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European Council Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 835 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] The meeting identified the main features of the partnerships for growth, jobs and competitiveness to support structural reform, with a view to concluding discussions by October next year.

The Council also addressed some of the main foreign policy issues, including the situation in Syria and the Central African Republic, as well as the Eastern Partnership, the situation in Ukraine and the WTO. The allegations of US National Security Agency surveillance were also discussed.

There was no discussion at the December European Council of Typhoon Haiyan which had struck the Philippines in November 2013. However, the European Commission and EU member states have allocated more than €178 million in humanitarian and early recovery assistance to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. Ireland was one of the first countries to respond to the natural disaster. Following an initial allocation of €4 million, the Government last week, through the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello, announced a further contribution of €3 million. The additional funding will support local efforts to build shelters and re-establish people's livelihoods, particularly in fishing and agriculture, and protection activities for those traumatised by the disaster.

While at the European Council meeting in December, I also had informal contacts with a number of colleagues. The House will be aware that I participated in a remembrance event in Messines on the morning of 19 December with Prime Minister Cameron. Again, I have reported separately to the House on this event.

Many of my colleagues on the European Council and from the Commission were in Dublin from 5 to 7 March for the European People's Party meeting. I had informal contacts with them at this event, as well as at the 6 March meeting on the situation in Ukraine and at last week's European Council. I was due to hold a working breakfast with President Barroso on the morning of 6 March, but it had to be postponed owing to the meeting on the situation in Ukraine and it was not possible to find an alternative time.

I had a meeting with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain on the evening of 6 March which, again owing to the meeting on the situation in Ukraine, was postponed from earlier in the day. We discussed the economic situation in Europe, especially the challenge of youth unemployment, as well as SME financing, banking union, the Single Market, trade and energy. The Basque country was not discussed at the meeting and, as the Government has stated on many occasions, we continue to follow the situation closely, including the recent statement by the international verification body. We have repeatedly said we support any development that can lead to definitive peace in the Basque country and welcomed the declaration by ETA in that context. We continue to hope for further progress.

As Deputies will be aware, I also held bilateral consultations with German Chancellor Merkel in Government Buildings on 7 March. Over a working lunch, I updated the Chancellor on the economy and we took stock of progress on banking union and the issue of legacy bank debt. We also discussed preparations for the March European Council and the wider jobs and growth agenda, including the transatlantic trade and investment partnership.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I ask for Deputies' co-operation because a number of issues have been raised in this group of questions. I suggest the first supplementary questions relate to the December Council meeting. If we get that issue out of the way, we can come back to it again. Is that agreeable to Deputies?

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I was going to limit myself in this round to two supplementary questions. If I get a chance, I will come back in and ask another one.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Members would prefer to take everything together.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Yes.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett All right, if that is the way it is to be.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett What numbers have been grouped?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Nothing has been grouped. The Taoiseach has answered Questions Nos. 1 to 35, inclusive, which are all related to European issues. The first few were about the December Council meeting. I am open to the House deciding on the matter.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I would like to ask supplementary questions on the situations in Ukraine and Crimea and in the Basque country. In regard to the situation in Ukraine, the Taoiseach has outlined the sanctions imposed, how these matters were discussed and how he is going to continue to work with his colleagues. The sanctions will have a very limited impact on the Russian state because of the extent to which the European Union is dependent on gas and oil supplies from Russia, as I think the Taoiseach acknowledged in his response, and that has its own economic dynamic. The Taoiseach will recall that the Russian ambassador pointed this out when he warned about the economic consequences for the State if it supported further EU sanctions against Russia. Perhaps the Taoiseach might give us his view of what the Russian ambassador said.

It is also very clear that the future of Ukraine is a matter for its people there, yet there is significant support in Crimea for unity with Russia. This concerns the issue of the application of the principle of self-determination which in the particular region has had some difficulties historically. Does the Taoiseach accept that the principle of self-determination and democratic choice must be at the heart of any solution - we cannot impose solutions, settlements or arrangements - and that dialogue is key in that regard?

That brings me to the recent development in the the Basque country. It is very disappointing and beyond me why the Taoiseach did not refer to it, given the success of the peace process here, even though there is still work to be done, as he has acknowledged. Ireland is in a position to speak with some authority on the business of making peace and not raising the issue with the Spanish Prime Minister was a missed opportunity. Again, dialogue is required. The Spanish state has not been as supportive of peace efforts as it should be. In February an international verification committee confirmed that ETA had taken the first steps towards complete disarmament, but members of the committee were then arrested and brought before a court to be integrated about what had occurred. That is because the law which is draconian and a product of the conflict in the country - it is a bad and an emergency law - was brought into focus. As we know from our own situation, that is no way to make democratic advances. There are the issues of prisoners, prisoners' families, the dispersal of prisoners in prisons across a very wide area and the imprisonment of Arnaldo Otegi, one of the leaders of the peace process in the Spanish state and the Basque country. What I am arguing for is for the Taoiseach to use his good offices, our international reputation and the experience we have gained to persuade, encourage and request the Spanish state and the Spanish Prime Minister to embrace the process in a positive way. I welcome the Taoiseach's welcome for the announcement that ETA has begun a process of disarmament, but I ask him again to use his influence to encourage everyone involved to respond in a positive way.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny In respect of the situation in the Basque country, because of the situation in Ukraine, we did not have an opportunity to have the extensive bilateral meeting we would have wished to have had. The Spanish Government has stated it is committed to the unilateral and unconditional dissolution of ETA and that there is nothing to talk to the group about. The President of the Basque country has noted that ETA has begun to disarm in an unconditional and unilateral manner and that while this is an important step, it is not sufficient. The Deputy can take it that, through the Irish Embassy in Madrid which monitors all of these developments, we will keep in close contact with the Spanish Government and other connections and avail of any opportunity that presents itself to outline our experience in building, in a very difficult period, a fragile but lasting peace, which is of importance to everybody.

On the situation in Crimea and Ukraine, Ambassador Peshkov was called in again last week to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and told clearly that the Government and the Irish people did not recognise the illegal referendum held in Crimea, as a result of which Russia had annexed that part of Ukraine.

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