Administration itself and the White House and is a position that is shared across the aisles in Congress, including the Senate, and I very much welcome that. Indeed, I had the opportunity to have exchanges and hear those commitments at first hand last week.

What vigorous assertions did the Taoiseach make by way of reply to President Biden? What exchanges has he had in respect of legacy and the proposed amnesty legislation the British Government is pressing? What conversation has the Taoiseach commenced in respect of the reunification of our island and the real prospect of referendums on that question in the coming years? Finally, what work has the Taoiseach done and what representations has he made in respect of the many thousands of undocumented Irish citizens trapped in the United States?

The USA is not sending officials to the winter Olympics due to China's human rights abuses. Ms Emma Reilly was recently sacked by the UN, reportedly because she blew the whistle on a practice whereby the UN provides to Chinese diplomats the names of Uighur human rights campaigners. She said she has the documents to prove it. In 2013 Emma received an email from Chinese diplomats asking her to confirm the names of Uighurs who were due to speak at a UN event in Geneva. She was told by her superiors in the UN that she should confirm those names to China. We can only imagine what happened to the people involved and their families. Emma tried to speak out about this particular issue and, as a result, armed police were sent to her door to prevent her from speaking at events. Will the Taoiseach speak with Emma Reilly, the whistleblower? Will the Government be sending a representative to the winter Olympics in China?

Both the US and the EU have urged the generals in Sudan to continue on the path to democracy, particularly in the face of the recent coup by General al-Barhan and Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo, a former leader of the Janjaweed who committed atrocities in Darfur. They have released some of the Government Ministers that they imprisoned but there has been a very significant crackdown on civil society, with protestors killed, large numbers of people wounded and many imprisoned. It is very questionable as to whether the generals who conducted the coup are serious about carrying through with the democratic revolution that started in 2019. Sudanese civil society and Sudanese people living here who support the democratic movement in Sudan have asked that the big powers, particularly the EU but also the US, would stop sending money to the Janjaweed and to the Sudanese military via the Khartoum process because that money is ending up in the hands of the Janjaweed who have carried out atrocities and who are engaging in a quite brutal clampdown on Sudanese civil society. Has the Taoiseach discussed this with his European and American counterparts? Does he have a view on whether sanctions could be imposed to stop this money from getting to the Janjaweed?

In his discussions with President Biden, did the Taoiseach raise the issue of a TRIPS waiver to ensure that Covid vaccines can be rolled out worldwide and not just in the global north? If there is a fire in our house, we cannot just put out the fire in the bedroom and forget about all the other rooms in the house. Similarly, vaccinating everyone in the EU and the US but leaving the global south unvaccinated will inevitably lead to a higher number of additional variants and more danger of potentially dangerous variants, such as Omicron, which will then spread around the world. Even the US has now accepted the need to waive intellectual property rights on the vaccines to end the artificial scarcity of vaccines and to put vaccinating the world before the profits of big pharmaceutical companies but the European Union, backed up by Ireland, has been the major block on this measure at the WTO. In light of Omicron, will the Taoiseach now change course and join those calling for the patents on vaccines to be scrapped so that the whole world can be vaccinated as soon as possible?

Deputy Smith raised the issue of my conversations with President Biden on the Good Friday Agreement. The President has been very consistent, in all my conversations with him, on the imperative of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and also on the importance of the protocol in the context of the trade agreement between the UK and EU. Deputy Smith referenced the idea of restoring the post of US special envoy to Northern Ireland. That idea has merit and is something we will continue to engage with the President and his Administration on. That post lapsed some time ago but it is something that should be reflected upon. Overall, Deputy Smith's point has merit.

Deputy Haughey raised a number of issues. He is correct in saying that the US President has very warm personal feelings for Ireland. I invited him to Ireland and without hesitation he said that there was nothing he would like better than to come to Ireland as President of the United States. Obviously, his schedule is the key in that regard but he has a great affinity with and affection for the country and is very warm in his engagement with us.

The build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine is very worrying and is giving concern to the US Administration and also the European Union. We look forward to engagement between President Biden and President Putin on that issue because it needs to be resolved through negotiation. We want to avoid conflict in that situation, which is a worry given the scale of the build-up.

Deputy McDonald raised President Biden's commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, recently met the Friends of Ireland. The support from Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle, has been very strong in relation to the logic and importance of the protocol but also the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the need for the EU and UK to resolve this in a timely and negotiated way.

I did not have the opportunity of discussing legacy with President Biden. I do not know if the Deputy saw last night's RTÉ programme on the kidnapping of Don Tidey. Garda Gary Sheehan and Private Patrick Kelly were murdered in their bid to free Don Tidey. It was interesting that the families feel they have had no closure whatever. There is a need for people to come forward. In the Deputy's case, I think the movement that she knows of should come forward and give closure to those families who represented Ireland, Óglaigh na hÉireann and An Garda Síochána. I genuinely do. I am appealing and making a very strong case to the British Prime Minister. In my view, the British Government is wrong on this. The Irish Government is not in favour of what the British Government is proposing but there is a need for the provisional movement, essentially, to come forward and show cause-----

We have all the mechanisms in the Stormont House Agreement.

-----because people are not getting closure. That would help to change the moral of the argument in terms of the British.

I am sorry, we are way over time.

I may engage with Deputy Tóibín directly afterwards with regard to Emma Reilly. If I can get some communications going on that, I certainly will.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised Sudan. I share his concerns on this. We are not sure about the agreement on 21 November between Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the coup leader, Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. We do not think that it will, on its own, create a path back to constitutional order. The agreement has been rejected by the majority of the civilian political forces. It effectively consolidates the step taken by the military to maintain the reins of power and excludes civilian political forces. Ireland, with the European Union and at the UN Security Council, has denounced the military's action. We will work with the EU on that agenda.

I do not have time to go through the wider arguments on the TRIPS waiver. We favour increased vaccine supply to the global south.

The Government should do it then.

The mere waiving of a waiver does not do that. We need to be fair and honest with people in terms of what we are doing. It means building up capacity and licensing agreements but also distribution networks within certain countries, governance-----

Even Joe Biden supports it.

No, the US, to be frank, came out supporting it while it had export bans. Work that out. It had export bans at the time.

Why is the Government backing big pharma?

Of course it is.

No, we are not.

We are running out of time.

The European Union is the only continent that is giving-----

The Government is backing big pharma.

No, that is just slogans again.

Can we do this through the Chair? We now have the last group of questions and we are running out of time.

My apologies.

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