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European Council Brussels: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny]  The issue of recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition was also addressed at the Council. Ireland remains firmly of the view, in line with the clear majority of EU partners, that it would be premature at this stage to go beyond the limited recognition afforded to the Syrian opposition council at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting of 10 December. Our view is that it has still some work to do in terms of building up structures and satisfying us that it is fully representative, inclusive and democratic. This view was ultimately reflected in the conclusions agreed by the European Council last Friday.

Last week's Council outcome was a good and positive one, both from an Irish and European perspective. It represents progress on a number of key issues that will guide our work as Presidency in the first half of next year. It was one of the few Council meetings I attended where there was a sense of optimism and, indeed, achievement that dates and timelines were met and fulfilled in putting together the agreement for the legal framework for the single supervisory mechanism. That was an indication of leaders' refocused views. It is important that when decisions are made they are followed through and seen to be followed through. I look forward to keeping the House updated on the vitally important work that lies ahead.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin No matter how the Taoiseach talks up the outcome of last week's summit, it is a fact that no significant step forward was actually delivered. At the end of a fourth year of economic crisis, the leaders of Europe have decided once again to take the path of complacency. Following the decisive action of the ECB in the middle of the year the leaders have used it as an excuse to water down and delay every significant element of the programme which Europe needs for jobs and recovery.

This summit did not deliver a banking union. It merely agreed to joint supervision of less than 2% of eurozone banks and kicked other vital reforms down the road. It did not deliver measures to reform the deep flaws in the foundations of the euro, but took all ambitious reforms off the table and fudged what is left for at least two years. The summit did not deliver any actions to help the more than 20 million Europeans who are unemployed. It simply repeated empty phrases. It did not do anything to address the increasing disunion between member states. It ignored the issue. Yesterday, the British Prime Minister said, for the first time, that he could imagine his country leaving the European Union. It is a very significant statement and has huge implications for Europe and this country. Many commentators have concluded that this summit was the time when the leaders of Europe signalled that they will make no major move until, once again, an emergency develops.

With regard to Ireland’s contribution, yet again no attempt was made to speak up on behalf of vital reforms, and the policy remains one of hoping that something turn will up. This remains one of the only governments in Europe which has failed to detail its views on the specific actions required to secure recovery in Europe. From the first time this Dáil discussed European matters after the general election, I and my party have taken a very consistent and constructive line. We believe that a reformed Europe is a vital foundation for sustainable growth and job creation. We reject the empty rhetoric of those who attack Europe as a conspiracy or an all-powerful dictator. In fact, we have argued that Europe has been too timid. It has tried to tackle an unprecedented crisis with minor incremental changes, always seeking to do as little as possible rather than everything that is required.

I remain the only party leader in this House to set out in detail specific proposals capable of addressing the worst flaws in the euro and allowing the EU to take the lead in helping countries such as Ireland to tackle unemployment. Ours was the first party to demand that we protect the democratic legitimacy of Ireland’s relationship with the European Union by having a referendum on the fiscal treaty. At our Ard-Fheis and in the referendum Fianna Fáil refused to take the opportunistic route and campaigned on the basis of the treaty being just the first of many required steps. Nobody can question that we have been constructive and that we have put the long-term national interest ahead of short-term politics.

I am sorry that it is becoming increasingly clear that this Government has not developed, and is not interested in developing, a real strategy on Europe. Everything it does appears to be based on maximising the credit which can be claimed rather than pursuing a clear set of goals. In recent weeks, tensions within the Government and fear of the people have started to impact on European matters, particularly the core issue of bank-related debt. Since the budget there has been an almost frantic effort by the Government, especially Labour Party Ministers, to show that there is something happening buried deep beneath the broken promises, falling growth targets and rising disillusionment. Both the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, and the Tánaiste have decided that pretending that the Labour Party is the saviour of the nation on the promissory note is the only route to redemption. This has even gone so far as to prompt the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to lose his temper and tell a colleague to butt out of things which are not his concern. On Monday, the Tánaiste broke three decades of precedent when he told the Irish media that he would use the Presidency of the Council to secure one of Ireland’s main demands. He said this in spite of the facts that he has not attended a single negotiating meeting with the European Central Bank and that the ECB is not subject to decisions of the European Council.

A budget has been pushed through the Dáil which has rightly been condemned by most of the public and some Government backbenchers because of its entirely avoidable targeting of the most vulnerable in society. What has been less commented upon is the fact that the budget figures are highly unlikely to be achieved. The budget figures can only be achieved if major unspecified savings are imposed by a range of Ministers. As we saw this year, claims about an iron hand guiding spending were completely untrue and nothing has been changed to ensure that next year is better. Yesterday it was announced that GNP, which is the most important measure of national income in this country, is falling. This is due directly to the major damage done to domestic confidence by Government decisions. Other than trying to follow fiscal targets set out in October 2010, there is no strategy to tackle any problem which has grown in the last two years. Domestic confidence cannot recover as long as the Government puts all of its effort into talking about recovery rather than taking concrete steps to achieve it.

The mortgage and household debt crisis has been allowed to keep growing with no credible response. Investment plans have been published which actually cut investment, with all proposals for funding a job-creating stimulus rejected. It is highly unlikely that the figures announced in the budget will be achieved. No major initiative is under way to deliver the spending commitments, and the tax plans will not deliver the claimed revenue. This is especially true of the family home tax.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy The Deputy said that last year as well and he was wrong.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I was not. There was a Supplementary Estimate of €1 billion-----

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy There was more growth in the economy and more jobs.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----that was rushed through the Dáil without debate.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Martin without interruption.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am entirely correct.

All that is left is the hope that Europe will again turn up with something which will make up for the failures in budget planning.

As I have said previously, I believe there will be a deal in respect of the promissory note. The justice of the Irish case demands an outcome which would lengthen the term and reduce the rate to halve the impact of repayments on the Irish deficit across a few decades. The case for Ireland has been repeatedly hampered by the refusal of the Government to put aside domestic politics. However the Taoiseach summed up our case well in Paris last October. He has not repeated this line since then, so perhaps it was an accidental slip on his part. Certainly, it was an unusually non-partisan point for him to make. He said: “Ireland was the first and only country which had a European position imposed upon it in the sense that there wasn’t the opportunity, if the government so wished, to do it their way by burning bondholders”.

Any deal which replicates the handling of the repayment made in January this year would be deeply unfair and cause serious economic damage. While the Tánaiste and the Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, appear to believe we did not pay the promissory note in March, we paid it and received a "thank you" note from the ECB. The national debt continued to reflect the full value of the promissory notes but the interest paid out of current funding increased very significantly as a result of that deal. Millions of euro extra were incurred as a result. This muddling through will have to end and it should end in the next three months, yet so far the Government has refused to publish even a single sheet of paper setting out what it is seeking.

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